ANCHORAGE — A tribal house years in the making will be dedicated on the shores of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve on Thursday, a physical acknowledgment that the area known for its rugged beauty is also the homeland of the Huna Tlingit.
Ceremonies will be held at the Huna Tribal House at Barlett Cove, with officials planning to also livestream the festivities. Traditional ceremonies, closed to the public, are planned for Friday, with an open house scheduled for Saturday.
The park’s chief of interpretation, Tom VandenBerg, said park visitors see glaciers and wildlife and know the region is the homeland of the Huna Tlingit, “but there’s really no sign of them.”
“A glacier came through, forced them out, destroyed everything in its path,” he said. “It has since retreated, so we had this new land, new life coming in and there’s just no sign of any of the villages that were here long ago.”
According to the park service and Hoonah Indian Association, the building will be the first permanent clan house in Glacier Bay since an advancing glacier wiped out the villages more than 250 years ago. Four Huna Tlingit clans once lived in and around Glacier Bay, the park service says. Clans today are based out of nearby Hoonah, VandenBerg said.
The Hoonah Indian Association on its website said the group and National Park Service worked with a team that included clan leaders, craftsmen and cultural resource specialists on a design that reflects traditional styles but is also contemporary. For example, it will include a central fire pit in a large gathering area along with modern touches, like a kitchen for preparing Alaska Native foods and dressing room for dancers and performers, the association said. The design was passed on historical records, the association said.
The park service says the building will provide a place for tribal members to meet and hold ceremonies while also providing a place for visitors to learn about tribe’s culture.
An administrator with the association did not respond to emailed questions about the project.
VandenBerg said tribal elders originally proposed the concept and the park service agreed but getting it built took years as the project kept getting pushed back on the national priority list for funding.
Eventually, he said, the park decided it needed to just make it happen and scrimped for about five years to come up with the money on its own.
He didn’t know the final cost for the project, but with planning, carvings and construction he estimated it to be around $4 million.
VandenBerg said the tribal house will provide new learning opportunities for visitors.
Glacier Bay has “always been a park about science and glaciers and scenery. People ask us a lot about the original inhabitants. We can say a few things but there’s really nothing we can really point to that really speaks about their connection to the homeland. But this will just provide that and it will just be amazing,” he said.