More Shakes Island photos and updates on Facebook

Monday, December 17, 2012

KSTK - Chief Shakes Renovation Update

The Chief Shakes Tribal House renovation has wrapped for the time being.  Construction is complete.  The artifacts and house posts still need to make their way from their spot at the museum back to Shakes Island, but Project Manager Todd White says they'll need a good shot of weather for that.  So White, and the rest of the renovation crew, will get the holidays off, a vacation well-earned.  The crew will start back up in the new year, but at what capacity is still unknown.  The project is finally wrapping up.  Bring on the Re-dedication.

Greg Knight put together a great piece for KSTK on the status of the project and a recent open house.  Click here to check it out.

For a blog post on the canoe workshop put on by the Chilton brothers of the One People Canoe Society, and a complete schedule of events for the May 2013 ceremony, check out the Re-dedication blog.

We're going to need help to pull off this Re-dedication.  Hotels have no vacancies and beds are tough to come by in Wrangell.  We are looking for people to help house visitors over the weekend of May 3rd & 4th, 2013, or assist with housing in any way.  Whether that be renting out your guest place, loaning a spare bed or couch, or volunteering to help organize the Re-dedication housing process, contact WCA.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The unsung heroes in the Carving Shed

The Tribal House renovation is crawling towards completion.  The structure itself looks like a near finished product, with foundation, wall and roof construction wrapping up weeks ago.  Finishing the interior could take a couple more months, and some of the house’s artwork, including the screen, still needs to be restored.  The bear screen, which guards the entrance to the Historical Site, will be restored by Master Carver Steve Brown and a couple of the Tribal House’s unsung heroes.

Susie Kasinger - Greg Knight photo

“Nineteen boards left,” exclaimed carver Susie Kasinger.

That was the good news the crew at the Carving Shed got back in late August, as Project Manager Todd White and the crew only need 25 more Cedar planks to finish the Tribal House roof.  Counting the three lay finished in the corner of the facility, and the planks each member of the carving trio were adzing that day, there was finally a finish line in sight.  

“It’ll take us about a week to finish those last 19,” said carver and Wrangell local Susie Kasinger.  “Some boards can take a little longer, depending on how many knots you find and how the grain is treating you.  It’ll usually take about 8 hours to finish one, but Linda finished 3 ½ the other day.”

The Linda she’s referring to is another homegrown adzer, Linda Churchill.  “I was just cruising that day, picking some really good pieces of wood,” said Churchill, whose father was also a carver.  “Picking the right piece takes a little luck.  Sometimes a good looking piece of wood can take you twice as long, you don’t find out until you get going a little bit.”

Linda reached for her adze, a very traditional tool in every sense, except for the tennis racket grip tape on the handle.  “Susie got us the tape from  I think my fingertips might be permanently square thanks to the adzing.  I’m not sure how bad of shape they’d be in without the tape.”

The trio made adzes of their own under the guidance of Master Carver Wayne Price at the beginning of the project.  Each has picked up a couple other adzes along the way, whether it be a hand-me-down or something they found on eBay.  
Linda Churchill

Kasinger and Churchill, along with Justin Smith of Whitehorse in the Yukon, have had every piece of Cedar pass through their workshop, a temporary carving facility comprising of two shipping containers and an adjoining roof.  While the local ladies say they couldn’t have done it without Smith returning for a second round in the Carving Shed, the real story remains that these two women are fueling a project in positions that historically are rarely filled by females.

“Linda and I aren’t really thinking about that,” said Kasinger.  “We’re just relieved to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the building almost finished.”

Not that they’re excited to be done, but they think it’ll be nice to carve without pressure of a schedule and hopefully carve without the Project Manager watching over their shoulder for a board that takes up to 8 hours to adze.  The two are now getting to show their skills in other areas of the project.  In addition to carving any finishing work, the pair has been re-painting lanterns and are counting down the days until the arrival of Steve Brown, who they will assist in restoring the screen.
Justin Smith

Kasinger and Churchill continue to “man” the shed, while Smith said goodbye to Wrangell until the Re-dedication in May.  If his plans held up, Smith could be finishing off a cross-continent run to Guatemala.

