Our ship was scheduled to go to Skagway but had a last minute change substituting Icy Strait Point because of high winds in Skagway. Along with Icy Strait Point, a shuttle to the village of Hoonah was available.
Icy Strait Point is a purpose-built cruise ship port that offers activities and excursions. The port is under the authority of the Alaska Huna Totem Corporation and its Alaska native shareholders. All profits directly go to support the people and town of Hoonah.
Hoonah is located on the northwest shore of Chichagof Island across Icy Strait from the entrance to Glacier Bay. Hoonah is the principal village for the Huna Tlingit tribe that has occupied the area for centuries.
At one time, Hoonah was also home to the Alaskan Bush Family, a reality show on the Discovery channel about the Brown family attempting to survive in the wilderness, detached from modern society.
Not wanting to detach from modern society, Theresa, Sally and I went to the Vitality Spa for massages and followed it with breakfast in the dining room before disembarking to Ice Strait Point.
The port features authentic replications of the culture and history of the Huna people and includes the completely restored salmon cannery that burned down in 1944. All proceeds from tourism in this town go back to the Huna Tlingit and the Huna Totem Corporation.
On the way to the Cannery Museum, we passed a small narrow cemetery bordered by a white picket fence and tall trees. There was no plaque or signage acknowledging the cemetery.
All of the graves had coins either scattered on the grave or stacked on the headstone. According to the Department of Military Affairs, a coin left on a headstone lets the deceased soldier’s family know that somebody stopped by to pay their respect; a penny means you visited; a nickel means you and the deceased veteran trained at boot camp together; a dime means you and the deceased veteran served together in some capacity; a quarter is very significant because it means that you were there when that veteran died. Perhaps this cemetery was for fishermen or those who died in nearby seas.
The Hoonah Canning Company opened in 1912. It now houses stores, but also has a small canning museum mixed among the wares.
Chinese immigrant workers provided most of the inexpensive labor during the early days. Men were typically recruited to work on the fishing vessels. Women were recruited to work in the canneries because they had smaller versatile hands.
This free museum educates visitors about the different types of salmon, the canning process and a variety of fishing vessels. With all the cutting and cleaning devices, it must have been a dangerous place to work
On to Hoonah which is Alaska’s largest Tlingit village. To get there from Icy Strait Point, you can either take a shuttle or walk. It lies about 1.5 miles down the road from Icy Strait Point and has a population of approximately 750 people. Oddly enough, there are eight churches of various denominations.
There are two small grocery stores and everything is flown or barged into town. Prices are high and variety of product is limited … a loaf of bread costs $10-13, a gallon of milk is $9 and a head of lettuce is $6.
The town of Hoonah will give you an excellent chance to talk to Tlingit natives and learn about their culture. We chatted with a bark weaver at one of the small stores. He told us about the hats he makes.
Dan said bark weaving is a tradition he learned from his mother. He uses strands of cedar and works to make them pliable enough to weave.
In the middle of Hoonah, we found a carving hut where two men were carving a totem pole. The man we spent the most time talking with told us the Tlingit community didn’t have a written language until very recently. He remembers coming home and showing his mother his written name. To the best of his knowledge his name is written as “Yandus”. All of their stories and history have been passed down orally and through art.
Yandus also told us about the expiring art of weaving Spruce root and cedar baskets which he learned from his mother. A few baskets he had made were passed down to his children as a reminder and keepsake of their heritage.
In the Tlingit society, there are two moieties, Eagle and Raven. If you are Tlingit, you are either Eagle or Raven. When you are born, you inherit the clan and crest of your mother. Your father is honored through song and dance.
The first people of the area, the Tlingits, made long canoes out of a single tree for fishing, hunting and transportation.
It was a long day of exploring Icy Strait Point and Hoonah. We saw seals and a whale in their natural habitat but no bear. Even though Chichagof Island has the highest population of bears per square mile of any place on Earth, the only bear we saw was in our cabin when we returned to the cruise ship.
Information taken from literature found at the Huna Indian Association Tribal House and from Glacier Bay National Park public newsletter.