At Sealaska Heritage, we field a lot of questions from the public, researchers and the media about Northwest Coast cultures. This question addresses a question we’ve fielded numerous times.
Question: What is the proper response when a clan performs a Spirit Song?
SHI President Rosita Worl:
George Keiḵóok’ Jim of the Wooshkeetaan Clan and L’uknax̱.ádi yádi addressed this question at the Sealaska Elders’ Conference in Sitka in 1980.
Keikóok’ expressed his concern that many things had been lost from Tlingit culture and that those who had been “conditioned” by non-Native society didn’t understand our culture. He offered advice and demonstrated the proper response when a clan performs a Spirit Song and Dance that calls forth a Spirit that brings good fortune to its clan members and rids them of misfortune.
He said that all the clans from the opposite moiety of the clan that had performed a Spirit Song and Dance should stand and hold their hands up to ward off the Spirit with the heels of their palms. He expressed his appreciation to those who had performed the Spirit Song and Dance of his father’s clan. He continued by calling forth his grandfather’s shaman spirit and displaying his regalia and ceremonial objects with their crests and Spirits to balance the Spirit of the opposite clan so that the Spirit “doesn’t float around in the air” or that their words do “not float aimless in the air.”
Keikóok’ wanted to ensure that Wooch Yáx or social and spiritual balance between the Eagle and Raven Clans was maintained so that no harm would come to anyone. He concluded by saying that many good things stem from Tlingit culture including love and respect for each other.
You can read more in Because We Cherish You, 1981, and Haa Tuwunáagu Yís, for Healing Our Spirit, 1990, published by Sealaska Heritage.