You read that right, running to Guatemala.  He’ll fly to meet his running partners, currently chugging across North America somewhere, then it’s off to Central America to take part in some Aztec/Mayan 2012 celebrations.  And this isn’t Justin’s first cross-continent rodeo.  Before coming to Wrangell last year, he hoofed it from Whitehorse to Panama City for a similar indigenous peoples event.

“It wasn’t so bad,” said Smith of the run.  “I got shin splints once, but that healed up after some rest.  My knee started hurting pretty good at one point, but that just went away.  Got to have good shoes.  It’s all about the shock absorbers.”

For more than 6 months, Smith’s group would crash in guest rooms, on couches, floors, or in tents on the voyage south.  This trip won’t last nearly as long, and Smith says he wouldn’t miss the 2013 Re-dedication for anything.

“This Tribal House, working in the Carving Shed, has been just like its own marathon,” added Smith.  “I am very honored to have been a part of the Shakes Island project.”

The temporary carving facility the trio called home is no more.  It won’t be long before ground is broken on a brand new 4,500 sq. ft. Carving Shed, on the same patch of land they carved on for months, but in the meantime they’ll work from another temporary shed.  Once again it’s two shipping containers and a roof, but this time they have a view as the shed is across the bridge from Shakes Island.  

The girls did have a little bit of a wish list for the new Carving Shed.  Something to battle the heat would be nice, since the temporary facility is built like a greenhouse, letting sunlight in while trapping the heat inside.  Panels were often removed and fans brought in just to get a breeze working.  They would also love a kitchen and bathroom.  They would like to not have to borrow fridge space and a spot to place a coffee pot from the neighbors.  I’d say they’ve earned it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tree

Photo by Greg Knight
A debate has risen about the giant tree that guards Shakes Island.

The massive cottonwood, estimated by local botanist Glen Decker to be in the 100 year-old range, stands nearly 75 feet tall and could possibly pose a risk to the Tribal House or totems if it were to give way during a storm.  

During a recent WCA meeting, community members spoke on the tree, including Tlingit elder Marge Byrd, who claims her mother planted the tree.   A unanimous vote decided that the tree will still be standing during the re-dedication in May, 2013.

The following is from an article by Wrangell Sentinel reporter Greg Knight, from the November 21 edition of the newspaper.

“That tree has been there a long time,” Byrd began. “I called my family and some other people about because it’s very emotional, but I had some good input and some of them said they should brace it up so it’s there for the dedication. After that, they can take it down and maybe plant a new one that would have been planted the year of our dedication, which would still have a great meaning to it.” 
Eliciting laughter from the gathering, Byrd also commented on what a member of her family told her might be the best idea. 
“My niece Dawn said, ‘You get down there and chain yourself to that tree,’” she said. “I know the Eagles aren’t going to be very happy, but it’s something that needs to be done because 15 or 20 years from now if you get a big wind that blows it over, there goes our house.” 
Todd White, the project manager for the renovation project on the island, said the need to remove the tree comes out of an abundance of economic caution on the part of the WCA board. 
“I know it has been there a long time and it’s very important to Marge,” White said. “We have a report that says we can band it and trim it and it might stand for years. But, the thing about cottonwoods is they are extremely heavy and when they fall they don’t come down the way they are supposed to. The concerns that the council has are that if it falls forward, it takes out the Eagle Totem, which has a price of $220,000. If it falls backwards, it takes out the house. That is $1 million with another million worth of artwork in it.” 
Decker’s report, which was commissioned by the WCA, states that his study of the tree shows an old tree in the middle of its life cycle. 
“The lifespan of Cottonwoods can run from 100 to 400 years old, but more commonly tends to be from 100 to 200 years old,” Decker’s report states. “The tree has a healthy root zone, trunk flare and crown. The codominant stems, or ‘fork’ of the tree is the only visible defect. The fork union is ‘U’ shaped and without decay, which is a good sign, however any fork attached this low on the tree can pose a hazard.” 
The possibility of the tree falling over and into the new Shakes Tribal House, while not directly addressed, is briefly touched upon in the report. 
“As far as the potential for the tree falling over, with the healthy root zone and overall health of the tree, combined with the pruning treatments it has received previously, I would say that it is unlikely to fall over with normal weather situations,” Decker added.
Decker also included that recommended hazard abatements would be to prune the upper canopy first, remove some of the larger branches under what he calls the “pedestrian zone,” and, “above where the new totem will be positioned.” 
Another safety feature Decker recommended would be the installation of a brace in the fork of the tree, which he states, “will reinforce the codominant or ‘fork’ stems while still allowing the crown of the tree to move naturally.” 
According to White, Decker has purchased an appropriate brace for installation in the near future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I like to put a little bling in it ...

