April 16, 2024

How I became a Wolf

If you’ve read my earlier post about the Black Wolf and noted my comment about that encounter being a harbinger of the future, then here’s the story of that future and how I became a Wolf myself.

I’m married into the Inland or “Daa Kaa” (‘over the summit’) Tlingit nation of native people. My wife is of the Crow clan and as her non-native husband I had always been unofficially considered by custom and culture to be of the opposite Wolf clan to her. Culture and tradition dictated that if I were ever to be adopted by a member of the nation it would have to be by a Wolf elder who would do so.

Adoptions of the kind practiced within the Tlingit peoples aren’t something undertaken lightly, because these are matters of the heart as much as of the culture. Long before a likely candidate has any inkling they’re being considered for such a high honor their character, behavior, respect, understanding and identification with the culture is placed under close scrutiny and evaluated as to the rightness of such an action within the context of the culture.

I had absolutely no idea at the time this was taking place that I was being considered and evaluated in this way.

It was a late August in the late ’90’s when I was approached and asked by a female Wolf elder (who has since passed from this world) if I would like her to adopt me as her son. Her name was Fanny Smith – she’s the woman you see in the picture attached to this post – someone I had previously known affectionately only as ‘Aunty Fanny’. Though having lived a life firmly entrenched within the modern world her roots, her heart and her language had remained firmly embedded within Tlingit tradition, culture and the openhearted generosity of ancient family values.

I’m sure you can imagine how stunned I was  by the enormity of this great honor so unexpectedly and lovingly being offered to me; it was something I had privately longed for but had absolutely no right to request of anyone. Now here it was before me and I was overwhelmed with wonder, gratitude and my own new love for this Wolf elder – and honored beyond adequate words to be able to accept.

As she hugged me in happiness at my acceptance this wonderful woman who was to become my second mother told me that after the adoption I was no longer to call her ‘Aunty’ – I was to call her ‘Mom’. And to her this meant the word Mom came with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of actually being a mother to me. The reverse was of course equally true in terms of my own rights, privileges and responsibilities to her as a son.

The adoption took place the following October at a Headstone Potlatch my new mother was holding to say a final goodbye to the six children whom she had lost over the years of her own life.

While seemingly sad within the context of so many deaths suffered by her – and make no mistake they were devastating beyond belief or comprehension to her in every instance they occurred over the years of her life – the Tlingit Headstone Potlatch is a time not only of  saying a final goodbye and letting go. It is also a time of giving a great amount of gifts to members of the opposite Crow clan who helped and carried you through your times of grief, as well as a time of beginning new things in life.

Adoptions taking place on this occasion are an example of such a new beginning, and offer the cultural vehicle that explains how I became a Wolf.

While having no standing within the legal context of the word, an adoption like this had the far greater context of value within culture and tradition. As such I was given a new Tlingit Wolf name of my own (Gooch Guk Gu, which translates as ‘Wolf Ears’), accepted into my mother’s Daklaweidi Wolf clan, and considered along with my children to be a member of my new cultural Tlingit Wolf family. There was to be no question whatsoever at any time that my kids were to be her new grand-kids just as much as her own blood grand-kids had always been.

To me this had value light years beyond any kind of legal document telling me who I or my children now were, and I stood bathed in an intense yet humbling inner pride as these honors were bestowed upon me.

I left the Potlatch gathering that day as a Wolf, entitled to use our clan crests of both the eagle and the killer whale as symbols of my affiliation. It is because of this that I wear the Totemic Eagle tattoo on my arm with honor and pride of heart to that affiliation, and to the Wolf Mother who took me to her heart as a son.

If you’ve enjoyed this post about how I became a Wolf or have questions about it, just fill in the comment form below and I’ll be glad to respond to them.