Please help the Black Earth Institute continue to make art and grow community so needed for our time. Donate now »

a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Vivian Faith Prescott

How to Yoik the Stikine River

Remove your shoes at the edge of our island. Close your eyes and fly your mind north to the headwaters—Mount Umbach, 6,000 feet above sea level to a chain of small lakes. Tilt your head back and let the first sounds take a meandering course. Trust this process, said your yoik teacher. Turn your mind west, then northwest, flow south along the Three Sisters Range, across highway, enter a deep canyon, cut through plateaus, and swiftly fall into a narrow channel. Squeeze yourself between walls of volcanic rock. Flow north past stratovolcanoes, and downstream to Telegraph Creek. Carry a river boat in your mind filled with tourists and locals, float an old cottonwood log down past cousin’s Blue Bird floathouse, and a rickety moose camp. Meander past kids in their orange life-jackets swimming off the dock at Twin Lakes. Flow-fly past the hot tub over two nude bathers, and past “The Desert” with the picnickers eating smoked salmon sandwiches on the sand. Drift near the cabins on Farm Island. Flow through the memories of Grandfather homesteading, my mother and her first home as a toddler watching moose eat the garden’s carrots and watching stars streaking overhead across another river of sky. Catch a glint of salmon, hear the sealion’s bellow. Surge home, past the airport lights, past the old derelict boats rotting on the beach, past the harbors, and line of highway, to touch the rocky island shore. There, cold-kiss the current across your toes, suck up the notes into your legs, reach belly and breath. Draw the river in. Fill up with a sandbar, spin in a whirlpool. Open your mouth and make a sound like gravel. Scrape like a cottonwood tree sloughing off the riverbank into the slough. Sound like silt and grit. Become the Shtax’heen.

At a nearby glacier, I heard a yoik for a child

“Dovdna is a very simple joik that the child can easily recognize.”

~ Elin Kåven & Jungle Svonni


I was born from a river of ice

with ancestors clutching hands nearby.


I was born with eyes splashed

with the witness of distant stars.


Born as morning slipped

from night into the neighborhood,


as the doe leaped through the still silhouette

of the barn tree and ran down the dirt road.


Born to conjure glaciers into a traditional

song with sound drawn on coastlines.


And here I am, new from mask of night,

somewhere between sunset and gray light,


where I’ve burrowed out from beneath

the dreams my ancestor women have chanted up


to inhabit this present shape, to inhabit

this rain drenched day intoned with


silt-laden words, like wind over grassflats.





* Elin Kåven & Jungle Svonni, of Beneath the Northern Lights, are my first yoik (joik) teachers.


Vivian Faith Prescott was born and raised on the small island of Wrangell, Alaska, Kaachxana.áak’w, in Southeast Alaska, on the land of the Shtax’heen Kwáan. She lives and writes as a climate witness in Lingit Aaní at her family’s fishcamp. She is a member of the Pacific Sámi Searvi and a founding member of the first LGBTQIA group on the island. She’s the author of several poetry collections and works of non-fiction and fiction. Along with her daughter, Vivian Mork Yéilk’, she co-hosts the award-winning Planet Alaska Facebook page and the Planet Alaska column appearing in the Juneau Empire.


Other works by Vivian Faith Prescott »

©2024 Black Earth Institute. All rights reserved.  |  ISSN# 2327-784X  |  Site Admin