Hoonah teens win permission to follow Native tradition

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Like the hit movie ''Pay it Forward,'' students Kevin Skeek and Johan Hinchman were challenged by their teacher to take up a project that would bring about change in the world.

The appeal inspired them to try to renew a Tlingit tradition that's been banned for 80 years: Collecting sea gull eggs.

Skeek and Hinchman were granted a special permit by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to harvest the eggs for cultural purposes. The two became the first Tlingits from Hoonah to collect the eggs legally since the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act more than 80 years ago.

It was part of a class project in their Contemporary Social Issues class. They researched the topic and invited representatives from the Hoonah Indian Association and the National Park Service to join in a round-table discussion. They also collected 300 signatures on a petition to support the process.

''They developed a resolution passed by their student government, and we have passed the petition and resolution on to the National Park Service, which we think will be helpful at the congressional level where we need a legislative fix for harvesting within Glacier Bay National Park,'' said Johanna Dybdahl, tribal administrator for the Hoonah Indian Association.

The project ''has been really exciting for us,'' said Dybdahl, who said her tribe has been trying to revive the tradition for 30 years.

''When the students approached us earlier this year and wanted to do a project that would effect change, I suggested they choose something on which some of the major work had been done -- because these changes don't happen overnight,'' she said.

They gathered the eggs in the traditional way, taking care to take some eggs but leaving others behind to hatch, on Middle Pass Rock, about 50 miles West of Juneau.

Middle Pass Rock is a near-vertical dome at the edge of Cross Sound. Because of its isolation, it is a favored nesting site for glaucous winged gulls and kittiwakes.

Tlingits traditionally gathered the eggs between mid-May and June at a time when the village larder was often bare. Referred to as the ''Tlingit Easter,'' it often involved a few families who would gather eggs for the village.

Access onto rocks requires mild weather conditions, slack water at high tide, and youth who dare to scramble onto the slick rocks as the skiff bucks and dives.

Skeek and Hinchman were supervised by Mike See, a long-time subsistence user and representative of Hoonah Indian Association, on their trip. They collected 47 eggs and later distributed them to elders in Hoonah.

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