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Kalnaakw x’ei dax
by Emma Williams
Click to see illustration by Darlene Hoff

1 Here is
a story that is told about our past. (lit., a speech)
It is for young women,
so it was told to me;

5 for the benefit of lazy ones (lit., on the ears of …)
this story is told.
The old people,
not the way we live now,
they used to live long ago.

10 The summer camp houses
they would keep them clean,
here they lived; (lit., sat)
they did not live in filth.
They would keep the fireplace clean.

15 The sand could always be seen,
(and) when the sand around the fireplace was getting dirty,
it would be scraped up into a pile (lit., scraped off it (the floor))
and (taken) outside.
On the (ground) where people went out from the house

20 they would dump it.
After that
they would bring in fresh sand,
in their aprons,
and (in) baskets,

25 in whatever they had;
(they put) the fresh sand around the fireplace,
all the way around it. (lit., it would extend all around it)
Where they sat,
and where they slept too,

30 when they got up from them, (lit., … thus)
they would just fold them back (against the wall);
to keep ashes from settling (on them)
they would fold their blankets up.
And where they were going to eat also,

35 they would weave mats to put down there long ago; (lit., for it)
they would make mats out of red cedar bark,
the proper size.
And when they were about to eat,
they would lay it out there

40 to put their food on.
They would sit around it,
their mother, and their father.
Also, their dishes,

45 there is a name for the wood they used,
like little platters;
they would eat from them as dishes. (lit., on them)
But when they had finished eating
(with) moss,

50 with the moss which is called "spruce hair", (i.e., Usnea)
they would wipe their dishes.4
They would throw the moss into the fire.
Then they would just store them away for the next time they ate.
Now I was told this (story)

55 (about) a woman who was ever so lazy.
She was a young woman.
When they finished eating,
she would simply cross her legs in front of the fire.
Then she would wiggle her feet, (lit., shake)

60 while the food was drying on her dishes. (lit., her dishes, right there, they
dried onto their food)
She never wiped them off;
she never put them away.
The women who sat near her
wiped off their dishes right away, (lit., quickly)

65 (and) put them away again,
but she didn’t.
Now when spring was coming,
food used to become scarce.
So they would go for stretches without eating. (lit., time would elapse
between when they would eat again)

70 Now one day the weather was fine,
and people were walking around outside.
But that woman was still sitting inside by the fire; (lit., around the fire)
her legs were crossed.
All of a sudden they saw (a school of) killer whales swimming out there.

75 The women and children –
it was now low tide – ran down to the beach.
Then they made a request, (or, prayed)
of the whales swimming out there; (lit., to the whales)
they said,

80 "Send us something to eat,
send us something to eat.
We are hungry,
our children are hungry."
While they were still standing there,

85 the killer whales surfaced in front of them.
They didn’t see
how that bentwood box was made.
Beach grass, which we call eel grass,
which is green,

90 was formed into a bentwood box.
They rushed to it in a body,
the women and children,
and when they looked in it,
they saw what was – oil.

95 Then the women rushed home,
They grabbed whatever (they could), dishes,
(and) rushed (down) toward the oil.
But that woman was caught unprepared.
She stood up.

100 She grabbed her dish (lit., from there)
but she couldn’t find any moss
to wipe it out with.
So she grabbed the hem of her (dress). (lit., …from there)
She was walking down to the beach with

105 the dish they ate from.
Food was dried on it.
She couldn’t wipe it off.
The women rushed there in a body,
(and) even the men;

110 they were dipping (their dishes) in the oil.
But while the woman was still walking along –
there was still plenty for everyone, (lit., for one)
(but) the woman was still walking down to the beach –
the killer whales surfaced again.

115 They sounded like this, (lit., they were heard like it)
the killer whales, I was told, (lit., …about which it was told to me)
(as) they surfaced (and swam) out to sea,
"Whoo-oo-oosh," they went. (lit., they were heard)
Then they looked at where the oil had been,

120 Before she got to them,
the lazy woman;
but the oil was gone.
Then the women made fun of her,
"That’s what you get for being lazy."

125 That is why they were always prepared,
every day;
they kept their possessions clean.
And no one gave her any of the oil.
So that’s why the women next to her

130 all got some;
the oil was sent to them
by the killer whales.
This story
was told for (the benefit of) young women; (lit., was taken up for …)

135 young women were admonished by (being told) this story.
(Keep it) clean where you live,
(keep it) clean! (lit., just clean)
And one is always prepared,
ready for whatever (may take place) (lit., one is ready)

140 This story was made
for those who are young women;
it was like a fable.
As admonishment,
they were given this story. (lit., she was …)

145 "Always be prepared,
always be prepared!
Your possessions and your eating utensils,
(keep them) clean!"
From time to time,

150 from different villages,
boats would come to the beach below one’s town.
They were (always) ready for this.
They didn’t (sit) there (and) watch them,
when boats came to the beach below one’s town;

155 somebody
would go right down to meet them,
Come in to (our) house.
Come up (and) sit by (our) little fire."

