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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.