I like to put a little bling in it.

Those were Project Manager Todd White's words as we admired the Tribal House from the boardwalk.

"The copper flashing will tarnish over time, but it's blinging right now," added White.  "But we're not doing anything different.  That's the same way they made the original Tribal House."

The shiny trim definitely strikes you, just like the smell of cedar and wood stain that fills your nose after crossing half of the 300 yard boardwalk.  The walls have been up for months, the roof on now for weeks, but it still shocks you as to how awesome Shakes Island looks on a sunny day.  That fact hasn't distracted White from his goal of having the island perfect by the time Re-dedication rolls around in May.

"It's going to take a while still," said White.  "We had to re-locate the temporary carving shed, which set us back some work-time.  We also took the time to cover the totems located on the island to protect them from the weather.  We're looking at finishing the floors, then lighting, heat and electricity. And if it turns out we're short a little Cedar, we may be looking for new logs to mill and adze to finish the floor."

Despite the setbacks, White says the project is still ahead of schedule, and is happy to say the last couple months of Southeast Alaskan storms haven't figured out the new roofing system.

In addition to the classic Cedar planks and shakes, White has added layers of 3/4" plywood and waterproof membrane.  Heavy rain and winds have come and gone without so much as a drop seeing the inside of the house and the new foundation.

"After all is done, we're still going to need a window of cool, dry weather to get the house posts and artifacts back inside," said White.  "And Wrangellites know it's tough to predict the weather, especially in the Winter."

"The building is golden," said WCA's Tis Peterman.  "It's encouraging to see the Tribal House progressing like it is.  It's in the latter stages of construction and after nearly 10 years of pushing, it's nice to not have to worry about it getting finished.  Now we can turn our attention squarely on the Re-dedication."

Nearly 700 have RSVP'd for the ceremony, scheduled for May 3rd & 4th, 2013.  That number consists of donors, dancers and canoers, not individual travelers.  Hotels, B&B's and rentals have been booked up, so we're going to need help from the community to pull this Re-dedication off.  If you can house, or help the Re-dedication in any way, contact the WCA.

Click here for a schedule of events for the Re-dedication.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sealaska comes through with more logs, this time for totems

Bear Up the Mountain

Wrangell Cooperative Association recently had their request of three giant, red, Cedar logs to replicate three totems approved by Sealaska.  

This means that the Undersea Bear, Strong Man, and Bear Up the Mountain totem poles, the three totems in the worst shape on the island, have taken their first step to being re-carved and re-seated in their rightful home on Chief Shakes Island.

In an October, 2011, Master Carver Steve Brown assessed the damages and concluded that complete replication will be required for the Undersea Bear (23’), Strong Man (28’) and the mountain half only of Bear Up the Mountain (17’).  The other totems will be cleaned and/or repaired, it's just that these three each had a foot in the grave.

The Bear Up the Mountain totem has been taken down and sits in two parts behind the Tribal House.  It stayed there over the winter, tarped and on the ground.  The bear part can be rescued with a little paint and elbow grease, but the 17’ mountain is a goner. The Strong Man and Undersea Bear are in dire need of complete re-carve and are currently being stored by the City of Wrangell.

Bear Up Mt
1940, Linn A Forrest Collection
This isn't the first time Sealaska has come up big in the restoration, as they already donated a dozern Cedars.  Those giant trees were logged by Sealaska Timber Corp, planked on Prince of Whales Island and shipped to Wrangell, where they were blessed by the local Native community and adzed in the temporary Carving Shed.  The finished product went to replace the largest pieces of the Tribal house, like the corner posts and sill beams.

