Chief Shakes Tribal House taken down to bare bones during restoration

Wrangell -- The Tribal House on Chief Shakes Island currently sits without walls, and Wrangell harbor breezes are sweeping through center of this National Historic Site for the first time in 82 years.


The project is a restoration, not a rebuild, said Project Manager Todd White. Original elements of the structure that are still intact are being salvaged whenever possible.

“We have a lot of good cedar being removed and the main beams look fine,” White said April 18. “We are looking to re-use whenever possible.”

White also stated that upon dismantling, they discovered that carpenter ant damage was rampant, including on the backside of the Tribal House screen, which looks like it will have to be completely re-carved.

The new structure will include a concrete foundation to keep the cedar off the ground, and a new roof system inlcuding a water shield.

Twelve large cedar logs from Prince of Whales Island were donated to the project by Sealaska Timber Corporation, who will work to transport them to Thorne Bay to be finished, then onto Wrangell. Because the tribal house is listed on the National Historic register, the replacement timbers must be hand adzed. Master carvers from other communities are overseeing and training locals to complete the adzing. The totem poles on the island also need to be refurbished.

The Shakes Island tribal house was completed in 1940, and built by collaboration between the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Forest Service and the local Tlingit tribe. Except for minor repairs, no major reconstruction has taken place to the structure since then.

The Chief Shakes Historic Site receives more than 10,000 visitors a year. The site’s main feature is a replica of a 19th century Tlingit tribal house which is set on the authentic location historically occupied by Chief Shakes’ lineage. Not only is the site important to the national chronology of Native-white contact, it is still used today for Tlingit ceremonies and contains prized clan artwork— at.óow — of the Stikine Tlingits.

Shakes Island is owned and operated by the Wrangell Cooperative Association, the federally recognized tribe of the Stikine River region. WCA’s charter was approved by the Department of the Interior in 1942. The tribe’s mission is to support the cultural, ceremonial and subsistence lifestyle for all Alaskans and to promote the safe use and availability of a healthy environment for present and future generations. WCA provides social services, employment and educational opportunities to both the tribe and the Wrangell community. Of the 2,000 residents of Wrangell, approximately 800 are tribal members.

Learn more or make a donation to the project at


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