The Kake Dog Salmon Festival returned on the last weekend of July and nearly 300 locals turned out to celebrate. But the event felt bittersweet as younger residents step into the shoes of a generation of Kake Elders.
As you approach Kake’s cold storage facility, you’ll hear Kendall Jackson pretty quickly.
“Come and get your raffle ticket!” Kendall shouts into a microphone.
There’s also a bunch of prizes up for grabs.
“…Camping chairs, $50 Costco gift cards, a 32 inch smart TVs — there’s two of those,” Kendall lists off. “…Two 65 inch smart TVs, and also two Seaplanes round trip tickets.”
She thinks those round-trip tickets are the best prizes of them all.
“It is $239 from Kake to Juneau, one-way,” says Kendall. “So you can understand the cost of two round trip tickets.”
The raffle benefits the Kake Tribal Heritage Foundation, which helps people people that are going on medical travel. Medical travel is a big concern in Kake these days. Alaska Marine Highway services have become less frequent, Seaplanes prices have shot up, and a generation of Kake Elders are only getting older.
Kellie Jackson is the festival organizer. She’s nearly 30, and moved back to Kake a few years ago. She’s attended her fair share of funerals since coming home.
“Those are the ones that I wanted to keep it alive for,” says Kellie. “We almost had to cancel this year because nobody took the job on, so I just decided to take it on, just in honor of all of them. And all the times that I felt defeated and didn’t know if it was going to come together. Those faces and their smiles are what pushed me.”
It’s also what pushed Kellie to bring the festival back to Kake’s cold storage facility. The event was originally a celebration for the workers once they had processed a million chum. But since the facility shuttered a decade ago, the festival hasn’t been back here — until now.
“I wanted to bring the tradition back to its roots,” says Kellie. “Where it originally came from.”
Outside the empty warehouse, stalls are selling lemonade, deep fried halibut, jewelry, and salmon eggs. The most popular: a bright blue stall named, “Angie Kadake’s Shack,” to honor an Elder who passed away this year. Inside, Nikki Jackson is swamped with kids. One demands some gumballs, which she sold out of at noon.
By the time the afternoon races begin, the kids are pumped full of sugar. First up in a series of festival games: a battle between the village’s 1-year-old girls.
After all that, the children’s stomachs are rumbling again. Luckily, Kake is pretty serious about its eating competitions too. Kendall Jackson handles the legal paperwork.
“[Everybody] 16 and under — you need a waiver for water events, the pie eating contest, and the hot dog eating contest!” she shouts.
With all the pie and hot dogs gobbled up, attention turns to the ferry terminal. One of just two ferry arrivals this month has landed. Kake’s Kéex’ Kwáan dancers welcome the visitors as they arrive in. A group of about 20 perform two songs, announced by Elder Ellie Jackson.
“The first song we did was from the Raven clan,” says Ellie. “It’s a love song. And second — in our culture, we do a balance of the Eagle and Raven. So, the Eagle song was the killer whale migration song.”
Watching the dancers from a nearby car is Ruth Demmert is watching the dancers from a nearby car. She’s one of Kake’s few remaining fluent Lingít speakers, and she turns 86 this year.
“Well, we’ve lost quite a few Elders the past three years,” says Ruth. “So many that — you know, it’s hard. Hard to speak the language anymore because there’s so many of them gone.”
Her message to Kake’s next generation is to keep the language strong.
“Don’t give up,” she says. “We wish them luck.”
As the Kéex’ Kwáan dancers finish, another festival’s tradition begins — the fish fileting contest. Jules Jackson explains the rules as she sharpens her knife.
“No fins, no ribs, no head,” says Jules. “I usually start from the head, you know, around the collar, straight down, the fins and everything come out. And the guts!”
Jules is the fileting champion of two or three years, by her recollection.
“[I’m] taking my dad’s place,” says Jules. “He was a champion before.”
If you want to freshen up after all the fish blood, guts and gore — you can join the kids as they rush to the dock for the water games. Watching the children leap into the water as the sun goes down, festival organizer Kellie Jackson has some company —one of Kake’s newest residents.
“This is my son, Casanova,” says Kellie. “He’s my one and only child. He’s going to be turning two in September. Everybody waves in Kake, and my little boy was seven months when he got that down.”
And with that, Casanova waved farewell and the sun set on Kake’s 29th Annual Dog Salmon Festival.