Twenty people left Douglas early Wednesday afternoon aboard two canoes headed to Wrangell for the rededication of the Chief Shakes Tribal House, a historic clan house that has been undergoing extensive renovations.
The teams of canoers from the Native organization One People Canoe Society loaded up their boats and departed Douglas Harbor in the wind and rain shortly after noon.
The canoers plan to reach Wrangell by next Thursday for the tribal house’s rededication ceremony, which will be held May 4 after two days of activities and events leading up to the daylong celebration.
“There’s people coming from all over,” said Gianna Willard, a canoer from Ketchikan.
Yarrow Vaara, who sits on One People Canoe Society’s board of directors but is not among the people canoeing to Wrangell for the event, said the two teams that left Douglas Wednesday will be accompanied by support craft for the duration of the voyage and will be joined by canoe teams from other communities as well.
“We were able to borrow canoes from (Alaska Travel Adventures) down in Ketchikan,” Vaara said. “And so we were able to provide canoes for a lot of communities that wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.”
Asked why the canoers were making the eight-day voyage from Douglas to Wrangell, canoer Tim Flannery of Ketchikan shrugged.
“Why not?” Flannery replied.
Both Willard and Flannery said they have participated in long canoe trips before.
The canoers will not have to row through the night, according to Flannery.
“We camp,” Flannery said. “The Forest Service has set up camping areas for us.”
The canoe teams that departed Douglas Wednesday are split between two canoes. One has nine people aboard, including skipper Doug Chilton, who is the president of One People Canoe Society. The other has 11 people, led by skipper Alicia Chilton.
“She’s just learning how to skipper, so she’s been kind of nervous about it,” Vaara remarked, as the canoers rowed out into the Gastineau Channel.
One of the boats supporting the canoe teams is the United States Forest Service’s Chugach Ranger.
Lillian Petershoare, a tribal relations specialist with the Forest Service, said the agency has been working with One People Canoe Society to assist the voyage to Wrangell.
“You want to have a safe experience for the public when they’re out on the National Forest lands,” explained Petershoare, who was there to see off the canoers — including the Forest Service’s John Autrey — on Wednesday.
The Forest Service’s involvement even extends to having a canoe of their own, Petershoare said, which will join the canoers in Petersburg.
“There’s going to be a Forest Service canoe that will be filled with Forest Service pullers that will depart from Petersburg and travel through the Wrangell Narrows,” Petershoare said.
The Chief Shakes Tribal House on Shakes Island, a replica of a traditional clan house, was completed in 1940. Work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps, assisted by Stikine Tlingit laborers and carvers.
“Canoes came from all over Southeast Alaska from the different tribal groups kind of to celebrate that,” said Bob Dalrymple of the Forest Service’s Wrangell Ranger District. For the rededication, he added, “The idea was sort of to do what they did back during the original dedication, which was to have canoes come from all over Southeast Alaska to participate.”
Renovations to the Chief Shakes Tribal House have been made by the Wrangell Cooperative Association, the tribe that owns Shakes Island.
According to a brochure previewing next week’s rededication events, the WCA has also rebuilt three totem poles on the island as part of the restoration project.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.