“It feels great to know the restoration is going smoothly and we’re on our way to getting the totems back into the ground,” said WCA Pres. Ernie Christian. 

“It's phenomenal to see the Tribal House coming along as fast as it is and the adzed wood just looks beautiful,” added Christian.  "It's almost like it was machined.  I am very impressed with our adzers."

Project Manager Todd White is aiming to have most of the Tribal House finishing work wrapped up by the first of the year, giving him a nice window to get the artwork from the museum back into the house, then the WCA can focus on raising the totems again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tribal House 65% complete

Tuesday and Wednesday brought clear skies to Wrangell and a couple coats of stain to the North and South walls of the Chief Shakes Tribal House.  Walls have been up for some time, the roof is halfway done and the adzers are doing everything they can to keep the Cedar flowing to the island.  Project Manager Todd White took a few minutes away to walk me around the house and give me an update on the progress.
Photo by Greg Knight

"If I had to put a number on the total project, I'd say we're about 65% done," said White. "We expected to salvage about 30% of the existing Tribal House, but that number turned out to be 7%, creating some extra work.  But even with those additions, we're still on-time and will have everything ready for the 2013 re-dedication."  

The East half of the roof is nearly complete. The old roof, put together in 1939, consisted of Cedar planks and shakes ... that's it. The new and improved Tribal House roof will still have the Cedar planks and shakes, but White's throwing in some 3/4" plywood and a layer of Water Shield rubber membrane. Paired the new roof with the new foundation, this baby should be water tight.

"It's just awesome to see it all coming together," continued White.  "The project has been the most challenging I've ever taken on, but also the most rewarding.  It's great to come to work and see everyone on the job really enjoying and caring about what we’re trying to do here, not just picking up a paycheck."

"I feel like once the roof is done, we own it. We're home with nothing but finishing work ahead of us.  I'd like to see the finishing work wrapped up by the first of the year so we get the artwork back in there and start working towards raising the totems again."

The crew on the island is taking a few days off from the roof to tackle some other projects on the island, like staining, but they're also doing it to let the adzers gain a little ground.

"We've been really busy, but doing our best to keep up with whatever the crew asks for," said adzer Susie Kasinger, standing in a sea of Cedar chips inside a carving facility not built for warm weather.  

"It took us a week to finish the planks for one half of the roof.  It's a little overwhelming to see them looking for more Cedar after just four hours.  That's how fast they're putting it back together. I just try to keep checking the island, checking the progress. It helps us carvers stay pumped up."

For more renovation photos, check out our Facebook page.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The 1869 Bombardment of Wrangell

What if I told you that over 150 years ago, Wrangell was almost blown to smithereens by the U.S. Military after a member of the Stikine tribe bit off a white woman's finger?

You wouldn't believe me.  I didn't believe it at first.  How had I not heard this story before?

While not a lot of documentation exists on the Bombardment, most tell a very similar tale.  If you haven't heard of the 1869 Bombardment of Wrangell yet ... spoiler alert!
... The US Army was also involved in a shelling, later in 1869. 
George Thornton Emmons, a US Naval officer in Alaska from 1882 to 1899, and later one the first ethnographers to study Alaska Natives, wrote about the Wrangell incident in "The Tlingit Indians" his masterwork, which was written in the 1930s and 1940s but not published until 1991. 
"The shelling of Wrangell in 1869 by the Army at Fort Wrangel was ordered to enforce the surrender of an Indian named Scutdoo or Scutdor who had killed a White trader in retaliation for the wanton and unjustifiable killing of an Indian name Si-Wau by Lt. Loucks the second in command of the post," Emmons wrote. "Si Wau was drunk at the time and had bitten off part of a finger of (another soldier's) wife."
Emmons noted that Scutdoo was a cousin of Si Wau and felt duty bound to kill a white to avenge the death. The Army shelled a large portion of the Indian village and then took Scutdoo's mother and another Native hostage. Scutdoo gave himself up and was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder.
Emmons reported that before the execution Scutdoo expressed sorrow over the killing and said he had nothing personal against the dead trader and he hoped to meet up with him in the afterlife.
That's the Cliffs Notes version, courtesy of Dave Kiffen from his article US Navy Bombed Angoon 125 Years Ago, which can be found at

