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Friday, November 11, 2011

Shakes Island and the Civilian Conservation Corps

By Emily Moore
The Shakes Island Restoration Project belongs to a long history of restorations at Wrangell that dates back to the 1930s (if not before). During the Great Depression, the U.S. Forest Service oversaw a restoration of Shakes Island as part of a major federal initiative to preserve Tlingit and Haida totem poles in Southeast Alaska. Local Tlingit men were hired to do the restoration work through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the relief program that was the hallmark of President Roosevelt's New Deal. The hope of the CCC restoration program was to provide local men with short-term jobs preserving totem poles in a "totem park" that would attract tourists and thus provide long-term jobs for Native artists. During the New Deal restoration project, the lead carvers at Wrangell were Joe Thomas and Tom Ukas. Many other local men helped to adze boards, rough out the totem poles, and erect a new version of the Shakes House. When the park was completed, Natives and non-Natives celebrated with the Wrangell Potlatch, June 3-4, 1940. It was then that Charles Jones, who had also worked for the CCC, was named the next Chief Shakes.
Shakes Island is one of six totem parks established by the CCC in Southeast Alaska during the Great Depression. (Klawock, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Saxman and Totem Bight are the other parks.) The CCC also restored totem poles at the park in Sitka and carved three totem poles for Juneau. Some scholars have argued that these New Deal totem parks represented a government appropriation of Native heritage. They point out that the idea of a "totem park" was not a Tlingit or Haida concept, and that traditionally totem poles were not preserved but were allowed to decay naturally. While this is true, it is also important to note that Tlingit and Haida peoples have adopted the New Deal totem parks for their own cultural needs. The Wrangell Potlatch and the succession of Charles Jones to the rank of Chief Shakes is one example of how Wrangell Tlingits used the totem park to advance Tlingit traditions in the 1940s. And the Shakes Island Restoration project today shows how the park continues to serve as a site for Tlingit art and culture. A hundred years from now, historians may study this restoration project as part of a long and proud tradition of totem pole restoration at Shakes Island.
Emily Moore is PhD Candidate in the history of art at the University of California, Berkeley. Raised in Ketchikan, she is completing her dissertation on the six totem parks in Southeast Alaska created during the New Deal, 1938-1941. Anyone with information on carvers who participated in the New Deal projects are encouraged to contact Emily at, so that she can honor their role in this early restoration project. You can also view her presentation to the Sealaska Heritage Institute by going to
Photo is courtesy of University of Washington Libraries. The caption reads "Tlingit totem pole being carved inside the Civilian Conservation Corps workshop, Wrangell, Alaska, 1939."

Friday, November 4, 2011

GoodSearch Fundraiser

We’re excited to announce that the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) Association, the tribe’s non-profit, has been accepted to GoodSearch and GoodShop! More than 100,000 nonprofits and schools participate in this to raise funds. You can help by doing the following:
·         Use - A search engine powered by Yahoo!, so you get great search results, and each time you search, GoodSearch makes a donation to our cause.
·         Use - An online marketplace that donates a percentage of your purchase to our nonprofit. You can choose from more than 2,500 popular merchants. Shopping through GoodShop is the same as going to the retailer's websites directly but it also helps our cause.
·         Download the GoodSearch & GoodShop Toolbar. The GoodSearch Toolbar works with your browser to ensure that our cause earns money every time you shop and search - even if you skip going to GoodShop or GoodSearch first.
So, visit our home page at and click on the GoodSearch logo to get started today.
As a special welcome offer, Vistaprint is giving GoodShop users 50% off custom printed postcards, business cards, posters, brochures, banners, invitations & other great products. In addition 6.5% of your purchase will be donated back to our cause!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Linda Churchill on Carving and Her Dad

[My goals are to] be a better adzer and try and work on my own at home. And I want to try and make a mask. My dad made several masks that I can look at and try and study. And he made beautiful, beautiful eight-foot long medicine paddles or shaman paddles and he used my hair on them. If I could get good photos of what he has left here, I’d like to try and make my father happy even though he’s not right here with me. In fact, there’s a two-finned killer whale he did down at Chief Shakes grave. A couple of years ago I noticed the wind had blown and one fin was missing. I got hold of three different people trying to get somebody replicate it while the one fin was still there [to copy]. And no one did anything and last year the second fin disappeared. So, I mentioned it to John Martin, and he said he’s going to get a special piece of wood, and make a template, and I get to do copy my Dad’s fins. So that’s cool.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Susie Kasinger on Wanting to be a Carver

