Reflections on Daak Ḵusteeyí gathering of the Indigenous Aquaculture Collaborative Network

*All photos courtesy of The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska *

In May 2024, Indigenous aquaculture communities, supporters, and partners gathered on the shores of Sheet’ká, the traditional territory of Sheet’ká Kwáan. This area is contemporarily known as Sitka, Alaska, and the event – Daak Ḵusteeyí – was hosted by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. The phrase Daak Ḵusteeyí consists of two Lingít words, daak (meaning seaward), and ḵusteeyí (meaning our way of life).

This gathering was convened to share teachings about caretaking the tidelands and relationships that are central to Indigenous aquaculture and food sovereignty, and it was a keystone event of the Cross-Pacific Indigenous Aquaculture Collaborative Network. Previous gatherings honoring place-based connections were held in Hawaii, Palau, Washington, and British Columbia.

The KUA-connected communities, mālama ʻāina efforts, and partners that attended from Hawaiʻi included: Hawaiʻi Sea Grant, Kalāhuipuaʻa (Hawaiʻi), Kōʻieʻie (Maui), Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana Kahina Pōhaku (Molokaʻi), Pāhonu, Heʻeia, Huilua, Loko Ea, Pāʻaiau and ʻEwa Limu Project (Oʻahu), and Alakoko (Kauaʻi).

There are only 14.3 miles of road in Sitka, Alaska. Our participants got acquainted with 5 miles of Sitka on foot and it was an awesome way to experience all of the life, energy, and elements of this beautiful place. We got to do so much throughout Daak Ḵusteeyí. In receiving the stories, dances and drum songs of nature’s abundance, we were brought to our feet, with joy, gratitude and deep admiration. A traditional foods table shared the overwhelming bounty and sharing of sea foods, from dry aku to herring eggs to paʻakai nīoi to salmon collars to butterfish to dried heʻe – it was truly something to experience.

So much waiwai throughout the Pacific was shared. The event was jam-packed with history and felt like a celebration of us sharing space again. The magic of feeling at home while we are 2,000 miles from Hawaiʻi is a space created every time we convene. Us Hawaiʻi people were COLD, but we felt welcomed, we felt seen, and we felt heard. We can relate on so many levels. On the currents off of Sitka Bay where ancient navigators traversed across cultures, we were told that a whale that waved its tail to us was returning from giving birth in Hawai’i; a great teacher reminding us that we are One ocean, and that its life will continue to flourish as long as we, its descendants, care.

It is easy to become focused on our own stories as we strive to restore a system of abundance that existed in a vastly different ecosystem than today’s.  But after returning home, many of us reflected on the resonance talking about our ʻāina and hearing others speak about their ʻāina in the same way. Many of us also had conversations about common struggles and the constant changes in our various places, nations, and communities, but we found that we had a shared foundation of ʻike kūpuna and traditional practice to provide guidance, as well as the shared desire to continue fighting to protect and preserve those things. Throughout the event, there was a strong theme about the next generations and the need to teach keiki to keep the connection between kūpuna and keiki generations. 

There were some tangible ideas for our mālama ʻāina such as the inspiration to bring back the clams and other crustaceans in loko iʻa after looking at their shoreline and kuapā in Sheet’ká Kwáan. And as always, we strengthen a lot of pilina with each other (among community members across Hawaiʻi) when we travel together to places away from our home. 

KUA is grateful to facilitate some of the travel and exchange so our grassroots practitioners can represent our communities and home at gatherings centering on Indigenous knowledge and practice. Mahalo to the hosts Sitka Tribe of Alaska and The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and to Washington Sea Grant, Alaska Sea Grant, and Hawaiʻi Sea Grant for providing much of the funding to enable this opportunity. The sharing of sacred space, time, and wisdom reminds us of the humility, grace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faith that is at the heart of sustaining a seaward way of life. It is not what we take, but what we give that determines our worth.

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