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By Olivia Rose
Pilot Writer 

T'akdeintaan clan hosts Koo.éex'

 

December 7, 2023

Caitlyn Ware

A heavy carved hat of the Sea Pigeon clan is placed on Will Ware's head as he is named hít s'aatí, or house master, of the Freshwater Mark Sockeye house at the beginning of last month's Koo.éex' in Hoonah.

The community gymnasium in Hoonah was the venue chosen to host a Koo.éex' for four members of the Tlingit tribe Raven moiety T'akdeintaan (Sea Pigeon) clan who had died during the past few years. Around 400 Tlingit tribal members traveled to the T'akdeintaan home village in early November for what Will Ware describes as a "payoff party" and an opportunity to "acknowledge and recognize our opposites."

In the matrilineal Tlingit culture, individuals are born into one of two moieties, either Eagle or Raven, determined by their mother's lineage.

The Koo.éex' serves as a platform for acknowledging and balancing the reciprocity between the moieties, preserving the significance of supporting opposites.

"Quite literally, a Koo.éex' just means it's an invitation for us to acknowledge our opposites for the support they've given us during our mourning time," Ware told the Pilot.

Ware is the Chief Development Officer for Tlingit and Haida and is the newly confirmed hít s'aatí, or house master, for the Freshwater Mark Sockeye house of the T'akdeintaan clan.

Ware described for the Pilot some of the protocols that guide his new role as hít s'aatí.

"A house master really speaks on behalf of his house ... At Koo.éex' ... I can speak and bring out our at.óow to the Eagles... and I'm there to give comfort and to share and to acknowledge and bring that kind of support to my opposites. We also help resolve and settle differences that are within our clan. We communicate with other clans on how it is that we're going to coordinate events and ... we just really provide that leadership for our clan house."

November's Koo.éex' was the first one Ware had taken part in since the pandemic began, though he noted there had been a number of Koo.éex' this fall "because it was the first fall that we were wide open to hold these large gatherings."

"These Koo.éex', these invitations, are for our opposites- to pay them off for the support they've given us during this time of mourning," Ware said. "Generally, it was a one year process ... so if somebody died, the following year in the fall time, it'd be a payoff party."

While traditionally just for one person, this particular Koo.éex' was in honor of four individuals who had died since the pandemic: John Martin, George Mills, Charles Bennett, and Willie Grant. The decision was made by the clan to consolidate the events.

"We all came together, decided to have one big payoff party to pay back our opposites, the Eagles, for just giving us support, comfort, strength, encouragement during the time of mourning that we have. And so that's what this big party was about."

As the Koo.éex' unfolded, Ware was "brought out" to assume the role of the next hít s'aatí, or house master, for the Freshwater Mark Sockeye house of the T'akdeintaan clan, succeeding his uncle, John Martin, who had appointed Ware before passing and was one of the individuals the Koo.éex' was held for.

The process involved an induction ceremony at the beginning of the event to officially install Ware.

Ware said that, generally, a house master will look for a successor "once they get later on in years." The hít s'aatí will "start teaching our old stories ... teaching everything that's affiliated with our clan, but also specifically to our house..."

Successors spend years learning "as much as we can over the protocols and procedures, processes and things of our culture," he said. "Then we're brought out like I was brought out on a number of different occasions - at large events, memorials, clan conferences, Koo.éex'- where, you know, John would say this is who I am bringing out as my successor."

Traditionally, and in Ware's case as well, the clan would "have a chance to get to know me, and to make sure that they gave me their approval. And once we had that, then we went into this Koo.éex' knowing I was going to be brought out."

"And so at the very beginning of this party, they brought me out and announced that I was the next house master for our house, and everybody was in agreement..." He said this was an important moment also because "it's a time where the Eagles can witness me being brought out -we call it brought out."

The Eagle women gave a simple response - "Aaá"- which "in Tlingit is a way of saying yes, or in agreement, and that's important because in our culture, we hold our women in very high esteem and respect. We're matrilineal, we follow our mothers lineage."

"This is how our elders taught us: All things that have breath in it, derived from women ... derived from our mothers," he said. "That was a way of just giving that acknowledgement and affirmation."

"... Then we were able to proceed with the rest of the Koo.éex'."

Traditionally, Koo.éex' lasted up to three or four days; this Koo.éex' was 24 hours long, beginning with a four-hour mourning ceremony.

As the Ravens go through the mourning, Ware explained, each clan of the Eagles "say words of encouragement and comfort us."

Depending on the size of each clan, the Eagle clans would each spend up to 20 minutes giving the Ravens words of encouragement.

The Kaagwaantaan, the Eagle clan with the Wolf crest, "they would come to us and say things such as ... the wolf, you don't always see us, but we're always there. We're always there alongside you to give you strength and encouragement. And during your time of mourning, we're going to run it deep into the woods, up to the tops of the mountains - we're going to leave your sorrow there, so that you never have to carry or see it again..."

"The Killer Whale people would say, here we come, we're here, we're powerful, we're gonna take your sorrow and take your pain, we're gonna take your mourning - we're going to take it out into the middle of the ocean, we're going to deposit it way down in the bottom so that it can't come back to you..."

