SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Tribal house restoration on schedule;
Cedar Logs Received for Chief Shakes Tribal House,
Land for Carving Shed


May 17, 2012

(SitNews) Wrangell, Alaska - Project Manager Todd White stated that he was “very happy” with the schedule the Chief Shakes fire pit pre-restoration is keeping, as walls have already been removed and concrete poured.  “The concrete will go a long ways to help to battle moisture and helping prevent future insect and pest infestation by keeping the Cedar dry and off the ground,” said White. 

While the Chief Shakes Tribal House in Wrangell will have a new floor and footings, the centerpiece of the structure, the fire pit, has been preserved.  Original restoration plans had the Tribal House’s historic fire pit to be replaced; however, carbon dating conducted on the ash dated the pit back to the late 1800’s and White quickly changed the plans to leave the pit untouched.  In the new renovation plan, the Shakes Island crew carefully covered the pit with planks as concrete was delivered one wheelbarrow at a time, creating a foundation around the fire pit to ensure visitors will enjoy the fire pit for another 100 years.

jpg Tribal house restoration on schedule

Project Manager Todd White pouring concrete around fire pit
Photo courtesy WCA

The Tribal House of the Bear on Shakes Island in Wrangell is an example of the architecture of the Tlingit Nation. The house, once the home of Chief Shakes, is a replica of the original house erected on the site in the 1800's.

For the renovation, Sealaska Corporation donated 12 cedar logs to reconstruct the Tribal House, while Tlingit & Haida Regional Housing Authority (THRHA) donated downtown property for the construction of the new carving shed. The 12 cedar logs donated to the project were found on nearby Prince of Wales Island and delivered to Thorne Bay where they were finished by the Thaja Plicata Lumber Company. 

And, Sealaska Timber Corporation (STC) will also fulfill the projects request of six 40’ Red Cedar logs (40” at the butt) and another six 35’ Yellow Cedar logs (2 ½’ to 3’ in diameter).  Had this donation not come through, the Wrangell Cooperative Association could have been looking at an estimated $100,000 plus to purchase the logs.

“When Sealaska steps forward with its logs, the end result is not in dollars,” said Sealaska Chair Albert Kookesh.  “The end result is where that community stands after they rebuild.”

“We would like to thank Sealaska for the log donation, which is a critical step in the restoration of the Tribal House,” said WCA President Ernie Christian.  “The biggest challenge has always been finding logs big enough to reconstruct the corner posts.”

Sealaska Lands Manager Michele Metz stated that “Sealaska is honored to be able to contribute to the Chief Shakes House restoration project … It is inspiring to see the cooperative spirit this project is generating, and we are looking forward to the completed project!”

Ground breaking for a new Carving Shed could happen as soon as 2012 after the news that land in downtown Wrangell has been secured.

Tlingit & Haida Regional Housing Authority has signed over the lot adjacent to the SNO Building, currently known as the SNO Replat, to the Wrangell Cooperative Association.  A temporary carving facility is currently located on the property and the new 4,000 square foot Carving Shed will soon call that spot home.  A lease signed by WCA on March 9, 2012, shows that the property is theirs through 2062 at a rate of just $1 per annum, with an option to extend the lease until 2087.

Architectural plans have been completed, and some initial funding set aside, so wheels are already in motion on the new carving shed.  The basketball-court-sized facility will include retail and office space, in addition to carving stations and storage, and WCA has been working with the City of Wrangell and Southeast Earthmovers to assure that plans for the Carving Shed will be included as the re-construction of Front St. continues to march through downtown Wrangell.

Upon completion, the Carving Shed will work “hand-in-hand with the SNO Building,” said WCA’s Carol Snoddy.  The carving shed would aim to host one master carver per month for the first two years to help train our local carvers, and “the community would benefit as beading, weaving and fur classes at the SNO building could coincide with carving classes at the neighboring Carving Shed.”

“We had to flip-flop our priorities when we found out how bad of shape Chief Shakes House was,” said Snoddy on the numerous carving shed delays.  Now, after years on the backburner, the Carving Committee is back and there is a chance foundation is poured within the year.  “We now see the carving facility as Phase 2 in the Shakes Island renovation.”

jpg 1940 Chief Shakes Island Dedication

1940 Chief Shakes Island Dedication
Photo courtesy WCA

THRHA Realty Corporation Broker Michael Ban stated that they were “glad we could make this happen.  We look forward to seeing the finished Carving Shed.”

The Tribal House restoration progress has lead to the WCA commencing planning of the Chief Shakes Island Re-dedication. 

Meeting are already being held to plan the ceremony, which is scheduled for May of 2013. 

Tribal House re-dedications don’t happen often, so while WCA’s Tis Peterman is planning for as many as 500 visitors for the ribbon cutting ceremony, Peterman is leaving the door open for a lot more interested parties to find their way to Wrangell.

“Looking at numbers from similar events around Southeast Alaska, and throw in the fact that Haines and Kasaan are looking to do renovations to tribal houses like Shakes Island, we could be looking at more than the 500,” said Peterman. 

“We will have a better estimate on total visitors after the dance committee gets filled up,” continued Peterman.   “We’ll be conducting an outreach, hopefully recruiting dancers from communities all around Southeast.  We could see as much as 30 dancers per community participating in the re-dedication, which would easily put us near that 500-visitor-mark.”

If you would like to help with the re-dedication, sign-up sheets can be found at the WCA office.  Volunteers are greatly needed to help with housing, transportation, food, advertising, fund raising and much more. 

Shakes Island is located in the harbor at Wrangell, Alaska and contains the Chief Shakes Historic Site, a National Register site that receives over 10,000+ visitors a year. The island stands as one of the few lasting reminders of Southeast Alaska Natives and their unique totemic art. The site’s main feature is a replica of a 19th century Tlingit tribal house which is set on the authentic location historically occupied by Chief Shake’s lineage. Not only is the site important to the national chronology of Native-white contact, it is still used today for Tlingit ceremonies and contains the prized clan artwork— at.óow —of the Stikine Tlingits.  Shakes Island is owned and operated by the WCA.

The Tribal House of the Bear on Shakes Island in Wrangell, Alaska is a wonderful example of the architecture of the Tlingit Nation. The house, once the home of Chief Shakes, is a replica of the original house erected on the site in the 1800's.

The tribal house, once the home of Chief Shakes, is a replica of the original house erected on the site in the 1800's. It was completed in 1940 built by collaboration between the CCC, the Forest Service and the local Tlingit tribe. Except for minor repairs, no major reconstruction has taken place to the structure. Because the tribal house is listed on the National Historic register, the replacement timbers must be hand adzed. Master carvers from other communities are overseeing and training locals to complete the adzing. The old structure needs to be dismantled and then a new structure erected in its place with the hand-adzed timbers, new electrical and a new roof of split cedar shakes. The totem poles on the island also need to be refurbished.

Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA) is the federally recognized tribe of the Stikine River region. WCA’s charter was approved by the Department of the Interior in 1942.

Of the 2,000 residents of Wrangell, approximately 800 are tribal members.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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