Sunday, March 16, 2008

Icy Point Strait, Hoonah, and the Tlingits

Our final port-of-call was the hidden jewel of the entire trip IMHO. Icy Point Strait.

Icy Strait Point — is adjacent to the largest Tlingit Indian settlement in Alaska, Hoonah. Situated on the northeast shore of Chichag of Island, 40 miles west of Juneau, the Tlingit tribe (pronounced KLINK-IT) has inhabited the Glacier Bay region for centuries. The Tlingit language is a dying language. It is estimated there are only 200-400 people fluent in this language left in the United States, and only about 100 in Canada.

Decades ago, Icy Strait Point was the home of one of the world’s most productive salmon canneries. Today, it’s a living testament to the past. Beautifully restored, the Icy Strait Point Cannery reopened in 2004. Its halls are filled with unique family-owned shops, a museum, and a mid-1930's cannery line display.

It was decided that we would go on a Remote Bush Exploration & Brown Bear Search. We rode through the tiny town of Hoonah that is home to only 860 residents. Then off to the old growth forest in search of Brown Bears or other such sightings...

During our venture into the old growth forest, our guide gave us some fascinating background about the town of Hoonah Alaska, and the Tlingit Indian tribe...

Early Tlingit History
Tlingit families have inhabited the southeast Alaska archipelago for many hundreds of years. The original village of the Huna Tlingits was located in what is now known as Glacier Bay. More than two hundred years ago, during the last small Ice Age, advancing glaciers forced them to relocate. Since the area twenty miles to the south was used each summer as a subsistance harvesting camp, it was a natural place for them to settle.

Early Hoonah History
At first, the new settlement was referred to as Gaawt'ak'aan, or "village by the cliff", but later the name was changed to Hoonah, meaning "land where the north wind doesn't blow".

The Tlingits, skilled in hunting, fishing and plant gathering, harvested the resources of the sea and forests according to the bounty of the seasons. Operating within the laws of nature, they related to their surrounding eco-system with respect and wisdom. For example, they utilized every part of what they took from nature, that their resources would not be wasted. Their name itself spoke of what was important to them: the word Tlingit, meaning "The People", distinguished them from the four-legged inhabitants they lived amongst.

In Hoonah, many communal long-houses and clan houses were built where the Tlingits lived and interacted in a well-organized social structure. It was a matrilinial society, meaning the children inherited rights through their mothers.

For traveling to places beyond the village, the Tlingits used the ocean as a transportation corridor. They traveled in sea-worthy, hand-carved canoes, some large enough to carry forty people. In fact, these highly-skilled Tlingit navigators thought nothing of paddling for days in any direction.

Tlingit women were fine weavers of spruce root and grass baskets; hide tanning, plant and berry gathering and food preservation also occupied their time, as well as the men's. Both spent time decorating everyday objects with sophisticated, highly stylized animal designs. This distinctive, dramatic art form became a medium for the preservation of Tlingit history and culture.

Up until the 1850's, fur trading was a major economic activity. When the commercial salmon industry began in this area in the late 1800's, the Hoonah Tlingits thrived because of their innate knowledge of salmon runs, tides, weather, boat management and navigation. From 1912 to 1953, a large fish canning and packing company, located one and a half miles north of Hoonah, employed Tlingit women while their husbands purse-seined for the cannery in the waters nearby. It was during these years, when Hoonah is said to have had the largest fishing fleet in southeast Alaska, that the traditional subsistance economy of the Tlingits gradually changed to a cash economy based on commercial fishing. In the 1980's and 90's, logging in the Hoonah area shared the eonomic base with fishing; in this decade, Tourism is taking its place.

The Hoonah Fire
In 1944, a disastrous fire destroyed much of the town. No one perished, but homes filled with ancient, priceless objects of traditional Tlingit culture and art were lost to the flames. The federal government assisted in the rebuilding of the town by diverting to Hoonah World War II housing that was already enroute to Hawaii. These houses, located on Front, Second and Hill streets, are still called "Hoonah war housing".

A wonderful relaxing day in Hoonah Alaska was had by all!

I was quite relieved to see that John was to young to do *THIS* (Dave considered doing it himself though) You have to see it!


Michael said...

That zipline looks AWESOME!! You guys should have tried it :)

Mob said...

What an interesing piece of history. Sounds like a neat town. Very pretty.
Yes, the zip line looks fun. I've always wanted to try one.