No Ordinary Adventure

Tlingit Tribal Elder Joe Williams Shares a History of Culture & Travel

October 26, 2020 No Ordinary Adventure by UnCruise Adventures Season 1 Episode 4
No Ordinary Adventure
Tlingit Tribal Elder Joe Williams Shares a History of Culture & Travel
Show Notes Transcript

Joe Williams is a respected Tlingit tribal elder and tribal brother of host Dan Blanchard. He leads by example throughout the community and has a wealth of knowledge of his local community and history. Once the Mayor of Ketchikan and Saxman, Joe has been involved with the communities and Native tribes for most of his life. He was also the first Tlingit to be elected Ketchikan’s mayor. He runs a well sought after local business teaching others about the local history and Tlingit culture.  During his career, he has brought people and organizations together for the betterment of communities and helped raise money to invest in the Native communities and their people.  Hear what's next for Joe, the community, and share travel stories. 

I’ve known Joe Williams, Ka Xesh X’e, the former mayor of Ketchikan and current mayor of Saxman Village, since 1988. We’ve worked together for many years, and our friendship developed over a long period. He came to visit me one day in Seattle and asked what I was doing on May 11 and could I come to Ketchikan. He wanted to adopt me into the tribe as his brother. This was a special moment in my personal life. - Dan Blanchard

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Hey adventures Welcome to the no ordinary adventurer podcast, a place we call home for adventure and the conversations you want to have. We bring you inspiration stories from the field and talk with adventure travelers and industry experts from around the world. This is a place to fill your heart and head with travel knowledge. Now your host Dan Blanchard, a lifelong Mariner traveler and CEO of UnCruise Adventures, a small boat adventure company defining the UN in UnCruise. Let's get started. like to welcome you to the podcast today. Today we have with us Joe Williams from Ketchikan, Alaska. Joe is my adopted brother is planket native, an elder in Saxman, Alaska. And someone I think you'll find very intriguing. His story is wonderful, and he's a great guy to the travel industry. Welcome to no ordinary adventure. I like to introduce you today to my good friend, tribal brother, and brother in heart and soul and just about everything can be Joe Williams. Joe, welcome. Thank you very much. I'm excited to be here. And it's really good to see you. You know, it's good to see you too. It has been with COVID. And everything. We haven't seen each other. Well, at all really sense. I think I saw you once in maybe March sometime, just as things were coming down, but I haven't been to catch cam sets. Man, have you been out of out of sketch camp at all? No. Since the COVID activity, who stayed home literally stayed home. We I get actually a month of driving one tank of gas. Well, that's the best benefit to COVID when I use fuel. Yeah. So we stay synchronized stay pretty close to home. One of the things that skipping this is all of the things that needed attention over the years. And I'm fearful now because all the honey do list is done. And not sure what I'm going to do in the next several months or so. Well, knowing your lovely bride as I do, I just can't imagine that that list won't grow. Well, I really enjoyed seeing you where you're at right now. I see you're upstairs. I think last time I was there, it wasn't painted out in red yet. And you certainly didn't have all the memorabilia and artifacts up. I see pictures of your family behind you tell us about that. Yeah, I elected this place. This section of the room primarily because family picture my parents and my brothers and sisters. And then also picture directly behind me is my wife and I went on our wedding day. And picture directly behind me is my father when when he was 73 years old. Interesting to say that because now I'm 76 and older than my dad in that picture. And that's an unusual thought. I elected this part primarily because the gas pedals that are on the wall and it gives you folks a good view of who I am and what I'm all about. Yeah, and you have a lovely home right there and Saxman just south of Ketchikan native village, locally play bass, which I've enjoyed with you many times. Of course, I've stayed downstairs but one of these days I might just camp out upstairs just so I can be around the beautiful red. Okay, Joe? Absolutely. Absolutely. We've got a we've got a bed in the wall coming out so you can sleep on that real good. Joe, can you tell me about you know, a lot of folks in the lower 48 don't even know that. The name clinked it. Tell us a little bit about the clinical people and how they came to be in SE and where it's at today. Oftentimes, I'm asked, So where did you click? People come from? Did you come across the land bridge to end up here where you are? And my response is this? Yeah, we could have come across the land bridge. But you have to know which way the footprints were going. They're going south or they're going north. I in taught by my grandparents, my parents and uncles that we have been in this location of Southeast Alaska since Time and memorial, which is time of beginning. Within our clinical culture. In Southeast Alaska, we have three major tribe groups. Click at Heidi Simpson. Heidi people now have come come up from Canada about 500 years ago, since the end people came from Canada, just about 250 years ago. And so, the properties of what was given to me by the clicky people, to the hydro folks and to, to the cmcm, folks, by the clicker, people, within a critical culture, we have two tribes, Eagle and Raven, you one or