Walls are down in Náay I'waans, the oldest surviving example of traditional northern Haida architecture in the United States. The project is in the final stages of restoration and the rededication ceremony is set for Sept. 3, 2016.

Walls are down in Náay I'waans, the oldest surviving example of traditional northern Haida architecture in the United States. The project is in the final stages of restoration and the rededication ceremony is set for Sept. 3, 2016.

Kasaan honored for village improvements

If you’ve been reading the Capital City Weekly, you likely know the Organized Village of Kasaan and Kavilco, Inc.’s Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation have been making some beautiful improvements to Náay I’waans Whale House, the only remaining traditional Haida clan house in the United States. What you may not know is that like many other Prince of Wales towns, Kasaan has been recruiting tourists and travelers and making wide-ranging improvements to its infrastructure. Earlier this month, in recognition of its efforts, it won the honor of “Community of the Year” from the Southeast Conference.

This village of less than 50 two or three years ago began to welcome a few hundred tourists a year through a partnership with Allen Marine Tours — and so far, it’s working out well, said tribal administrator Paula Peterson.

“We’re just trying to keep it low key,” she said. Tourists on board the two boats Allen Marine brings to Kasaan are “a little more interested in learning about our culture than I think you’d see on big cruise ships,” she said.

Most boats, she said, have between 40 and 80 passengers.

While that’s not many compared to cruise ships that dock other places, it’s still more than the population of Kasaan, so visitors’ stay is arranged to make sure “it doesn’t overlap into the community’s lifestyle,” Peterson said.

Frederick Olsen is the tour guide, she said. He takes them along the town’s boardwalk on a set path to the long house and totems, giving them history along the way. Before they leave, they also visit the carving shed, and Totem Trail café and Gift Shop.

“It’s pretty small, but it fits our needs,” she said.

According to information provided by Olsen in OVK’s summer 2015 newsletter, more than 250 visitors had come to Kasaan, all on either the Admiralty Dream (153 visitors) or the Alaskan Dream (97 visitors), both owned and operated by Allen Marine. There were to be eight more Alaskan Dream visits, he wrote.

Kasaan has seen some independent travelers — bird watchers, bike riders — as well, Peterson said.

The village’s biggest challenge has been figuring out the people it should reach out to, she said.

The café and shop will soon be enlarged to twice its current size so that people can have meetings, retreats and wedding receptions there, Peterson said. They’ve also built cabins available for rent.

“We want to let people know that it’s ecotourism related,” Peterson said. “We want them to come and enjoy what we have, naturally. … We just want to encourage people to come and see our lifestyle,” she said. “It’s the only traditional Haida long house in the whole United States, so it’s pretty neat. It’s an experience you won’t get anywhere else in the United States.”

The Community of the Year award, said an OVK press release, was “in recognition of exemplary service to Southeast Alaska” and because the village is “actively pursuing an array of cultural, economic development, and community infrastructure projects.”

“We’re new at this and we’re learning,” Peterson said. “We’re doing the best we can to reach out to people as best we can.”

The rededication of the Whale House is to happen in a year’s time. To read a Q&A with two of the carvers working on it, visit http://www.capitalcityweekly.com/stories/090215/ae_1257558548.shtml.

• Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@capweek.com.

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