What that clip leaves out is that the U.S. Military blasted a few cannon balls into what was then Fort Wrangel and threatened to take the whole place down if Scutdoo didn't give himself up to be hung.  Well, he did.  In fact, Scutdoo's hanging was the first recorded in Alaska (Dec. 29, 1869), according to
The Bombardment made waves in the National news, but somehow isn't remembered when we, the locals, celebrate Wrangell history.  Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and WCA hope to change that thanks to a new grant.  SHI was the recipient of a one-year National Park Service (NPS) Battlefield Preservation Grant to document 1869 Bombardment through oral history work with elders in partnership with the WCA.  This is the first ever NPS grant awarded to an organization in Alaska to study a U.S. conflict with a Native tribe.

The final report generated through the grant will be given to the WCA and community of Wrangell to allow them to determine what could be done to preserve, market, develop or memorialize the conflict for the community’s advantage.  Some Battlefield Grant recipients in years past have gone on to build memorials, or be recognized as a National Historic Site, like Chief Shakes Tribal House.

Zachary Jones, SHI Archivist & Collection Manager and PhD student in Ethnohistory at University of Alaska Fairbanks focusing on Tlingit and Russian relations, will serve as the primary investigator on the Bombardment and believes “past writings do not do the situation justice.  Reports out there now largely represent only one side of the story.  They didn’t go far enough. One needs to understand Tlingit law, the cultural context and aspects of Federal Indian policy to address the whole situation.  I look forward to working with and serving the WCA and community of Wrangell in bringing this complex issue forward."

Fort Wrangell, 1869, by Vincent Colyer, who reported to President Ulysses S. Grant on the Bombardment

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rasmuson Foundation excited about Tribal House progress after visit

Wrangell Cooperative Association was pleased to welcome one of the earliest and largest contributors to the Chief Shakes restoration to Wrangell, as members of the Rasmuson Foundation paid the Tribal House and Carving Shed a visit on June 25th.

“The Chief Shakes Island Tribal House restoration is exactly the type of project the Rasmuson Foundation likes to get behind,” said Ed Rasmuson, who before becoming President and Chairman of the Board for National Bank of Alaska spent two years running the Wrangell branch after Senator Frank Murkowski.
Rasmuson Foundation members

“I called Wrangell home in 1966 and ’67 and it still holds a place in my heart. I would like nothing more than to see the Native culture preserved for future generations. Throw in the visitors that the restored Tribal House and a new carving facility will bring to town and this was a no-brainer project for us to back.”

“The Rasmuson Foundation absolutely loves Alaska,” added Rasmuson. “We’ve contributed more than $2.5 million to Wrangell projects and are proud to have contributed to Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA). We can’t wait to see the Tribal House and Carving Shed completed and the totems back in their rightful place again soon.”

Project Manager Todd White, WCA's Carol Snoddy and Ed Rasmuson
WCA’s Carol Snoddy worked for Ed Rasmuson at National Bank of Alaska/Wells Fargo for 30 years and “was very encouraged with the Rasmuson Foundation’s visit.”

“The members and their spouses were all really enthused on the island and genuinely excited to see our progress,” said Snoddy. “I really do believe that Wrangell is one of the bright spots in Southeast Alaska right now and our progress will help to strengthen our community and Native culture. Now it’s time to get the House back together and get those totems back up.”

Project Manager Todd White gave Foundation members a rundown of the project during the Shakes Island visit, showing off the freshly raised corner posts and mapping out the next steps in the restoration.

“The South wall framing is in place,” said White. “We're waiting on the second batch of our Cedar donated by Sealaska so we can finish the front wall, so we’re going to do some roof work in the meantime.”

Speaking on the South wall, White admitted to being a little nervous as Superintendent Richard Oliver made cuts through the corner posts for sill beams and framing.

