Visiting Icy Strait Point & Hoonah

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.

Until 2022, only one ship could dock at Icy Strait Point. A second dock was added. (Image from Royal Caribbean)

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 ships spa offers a variety of services including massages, facials, fitness classes and more. (Image from Royal Caribbean)
Off the ship and over the bridges, Icy Strait Point is a five-minute walk.
The adventure center offers opportunities for whale, bird and bear watching excursions as well as zip lines, a gondola, ocean rafting and hiking. Nearby are restaurants and a beach with a few bonfires. (Image from Royal Caribbean)

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.

A very peaceful cemetery with about a dozen graves was found enroute to the Cannery complex.

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.

Coins covered the headstones at this cemetery.
Captain Paul E. Dybdahl Sr. was born in Trondheim, Norway and according to his head stone, he died a “Pioneer Alaskan” at 87. He must have had a very interesting life.
Not sure who lives in these lovely little houses but my guess is that it’s the people who work at Icy Strait Point port.

The Hoonah Canning Company opened in 1912. It now houses stores, but also has a small canning museum mixed among the wares.

The Canning Museum is a good place to learn about salmon and how it is canned. (Image from Royal Caribbean)

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.

There are three miles of paved road from one end of Hoonah to the other.
Available year-round, Halibut have been a steady food source in the area for centuries. All five species of Salmon can be harvested in Hoonah’s waters.

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.

This is one of the bark woven hats made by Dan, a Tlingit local.

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.

Totem Poles are new to Hoonah. Yandus said they have only been carving them for about ten years. Tlingit Poles are read from the bottom to the top.
In earlier days, totem poles were painted using porcupine quills for brushes; salmon eggs were used to obtain red coloring; copper was used for blue/green and bark was used for black.

The first people of the area, the Tlingits, made long canoes out of a single tree for fishing, hunting and transportation.

This dugout boat was carved by Yandus.
Today, tribal members continue to journey to ceremonies and events in handcrafted dugout canoes.
The Huna Indian Association tribal house features one of the first totem poles in Hoonah.
Before heading back to the cruise ship, we stopped for a bite at one of the Icy Strait Point restaurants with a view.

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.

Our room attendant Kevin left us a cute bear made from towels.

Information taken from literature found at the Huna Indian Association Tribal House and from Glacier Bay National Park public newsletter.

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Jane is a resident of Browndale neighborhood in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

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