The good in Hoonah

Posted: Thursday, September 09, 2010

Hoonah - Something bad happened in Hoonah.

Police officers Anthony Wallace and Matthew Tokuoka were killed in this tiny village on Chichagof Island Aug. 29.

But there is good too.

"The fresh air, the water, the people," said Cindy Kaze, manager of the Hoonah Airport for Wings of Alaska.

She has lived in Hoonah for 20 years. When you fly in, you're likely to see Kaze or other airport workers back a van up to the plane, unload luggage, drive the van 30 yards and swing open the doors to let visitors grab their belongings.

"The small community and the logging roads. Tony always bugged me about borrowing my four wheelers to get out on them. And Matt was a quiet, good family man, and loved his kids."

Wallace and Tokuoka would drive past the Smokey Bear Fire Danger sign towards the Tongass National Forest and to the Hoonah city limits, she said.

Former Hoonah postmaster Glenn Johnson's family is going through pain, just as the relatives of Tokuoka and Wallace are. Johnson is John Marvin Jr.'s uncle. Marvin is charged with the murder of the two slain officers.

He, too, was able to remember the good of Hoonah through his pain.

"His grandfather and my mother were brother and sister," Johnson said. "There has always been a lot of good here, there are just times that things happen that you least expect. I was kind of hurting when I found out it was my nephew, but I prayed for him to come out without anyone else getting hurt. This community always comes together, no matter what happens."

Genevieve Cook, 68, has lived in Hoonah all her life.

"I just love everything about it," Cook said. "It was smaller, grown some in the last 20 years. You can walk and berry pick, you can get fish, and deer meat and seal meat, things that I love. Things my ancestors, my grandparents' ancestors, also loved after being forced by the ice to here."

Tlingit families in Hoonah teach ancestral history and their language is taught in school. It is common knowledge that the first Tlingits thought they were safe in nearby Glacier Bay but a glacial advance in the 1700s overwhelmed the landscape the natives were living, hunting, and gathering in so they found Xunyaa, Tlingit for "in the lee of the north wind."

The first postmasters mistakenly heard the name as Hoonah, and the word stuck.

"There are so many good things here," Wayne Howell, management assistant for Glacier Bay National Park said of the town. "The deep spirituality of the people... we see that in terms of their relationship to Glacier Bay and their respect of the landscape. They reach out and care for each other... that is the Tlingit culture, they care for their elders and young and community."

Ruth James, 79, was born and raised in Hoonah.

"When we lose somebody the whole town is there."

Her daughter Lilly James added, "It is wonderful because how close and good the people are to each other when somebody needs comfort, everybody wants to do their part to help, it has always been like that. And we are very thankful for everybody that has come."

Retired Hoonah teacher Gordon Greenewald, also born and raised in the town, said a lot of good is there, "Sadly we don't think about it at this time. The appeal here is the outdoors, the close community, when we all need help up everyone reaches out and gives each other a hand up. We are a big family. A job is anywhere, you can go anywhere and get a job and a post office box but not many places like Hoonah, where you can feel like home."

Added former Hoonah kindergarten teacher Christina Lowder, "It is just love, the city of love and family. That is what connects us here. It is the Tlingit culture coming together with the best of everyone..."

At the Hoonah gymnasium after the memorial service for Tokuoka and Wallace, attended by townspeople and visiting dignitaries, Sen. Lisa Murkowski spoke of Hoonah's character.

"There is a lot of good in Hoonah," Murkowski said. "There are wonderful people here, it's a wonderful community. It's a community that is very hurt right now and they need to know that the love from Alaska is with them. And the fact that you have so many people here today I think that demonstrates that and I hope they feel that in this difficult time."

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Joseph Masters said, "These two officers paid the ultimate price for protecting their community and their families. The best honor and tribute we can give is to be here, it is not only a professional responsibility but it is a moral and personal responsibility as well."

Jessica Michelson, who serves in the United States Coast Guard, lived in Hoonah for a few summers following her logging father.

"Hoonah is a very tight-knit community, but something about it, being outdoors, the bears, playing with friends. There is a strong sense of community and love."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at

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