Once again, the shoreline of Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay National Park welcomed hundreds of tribal members and other visitors – this time to celebrate the raising of two totem poles in front of Xunaa Shuká Hít, Huna Ancestors’ House. On May 20, about 300 people joined hands and hearts to lift, carry, honor, and sing at an event that continued to strengthen the relationship between the Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) and the National Park Service (NPS).
As morning loons called from the water’s edge, two spruce dugout canoes were paddled out into Bartlett Cove to welcome Allen Marine catamarans carrying passengers from Hoonah and Juneau. Their voices filled with pride, recently graduated Hoonah High School student Randy Roberts and University of Alaska Fairbanks sophomore, Ronin Ruerup welcomed family and friends to the Huna Tlingit homeland. The Raven and Eagle canoes had arrived the day before – with a complement of 18 “pullers,” to prepare the way for a day that promised traditional songs and speeches, camaraderie and connection, and a bit of heavy lifting.
Glacier Bay National Park Service Superintendent, Philip Hooge and HIA Board President, Frank Wright, Jr. welcomed those who gathered to the Huna homeland at the head of the Bartlett Cove dock where the two 20 foot red cedar poles lay waiting. Carved in Hoonah, they had been viewed by hundreds of tribal members before this day; now they rested on the carts that would transport them toward their permanent site. Clan members, community friends, NPS employees, and AmeriCorp National Civilian Community Corp members lined up two by two on either side of the poles.
“Yee gu.aa yáx x’wán!” “Have courage!” called the audience as the group bent in unison, lifted, and slowly shuffled forward, bearing the 2,000 pound treasures to their installation sites flanking the Tribal House. A group of students encouraged them forward with drumbeat and song.
As the ceremony unfolded, honored speakers from each of the clans represented on the poles described their clan crest. Although four clans are traditionally tied to Glacier Bay – the Chookaneidí, Kaagwaantaan, T’akdeintaan, and Wooshkeetaan – the Raven and Eagle poles commemorate all the clans living in Hoonah today.
“Our elders wanted to honor all the children and grandchildren of the original Glacier Bay clans” said T’akdeintaan elder, Ken Grant, Master of Ceremony for the event. In addition to the Chookaneidí porpoise, the Kaagwaantaan wolf, and the Wooshkeetaan shark, the Eagle Pole includes the Shangukeidí thunderbird and the Teikweidí bear. The Raven Pole depicts the L’uknax.ádi coho salmon, the Kiks.ádi frog, the Kaach.ádi land otter, the Deisheetaan beaver, the L’eeneidí dog salmon, the Gaanaxteidí wood worm, and the Taakwaneidí sea lion in addition to the kittiwake of the T’akdeintaan.
Following the speakers, clan leaders led participants in the tradition of breathing life into the poles as they were named; first the Raven Totem Pole – Xunaa Yéil Kootéeya – and then the Eagle Totem Pole – Xunaa Ch’áak’ Kootéeya. The crowd silently watched, holding their collective breath, as the poles were guided into place by carvers Gordon Greenwald, Owen James, and Herb Sheakley, Sr. and Tribal Administrator Bob Starbard, with a little help from a Genie Lift operated by HIA staff, David See.
The rain held off for much of the ceremony, but the warmth of the Tribal House beckoned as the clouds opened up later in the afternoon. The walls of the Tribal House reverberated with the strong drum beat of Huna dancers who were soon joined by the visiting dance group, Yaaw Tei Yi, from Juneau. Chilkat robes melded with the blacks and reds of button robes and the grey and green of National Park Service uniforms as dancers and visitors celebrated.
HIA cultural resource program manager, Darlene See, introduced a group of women who recently graduated from a two-week weaving workshop sponsored by HIA and the Seventh Generation Fund’s Thriving Women’s Initiative. The women, who had held a retreat in Xunaa Shuká Hít just weeks before, proudly displayed their hand woven bags. Next, student Vanessa Williams gifted the Tribal House a drum she designed. The primary Raven’s Tail design recalls the glaciers of the homeland while the edge of the drum is encircled by painted buttons, denoting the people of Huna. Heather Powell, Hoonah City School’s Haa Kusteeyi Áyá director, told the audience that the drum would be left in the Tribal House so that all who visited in the future could hear its rhythm.
As the afternoon drew to a close, the crowd began the walk back down the path to the waiting catamarans. On the return trip, food and conversation was shared, and – as often happens – children broke into spontaneous drumming and song, proof that the culture is alive and being conveyed to another generation of tradition bearers.
The totem raising event, sponsored by Hoonah Indian Association, was planned by the community’s tribal elders. Seventh Generation grant funds support the event and Hoonah City Schools transported 25 students and faculty with the assistance of an Alaska Native Education Program grant, Haa Kusteeyi Áyá. Allen Marine Tours flexed their busy schedule to accommodate the needs of the Hoonah and Juneau participants.
The Raven and Eagle totems flank the sides of the Xunaa Shuká Hít, which was dedicated on Aug. 25, 2017 in an equally joyous celebration. From its inception, the Huna Tribal House has been a collaborative effort between the Hoonah Indian Association and the National Park Service who partnered on environmental analysis, architectural designs, interpretive efforts, and operational planning. Through a cooperative agreement between NPS and HIA, carvers crafted and installed the cedar panels that adorn the house front and interior as well as four richly detailed interior cedar house posts and the two totem poles. A third totem pole – known as the Healing Pole – is beginning to take shape in the Hoonah carving shed. This last cultural element will commemorate the evolving relationship between two entities that have reached across the waters to become strong partners – HIA and NPS.
The Xunaa Shuká Hít is envisioned as a gathering place where tribal members, park visitors, and National Park Service staff will be inspired to learn about and preserve Huna Tlingit history, culture, life ways, and traditions. As a symbolic anchor for the Huna Tlingit, it is a venue for educational programs, workshops, and cultural celebrations. It will be open six days a week during the summer months so visitors can also appreciate the craftsmanship of the cultural elements and learn about the Huna Tlingit from cultural interpreters.
Glacier Bay National Park is the ancestral homeland of the Huna Tlingit clans who sustained themselves for centuries on the abundant resources of the land and sea. Although villages inside the Bay were overrun by the Little Ice Age glacial advance of the 1700’s, the Huna Tlingit re-established numerous fish camps and several villages in Glacier Bay soon after glacial retreat. The Huna Tribal House memorializes the clan houses that once lined the shores of present day Bartlett Cove, now the site of National Park Service headquarters in Glacier Bay.