the other. And then we have clans which is the families and their total 33 clans with significant culture. In my grandfather's generation, I would be able to say, Kokesh, myself, and those that heard me say this, they would know who my mother is my grandmother, my uncle, where I live, when I was born. Folks could pretty amazed by that. But you have to keep in mind, everything we did was fertile, not putting down today's world. And you've given me a piece of paper from it. I know who your mother is, who your father is, when you were born, and where you were born. That's called a birth certificate. Some people lose her birth certificates. And if you get rid of them were born. In a culture that isn't just the way it was, some of your The rest will come on you on a tour. I've heard that appropriate. You've just faded our breath. Joe, you're just putting that out there force excited to learn more? Well, tell me Joe, um, you know, you and I have go way back. But I'm interested to go back even further. I mean, how did Joe Williams get to be the man that he is today? What what happened in those early years and Ketchikan that turns you not only to the cultural leader, you are but the spiritual leader. And and just Well, I'll say the most important to me, just heartfelt friend and brother, early on in person and the baby the family, that should say a lot. Okay, I have always said, I made the statement, that I was the kind of little boy that every mother and father prayed and dreamed about having. Now, if you spoke to my older sister, she would say how untrue that was. So Cindy grew up in a loving, nurtured home with a lot of directions from my older siblings. earlier days, it was not culturally appropriate to speak about her klinkt culture when I was growing up. And that changed. Era was right around late 60s, mid late 60s, was when it was recognized that we're losing our culture, losing our heritage. And so truly made an exerted effort to turn that around. I can safely say today's world, that our children, my grandchildren, know more about our cricket culture than I did when I was your age, because I didn't start learning what clinker culture till I was 3536 years of age. So it was a totally new immersion project for me, and I'm still doing that today. What little I come to know and pass it on to my children. You never really know how much you know until people start asking you questions. And early on in my business where the eagle walks would receive questions of which I absolutely didn't know the answer to. But I certainly did my research, asking elders much senior me so I can truly give her an appropriate answer. Because I fitted industry firmly believe I was always telling a true story. I tell my nephews now who are helping with you walk into a business Tokay to say, I don't know. What's most importantly, about the I don't know is then to find out what the proper response is to that. A lot of the leadership is within the leadership was because my father was involved in the Alaska Native brotherhood, earlier years. He was the mayor of a small village of Saxman for 38 years before he retired, and so just emulated as much as I remember from that It carried over to, to where I'm at today to learn and teach the songs of which I was taught from, from my parents, grandparents. It was really, truly a different time than, than it is in today's world. Hiding, I enjoyed being Vinny young child, I enjoyed being a teenager, I enjoyed being a younger adult. And what cruelly exploded for me was when it was okay to learn butter clinking culture, I look forward every summer to the visitors, because they remind me of, of fifth and sixth graders that are hungry for information about extinct culture. That the more questions is, if it's asked, the easier it is, for me, to give her a good tour, I always welcome questions from from our visitors. So Well, Joe, one of the things I remember from you, and you and I first met sometime in the probably in the around 88, or 89, someplace in there. And, you know, I was the captain of a boat called the sheltered seas, I remember coming to catch cam, looking first for somebody to get some color and, and I met this guy, Joe Williams. And, of course, we are a lot younger men at that time, Joe. But, you know, I, one of the things that intrigued me about you from day one is you not only share the story, but you're a prankster, and you're always smiling. And somehow you tell a story that just puts a smile and laughter in on people's face. I mean, where did that come from? How did you get to be this wonderful man of knowledge of culture, but yet, just put that out there in such an easy way for people to understand and smile about all the years of giving, giving cultural lectures. And the clinker culture. What I've learned from those earlier years, is that lecturing can be really dry. If you don't throw a joke or two in there. Usually when he people are engaged, and the follow the story, follow the joke, and then they burst out laughing, that wakes up the person who's sleeping and say, what was that? What did I miss? So that keeps your attention. And I've learned to include my species or give politically, and I just have a lot of fun watching the reaction of the folks who hear the joke for the very first time. Well, amen to that. I feel the same way. And I have heard you speak probably hundreds of times over the years, both as a part of your own business where the eagle walks but also in political and industry events. And I always appreciate that you bring humor to that table. Joe, it's been a wonderful thing. So tell me from from your viewpoint, where where is cultural tourism going? How are you seeing it catch? Can is that? Is that something that is growing? Is it something