Wrangell in a snowy cloak.

Canoes Landing For Shakes Island Rededication

Well let's see where we were....yesterday I left off right after the canoes came past the breakwater in to Wrangell Harbor...

Singing and drumming while paddling into the harbor.

...and were waiting for permission to come ashore...

...and I promised to show you some regalia and more about the canoes landing.

The Elders and clan leaders greeting the canoes are wearing Chilkat blankets. Some Chilkat blankets are very, very old. The Chilkat weaving technique is so complex that it can take one weaver a year to make one blanket. The designs are woven right into the fabric, not printed or painted on. Each of the design symbols has meaning, and meaning within meaning.

It gives me goosebumps to see all of these gorgeous cultural garments in one place. It makes me tear up to hear the language, singing, and drumming.

Alaska Native Elders and clan leaders wearing Chilkat and ravenstail blankets.

The black and white robe in the photo above is an example of ravenstail weaving. This is another very complex weaving technique. The methods were almost lost, but more people are learning to do Chilkat and ravenstail weaving now. Traditionally mountain goat hair and cedar bark would be used to make these blankets, and now other fibers supplement the weaver's supply basket.

The brown hats are woven of cedar bark. The bark is stripped off of a portion of the tree and then is painstakingly processed into long, slender strips, and soaked in water before being woven.

Carved hats and masks are a part of many Alaska Native cultures.

This man is wearing a Wolf mask. Another amazing work of art! The wood carving is embellished with ermine tails, a fox tail, and human hair. Abalone inlays create the eyes and whiskers. The teeth are dentalium shells and animal teeth; all items that would have been available to the Alaska Natives prior to the Russians and Europeans showing up.

Most of the dye and paint colors were available locally, and some were traded for. Copper oxide, alder bark, charcoal, and wolf lichen were some of the sources of color.

Greeting the canoes and calling them to shore.

One by one the canoes were given permission to land. The crews had traveled far, and were given fresh water.

The big canoes were lifted and carried by many hands, up the beach, through the crowd, safely to the high tide line.

Carrying the canoe up the beach.

And then there was singing and dancing and drumming all around as people slowly moved up the beach, between the canoes, and on to more celebration.

Alaska Native Elders and clan leaders dancing after the canoes landed on Shakes Island.

The event was recorded on hundreds of cameras. A professional videographer was present, and a news reporter for the local radio station captured the voices and drums.

Dancing between the canoes and through the cameras.

And there were patient photo ops...

The Alaska Native Elders and clan leaders who greeted the canoes and called for them to land at Shakes Island during the rededication celebration.

Alaska Native family in regalia

The woman in the photo at right above is wearing a traditional button blanket. She told me that her mother made it for her.

Through the ceremony and celebration all of the generations were present, respectfully watching and caring for each other.

The joyous strength of people coming together to dedicate a building that symbolizes and houses their culture created an energy that lifts all people and cultures.

I lift a glass of fresh, clean rain water to the tykes watching, canoe paddles in hand, ready to help propel the boat forward,

Alaska Beachcomber



Shakes Island Rededication

The Shakes Tribal House on Shakes Island in Wrangell, Alaska. The Three Frogs totem is to the right and there are three bald eagles in the cottonwood trees. The immature bald eagle is all brown so it is difficult to see.

The Shakes Island Tribal House, a central cultural point in Wrangell, has been rebuilt through the enormous efforts of many people. Seventy years of the Southeast Alaska rainforest environment had made the previous wood structure unsafe. The new building has been made with very careful attention to replicating the design and details of the historical house. Many great cedar beams and planks were adzed by two women and one man to give the building a beautiful and traditional texture.

The construction crew fitted the massive beams in a traditional manner and capped them with copper.

Architectural detail of Shakes Island Tribal House.

Master carvers studied old photos to closely reproduce the original designs. The new building and carvings are amazing, and worth a thoughtful look. Yes, you should stop in Wrangell soon, and arrange to see the Shakes Island Tribal House.

Last week the project manager and carvers in the Shakes Island Tribal House generously allowed me to come in and look around. They were working on the final details of the Bear screen for the front of the house.

Master Carver Steve Brown forms copper to the screen for the Shakes Tribal House.

The panels being lined up for final inspection and assembly.

Shakes Island Tribal House with the Bear screen installed.

House post inside the Shakes Tribal House

While finishing touches were in process, the planning for a great celebration was in high gear. More than one thousand visitors were expected in Wrangell, a town of just over two thousand residents. They came by plane, by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system, on private boats, and by canoe.

rom the far reaches of this sprawling archipelago that is Southeast Alaska, people journeyed over the water in canoes to the Shakes Island Rededication. They had to make use of the safety boats traveling along with them when stormy weather threatened the canoes. One of the canoes that was being towed in rough seas broke loose and was lost for several days. No one was in the canoe when the tow line parted, and no one was injured.

