Work should start soon on Tlingit tribal house project

Glacier Bay was home to Huna Tlingit clans 5,000 years ago

JUNEAU — Bids will go out this winter to build a tribal house in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, part of an effort to restore Native traditions in places that have become national parks.


Glacier Bay near Juneau is the former home of four Huna Tlingit clans until ice began advancing about 5,000 years ago. The Tlingit people moved and built new villages, including the largest, Hoonah, about 30 miles southeast, CoastAlaska reported.

The area eventually became a national park after the ice receded, which made it ineligible for resettlement.

“The Huna folks have talked about living in Glacier Bay since time immemorial,” said Mary Beth Moss, the tribal house project leader for Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Park officials are working with Huna Tlingit leaders and elders on the structure, which will recognize and commemorate their place in Glacier Bay.

“We’re calling it a tribal house. Traditionally it would be a clan house,” said master carver Gordon Greenwald, a retired Hoonah shop and art teacher, is leading the carving effort.

“They’re only building one and we needed to represent the four original Huna clans. We’re trying to the best we can to represent our people in our homelands,” he said.

Bids will be let this winter and construction should start on the $4 million project in the park’s Bartlett Cove area next spring. Completion is scheduled for 2016.

There are some details that still need to be work out, Moss said.

For instance, Tlingit tradition calls for open fires in such structures, something that isn’t allowed in a federally-owned building.

“We did see some pretty funky-looking fake logs that were first rolled by us that that we didn’t approve of. So we’re still continuing those discussions,” Moss says.

Some parts of the design have already been completed, including a 16-by-30-foot screen to go inside the building. It depicts the history of the area, and the people who lived there.

“I had many visits from ancestors through the nights. So there were many additions and deletions from this as I went along,” Greenwald said.

The cedar-plank screen includes images of icebergs, the glacier that forced Tlingits from the bay, canoes and seabirds.

Four clan posts also have been completed, and work continues on a separate exterior screen.

Once finished, the tribal house will be open to park visitors in the summer and Huna people year-round.


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