you want? I mean, how do you view this idea of cultural tourism? Actually, cultural tourism is taking off quite a bit this, when I initially started, started the walking tours, I was probably the only one for 1520 years comfortably, or the familiar hat with eagle feather in which brown hat. I use that primarily because we have a group of 15 people and they need to follow, it's easy to see it go further follow the eagle feather. And when I when I have private tours, I just tell the folks when you get off the ship. Look for me, I'm wearing brown hat with eagle feather in today's world. There's a lot more folks that are giving tours, cultural tours, private tours, that are viewed in a personal car, and others that are viewed that actually had purchased in 12 passenger vehicles, those end up to be private tours or a group of eight people. And then if they're able to, to view a lot of other other things within the watch catch can has as to present. I'm not sure how in depth, the cultural aspect of those tools are but I certainly in my tour, I cover all as much as I can within the allotted time given. So used to my tour last 90 minutes. Keep in mind when I started out I often think about what did I say all during that time? tours that I did for Alaska sightseeing. Years ago, when we initially started out the 90s in my tours were two, two and a half hours. Sometimes. I remember this one time, it was pouring down rain in September, blowing probably 3040 miles an hour. And I just got a group together, there were 28 of us. And I said, if you're too afraid to get wet, you just as well get back on board ship, because we're gonna get wet. We did two and a half hours in the all stayed with me the entire time, I was really blessed and pleased about that. I've now just learned to speak faster. As a result, the tune of hours, went down to 90 minutes, covered the same amount. Just Just speak faster. Well, I remember Joe one time I invited you not that many years ago, maybe eight or 10 years ago, you came down to Seattle, and I came down to Seattle, and we met and you helped him christening the SS legacy. Oh, gosh. I remember, as we were getting together before the ceremony, I said, Hey, Joe, this is going to be like, you know, just a quick five minutes, kind of blessing and this guy. And you looked at me and you said Dan Blanchard clink at like me cannot speak for five minutes. And I think you carried on for a half an hour, 45 minutes. And it was superb I my staff. That's very true. You give a clinic and a microphone and an opportunity to speak to 100 or more people. You're in for a long, long haul. It was a wonderful, wonderful time of trading gifts and a little bit of one upsmanship on your part. As I remember, I still have a really wonderful drum that you gave me that day. Oh, yeah, thank you. But Joe kind of moving along. You know, I one of the things that fascinates me about my brother, Joe Williams is not only the cultural side that he has learned and your abilities, a storyteller and just your love of people. But you also got involved politically, some years ago now both in Sacramento and catch can and with within the Native group organizations are what causes a guy who just has this love for life, and has always got a smile on his face to get involved in politics. Well, following in my mother and father's footsteps, they were involved in politics earlier days, to Alaska new brotherhood, as I stated. And then my father, as I mentioned earlier, is the mayor of Saxman, 38 years, it's pretty hard not to get involved if your father's involved. And those days, and meetings were held in our living room in my parents home because there was no public facility and Saxman to hold the meeting. So that's we just listened to following their footsteps and the been in the leadership of of Alaskan the brotherhood. I became the local president when I was 16 years of age, still involved in the Alaskan two brothers 1015 today. So as far as the city of Saxman is concerned, I was on the city council for 12 years. Mayor for five years. One of the things when you do something, and you got to follow through. And that one thing that I did is that attended Bureau meeting and addressed the mayor, Mayor, two or one week before unfortunately, driving while he was intoxicated, front page, Ketchikan Daily News. And so I addressed the mayor at the meeting and said, I asked him to resign. Because if you don't resign, you know you are telling our children that it's okay to do what you did. He said I'm not going to resign. So then I adjust it to the assembly members I said, then you have a responsibility to to remove him from office. They didn't because it was actually about formance before election. So then when you open your mouth, you better step up to the plate. I got talked into running for mayor and it was surprising to me that I got elected. So I was the Ketchikan gateway borough mayor for three years and and that was good. I felt my heart and mind. That was good leadership. That was a good exposure. But really, the need for Joe Williams is in Saxman. So that's what I've been doing since? Well, it's a it's certainly a wide array of very strong efforts that you've had across the both political venues and in the industry of travel and guests. And one of the things I know about you, Joe, is you're all you are all heart and soul, and you are the most ethical moral man I have ever met. And, of course, I like to add the laughter and you just always make me happy, which Which reminds me, I received call now, probably six years ago or so. It was my my friend, Joe Williams. On the other end of the line, he said, Dan, I want you to come to a test can to a ceremony, and I want to adopt you as my tribal brother. And of course I