160 Then they went right in
to the house they were invited to.
Right away,
the woman would turn around while sitting.
She would untie the bentwood box in which she kept her food.

165 They were always ready for
something like that to happen.
Then she would take her clean tableware right out,
and she would spread out the mat.
They would feed them on it,

170 the people they had asked in.
This is what they used to tell young people to do,
young women;
older women would talk to them. (lit., grown-up women)
That’s how it is now.

175 This is what she told me,
my husband’s mother.
She probably noticed (something);
there was probably something wrong with the way I kept up the house. (lit.,
probably I did not work right at all, something, at home)
That must have been why

180 she repeatedly told me this story.
She would say to me, (lit., of me)
"Now that there are white men,
we try to live the right way,
but we probably don’t even (live) halfway right.

185 But nevertheless, try," (i.e., you folks try)
she said to us,
including my husband as well, (lit., and she put my husband in also)
Now that we live in towns, (lit., one lives)

190 if you see a stranger,
don’t let him past your door,
until you are acquainted with him;
then receive him right in (to your house). (i.e., customarily)
They will see how you are living.

195 (And) don’t let them go hungry,"
that is what they used to tell me, (lit., thus they used to talk to me)
my husband’s mother and father.
I used to sit and listen to them, (lit., sit under their mouths)
I spent many hours

200 listening to them.
I thought about myself.
This is how I felt, (lit., thus my soul is)
while I was still a young woman,
(when) I was fourteen years old, (lit., fourteen (was) my age)

205 my mother departed from me.
Then my older sisters got married,
but their lives were not settled. (lit., were weak)
So I took care of myself, just me alone;
there was nobody to give me instruction.

210 But I had within me (lit., it was in me)
the words they used to give me;
I felt that they were instructing me.
My mother died on me (lit., away from me)
when I was still young. (or, a child)

215 I alone,
I stood up for myself.
That is why,
when they spoke to me,
I would sit and listen to them.

220 So today, right now,
I will tell (you) this. (lit., I will put it there)
I am old now,
but I still hear their voices,
the good words;

225 they gave me instruction.
I spent many hours
sitting and listening to them. (lit., I used to …)
So I say today,
Thank you.

230 Their words come to my mind. (lit., appear before me)
My husband’s mother used to say to me, (lit., of me)
"You will remember my words for a long time, (lit., it will be long
that you remember …)
thank you," she would say to me –
my father had adopted her –

235 "my brother’s child,
that is how she would speak to me, "my brother’s child,
thank you for sitting and listening to me.
Then later on, when we have gone from you,
It will come to your mind, (i.e., customarily)

240 what we used to tell you."
So I myself am grateful to them.
I did not stand up while they were talking; (lit., from under their mouths)
until they were finished talking.
I sat and listened to them.

245 So today,
whatever came into my mind,
my two female children,
so that they would settle down,
so that they would sit still,

250 that is, (lit., thus we call it)
I used to give to them
their grandmother’s words.
And I would say to them (lit., … about myself)
"Tell your children

255 whatever I have given you,
these are your grandmother’s words.
She would tell us,
that we are among white people now.
But we are still Tlingits

260 to the white people. (lit., in front of them)
So it is good for you to know your heritage.
Don’t turn away from it,
carry it on."
She would tell me,

265 "You will have grandchildren,
be sure to give them
what I have told you.
Give them instruction."
So there is a moral (lit., about her)

270 (to) the story about the woman.
Don’t be lazy, don’t!
A lazy person is always poor.
He is too lazy to make a living for himself,
the lazy man.

275 Then he always gets hungry
from being lazy
(to) make a living for himself.
But industrious people
don’t get hungry.

280 That is how it is now,
that we are among white people;
we study, (lit., one studies for it)
we graduate from school, (lit., one …)
to have a better life,

285 that is why we study. (lit., one …)
That is the kind of life we have now.
So we are taught,
By white people,

290 where we live,
to clean it every day
we are told. (lit., one says thus of us)
So these words,
I set them down now.

295 My granddaughters,
I always speak to them,
if you live so and so,
You will do well. (lit., you will be good)
I tell my granddaughters,

300 "Even though you are part white,
we are still counted as Tlingits. (lit., it is held before us)
So I want
to say to my grandchildren,
I want

305 you that are born through our blood,
that you act as upright people; (lit., that you stand …)
respect yourselves.
Do not be a laughing-stock. (lit., let one not laugh at you)
These words are my song,

310 my grandchild.
My granddaughters
do not use our language.
So in English,
as much as I am able,

315 I will continue to explain to them,
our way of life.