I took a JOM class in middle school and we made a plaque. So, carving is something I’ve always been interested in and appreciate. I mean, I could stand and look at that bench out in front of Wells Fargo for a long time. A couple of years ago, I signed up for the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan to do the carving class. I already took the power tools class. But then our rear end went out of our truck, so we had to use the money to get that fixed. I was going to sign up for it this year but then this job came along. So maybe next year if I’m not doing anything, because you have to take the introduction to carving and design. You have to go by step by step and take each class. About eight years ago, I took a class with Steve Brown. I still have all that stuff. I want to go somewhere. I guess there’s a place in Terrace too that’s really good. And he [Steve Brown] said that if I got that on my resume, I could go anywhere.
One of my girlfriends, she’s like, you’re not going to be able to make a living doing a hobby. I don’t consider it a hobby. It’s more serious to me. I’m just a late bloomer I guess. It’s always something that I’ve wanted to do but then you got your kids, and you got this come up and that come up. I told my husband, why do I have to wait for my kids to graduate before I do something I want to do? I just want to do something that I want. I keep telling my daughter too, find something you really likedon’t do it just to make money.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wayne Price on Why He Wanted to Work on This Project

Wrangell is pretty close to my heart…I have my artwork before the Chief Shakes house posts and then I have my artwork after. When Steve Brown and I did the house posts in the 80s, we did 6 totem poles plus the 4 house posts. So, I spent 6 or 7 years here living in Wrangell. My son was born here in Wrangellmy first bornand I have a pretty good standing history from that time here in Wrangell. So, I went out there carving in a lot of other places, [but] I knew Chief Shakes clan house had to be done. And, they’ve had a rough road to get here. If it wasn’t for a few people standing their post during the hard times, we may not be where we’re at right now. I commend those that stayed with it. I built a clan house up in Anchorage at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in the year 2000 and I know what it takes to build a clan house. Anything about carving wood, I like to be involved. Big projects, I like to be involved…If the chance came up in my lifetime to do the Chief Shakes house, I wanted to be here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vanessa Pazar on Adzing Patterns

Excerpt from Interview with Vanessa Pazar:
I’ve watched them (the other adzers in the shed) so closely that you know when they’re having a bad day, they’re distracted or tired or not feeling well…My hope is that 70 years from now there’s going be a group of people looking at our clan house who will be able to point out who’s adzing is what. I know that in my studies of the clan house, Chief Shakes clan house, there are different patterns of different adzes. Wayne suspects there might be people that came in for a short amount of time and then left. But…I have 3 different adzes that I use and my spacing and my rows are the same but the mark is different. So, I wonder who will notice that. It’s really hard to pick out the different adzes though. You have to know what you’re looking for as far as what the differences are, the different marks of the adze. [The new adzers’ patterns have] changed even from a week ago... They’ve come so far. I’m really proud of them. Even from last Friday, their patterns have changed that dramatically.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tammi Meissner on How the Project has Strengthened Her Views of Her Culture

Joy: Has being involved in this project changed your views about your culture at all?
Tammi: It has strengthened them by far. [Especially] moving the totem poles, moving the artwork, seeing those poles up close. Because you always looked up to them waaaay up high and you saw them but you didn’t really get to see them. We got to touch them and clean them and feel them. We’re so proud of them…we feel connected. At least I feel connected. We got done moving the [undersea] bear totem…We moved him from the back of the house all the way over [next to the Eagle totem]. It took us 3 ½ hours and we worked non-stop. We did it by hand and by pulley - 3 women, 2 men. It was great. Great teamwork but it was nerve wracking because it was really muddy out there. Anyway, we got done and we were pooped and nervous so we sat down at the very take a 5 minute break. We sat down and this eagle comes flying down…right over the top [of us] and landed in the cottonwood behind [Chief] Shakes [House]. And then a raven comes in and lands on the tree too. It was just crazy. It was balanced. They sat there for about 10 minutes and then they left and we continued on. I think was a sign. So it just strengthens my feeling towards my culture, my people. I’m so happy to be doing this. I feel blessed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shakes Island is Wrangell's Island

Even though Shakes Island is technically owned by the Wrangell Cooperative Association, all of Wrangell feels ownership of the island. Its location in the center of the harbor puts it in the center of maritime activities. You can see it from most places in town, from the top of Mt. Dewey and from the highway driving into town. It has been a place to hold picnics, go swimming, take our visiting friends, and even to party. But most of all, it is a daily reminder of our Tlingit heritage. Wrangell, as Wayne Price so aptly says, is “an unrecognized stronghold of Tlingit culture.” Maybe because we see this heritage every day as we drive around town – from Shakes Island to the totem park to the artwork at the bank to the petroglyphs to the faces of our family and friends, we don’t recognize this. Hopefully, this project will help us see with new eyes that our Tlingit heritage is precious and needs to be not just preserved but reawakened and renewed in the light of a new century.
As always, Wrangell is proud of our island. Usually we mean this to be Wrangell Island. But we’re also proud of Shakes Island. It’s our island too.
Learn more at