was I to this day, I'm still I'm getting goosebumps right now, Joe? You know, I mean, that is such a an unbelievable honor. You know, how am I worthy is what I think I've shared with you many times. But from your standpoint, share, share that story about you know how this all happened with you and me and what happened in your heart to make that something's so wonderfully connected between you and I, please, no, you're the first person that I've adopted ever. I say that with great pride, because oftentimes, people adopt other non natives just on the whim, just because it felt good at that time. And for me, it took nearly 10 years, for me to get to that point. And seeing that, Dan Blanchard is who he says he is, and he doesn't by his actions, my mother has always said, Action speaks louder than words. And by your actions, it's your desire to share this great community of Southeast Alaska. It isn't just that you assign someone to do it, you jump in there, and you do it. And to me, to me, that's the kind of brother that I want in my life. And so that where he takes great pride and joy in sharing query, I look at this point, my part of Alaska, and I'm certainly you know, more about our clicky culture, and have a better have an understanding of how our click through culture works more than a lot of clinical people. Because of that separation took place back in the early 30s, and 40s, and some clickers who live outside the state of Alaska, or point south. You know more about our culture than they do. And you share it with pride to me. Like I said, Action speaks louder than words by your actions. I wanted to be my president. Christ. I don't think I've ever shared that with you. I know those words you have it. So I'll share a story along that line a little bit came a couple years later, maybe a year and a half later. And as you know, we have celebration in Juneau. Every June or every other June. I missed it the first year that after I was adopted, but the second year, right. I had my beautiful robe that Suzy made up on my wall I remember seen it and I placed the journal and I had it up on the wall there is a piece of just thanks and art, but I hadn't actually other than when I was at family events that you and I have had I hadn't worked it out in public and you always encouraged me to but I just was up until that point I had this this kind of like why am I worthy of this I just felt it was so humbled I just felt like I couldn't wear it. And but then it celebration a year and a half later after receiving the blanket from yourself and Susie. I worked for the first time at Publix. I remember wearing it and and they're you know, I'm it's white guy, right? But but there was total acceptance. I even met some of my family from the killer whale clan, killer whale house, which I belong to through you. And it was one of the most phenomenal moments and since then I've learned the ropes are several times as well. In fact, even when we went out to Cape pox, what year year and a half ago or so, where our good friends Rooney was was adopted. It means a lot to me to this day, Joe. And that can tell you now that I'm really comfortable wearing one Are the road. So what what's what's the future for Joe and Susie? What do you guys dream about? Post COVID? Yeah, one of the things that we want to be able to do real soon after is activity of present day to be able to visit her grandchildren. And this year, I believe it will be Susie's last year to be employed. So will give us additional freedom to be able to travel about, I'm praying that I have a lot of good summers to continue with the with the tour business, and then have the winter to enjoy that. That's on our heart and mind. We've always wanted to drive and visit folks who have come to our part of the country and said when you're in Kansas City, or when you're in when you're in Tennessee Lucas happen. So this kind of thing. So we thought of perhaps taking the train going across country, or just driving. There's numbers of folks that would be able to visit doing that. My preference would be to drive in. So driving between nine and three o'clock in the afternoon, will take some time to get across country. And that's okay. That is okay. Yeah, yeah. Well, that's, uh, that sounds like a really fun idea. And, of course, we're looking forward to hopefully a season coming up here and in April, May in Alaska. I am curious. So Joe, you, you walk a lot on your tours. I mean, how many more miles a week do you normally get actually, when tourism is truly underway, I do three days a week, 10 miles a day, good for you. And three off days, they do five miles a day with the training or not? I do that, how I shared with folks that and you're the reason I'm in good shape. Because with like I said we'd like to or not, I have to walk out that's always been quite a motivator for me. Because it's now been about five years ago, I started giving guest walks in judo for guests that are going on our boat. And I would tour them around town not I took the tips on how you did a bit different content more of a history tour. And of course, every time I finish up and it's the boats going to catch Kanye, I basically say, you know, make sure to look up Joe Williams and we just kick him in the shin for me. Just because I'm sure that that's happened, I gotta believe it's happened. Those are good things. And I, you know, look at you as a mentor in life and a friend or brother. I remember thinking about it. When I first went on when you're walking tours, I thought you know what kind of his life is progressing on and I don't maybe don't have as much daily responsibility, I want to get to a point like Joe and be able to do these blocking to me, I was able to start them up and still do them a little