Herring Rock receives a blessing of water from the major rivers and streams that empty into Sitka Sound. (KCAW/Woolsey)

Sitkans gathered on a wet and windy Tuesday afternoon (3-15-22) for the Herring Rock Blessing.

The traditional ceremony is a celebration of herring as they arrive in Sitka Sound to spawn, and an invocation of the renewal of life that comes each spring.

Yeix Anatsees Tom Gamble is the master of ceremonies at Herring Rock, which once stood near the tideline in Sitka Channel, but now rests in front of the Sheet’ká Ḵwáan Naa Kahídi tribal house.

Yeix Anatsees calls to the attending houses.

Yeix Anatsees belongs to Kiks.adi Clay House. An important aspect of the ceremony is acknowledging the duality of Tlingit culture, Raven and Eagle, Kiks.adi and Kaagwaantaan. Gamble invites two Kaagwaantaan to sit in honor, holding the Peace Hat, given by the Russian Empire in reconciliation to Sitka’s Tlingit, and the Frog Hat. The first is Harvey Kitka.

“Thank you,” Harvey Kitka said to the crowd. “ It is not me holding this hat, but my great grandfather Rudolph Walton, and my grandfather Charlie Daniels, Sr. Gunalchéesh!”

Kaagwaantaan Dr. Tom Thornton (l.) and Harvey Kitka are invited to hold the Kiks.adi Frog Hat, and the brass Peace Hat, which was given to the Kiks.adi by the Russian Empire. (KCAW/Woolsey)

The second is Dr. Tom Thornton.

“It is not me holding this hat,” Thornton said, “it is my adopted relatives, the Kaagwaantaan, and we are proud to be an outer shell for our Raven Kiks.adi.”

Lakrisha Johnson (l.) and Katelyn Stiles present the Herring Robes, which will be part of a traveling exhibit about Sitka Herring. Robe co-designer, Carol Hughey, is to the rear. (KCAW/Woolsey)

Tom Thornton is the Dean of Sciences at the University of Alaska Southeast.

The highlight of the ceremony is the presentation of herring regalia, worn by two of the Herring Protectors, Katelyn Stiles and Lakrisha Johnson, who lead the ceremony in song.

The robes are blue, like the ocean, and embroidered with silver herring. Another Protector, Louise Brady, explains that they are the centerpiece of a traveling exhibit which will educate the rest of the country about the importance of herring to the environment and people of Southeast Alaska.

A very wet mist has settled over Sitka by the time Yeix Anatsees concludes the blessing, by asking each of the houses present to pour water over Herring Rock.  He’s collected the water in gallon jugs from all the major rivers and streams in the Sound. He then thanks everyone for braving the elements to attend the Herring Rock Blessing, and reminds us that the damp cold is a sign that winter is changing into spring, and the herring are returning soon.