5/27: Klawock & Tlingit Culture

Our destination today is Klawock – a town of about 850 residents and a major center of the Tlingit Culture. Fishing and tourism are two of the major ways the people in Klawock support themselves. The tourism industry revolves around people who come in for fishing and hiking trips. Commercial tourism built around the cultural aspects of the area is not currently a big business – our tour was arranged by the Un-Cruise folks. In fact, we didn’t even see a single souvenir shop on our walks. Klawock is 56 air miles from Ketchikan.

We had been cruising all night, and were still in motion as the sun was coming out behind the trees:


The sun isn’t the only thing up and about at 5am – a hardworking crew member washes down the bow:


A cup of coffee and a quick check of the menu was next on the agenda. The chef published each day’s menu early in the morning, and we were asked to pick our entree choice, but they were flexible if you changed your mind.
It was too nice a morning to lounge around inside, so back outside to check out another surreal Alaskan morning.

Slipping back to the cabin to make sure Lou was awake for breakfast, I had to maneuver my way through early morning Yoga Class – they were in full crouching tiger mode.  We had a new Wellness Instructor this week – Shannon (who had the most delightful Georgia accent).  She also held stretching classes in the afternoon, and it’s amazing how much just 20-30 minutes of stretching helped tired muscles.


More photos from this unbelievable morning as we cruised into Klawock:


We were able to dock at the pier, and were introduced to our guides for the day. Victor had lived in Klawock all of his life and is currently one of the city officials. He told us about the history of Klawock, and also shared many stories about Tlingit Culture. He brought two young people with him, his niece Sidney and James, who both had recently graduated from high school.


As we got off the boat, the water was amazingly clear, and Lou took these photos of sea creatures from the dock (which would be the logical place, as it’s unlikely he would dive into the water… ):


This is a salmon cannery that is no longer in operation. Klawock was the sight of the first salmon cannery in Alaska – built in 1878. As Victor said, “when was the last time any of you bought canned salmon?” As in other parts of the country, newer methods for preserving fish have made many canneries obsolete (we still prefer tuna in a can, but that may be habit and nostalgia).


Our first stop was to see a beautiful canoe, a gift which was made by a man in Seattle to honor his wife’s parents. (In return, Klawock gifted a totem Honor Pole, which is displayed at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle – an important part of the Tlingit culture is maintaining “Balance.”)

Hannah & Beth, shown posing above, as we wait for the next part of the tour.  A word about our expedition guides – they were all enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subject.  Many had backgrounds in natural science, and all had an obvious love of the outdoors, especially the natural wonders found in Alaska.


After learning about the gift of the canoe, we split into two groups. Our group walked to the Totem Park – this park has 21 totem poles.  All of these are Mortuary Totems, so they each tell the story of the person who is being honored, and there is a place for ashes to be placed in the pole.


From the City’s Webpage:

Klawock’s Totem Park has the largest collection of authentic totem poles in Alaska. The park displays original and replica totems from the old village of Tuxekan. The City, assisted by the village corporation’s donation of whole logs, recently built a carving shed to house many of the totem poles during restoration. Visitors are welcome to drop by to see the carvers at work. It is located across the street from the mall.


Lou took most of the photos of the totem poles shown below, and of the carvings we’ll see in a minute.  He was intrigued by these, and it’s also the type of stuff he likes to photograph.  I took a break from the camera for a while, just to enjoy the day.


After looking at all of the totem poles, we walked about a mile to the Carving Shed that is built as a replica of a Tlingit Long House – a communal living space.


Sidney and James told us about the carving shed and some of the history of totem poles.  One of the problems the Tlingit  are trying to rectify is the issue of losing their language – many of the people Victor’s age aren’t able to speak the language, because they were never taught.  There is a concentrated effort to teach young people, and Victor was quite proud of Sidney’s ability to speak Tlingit.  The tour of Klawock was informal, and we were encouraged to ask questions.


Photos from our tour of the Carving Shed and Long House follow – these are the older totems to be restored.We learned how the story of the totems belongs to the person who commissions the carving, so James said he couldn’t tell us much about the new totems being carved.


We returned to the Wilderness Discoverer in time to have lunch as we started the next leg of today’s journey.  Visiting Klawock was exactly the type of experience we’d hope to have when we signed up for small ship un-cruising, and we’re happy to say it lived up to expectations.

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