bit. We'll see how that holds up post COVID. Report, Joe. I remember one year when I initially started out in this business, and I was doing lectures for cruise West at that time, when in the morning, when the evening and had to others to do a press my walking tours. And I figured it out. It's about close to 10 hours of continuous talking. Well, Joe, as we're starting to wrap up here, you've shared a lot about you know what you what you hope to do get them out on the road and a car and such when you're thinking of those travels in your own personal travels, in the future. And in the past. Are there any any travel stories that you can share with our group of travelers about just what what hit home for Joe Williams, one of the big things for us, my wife and I was when we were blessed with the opportunity to go to Hawaii and do unchoose tour there. I've been to Hawaii and many times. And I've seen more of Hawaii in their cruise than it did so many times before. And I appreciated that because we're able to views the earlier day settlement of Hawaiian islands but also Biggie was being able to view the whales. That was phenomenal. A phenomenal show. Five, six six hours of seeing these whales in the water huge coming across our bow. The meeting just worked out real well for them, we were able to view that he is that particular Cruise was when the captain said, the first thing. He pulled out a letter and said, This is the letter you got from me to tell you how, what we're going to do it, crumbled it all up and threw it in the wastepaper basket. He said, now that you're here, we're going to do what you want to do. Really interesting part about that was this. You're a couple of college boys on board. And one of the college boys. I think it was the third, third day or so. And you know, it's absolutely beautiful day, and I don't know where we're going. But the ocean was calm. At four degrees. He said, Wouldn't it be nice if we just stopped and went swimming? 10 minutes later, we stopped. And when swimming, and that was the captain living up to his word. We're going to do what you want to do. The other really interesting part that I really had a lot of fun and, and my wife did as well as that was, when we did our 45th wedding anniversary. We went to Hoonah. Remember that? Well, Joe, did you read time? That was what's in Hoonah? Who takes out question was asked me who takes her wife to cooler Alaska on their 45th wedding anniversary? Yeah, I did. And the reason I wanted to go there was I wanted to experience the world in the world's longest supply. I really wanted to do that. But in rope, we got to see whales. Oh, gosh, it was so many whales, once we got to Hoonah. And we're underway to go to ziplining 45 minute drive to get up to the top of the mountain, six minutes to get down. That was such an invigorating time. The final one was for me was when my son Joe, who is in the yachting business, had his yacht, Barcelona, Spain. He bought me a ticket and he said, when when can you depart? I told him the date. When can you return? I said, I really gotta be back by the 21st of October. And I could leave unanswered. I'm thinking two weeks. He was thinking the entire time. So we didn't we take the Barcelona that that was such a great trip. Being able to view this cathedral that had been building for good how many years and it's supposed to be done 2021 been able to do to all the touring that we were able to at the time, and having my grandson with me. That was a truly memorable event. We went to Italy to get the road Rome thing. And that was a great time. While jell O's are great travel experiences, and I will just comment on one of them. And you know what I'm going to talk about, I remember so well harassing you heavily about why you took Suzy to Hoonah rather than Florida or California or white. And, and of course you came back with wonderful retorts. And for the next two years about once every three months, you sent me some little tiny piece of memorabilia from Hoonah. Alaska. Just in a white envelope doesn't say who it's from it but you did that religiously to Shay, my brother. Well, Joe, you you have a wonderful business in Ketchikan and of course, folks with UnCruise Adventures Good to see you on the trips and such but how can people best reach you? Should they be coming to catch can and looking for a way to see the town and surroundings that are much more meaningful man, I have always told people who've taken my walk into a cage can 90 minutes you will know more about Ketchikan and a lot of local people. That's very true because I've had many local people take a tour and said I didn't know half didn't know half the stuff that you shared. So it's not surprising to me. The best way to get ahold of me is by my phone. It's 907-254-0134 and that's probably the best way. The other would be my email JC W and sons. It's JC W AMD Well, I always love that where the ego walks There's a wonderful business headed by this wonderful man and brother of mine, Joe Williams. Well, thank you very much, Joe. It's been absolutely wonderful seeing you my brother. I hope that that that not too long passes before we step across the water and have a chance to join again, man, man looking forward to it. Me too. Me too. And please give Susie and the family a hug for me and look forward to the day we can reunite. Cheese. Thank you. Thanks for listening to no ordinary adventure sharing locally harvested stories about adventure? Be sure to subscribe, leave a review, tell a friend and help spread the word we are a community of nature lovers, intrepid travelers and outdoor adventurers mostly from the comfort of a small boat and we want to spread our love of this fascinating planet. That's it for this episode. Now get outside