• Broken clouds
  • 41°
    Broken clouds
  • Syndicate content
  • Comment

Hoonah carvers restore history with Xúna Shuká Hit

Posted: April 3, 2014 - 12:01am
Back | Next
From left, carvers Gordon Greenwald, Herb Sheakley and Owen James talk about part of the Glacier Bay Tribal House's exterior wall.   Mary Catharine Martin / CCW
Mary Catharine Martin / CCW
From left, carvers Gordon Greenwald, Herb Sheakley and Owen James talk about part of the Glacier Bay Tribal House's exterior wall.

HOONAH — In a former auto shop beside Hoonah High School, three carvers are busy restoring signs of Huna Tlingit ancestry, genealogy and history to the land cleared by an advancing glacier more than 250 years ago.

Every weekday, Gordon Greenwald, Herb Sheakley and Owen James work on a house that will represent all four of Hoonah’s founding clans. The house is bound for Bartlett Cove, in Glacier Bay National Park.

People from the Hoonah community drop by to see how progress is going. Elders stop by to see the stories they’ve told Greenwald, the lead carver, come to life. High school students drop by to work on their own projects (Greenwald is a retired Hoonah High School teacher).

The house is named Xúna Shuká Hit: Xúna for the Huna people; “Hit” means “house,” and “Shuká” is a word Greenwald said doesn’t quite translate to English but can be interpreted to mean ancestry, genealogy and history.

“It (the house) has been a pot of deer stew boiling for many, many years,” he said.

Chapters in images

Greenwald, James and Sheakley have carved interior screens and four house poles (totems, except these are inside). Right now, they’re working on the exterior screens.

All the wood is red cedar from Prince of Wales Island, milled in Hoonah by Icy Strait Lumber, and the carvers do all the work by hand.

Each house post took between 4 ½ and 5 months to carve, with all three men working together.

The four house posts — totems — represent the four original Hoonah clans. Five clans left Glacier Bay after the glacier advanced, Greenwald said, but it’s unknown where the fifth ended up. (Now, many more clans live in Hoonah.)

The four original clans are the T’akdeintaan, (Raven), Wooshkeetaan, Chookaneidí and Kaagwaantaan (all eagle moieties). The central pole carvings are a goat, a shark, an octopus and a wolf, respectively. Each image has to do with the history and stories of that particular clan. Marbled murrelets whirl at the top of one; rock cairns tower at the tops of mountains in another.

The red cedar door into the house will be round, as is traditional, with a rectangular, western option for handicapped access. Open hands near the door represent welcome.

Greenwald designed everything after listening to stories from elders.

“The figures are kind of like chapter titles … and some chapters are 100 pages,” Greenwald said. “The elders have been very entrusting … they said okay, you know the history, you know the story, now let’s see what you can do with it.”

Other images on the panels include a copper shield representing the value of Huna Tlingit culture and history. A bentwood chest is a box of knowledge. Spirit faces of ancestors and future generations gaze down from the outer edges.

“We didn’t need the present, because when we’re there, there we are,” Greenwald said.

“The future generation — they’ll know we were thinking of them,” Sheakley said of the spirit faces.

Opportunities in carving

Sheakley began carving in 2006. Regalia, he said, is “not just for sad times; it’s for happy times, too. … I want you to see my ancestors through me when you see my regalia.”

The shop is filled with projects: a Thunderbird staff, headdresses, paddles, a bentwood box.

James used to watch his grandfather carve in Kake. “That’s how I started getting into carving, is watching him carve,” he said. “I’m still learning.”

Even on his deathbed, his grandfather would use crutches to bend over his work, carving, James said.

James said, in working on the project, he saw an opportunity to put a piece of himself into something lasting.

Both men expressed gratitude to Greenwald. “This all goes back to Gordy,” Sheakley said. “How he’s unselfishly showing you every single piece… you can become a better person, carving.”

Greenwald is a first-generation carver. He began learning how to carve in the early 70s, while teaching at Hoonah High School. Around eight mentors helped him, he said. He ended up teaching carving, among other things, for more than 20 years.

Planning for the future

Hoonah Indian Association Tribal Administrator Bob Starbard said construction of the house is currently out to bid. On April 12, the four principal clans and others will travel to Bartlett Cove for a ground blessing.

Construction on the physical structure of the house is slated to begin this spring and end in fall 2015. It will be dedicated in spring 2016.

“It’s one thing to be hired to carve an object for someone,” Greenwald said. “It’s another to be able to represent our history and actually do something that represents our own people. It’s been a privilege.”

“I feel the strength of our ancestors surrounding us,” Sheakley said.

Visit the National Park Service’s page about the project: http://www.nps.gov/glba/historyculture/huna-tribal-house-project.htm.

  • Comment

Spotted

Please Note: You may have disabled JavaScript and/or CSS. Although this news content will be accessible, certain functionality is unavailable.

Skip to News

« back

next »

  • title http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377913/ http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377908/ http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377903/
  • title http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377898/ http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377893/ http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377888/
  • title http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377883/ http://spotted.juneauempire.com/galleries/377878/
High School Volleyball

CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-3028
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING