A reflection
on the 2023 Kake Traditional Food Fair
By Ḵaa Yahaayí Shkalneegi Muriel Reid
Ḵaa Yahaayí Shkalneegi Muriel Reid is a X’aaka Hít Kiks.ádi Lingít from Sheet’ká and a grandchild of the Ch’áak’ Kúdi Hít Kaagwaantaan. He specializes in portraiture and photo based storytelling with the goal of supporting ongoing stories of growth, healing, and perseverance.
In the middle of Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago, on what locals affectionately call the banana belt, sits Ḵéex̱ʼ (Kake). It's a Native village of less than 600, and the Indigenous way of life is essential to the health and wellbeing of the majority of its residents.
Inspired by the success of the Huna Traditional Food Fair, Miakah Nix led the planning of the first Kake Traditional Food Fair, long prior to its culmination on March 11th. Partners Organized Village of Kake, Sustainable Southeast Partnership, First Nations Development Institute, Sealaska, and Edgerton Foundation worked alongside many community members and sponsors to bring the event to life. Ecotrust, Sustainable Southeast Partnership and Sitka Conservation Society sent Bethany Goodrich, Jennifer Nu, and myself to Kake for a short while in an effort to build relations within and capture stories about the community of Kake.
Driving along the rocky shores of Kake, my first night in town, I clutch onto my camera in the backseat of a pickup alongside my mentor and three locals I didn’t know the day before. Once we step out onto the sand, the dig goes quickly.
Shawn Merry, Sean Johnson, and Simon Friday are on the lookout for butter clams in early March, collecting just enough to send a sample to Sitka for testing. Bethany and I are staging photos with our headlamps. It’s at this moment, after a flurry of meetings and a quick dinner, that I am able to grasp my hands on what makes Kake so special. There’s another group harvesting just a short walk down the beach.
The next morning, we wake early, catching the next low tide to see the clam garden being constructed just outside the Organized Village of Kake’s office. Simon tells Bethany, Jennifer, and I about the tribe’s plans to encourage shellfish population growth as we walk down the path from OVK.
Back at OVK, Dawn Jackson, Executive Director of the Organized Village of Kake, and a group of ocean dippers gather as morning turns to afternoon. Dawn shares with us that her usual dipping group has matching jackets. When we’re out of the water, snow slips onto my sandals and I am thankful that we decided to hide from the wind.
That night, Miakah Nix cooks up some soup as we process venison with Carson Viles. Miakah and Carson have been planning the event for a while, and with just one night before the Kake Traditional Food Fair, they’re making sure there will be plenty to share even after food is served. Miakah shows us a sea otter pillow they made, Carson slices off fat, we share warm soup and stories of gullible tourists. This is community.
When Tony Abbott cooks up the main course, it’s hard not to salivate. We had helped prep for a couple of hours before lunch, and now the meal is coming together. Dishes entered in the cooking competition stream in through the side doors, out of view from the judges. Oohs and aahs are plenty from the crowd of admirers. We know we’ll have satisfied stomachs by the end of the day.
Steam rolls off frybread as the crowd dishes up and everyone’s laughing. In a community such as Kake, it's hard not to make a connection with someone, and it’s evident that love is plentiful in a room full of native foods and loud laughs.
When the Keex’ Kwaan Dancers begin to hoo haa, there’s barely enough room in the gym for everyone to circle the floor. We’re all singing loud, dancers are getting sweaty, and bellies are full. It's the dance group’s first performance in Kake since the pandemic began, joy emanates from them strong as the sound of their drums.
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Alaska’s Alexander Archepelago - The Alexander Archepelago rests in Southeastern Alaska, where weather is milder than northern parts of the state and rain is plentiful.

Ḵéex̱’ - Colonially known as Kake, Ḵéex̱’ existed as a Lingít village long before colonization. Ḵéex̱’ Ḵwáan, or the people Indigneous to Ḵéex̱’, have lived in Ḵéex̱’ for (at least) thousands of years.

The Indigenous way of life - Often referred to as ‘subsistence’, the Indigenous way of being intertwined with the land and its foods and medicines is a cornerstone of many Indigenous identities. Hunting, fishing, gathering, and cultivating foods supports the health of practicing people’s bodies and cultures. In many small rural communities such as Kake, the cost of living necessitates a harvesting lifestyle.
Organized Village of Kake - The Organized Village of Kake is the federally recognized tribe in Kake. Except in the case of the Metlakatla Indian Community, Alaska Natives do not have recognized ownership of land in the same way that reservations in the continental US do. Land is held by Alaska Native corporations (ANCs) and federally recognized tribes have governance over people rather than place. The Organized Village of Kake provides governmental services to its citizens including facilitating government to government relationships, operating a tribal judicial system, and running environmental programs within the community.
To send a sample to Sitka for testing - The Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) Network is a partnership of organizations working together to address environmental data gaps that effect Indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska. The network is known primarily for their shellfish testing program in which Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Environmental Research Lab receives samples from across the region and tests for paralytic shellfish toxins in an effort to promote safe harvesting practices. Due to changing climates and environments, paralytic shellfish toxins are reaching high levels in times of the year that shellfish poisoning had traditionally been a low risk. OVK is a SEATOR partner and regularly sends samples to be analyzed for paralytic shellfish toxins.
Clam Garden - Clam gardens are human-modified beaches in which a rock wall is built for the purpose of naturally flattening the beach over time. Clam gardens, once made, hold significantly more habitat for clams than beaches with steeper slopes. Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have been cultivating clam gardens for thousands of years. Simon is building OVK a document on best practices for the creation and use of clam gardens in Southeast Alaska.
Ocean Dippers - Lingít culture has long utilized ocean dipping as a healing and strengthening practice. The current popularity of cold water immersion is largely based on the traditional customs of peoples around the world that have lived near cold water, as many cultures practiced cold water immersion for spiritual and physical wellbeing.
Sea otter pillow - Sea otter hunting is both a way for Indigeneous peoples to create art using the thickest furs available and a way to regulate the population of the animal for better shellfish harvests.

Hoo Haa - Hoo Haa is a commonly sung song across the region. It is often an invitational, something for everyone in the room to dance to.
Watch Ḵéex' Ḵwáan Dancers
The Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) is a dynamic collective uniting diverse skills and perspectives to strengthen cultural, ecological, and economic resilience across Southeast Alaska. We envision self-determined and connected communities where Southeast Indigenous values continue to inspire society, shape our relationships, and ensure that each generation thrives on healthy lands and waters.
Learn more about ssp
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