The canoeists were part of the One People Canoe Society. Even if you are not interested in canoeing you can apply much of what this group is about by reading The Ten Rules of the Canoe at the link below. Click on the link and a new window opens. If that doesn't work then copy the link and paste it in your browser window.

The Ten Rules of the Canoe


Aren't those appropriate to life? I will be working on incorporating those into my daily existence.

On Friday, Wrangell people went to Reliance Dock to watch the canoes cross the last five miles to Wrangell. A cold breeze and strong currents slowed the progress of the canoes, and the paddlers had to work hard. As the canoes drew close Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people started drumming and singing. The weary canoeists heard the drums across the water, giving them energy to finish their long paddle. And then, late in the drizzly, overcast day, they came into Wrangell Harbor, past the stone and cement breakwater.


With their handmade cedar paddles and traditional regalia blending with contemporary raingear and floatation vests, the paddlers saluted those singing and drumming them into the harbor.

Even the wee ones!

One People Canoe Society founder Doug Chilton including his child in this cultural event.

The canoes lined up in Inner Harbor, waiting, and asking permission to come ashore on Shakes Island.

The spectacle and beauty is emotional in itself, but this is so much more. There is  laughter and tears, fulfillment after so much preparation, a soaring love reaching out to relatives and friends in the canoes, and relief and joy at the freedom to express culture.

The Elders and clan leaders call to the canoes in Tlingit and English and, from the bow of the canoe, the call is answered. All of the canoeists pound their paddles onto the bottom of the canoe and the sound reverberates through the crowd on the island.

Canoes awaiting permission to land at Shakes Island.

Through the crowd you can get a little glimpse of the Elders and clan leaders in their regalia. They are wearing Chilkat blankets that are precious beyond currency. Symbolism in every garment tells many stories without a spoken word.

But this post is getting long.

Tomorrow I will post about the canoes coming ashore and there will be photos of he Elders in their Chilkat blankets and more.

In Awe and Wonderment,

Alaska Beachcomber

More about Native culture in Southeast Alaska: Canoes Landing at Shakes Island, Alaska Native Cedar Bark Hats, Details in a Small Totem Park 

You might also check out: Food and Medicine from Nature


Burning Down the House

While driving toward town, we rounded the point at the bluffs and saw a column of smoke rising from a residential area. There were five miles to speculate on whether someone was burning a big pile of brush, doing a little spring cleaning, or whether what we didn’t want to think about was changing someone’s life. Three miles from the smoke we could just make out the flashing lights. The combination of fear and the will to help other people creates a time-stretching tension.

As we came around the last bend before the fire there were fire department personnel flagging traffic, vehicles pulled off of the road onto the bike path, and bystanders watching the blaze.

Wrangell Fire Department in action

The remains of a house roiled in orange flames.

The barbeque grill and condiment table were set up and hamburgers were being handed out.

Burgers and drinks at the fire.



Wrangell Fire Department does practice burns to hone their skills. This house, which was donated for training purposes, was started on fire at 6:30p.m. and it burned until 9:30. The WFD worked the blaze in their turnout gear for those three hours, and then took care of their equipment after that.

They worked hard.

They might not have had the chance to get dinner after their day job and before the fire. Those hamburgers off of the grill were pretty welcome. Especially considering that the crew is volunteer.

Wrangell pays a part-time Fire Chief position and one full-time administrative position. The rest of the volunteers are given training and the equipment that they need to do their jobs, and they donate their time. They put in four evenings a month, have a radio on their person or within earshot every minute, plus respond to fire, EMS, and search and rescue calls.

I am so very thankful that they are so generous. And brave. Not everyone is suited for this difficult work. The people who are suited for it, and are expending their energy on something so valuable, are appreciated.

I can't face this like they do.

This house was far beyond it’s useful life and hadn’t been lived in for many years. It may have been old and dry, but it was built of heavy timbers from the Wrangell sawmill days. It took longer to burn than some people expected. The lot it sat on used to be a salvage yard and is in a cleanup phase.

Keeping the fire under control.

The fire department set the house on fire and then controlled the burn, allowing the roof to collapse safely, pushing sections of walls in with a blast of water here and there, keeping the fire hot but not too hot. They used their training and then expanded on it with direct experience.

Cooling the fire.

Some volunteers start young.

The cleanup crew.

Under close supervision, of course.

The boss is watching.

They grow up knowing that they are part of the community. Included. Valued.

Plus they grow big and get to play with fire.

A big thank-you to the entire Wrangell Fire Department!!

Happy and safe barbequing to you this season!

Alaska Beachcomber.