In the ‘Thling-git’ culture we are taught at an early age how to respect our elders. We were not to speak or interrupt an adult when they were speaking; and if we wanted to stay up a little late at night to listen to old stories, we had to be quiet. We were taught how to respect the animals and fish. We were not to make fun of any creature. To do this is like you are making fun of the ‘Creator of all’.
My Family’s Lineage and Beliefs
We were taught our lineage. Our father was from the First Wolf house of Kuiu Islands. His name was Daat Haaw Gootch, (The wolf that makes the kill and lets his sibling eat first). His moity was Eagle. He was born on Edwards Island in Port Beauclerc Bay of Juiu Island, Alaska. When our father reached the age to marry, a future wife was chosen for him by his parents.
My grandfather’s first name was Suckinaw, (Always been there, nobody was there before us). My grandmother’s name was Kawk duh Gaan. She was from the Kog Waan Taan tribe and Eagle moity of the Sitka area. My mother was chosen for my father. She had to be on equal standing with my father. Our tribal law states that we must marry the opposite moity so our bloodlines won’t be too close. My mother and father believed in prayer, and our culture believed in dreams.
Before the first missionaries came we knew there was a Trinity. We knew God the Father as Dee Kee on coow woo, (The Great Man Up Above). His Son was Doo Yest Saah Teeh, and the Holy Spirit was known as Hailth Owalth Kaa Yaay Goo. As a young boy I remember Navy patrol planes flying over our house in Craig during World War II. We had pancakes on Saturday morning, the day before we attended the Presbyterian Church in Craig. Just about everyone in town attended this church.
The Right Day to Worship?
I remember sitting Sunday mornings in the bell tower room, (where the bells were rung). An older girl taught us the Sunday school lesson. When the bell was rung for the main service, the person pulling the rope down would let us little guys hang on the rope to ride it up and down.
Everyone in town knew that Sunday was the right day to worship on because that’s what the minister told us. But my mother had read otherwise in the Bible. She often commented on this to us. She also mentioned to us on several occasions that she did not think God would want a head deacon who smelled of alcohol when he collected the offering. It offended her also that the deacon smoked. At a young age I could not understand about the Sabbath my mother was referring to in the Bible.
One Saturday morning after our pancake breakfast, I was doing the dishes. Our sink was just below the window that faced towards town. I was looking out the window and as I did so, I saw my Aunt Bessie and my Uncle Sam coming up the boardwalk to our house. So I told this to mother.
“I wonder what news they have,” she stated. “I hope it is something good.”
Aunt Bessie Describes Her Dream
In our culture when someone came to visit they would usually come around 3:30 p.m. And it was understood you were going to feed them supper. Aunt Bessie would always like a cool drink of water when she came to our house. I gave her a glass as soon as she sat down. It was the beginning of the winter. I was about seven years old.
My mother’s name was Margaret, but her friends and relatives called her Maggie.
Aunt Bessie announced the reason for their visit, “Maggie, I had a dream last night and I couldn’t wait to tell you about it. That’s why I’m here so early. It seemed so real I can still hear the person’s voice talking to me.”
Then she told us the dream. She said, “In the dream a person spoke to me and said, ‘You people will no longer be worshipping on Sunday. You will be worshipping on a different day. A fellow will be coming to your village in the near future giving you instructions on what day to worship. You will no longer eat the same foods. Your diet is going to change and you will no longer drink certain drinks.’”
Mom sat there for a moment thinking about what Bessie had just told her. Finally she said, “We will wait and see if your dream comes true.”
Six Months Later
And then about six months after Aunt Bessie’s dream, Pastor Stewart Emery and his family showed up in the little village of Craig, where there were six families waiting for him to evangelize. Sunday is no longer our day of rest. Saturday became our Sabbath just like our mother was trying to tell us. Our diet was changed and all the heads of the family, except our dad, were baptized that Spring in the cool Alaskan salt water. But my father was a man of prayer. When dad cleared his throat, it was his signal that he was about to talk to the Creator. Then all our family present would bow their heads in prayer. And that was quite a few bowed heads because I had twelve brothers and three sisters. There were fifteen of us children in all.
A small portion of our family are Adventists. But we are working on the rest of our big family. Our family is a mission field in itself. Every day I think of my parents and Aunt Bessie and where we would be if Aunt Bessie hadn’t had that dream.
George Suckinaw James Jr. writes from Alaska.
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