“I was a little nervous for the first cut,” said White. “There's a lot of pressure riding on the cuts at this stage, not only due to the time and manpower involved in getting the Cedar here, but by the time the logs were finished, delivered and then adzed, they are valued at $30,000 a piece. I just told Richard, ‘If you can't make the cut, nobody can.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

First of the giant Cedars leave Carving Shed for Shakes Island

A muggy Tuesday morning in Wrangell saw the first batch of freshly adzed Cedar leave the confines of the Carving Shed for Shakes Island.  Here are a few pics of the process.

Carvers joined the renovation crew to assist with the transport, which includes toting the up to 27' Cedars across 300' worth of bridge.  Just like they did it during the 1940 restoration, dollies help usher the beams and posts across.

After resting under tarps for months, the totems were recently uncovered to breathe.  Laying next to the totems are sill beams, the longest being the aforementioned 27 footer.  These beams are pocketed, and the groves will hold panels of Cedar that can be slid in and out of place.  Many of these panels were preserved during deconstruction of the Tribal House and will be re-used.

Here sits one of the corner posts, in front of the Southwest corner of the Tribal House waiting to be raised.  This beast of a log was one of the prizes of the Sealaska log donation, and after some artful adzing by carver Justin Smith, it should go a long ways to make sure the house is standing for another 100 years.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

M.J. Murdock Trust Awards $222,000 Grant to Chief Shakes Tribal House Restoration

The Tribal House restoration on Chief Shakes Island in Wrangell was awarded another grant
last week, with the latest $222,000 award from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust inching the
project towards full funding.

After submitting and revising the grant multiple times beginning in 2009, WCA received notice
on May 24 that the grant had been approved. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust put no
restrictions on the grant distribution, and with the paperwork now officially signed, the entire
$222,000 will be paid out to the WCA at once.

“We extend our congratulations on your receipt of this grant,” said Steven Moore, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Executive Director. “We wish you significant and satisfying progress as you seek to strengthen and implement the ideals and mission of the Wrangell Cooperative Association.”

WCA’s Tis Peterman was pleased to hear the funds will arrive at once, and not be piece-mailed to the project. Peterman stated that “Murdock Charitable was very cognizant that we are aiming to get the building renovated this year and wanted to ensure we had all of their funding as we need it.”

“The funding is very close, if not fully-funded” added Peterman. “It will be dependent on the
costs of the materials needed to reassemble the building. The expense of getting the planks from
Prince of Wales Island was more than originally projected.”

Work continues on the Tribal House. Recently, Master Carver Steve Brown recently arrived
from Seattle to assess the project, and under advice from Brown, Project Manager Todd White
and his team are working to reassemble the National Historic Site.

Volunteers still needed for 2013 Shakes Island re-dedication, contact the WCA office

With Tribal House restoration on schedule, Wrangell Cooperative Association is looking for volunteers to help with the re-dedication ceremony, which will take place in May, 2013.  The WCA is in search of committee members and volunteers from all communities to help celebrate the re-opening of our National Historic Site.  If you can help organize housing, transportation, food, advertising, fund raising, dancing, gift giving or assist in any other fashion, please contact the WCA via phone (907.874.4304), email us at, or stop by the office in downtown Wrangell.  Thank you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Governor Appropriates $250,000 to Shakes Island, Sealaska Cedars Arrive to Blessing

Governor Parnell includes Shakes Island in Capital Projects for upcoming fiscal year

Wrangell Cooperative Association just got another dose of financial help, as Governor Sean Parnell included the Chief Shakes Tribal House and Carving Shed on the list of Alaska House District 2 funding recipients for the upcoming fiscal year.

"Alaska’s cash position is as strong as it’s ever been," said Governor Parnell in his annual Budget Message given in Anchorage on May 14th.  "We start from a position of strength.”

The WCA submission was just 1 of 8 Wrangell projects recieving funding in the new budget.  The Governor appropriated $250,000 for use in either, or both of, the Chief Shakes Tribal House restoration and Carving Shed projects. 

Speaking with KSTK’s Charlotte Duren, Wrangell Finance Director Jeff Jabusch called Wrangell’s results in the 2013 Fiscal Year Capital Projects list “by far, one of the better years we have ever had … We did well last year but I think this year was even better."

