Saint Mary’s is a town of over seven hundred residents. They held their annual Potlatch this past weekend along with their sister village, Pilot Station. The Yukon Potlatch brings each community together for a weekend of traditional Yup’ik spirituality and re-affirming of family ties.
Saint Mary’s sits on the banks of the Andreafsky river, which is a tributary of the Yukon. Pilot Station is the next village up and they were the honored guests of St. Marys. Francis Thompson is the traditional leader for the St. Mary’s dance group. He says the host village goes to the guest village in a group of 30 snow machines, more or less, to pick up their guests. Thompson says in the old days, just as many dog teams were used for the task. A lookout is posted in Saint Mary’s, waiting for the first glimpse of their honored guests. This year a voice came over the V-H-S proclaiming, “I spy”, as soon as the first guests were seen arriving.
Then at a designated time, the host village brings gifts to share with their guests, a long line of hosts marched into the gym as the gifts were placed in the middle. Items like; whole furs, sealskins for mukluk soles, ice picks, shovels, black fish traps, hand made knitted and crocheted items, and yards and yards of material. The people and gifts were then blessed in a Tarvaq ceremony, which is the burning of Tundra Tea and a bird’s wing is used to spread the smoke.
The annual potlatch is also used to celebrate a child’s first catch and is also a naming ceremony. Children are honored with the names of people who have passed on. This year, one of three named is Wassillie Journey. He is a 13 year old 7th grader from Saint Mary’s, and is the son of Andrew and Adeline Journey.
Eng cut 1 “I caught a moose and I asked my mom if I could be brought in and she said ya.” :05
Yup’ik cut 1 4:10
Being brought in means that Wassillie has caught wild game and can now be presented to the community as a hunter. Wassillie was introduced by his new namesake—Wanka—after an elder from Kotlik, saying that Wanka heard there was a celebration and dancing and is here now to enjoy the dancing among friends and family. Wanka and his parents distributed his moose, along with other hunters various catch to widows and widowers the next day, which will be my next story. Sophie Evan KYUK news.