Tours with perspective

Some Southeast Natives have found a market for tours that incorporate traditional tales and knowledge

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2001

Al Barrill explains his Tlingit regalia while working as a host on a tour boat running to Tracy Arm. Cory Mann tells the Big Dipper legend aboard trolley and bus tours of Juneau. Nyna Fleury talks about Native names for trees while running van tours of Craig and Klawock.

They are among a growing number of tour guides and business owners who share the history and culture of the Tlingit and Haida people with visitors each summer.

Fleury, 40, was raised in Craig and Klawock. She is half Haida; her great-grandfather, Robert J. Peratrovich Sr., built the town's first Native-owned cannery in Klawock; and her father Bobby Jr. is a chief of the Raven/Dog Salmon Clan.

Fleury conducts three-hour tours of Craig and Klawock in a 15-passenger van, leading guests into the rain forest.

"My material comes from my life experiences," she said.

Fleury delivers answers to such questions as why the hemlock is nicknamed the "fish egg tree," and why Natives do not run in the forest. The answer to the first is that hemlock boughs are submerged in places where herring are spawning so that eggs will be laid on the boughs. The boughs are later retrieved, and the eggs harvested. The second answer is that the area's landscape is riddled with limestone caves and what seems to be a harmless puddle may be a deep pit that will swallow you up.

Fleury's basic tour also includes material about bald eagles, eagle nests, totem poles and totem carver Jon Rowan, canneries, fish hatcheries and red and yellow cedar.

"I absolutely love doing this," she said.

Fleury, a former employee of the Alaska Marine Highway, has been giving her tours for five years. Her son, then 4, gave her the idea, telling her "There are always people lost downtown."

"He meant tourists. We tried out his idea by picking up some ladies a couple of times, and took them around, and they bought us lunch. Now I have a Chevy van and arrange with B-and-Bs and hotels to give tours to their guests," Fleury said.

Stories & Legends is owned and operated by Cory Mann of Juneau, whose narration incorporates the history of the Tlingit people - "What happened and how to fix it."

"We don't drill it into people. We're here to have fun and see the beauty and what's left of the Native people," said Mann, 31.

Stories & Legends went into business mid-summer 1995 as a single bus that gave tours to the Mendenhall Glacier.

"Last year we jumped head first into the trolley market with the Little Green Trolley. The trolley goes to Douglas and the state museum. It's 30 minutes over on the island including a stop at Homestead Park where the driver gives a history of mining," Mann said.

"I like to tell the Big Dipper stories where the Tlingit people say we came from the sky. The stories help to keep the history around. Some are told from a glacier perspective, as my auntie says, 'When the ice was this far out,' 'When the ice was that far out.'"

Thirty-minute trolley tours are fully narrated, "usually by Tlingits," said assistant manager Daniel Bisett. "We offer not only Juneau history but also Native history."

Juneau's urban Native corporation Goldbelt offers tram tours up the side of Mount Roberts as well as boat tours on its vessels the Auk Nu and the Keet. The Keet goes to Tracy Arm every day, while the Auk Nu goes to Gustavus as well as whale watching, said marketing director Connie McKenzie. Naturalists on the vessels may launch into traditional stories, but it's up to them and the spell of the occasion.

"We don't have a written spiel for people. We employ Goldbelt shareholders and they enjoy sharing their culture with people, even if it is just a little bit, such as teaching them to say 'Gunalcheesh' (thank you)," McKenzie said.

For example, on board the Keet, deckhand and engineer John Martin gives a cultural presentation, and passenger service host Al Barrill wears his regalia and explains it.

"The employees who aren't Native and may not even be from Juneau try to learn about the culture, because we believe that is an important part of what we are sharing," McKenzie said.

In the Goldbelt scheme of things, Tlingit culture is clearly visible in the totem by Stephen Jackson installed last year in the Mount Roberts Tram foyer, in the totemic designs painted on and in the names of the two tram cars themselves. The Yeil car is named for Raven; the Chaak for Eagle.

"You find little bits of the culture at the Goldbelt Hotel with the cases of artwork and the decorations on the walls. At the top of the tram, there are the tree carvings - the culturally modified trees traditionally used as (Tlingit) signposts, and our cultural film, 'Seeing Daylight,'" McKenzie said.

Chilkat Cruises & Tours in Haines, a tourism subsidiary of the village Native corporation Klukwan Inc., offers a number of tours that often incorporate Native heritage.

One of their main land-based excursions begins in Haines, drives into the area's bald eagle preserve and continues to the village of Klukwan.

"This excursion ties two big themes together: The Native aspects and the natural history aspects," said Chilkat Cruises President Bill Fletcher.

The company uses six new motor coaches, each equipped with a stand-up guide and a driver. It stops 19 miles out of town at a viewing area; spotting scopes and binoculars are distributed among the tourists. Chilkat Cruises partners with the American Bald Eagle Foundation and there is a stop at its museum.

Chilkat Cruises also offers a city tour focusing on cannery history and fishing history.

For those who wish to tour on water, Chilkat Cruises has three high-speed ferries that travel in upper Lynn Canal among Skagway, Haines and Juneau. The latest vessel in the fleet is the 60-passenger, foil-assisted catamaran Chilkat Express. New for 2001 is a fast ferry operating to and from Haines and Juneau. This service operates on weekends during July and August and will be geared to those wanting a Saturday night getaway from either city.

To make sure all their guides are up to snuff, Chilkat uses the talents of Lenise Henderson of the Professional Development Co. Henderson trains guides for Princess Tours, too.

But many Chilkat Cruises' guides are trained from birth.

"A little bit better than 60 percent of the staff are Klukwan Inc. family members or shareholders, so there is a lot of Native pride in who we are and what we do," Fletcher said.

Yeshua Guided Tours in Haines is also Native-owned.

"I am a member of the Raven Fog Clan and Kiksadi tribe," said Coreen Hay, 41, who operates the company with her husband Steve, 44.

"Our No. 1 tour, the most popular, listed on, is an 11.5-mile drive along the coast to Chilkat Lake. We point out abandoned village sites along the way and give lectures on them. We translate Native names into English. Along the way we also point out edible and medicinal plants," she said.

Yeshua Guided Tours has a one 10-passenger van plus two 15-passenger vans.

"When we go into the village sites, we treat them with great respect because some of them contain burial grounds."

The company also offers a Fort William Seward tour and a historic Haines tour.

"We emphasize that this was once Native land and how Presbyterian missionaries came into the area and restricted Tlingit people from speaking their own language," Hay said.

Keet Gooshi Tours, owned by John and Cheryl Katzeek, has been operating for four years out of Haines.

John, driver and narrator for the tours, is a member of an old Tlingit family.

"Keet Gooshi" means "killer whale," Cheryl said.

The tour uses buses to transport visitors through the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve to the village of Klukwan where they can view carved tribal screens, tribal houses and totems.

The tour emphasizes Native culture and history and operates with a minimum of five people. Tours take three to four hours. For details, browse their Web site,

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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