Myrna Gardner of Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska talks about transforming the Thane Ore House into a cultural immersion park during an interview on site at the property Saturday. The City and Borough of Juneau awarded CCTHITA a 35-year lease for the property this week.

Myrna Gardner of Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska talks about transforming the Thane Ore House into a cultural immersion park during an interview on site at the property Saturday. The City and Borough of Juneau awarded CCTHITA a 35-year lease for the property this week.

New life for the Thane Ore House

Plywood boards cover the windows and doors of the building that used to house the Thane Ore House Salmon Bake. Run-down and weathered by the high winds and rain, ‘no trespass’ signs warn people to keep out.

On a drizzly overcast Saturday, a handful of fishermen drove down a bumpy, gravel road past the building and parked in its empty lot. They walked with their poles to a quiet sandy beach tucked behind the property just a few yards away. A couple more people followed, dragging heavy equipment behind them, to try their luck dredging gold in the channel.

The only other sounds outside were the seagulls overhead.

By next spring, it will be a completely different scene. The shuttered salmon bake, closed a few years ago after the previous owners failed to pay city sales taxes and defaulted on the lease, will be transformed into a cultural immersion park for tourists.

The City and Borough of Juneau awarded the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska a 35-year land lease for the property this week. The federally recognized tribe has big plans for the space.

“We’re creating a cultural activity interactive park,” Myrna Gardner, Central Council’s business and economic development manger, said during a tour of the property Saturday.

“See that old dilapidated building?” she said, pointing to a little, rusty car port in the parking lot. “We’ll get rid of that, and we’re going to put like these long car ports, in this corner, and then another one in this corner, and another one over here.”

Under one shelter, a master carver and five young apprentices will carve 30-foot long traditional Tlingit canoes. Under the second, another carver and a group of youth will carve canoe paddles. The third corner will have a weaver showing children how to weave traditional Haida baskets. Perhaps a fourth will feature an elder demonstrating how to harvest and make salve out of the prickly devil’s club plant.

“Our plan is to not only teach our children, but we’re going to share with our guests that come to visit us that we’re a living culture,” Gardner said. “We’re not a textbook. It’s not like those Tlingits who once lived — we are, and we’re active, and we exist every day.”

 

Cultural immersion

The overall goal of the venture, Gardner said, is to teach tourists about the Tlingit and Haida cultures and also to create job opportunities for tribal members.

Gardner estimates it will create about 200 jobs, ranging from landscaping and restoration jobs once the renovations begins to actual employment at the center once it’s complete.

“It’s going to be very busy here,” she said.

The tribe plans on bringing tourists to the site, located four miles south of downtown Juneau on Thane Road, by bus.

Outside, employees will speak in Tlingit and guide guests around to the various set-ups, showcasing the work of the carvers and apprentices.

Inside, there will be a restaurant that serves traditional food, such as salmon, blueberry and salmonberry desserts and tea. Conveniently, the building is already set up for that, although the interior is a mess right now.

“We’re contracting with people to come in and clean it out,” she said.

A stage inside will feature Native Alaskan dance group performances. A retail gift shop will be set up in one of the rooms and will sell Native artwork from carvings to masks to sea otter wear.

“We’re also planning to have a weekly resident artist, so some days you’ll be able to come in and see someone like Doug Chilton, whose a renown silver carver, work on his bracelets. You’ll come in and see maybe Nathan Jackson working on his head masks,” Gardner said.

The building itself, erected in 1982, will be restored into a traditional Tlingit longhouse, complete with corner house posts of an Eagle and Raven to represent two moieties of the Tlingit people.

It’s not yet known if the existing structure will be torn down, or if a new facade and siding will be built and placed over it. Gardner said that will be up to the engineers.

Gardner said the site will be somewhat similar to other cultural destinations in Southeast, such as Icy Strait Point in Hoonah and the Whale House in Kassan.

“Here in Juneau, there wasn’t really a place where you could experience that,” Gardner said. “Out here, you’re going to hear the eagles sing, you’ll hear the ravens call. So what a beautiful experience if you’re a guest and you’re walking around here, and you’re meeting some of our people, and they’re sharing their knowledge with you, and you get to experience that.”

 

Not just a summer enterprise

Central Council plans on keeping the building open all year long, not just during the summer months when the tourists are in town.

“We’re not going to be like the other businesses — last ship leaves, they shut their lights off,” Gardner said. “We’re into keeping active here and keep doing what we do best, which is our language and our culture, and teaching it.”

In the off-season, Gardner imagines there will be opportunities for artist workshops, dance lessons, potlatches and other community events.

Once the longhouse is built, Gardner said she imagines it will be a lovely place for a wedding and reception.

“Because we’re a federally recognized tribe and we have our own tribal court, we actually are chartered to perform marriages,” she added.

“It’s really about the respect for our culture, and sharing it,” Gardner said about the future park. “We’re very proud people, and we believe it’s our responsibility to share our knowledge, not only with our children, but the people we live with. It makes a stronger community.”

The new face of the former Thane Ore House property? Myrna Gardner of Tlingit and Haida talked about transforming the building into a traditional Tlingit longhouse, complete with totem poles and house posts, during an interview at the property on Saturday. The City and Borough of Juneau awarded CCTHITA a 35-year lease for the property this week.

The new face of the former Thane Ore House property? Myrna Gardner of Tlingit and Haida talked about transforming the building into a traditional Tlingit longhouse, complete with totem poles and house posts, during an interview at the property on Saturday. The City and Borough of Juneau awarded CCTHITA a 35-year lease for the property this week.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 22

David Holmes digs through a pile of boardgames during Platypus Gaming’s two-day mini-con over the weekend at Douglas Public Library and Sunday at Mendenhall Public Library. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Good times keep rolling with Platypus Gaming

Two-day mini-con held at Juneau Public Library.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau man indicted on child pornography charges

A Juneau man was indicted Thursday on charges of possessing or accessing… Continue reading

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Juneau’s municipal and state legislative members, their staff, and city lobbyists gather in the Assembly chambers Thursday meeting for an overview of how the Alaska State Legislature and politicians in Washington, D.C., are affecting local issues.
Local leaders, lawmakers and lobbyists discuss political plans for coming year

Morning meeting looks at local impact of state, national political climates.

This photo shows pills police say were seized after a suspicious package was searched. (Juneau Police Department)
Police: 1,000 fentanyl pills, 86 grams of meth seized

Juneau man arrested on felony charges.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Jan. 27, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Captain Anne Wilcock recieves the Emery Valentine Leadership Award at the 2022 CCFR awards banquet on Saturday, Jan. 14. (Courtesy Photo / CCFR)
CCFR honors responders during annual banquet

Capital City Fire/Rescue hosted its 2022 awards banquet earlier this month as… Continue reading

A resident and his dog walk past the taped off portion of the Basin Road Trestle after it suffered damaged from a rockslide earlier this week. The trestle is open to pedestrians, but will remain closed to vehicular traffic until structural repairs are made, according to city officials. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Rocky road: Basin Road Trestle open to pedestrians, remains closed to vehicles

City officials say repairs are currently being assessed after damaging rockfall

Most Read