As herring spawn around Sitka, another kind of harvest is in full swing – one of laying branches, subsistence, and giving eggs to friends and family. To mark the harvest’s beginning, members of the Kiks.adi clan gathered in front of Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi on March 22, 2015 to bless Herring Rock. Amid the prayers for safe harvest, the blessing this year was less about the rock and more about the man who fought for it’s survival. KCAW’s Emily Kwong was at the ceremony and sent this audio postcard.
The original herring rock rested in the waterfront of the Indian Village and was considered the traditional place where the herring spawn would begin. You can’t talk about it’s history without mentioning the late Donald C. Didrickson, also known as “Duck.”
Duck: Herring rock is over 10,000 years old.
That recording was made by Duck’s daugther, Crystal Didrickson. About 15 of us are gathered around her laptop propped open at the base of the rock, listening.
Duck: My grandmother was of the Kiks.adi clan.
The original herring rock was threatened in the construction of the Sheffield House – now Totem Square Inn – in 1973. Didrickson was a tug boat captain at the time and insisted the construction company save a portion of the once massive rock.
Duck: My friend Joe Ashby, president of the Sitka Historical Society, I told him I wanted that rock. That rock blasted out, rounded out, and put up on the side there.
Didrickson would move this precious piece of history three times: first to the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall’s parking lot, then to the Shee Atika hotel, and then to it’s current location in front of Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi, where he would bless it every year.
Duck: I had McGraw (Construction) move that 11,000 pound rock over there for me and I had it blessed with salt water. Anytime the Tlingits bless something, you bless it with salt water.
Duck Didrickson passed away in February of 2014.
(Sounds of salt water being poured on Herring Rock)
Pouring a jug of salt water on the rock, Crystal Didrickson carries on her father’s tradition.
Crystal: This was his dying wishes, for me to carry on this tradition until I pass it along to the next leader.
Crystal received help from Duck’s three grandchildren – Kiera, Corbin, and Cordelia.
Cordelia: The herring rock means to be me about missing my grandpa sometimes. But my grandpa – Mr. Duck – he makes me so happy and stuff.
Donna Callistini: This is out of respect and much love for Duck and for the Kiks.adi people that are being honored this day also.
Family friend Donna Callistini helped lead the prayer. After it was completed, she said,
“Duck would be happy. This was a big day I’ll never forget.”
A big day for herring rock and a fitting memorial for the man who fought to save it.