Architectual plans for the new Carving Shed have been completed, and the 40,000 + sq. ft. building will serve as not only a carving facility, but will contain retail and office space.  Sitting on the land adjacent to the SNO Building in downtown Wrangell, property given to the WCA by the Tlingit and Haida Housing Authority, the WCA plans to have master carvers taking one-month shifts at the facility for a period of 2 years to train local carvers.

"We were on the City of Wrangell priority list for Capitol Projects for over a year," said WCA's Tis Peterman.  "They submitted it and we were so focused on further fund raising and the Tribal House restoration, which is currently underway, that we were pleasantly surprised when Senator Bert Stedman called us in April, letting us know we were still on the Governor's table."

As far as the Chief Shakes Island restoration, Peterman says complete funding for the project is “very close,” after the State appropriation. 

Sandy Churchill - Photo by Greg Knight
"This is huge for the Tribe," said Peterman.  "It's not only a relief to know we will have the money for not only the Tribal House, but enough set aside to break ground on the new carving facility too.  This appropriation by the Governor should create momentum for further funding."

First of Sealaska donated Cedars arrive in Wrangell to Native celebration and blessing

The first batch of giant Cedars for the Chief Shakes Island restoration were delivered to the carving facility in Wrangell on this week, where the gift was met with a songs, beaded regalia and a blessing from members of the Tlingit community.

Elders, dancers and Wrangell community members were on hand for the blessing, which began with a prayer from Father Thomas Joseph Weise of the Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church.  Tribe members then brushed the massive, milled logs with Cedar branches and eagle feathers to brush away the negative spirits, and concluded the blessing with songs and dancing from members of the local clans.

"The blessing went beautifully," said Tongass Tribe member Willard Jackson of Ketchikan, who is assisting the WCA with Tlingit history during the resoration.  "I believe it is important to remember the tree and its life, as it too was part of this Earth."

Justin Smith and Dawn Hutchinson - Photo by Greg Knight
Justin Smith, who first came to town in 2011 to carve along side Wrangell’s female adzers, has returned to the city he claims to love Wrangell more than his hometown to help with the restoration.

Justin Smith and Dawn Hutchinson - Photo by Greg Knight
"The blessing was great," said Smith.  "We want this house to get built and everyone involved with the restoration to be safe.  I'm going to be here in Wrangell until the project is finished and the job is done.  The Cedar looks really good and I can't wait to get started so further generations can continue to honor Chief Shakes." 

Smith and his brother are working to restore a Tribal House in their home of Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory, and is hoping to see the Chief Shakes project to the end and take some of that knowledge back with him.

Sealaska granted the WCA's request for Cedar, with logs found on nearby Prince of Whales Island by the Sealaska Timber Corporation (STC) .  Had the Sealaska donation not come through, the WCA could have been looking at an estimated $120,000 to purchase a dozen Cedars of that size and quality to finish the corner posts of the Tribal House.

Project Manager Todd White called the first batch of Cedar "great looking wood ...  We've cleared a spot in the carving facility for these logs.  They're huge, so we're gonna need a backhoe to move them.  The corner posts are priority, so we're going to get them into the shed and get the adzers going on them right away."

Volunteers still needed for 2013 Shakes Island re-dedication, contact the WCA office

With Tribal House restoration on schedule, Wrangell Cooperative Association is looking for volunteers to help with the re-dedication ceremony, which will take place in May, 2013.  The WCA is in search of committee members and volunteers from all communities to help celebrate the re-opening of our National Historic Site.  If you can help organize housing, transportation, food, advertising, fund raising, dancing, gift giving or assist in any other fashion, please contact the WCA via phone (907.874.4304), email us at, or stop by the office in downtown Wrangell.  Thank you.

Photo by Greg Knight

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wrangell Cooperative planning Shakes Island re-dedication, needs volunteers

With the Tribal House restoration chugging right along, Wrangell Cooperative Association has begun preliminary planning for the Shakes Island re-dedication event.

1940 Chief Shakes Tribal House dedication
The WCA met Saturday, April 28, at the American Legion Hall to begin planning the ceremony, tentatively scheduled for May 2013.  There aren't many Tribal House re-dedications to compare to, so while WCA’s Tis Peterman is planning to for a rough estimate of 500 visitors for the ribbon cutting ceremony, she has left the door open for than number to be much greater.  

