Welcome all chums

About 600 expected to visit Kake for annual dog salmon festival

Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2005

This time in July, the small traditional Native village of Kake gets crowded with chums.

Not just the hatchery salmon that clog the town's Gunnuk Creek, attracting voracious black bears and bald eagles.

Hundreds of celebrating people, too.

The 11th Annual Kake Dog Salmon Festival this Saturday typically attracts about 600 guests, including many who will travel to Kake on Allen Marine catamarans from Juneau and Sitka for the day.

At a time when Kake is struggling with unemployment and out-migration due to the closure of its cold storage plant, the festival is a precious moment for the community to forget about its hardships and have some fun, residents say.

Kake Dog Salmon Festival 2005

Round-trip Catamaran tickets: $100 per person (children and adults).

Ticket sales agent: Debbie Johnson-James at 463-6628 (work) or 723-8616 (cell).

Catamaran schedule: departs Juneau from Auke Bay Marina at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Arrives in Kake at 10:30 a.m. Departs Kake at 5:30 p.m. arrives in Juneau at 10:30 p.m.

(note: same schedule applies for catamaran leaving from sitka.)

festival highlights

10 a.m. - food and dessert contest.

11 a.m. - welcome guests and juneau native dance performance.

12:30 p.m. - blessing of the fleet and community picnic (native foods included).

1 p.m. - children's races and 5k race.

2 p.m. - dignitary race.

2:30 p.m. - bike race.

3 p.m. - kayak race.

3:30 p.m. - fish tote race and fish tossing contest.

3:45 p.m. - fish filleting contest.

4 p.m. - the great challenge of the chums canoe races.

11 p.m. - dancing with Ketchikan live band, "tung and groov."

for more information, contact Janet Sheldon at (907) 785-3221 or 785-3462.

"Families come home and everybody just has fun," said Janet Sheldon, the festival coordinator. The cost of the event, running from 10 a.m. until after 11 p.m., is paid with donations.

Visitors on Saturday will have an opportunity to try out traditional Native foods, like seaweed and clams, smoked fish and gumboots (mollusks), watch Tlingit dances and compete in a variety of contests from three-legged races to traditional canoe races.

The festival started with a casual joke by Kake Tribal Corporation's former chief executive officer Gordon Jackson.

When the Kake cold storage plant started up for the second time about a decade ago, the tribal corporation originally held community barbecues whenever it processed 1 million pounds.

"We had so many million pounds (the first summer), it got kind of expensive," Jackson said.

In the ensuing controversy over the cost of the barbecues, Jackson recalls that he mentioned: Why don't we have a dog salmon festival and invite all our chums?

It was just a joke, but the idea took root, he said.

"We said, let's give it a try and see who comes. We put out an invitation. ... To our surprise, everyone got involved," Jackson said.

"Here we are 11 years later, still celebrating," Sheldon said, laughing.

The festival has become an annual rite of summer for the town and Tlingits living elsewhere in Southeast Alaska.

"It's become part of our tradition for summer - getting ready for Kake," said Cheryl Eldemar, executive director of the Juneau-based SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Foundation.

Eldemar races at the festival on SEARHC's 13-person Tlingit-style canoe, called Toowu Latseen, or Inner Strength.

"The race is our goal," she said, but "knowing that we are going to Kake to visit people" is an even bigger draw.

Juneau consultant Peter Metcalfe, who helped Jackson develop the festival, said it is a valuable immersion experience for non-Natives as well.

Kake is one of the original Tlingit villages in Southeast Alaska, he said, and its traditional culture remains vibrant.

"Very few people (in Juneau) have been to villages like this but people in Kake come to Juneau all the time," Metcalfe said.

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