PEACE CEREMONY

WOOCH YÁX̱

The traditional Tlingit value of Wooch Yáx̱ (Social and Spiritual Balance) governs interrelationships between Tlingit clans, and between the Tlingit and other tribes, nations, and institutions. The settlement of disputes between Tlingit clans and other groups relied on concepts of balance, achieved through compensation, to approach a state of peace among the parties. Inter-clan warfare was formally ended by a Peace Ceremony performed to restore balance. Negotiations to settle disputes relied on balance and restitution. The Peace Ceremony, called the Guwakaan or Deer Ceremony, validated the decisions of clan leaders reached through negotiation.

The Peace Ceremony

Deer Rock or Peace Rock along the Chilkoot River is a large boulder that was blown apart in the 1970s when the state decided to build a road along the Chilkoot River through where it was located.  Deer Rock holds special meaning to the Tlingit clans since it is a place where settling disputes occurred.  The Peace Ceremony was held to protest the desecration of Deer Rock and other offenses regarding the exploitation of Tlingit land and resources.

Usually the Peace Ceremony is held to restore balance, but in this instance a clan leader stated conditions that would have to be met by the State of Alaska before the ceremony would be completed and balance restored. There were four conditions that remain unresolved by the state of Alaska:  Peace Rock/Deer Rock needs to be made whole, the fish weir must be removed, sacred burial grounds need to be protected, and the Tlingit peoples can lawfully catch salmon in this river.  Although this event took place 35 years ago, these imbalances still exist.

“A fish weir has been placed across the river, causing the salmon to pause in their spawning migration upstream…. Salmon knows his river, but his way is blocked….”

—Austin Hammond

In 1980, the Lukaax̱.ádi clan conducted a Tlingit Peace Ceremony both as a cultural event and as an appeal for justice in the struggle of the Tlingit people against exploitation of their tribal land and resources. The Peace Dance was intentionally not completed. 

Walter Sobeleff, Austin Hammond, and George Davis conducting a Peace Ceremony on the bank of the Chilkoot River, 1980

“Were peace to be made, her arms and blankets would be open. … The arms will remain folded, for today our peace is not whole, our request is not fulfilled.”

—Austin Hammond in the documentary, Haa Shagóon

Daisy Phillips enacting the role of the Peace Deer during the Peace Ceremony conducted on the banks of the Chilkoot River, 1980