“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 500,” said Peterman.  

Numbers exceeding this estimate will create some extra work to accommodate visitors to Wrangell, especially in the area of housing.  The lack of available beds in town may cause the WCA to get creative with their planning, including perhaps bringing in a ferry to house the overflow, or getting people to open up their homes to visiting parties.

“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 ... we'll know more after Celebration 2012 in Juneau, we can gauge interest from other communities there.”

WCA is looking for volunteers to pull off a ceremony for the ages.   Committees are being formed to organize housing, transportation, food, advertising, fund raising, dancing, gift giving and much more.  If you would like to help with the re-dedication, sign-up sheets can be found at the WCA office.  

The next WCA meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 9th at the American Legion Hall in Wrangell. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Concrete being poured, Cedar logs on the way

Project Manager Todd White stated that he was “very happy” with the schedule the restoration is keeping, as walls have already been removed and concrete is currently being 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 Tribal House will have a new floor and footings, the centerpiece of the structure has been preserved.  

Original restoration plans had the Tribal House’s historic fire pit to be replaced.  Carbon dating conducted on the ash dates the pit back to the late 1800’s and White quickly changed the plans to leave the pit untouched. 

The Shakes Island crew carefully covered the pit with planks as concrete was delivered one wheelbarrow at a time, creating a foundation to ensure visitors will enjoy the fire pit for another 100 years.

In other restoration news, Sealaska has confirmed that the 12 giant, Cedar logs donated to the project have been found by the Sealaska Timber Corporation on nearby Prince of Whales Island and delivered to Thorne Bay to be finished by the Thaja Plicata Lumber Company. 

Delivering the logs to Wrangell is expected to be a 10-day process, but the Cedar will be transported as quickly as possible to begin adzing.  Wood currently occupying the carving facility will be moved to containers located on the site of the future Carving Shed to make room for the giant, Cedar logs, which are the priority.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tribal House restoration moving along swimmingly

That's all that's left standing of the Tribal House on the right.  Pretty impressive when compared to what it was just weeks ago.  No floor, no walls, no corner posts.  Just a roof resting upon Cedar some eight decades old.  Spring weather has cooperated and Project Manager Todd White has his crew working like a well-oiled machine, leaving tons of visual progress on the National Historic site's restoration.

During last week's WCA member meeting, White drove home the fact that some of the Cedar, while more than 82-years-old, was in great shape and the project is most definitely "a partial restoration, not a complete re-build."  

“We have a lot of good cedar being removed from the structure and the main beams look fine,” White continued. “We are looking to re-use.”

White went on to say that they discovered a carpenter infestation, including some behind the Tribal House screen.  “Bugs are just a maintenance that we’re going to have to keep up with.

As far as prevention of another infestation, White stated that they're installing a new concrete foundation to keep the cedar off the ground, and a dependable roof system, consisting of not only the cedar shakes, but also plywood and Water Shield to limit any moisture damage to the structure.

While we would not want to flood the work site with visitors, White encourages community members to come down and check out the project.  The island is open.

Overall, all involved seem pleased with the progress thus far, and more help is on the way in the form of more funding and donations.  

In addition to the $450,000 Rasmuson grant received in December, WCA was recently awarded 12 large, Cedar logs critical to the Tribal House architecture from Sealaska.  Early re-con trips to Prince of Whales has White excited, saying the wood he saw was "awesome Cedar."

Tlingit & Haida Regional Housing Authority recently announced that it would give WCA the land adjacent to the SNO Building to construct the shiny, new Carving Shed.  The 4,000+ sq ft property already has plans and partial funding, so ground breaking could happen as early as 2012.  The temporary carving facility currently sits on the property, but will make way for the permanent structure, which will also include retail and office space.

“We had to flip-flop our priorities when we found out how bad of shape Chief Shakes House was,” said WCA's Carol Snoddy on the numerous Carving Shed delays.  “We now see the carving facility as Phase 2 in the Shakes Island renovation.”

Click here to check out more photos of the Shakes Island project on our facebook page.