Back in 1972, Gilbert Lucero began an Alaska Native teen center called the “Totem Center.” He coordinated various events pertaining to the arts and cultural life ways of the Tlingit, introducing many of us young ones to things we were not even aware of like: being Native – what does this mean? Back then, there was very little awareness of even having Native blood, let alone doing “Native” ways of living. Gilbert’s Totem Center instigated classes in Tlingit language and culture with elders such as A.P. Johnson (Sitka), Cy Peck, Sr (Angoon)., Ed Kunz, Sr. (Juneau) and Harry K. Bremner, Sr.(Yakutat). Gilbert also coordinated overnight field trips to the smaller communities like Sitka, Haines and Angoon. Gilbert knew many of us had never been exposed to any other towns much less other ways of living. Gilbert escorted a group of us teens on a flight to Angoon (“the last stronghold of Tlingit culture…”) It was during one of these cultural trips where I first met the graciousness of Cyril and Judy George.
As I thought about writing this blog on Cyril, I calculated how old Cyril was back in 1972. If he is 88 years old in 2010, he was born in 1922. In 1972 he was only 50 years old (that’s younger than I). I remember the solid, graceful, unassuming disposition of the man with his equally-matched wife sitting together against the window that looked across the street towards another row of homes along the beachfront. Listening to Cyril speak during this presentation, I still experience the power of his soul and personality now as even then. Of course, there are a few more aging lines, some weight to his shoulders and his speaking abilities have slown down a bit, yet he continues to begin his presentation, as usual, with a “funny” – something to chuckle about as we settle in to what he is about to lead us into.
Cyril presented historical accounts and clan stories of the bombardment of Angoon over 150 years ago. He mentioned there was a documentary film created about this event. I looked about the room and wondered how many of us could understand and feel the grief carried through generations to the present day. I believe none of us in the room could truly relate to an entire village being destroyed because we haven’t experienced anything personally to that magnitude in our lifetime…(yet!)
The Juneau Empire ran a story about Cyril’s presentation. Apparently, there were many responses to the article on line whereby a few readers were irritated at the “old history” that needed to be “gotten over.” This lead to folks becoming offended. You may read at: http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/121410/loc_756389469.shtml
Tlingit writer/performer Ishmael Hope wrote an excellent personal bio on Cyril George. Ishmael is always worth reading. Ishmael says things the way that I didn’t know I could say them but wanted to say it that way too. I encourage you to read his blog entry on Cyril at: http://alaskanativestoryteller.com/blog/