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Friday, April 5, 2013

Re-dedication booklet preview ...

If you're around for the Re-dedication, which is now less than a month away, you'll have a chance to grab a hard copy of the official 2013 Re-dedication booklet, created by Tracy Churchill of Southeast Design and Promotion.  The booklet is packed with some great photos of the island during the renovation, as well as shots of the 1940 Tribal House and some history behind the build.

That's a shot of the book cover.  To take a peek at the rest of it, click here!

Friday, March 29, 2013

The house posts are back home.

If you were anywhere near downtown Wrangell on Wednesday morning, you probably heard the house posts making their way from the Nolan Center back home to Shakes Island.

Last April, all Chief Shakes artifacts were removed from the Tribal House to prepare for the renovation.  For the past 12 months, the artifacts and house posts were on loan to the Wrangell Museum, allowing the historic items to be on display to the public rather than stored away in a dark room somewhere.  Major renovation wrapped up months ago and all Project Manager Todd White was looking for was a nice window of weather to make the move.

That weather came this week and on Wednesday morning, nearly 200 were in attendance to escort the house posts through downtown Wrangell, across the 300 ft. bridge onto Shakes Island, and into the entrance of the brand-spankin-new Tribal House.  White had the posts trailered-up and was cruising ever so carefully, a giant wave of singers and dancers in beaded regalia flowing behind his Toyota pickup.  The high skies were exactly what Wrangell needed.

Once the parade hit the bridge, it was eight men per post, four on each side.  The posts crossed a freshly decked footbridge.  The crew recently installed new rails, new planks, even a few pilings, along the elevated path in a project overseen by Bill Williard, Project Manager for WCA Tribal Transportation.

With the amount of traffic that 300 ft. of wood will see in May, the sight of a new bridge is nice, but safety for all of those crossing the bridge is the main reason for the upgrade.  The money is coming from the Bureau of Indian Affairs travel and transportation program.

Once the house posts entered the room, they were met by another resident of the island.  Master Carver Steve Brown, along with carvers Linda Churchill and Susie Kasinger, are putting the finishing touches on the new bear screen, which will again meet visitors and oversee the main entrance of the Tribal House.

Using an overhead projector against perfectly adzed Cedar, Brown and the girls will have created one of only 3-4 bear screens in the world.  To ensure the screen will face the footbridge for years to come, the new version will not be a permanent fixture, but a removable work of Native art that can be packed away to avoid the unpredictable Southeast Alaska winters.

Re-dedication is only five weeks away.  This town is going to be bustling like it's the 4th of July, with three days of scheduled activities and food booths all over town.  More than 700 visitors have RSVP'd.  That doesn't include those who are just planning to show up.  The potlatch for the last Shakes Island opening attracted more than 1,200 out-of-towners, and that was in 1940.

Schedule of events:

Thursday, May 2nd

Canoe Landing - One People Canoe Society

Friday, May 3rd

1:30-2:30 p.m. Parade
2:30-4:30 p.m. Canoe Activities
4:30-5:40 p.m. Toddler Regalia Contest
7:00 p.m. Bingo or Native Dancing

Saturday, May 4th

10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Re-dedication Ceremony
3:00-9:00 p.m. Presentation of Gifts, Dancing, Dinner 

Thanks to Apryl Hutchinson and Greg Knight for tagging us in the photos.

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.