KASAAN — A grant will help speed restoration of the oldest Haida longhouse in Alaska.
The original house was built 130 years ago by Haida chief Son-i-Hat. It was known as Naay I’waans, The Great House, though many call it the Whale House for its carvings inside.
Like most wood structures do in the rain forest, it deteriorated over time.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era work program, rebuilt it in the 1930s in Kasaan, a village on the eastern side of Prince of Wales Island, about 30 miles northwest of Ketchikan. But it again needs repairs.
“It’s a matter of our cultural revitalization, showing that we’re still here and part of these lands,” Richard Peterson, president of the Tribal Council for the Organized Village of Kasaan, told CoastAlaska.
The tribal government has partnered with the Native village corporation Kavilco, and its cultural arm, the Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation.
“A lot of the building is still in really good condition. Some of the supports are what’s failing. I think we’re fortunate enough that we don’t need a total reconstruction, so we want to maintain as much as we can,” Peterson said.
Full repairs were estimated to be $2 million. The plans were scaled back to about $1.4 million, and work was to be completed in phases as money became available.
The Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation in November awarded the $450,000 grant. That, Peterson said, is about enough to complete the work when it’s added to funds provided by the tribal government and its partners.
“So right now, we’re milling up the logs and they’re going to hand-adz all of the timbers. And we’re just going in and starting to secure up some of the corners that are dropping down. It’s been a really exciting project,” Peterson said.
Peterson is hopeful the work can be completed in about two years. Once it is done, the tribe will host a celebration.