Ware's sons are Naanyaa.aayí clan, the Killer Whale people from the Stikine, and Eagle moiety, following their mother since she was adopted by Ware's great uncle when they married, importantly so that their children would have a Tlingit clan.

Ware's daughter-in-laws were adopted as T'akdeintaan Ravens during the Koo.éex', so their children will be born "a part of our culture, our way of life."

"My kids spoke as the Naanyaa.aayí to our T'akdeintaan because they are our opposites as well. They're Eagles. So they were giving us words of comfort. I was very proud of them. But they identify themselves ... Naanyaa.aayí naax̱ x̱at sitee - that's saying I'm Naanyaa.aayí that's my clan. T'akdeintaan yádi. I'm a child of T'akdeintaan ... You are my father's people. I'm your child ... I'm here to give you comfort and love ... we're the Killer Whale people. We're going to take your pain and drop it off the bottom of the ocean."

The Eagles brought out "all their, what we call our at.óow, that's our sacred objects," including blankets and hats that are hundreds of years old, to show the Ravens to honor and give strength. "They're wrapping their blankets around us to keep us warm ... the Eagles danced for us and then they all sat down..."

With all the Eagle women on one side of the gymnasium and the men on another side, about 100 T'akdeintaan Ravens reentered from the back of the room and made their way to the front, dancing and singing in response to the Eagles.

"Can't leave it unresponded so if the Eagles dance for us, we got to dance back."

After the T'akdeintaan had sung their mourning songs, four Raven men chant and pound large staffs, facing each direction of the wind -north, east, south, and west- and switch directions.

"Then we release that off," he said, "And you can literally feel that weight of mourning that you just let go. And when you let it go, you're ready to let it go! That's the amazing thing about our Tlingit people ... we've been taught for thousands of years how to process mourning ... By the time you get to these Koo.éex's, you're ready to let go."

"We release our mourning," Ware shared, "And then we end up into our joyful time. We wash our black paint off, we take the black headbands off ... and we go into the time of just joyful dancing and gift giving ... It was powerful."

"It was a T'akdeintaan party so the T'akdeintaans are coming out and handing out gifts ... There's families that would putting up food and gifts for years to do this."

During the party, money is collected, the names of contributors are read off in honor, and all the cash is put into a "big giant bowl" called a fire bowl. There is a ceremony where the bowl is lifted up, and the "money is killed."

"So we've killed that money. It's dead to us. We then pay our debts to the Eagles out of that money bowl, and because it's dead to us, it belongs to the Eagles..."

"We pay our obligations to pallbearers ... we paid for the gymnasium that was there ... we paid our cooks that were cooking our meals ... anything that was done by the Eagles before or during the party, we paid them. And then whatever was left, and we had a significant amount left, that money is being ran out by our Nakaanis to the Eagles."

Nakaanis translates to in-laws. They are the bridge between the moieties because "we can't ever tell the Eagles what to do and Eagles can't tell us what to do, but their Nakaani can be the go-between."

"And so there's a lot of money that are generated, there's a lot of gifts - gymnasium was half full of gifts and food - salmon, moose meat, deer meat, gifts are handed off, blankets are very important, there's a portion of the ceremony where we just hand out blankets. There's a portion where we just hand out dry goods. There's a portion where we hand out just these fire bowls to specific people of importance ... and then produce that we hand out. There's a berry ceremony, all these things go on during this."

Ware said the Ravens hand out "things of value to us" to Eagles to pay them back for the support they had given in their time of mourning.

The joyful celebration lasts 20 hours.

He said they were throwing around bananas at three in the morning to keep everyone awake and "do some fun things that just make everybody laugh."

And when all is said and done, "We're square," he said. "This is them being paid back, them being acknowledged and thanked ... Everything is good. Balance."

T'akdeintaan clan members reside in many Southeast communities, with Xunaa [Hoonah] considered the home village.

Ware is a lifelong resident of Petersburg.

"I love Petersburg. It's my hometown, always will be," Ware shared. "My grandfather's people were from ... Stikine ... and I taught my boys how to hunt ... from these very same woods that he did and fish the same waters they did for thousands of years. So I have no intention of going anywhere."

Now, as hít s'aatí of the Freshwater Mark Sockeye house of the T'akdeintaan clan, Ware carries the responsibility until the time comes for him to choose his own successor.

"We still hold on to who we are and what we are. And we live in two worlds," Ware said. "We know that we have our own Tlingit way of life. And yet we have a western society that we live in."

"There's a bringing back out of our way of life. We're seeing that happen with my generation. It's coming back ... we're hearing from our elders that this is the way that was done. And we have such a hunger to go back to that ... balance within our culture ... Our young people find a sense of identity of who they are once they learn their culture. When they learn the culture, they know who they are, then they'll know where they're gonna go. And if they ever get lost, they go back to our way of life. And that's just that compass that will point them right back to where they should be. And that's something that we found true in almost every situation ... if you know who you are, and where you come from, you always got a place to go back to."

 

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