Ancient Whistle Virtually Bringing Us Together

Grantee: Smithsonian Institution Arctic Studies Center
Story from Karla Booth, Project Participant

I am Karla Booth, Ts’msyen of the Raven Clan and my family comes from the community of Metlakatla, though I live on Dena’ina lands in Anchorage. I want to express gratitude for The CIRI Foundation, Journey to What Matters, and the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center for allowing me to participate in the Tsimshian Whistle Carving Workshop taught by John Hudson III. My family and I regularly dance with Lepquinm Gumilgit Gagoadim Tsimshian Dancers where we use drums, rattles, and our voices to celebrate our culture with others. By taking this class I learned another way that my dance group can enhance our performances and strengthen connections with our Ancestors.

This class was taught over the popular pandemic tool, Zoom, and all participants were equipped with an amazing set of handmade carving tools and cedar blocks to carve an under-utilized instrument from. John patiently shared over the computer what he learned about this ancient instrument and demonstrated the techniques that he found most efficient. He was able to actively keep us engaged by demonstrating the steps, repeating the instructions, and allowing quiet time for carving and questions. Historical materials and videos from earlier workshops were shared so we could have a greater understanding of the importance of cedar and how these whistles were used throughout southeast Alaska.

I was taught that knowledge isn’t valid unless it is shared with others and I feel that this project is a good example of this. John shared knowledge that has been asleep in our culture, knowledge that was passed to him, and new knowledge that he discovered through his own research. The class participants learned from the demonstrations, participated in the community that was built through storytelling and carving, and felt the spiritual connection that was made when the whistles were blown and we discussed our traditional ways of life. Not everyone in the class completed their whistles during the allotted time but we know that its up to us to complete it to receive the gift that is waiting for us. I look forward to the world that this whistle will open up to me and the opportunity to share it with others. Nt’oyaxsism to everyone that made this opportunity possible!

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