Kasaan Alaska 2016 Whale House Rededication Ceremony - P.O.W. Report

Friday, September 9, 2016

Kasaan Alaska 2016 Whale House Rededication Ceremony

It was a beautiful sunny 68 degrees at the Son-I-Hat Whale House Rededication in Kasaan, Alaska on September 3rd 2016.

There must have been close to 500 people at the celebration, the smart ones brought folding chairs, while the rest suffered "worked on their cardio" and stood.

For those who live and grew up in Southeast, Alaska it's no secret that when an event says it starts at "noon", what it really means is that it starts at 1pm (perhaps later). This was no exception. As the speakers assembled, Lt. Governor Byron Mallott walked around the crowd shaking hands with elders. While on the beach, traditional songs and singing was on display:

To start of the rededication Ceremony, the Haida and Tlingit Natives (many dressed in traditional garb) danced around the Naay I'waans Whale House: 

The Dancers then moved inside and filled the Long House with their positive energy and high spirits.

As the afternoon progressed, many different speakers talked about the history of the Kasaan community, the history of the Haida peoples, and more importantly why this Whale House is so important:

All in all, it was a fantastic rededication ceremony for a building that has historical significance:

After the Small Pox Epidemic of 1862 struck the community of Old Kasaan. Son-I-Hat left the old village and moved to live close to a Christian mission in neighboring Kasaan Bay. Despite the fact that the Small Pox Epidemic desimated the 500 strong community of Old Kasaan to only 80 people, the residents where hesitant to move and leave their roots.

To convince his remaining family to join him at the new site, Son-I-Hat constructed a new house in 1880. Naay I'waans was nicknamed the "Whale House" or "House without Nails." The Whale House was constructed according to traditional techniques while all the houses that where built after in the new community of "Gasa'aan" (Kasaan) where built in the new Western style. By 1902, all the citizens of the old community had finally relocated to this new site.

By 1938 wet and windy coastal weather had left the landmark in a state of disrepair. Only the four corner-posts, roof beams, house posts, and a bit of framing remained. At the time the Civilian Conservation Corps worked with Haida craftsmen to help restore the house. The undertaking involved a crew of up to 20 people, including eight Haida carvers and carpenters.

In contrast, the crew that tackled the restoration project (once more) in 2013 involved only four core team-members---Glenn "Stormy" Hammar, Harley Holter-Bell, Eric Hamar, and Justin Henricks. As the crew began work on the project they realized that, even though Naay I'waanss' southeastern front faced the wind and water and had suffering from the most weathering. Much of the rest of the building remained useable because of the sound construction methods used in the preservation of the building over its 75 years. The four man crew were able to incorporate and use much of the original material. To preserve the original parts of the house, the crew carefully dismantled it's tongue and groove construction and restored the heirloom piece-by-piece.

"Naay I'waans, the longhouse I have the privilege of working on every day, is a beacon of light to our culture and has been since its original building," says Harley Holter-Bell, "This house has followed our community through time. In that time, it has been a symbol not just of our communities power, but of the kind of power that we want to celebrate. Our power comes from our history, our creativity, and our skill, and especially from our connection to our ancestors." [Source: Naay I'waans Rededication Ceremony Booklet]

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