March 13, 2010

Wrangell, Alaska, 2009.

May of 2009 was my first time in Wrangell, Alaska. Fortunately it was a beautiful couple of days in South East Alaska.

I also traveled to Wrangell in November of 2009.

The pictures with snow are from that trip (all at the end of the entry).

Wrangell sits on the northern tip of Wrangell Island, an island in the Alaska Panhandle, and is about 155 miles south of Juneau. Roughly 2,300 people live in Wrangell which was incorporated as the "City and Borough of Wrangell" in June 2008. Previously, Wrangell had been a part of the Wrangell-Petersburg Censes Area.

Wrangell is one of the oldest non-native settlements in Alaska and is the primary settlement for the Stikine Tinglit Natives. In 1811 the Russian government began fur trading with the Tinglit. This practice lasted until 1867, when Alaska was purchased by the United States. Ft. Wrangell was built in 1868 as a U.S. military post and remained active until 1877. Gold prospectors continued to settle the area through the late 1800s until the fishing industry began contributing to the city's growth in the early 20th century. In the 1950's logging also became a mainstay of the economy.

In 1877 the first Presbyterian church in Alaska (also the first protestant church of any kind in Alaska) was founded by S. Hall Young, a colleague of Sheldon Jackson. Young also founded the Fort Wrangell Tlingit Industrial School to teach young Tlingit (Alaska Native tribe in the Wrangell area) men various American trades. Parallel to Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, AK, the Industrial School became Wrangell Institute, a boarding school for Alaska Natives.

Wrangell is also home to The Wrangell Sentinel (, which was first printed in 1902 and is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Alaska.

Alaska Island Community Services ( is a comprehensive health care center for the Wrangell. This clinic also holds the grant from the State of Alaska in which I provide technical assistance.

Hence the reason I visited Wrangell...

and was able to stay at the beautiful Roony's Roost ( bed and breakfast nestled in downtown Wrangell.

Second generation operators of Rooney's Roost, Gordon and Becky Roony have renovated and furnished the house to have a feel of 1900s Alaska. Possibly the best "breakfast" I have experienced while staying at bed and breakfasts, Rooney's Roost is the ultimate experience when staying in Wrangell.

This is a picture of Wrangell looking west (toward the water) from Rooney's.

Only accessible by boat or plane, Wrangell sits nestled within the Tongass National Forest, which at 17 million acres is the largest national forest in the United States and the largest contiguous temperate rainforest in the world.

Looking out at the Zimovia Strait, part of the Inside Passage.

The James and Elsie Nolan Center (

This building has a meeting room, gift shop with Alaska Native art work and crafts, and also a theatre that features one
new-but-not-really movie every week.

Another view of Wrangell.

Wrangell has a number of totem poles in the community due to the rich Tinglit culture. These poles are amazing, often taking many months or even a year to construct.

There are several different types of totem poles. Genealogy poles were usually erected in front of a home to identify the status and clan of the owner. Memorial poles were raised in honor of a deceased clan member, while mortuary poles served the same purpose but included a compartment for the ashes of the deceased. Shame poles were carved to "shame" a person who had wronged the clan or village, but these poles were usually taken down after the offending person had made an appropriate reparation. Other poles were built to depict a myth or legend or to honor an important event taking place in the village.

Interestingly, early missionaries thought totem poles were worshipped as gods and encouraged them to be burned.

Today native carvers along the Northwest coast continue to carve totem poles as an expression of cultural pride and traditions in addition to clan kinship. Though the use of totem poles has changed, they are considered authentic if produced according to traditional rules by a carver who is trained and sanctioned by a Northwest coast tribe and are raised and blessed by elders who are a part of the totem pole tradiation. Poles not carved with these traditions are considered fake.

Above are three poles in Totem Pole Park. The poles depict from left to right, a raven, a one legged fisherman, and a killer whale.

According to an article in Native American/First Nations History colors of totem poles were limited by the availability of natural pigments. Black, the most common, was made by grinding soot, graphite, or charcoal with pulverized salmon eggs. Red, which was used for secondary elements, came from red ochre. Blue-green, used for highlighting, was made from copper sulfite.

Common figures found on totem poles include a raven, a symbol of the creator; an eagle, which represents peace and friendship; a killer whale, a symbol for strength; and a thunderbird; beaver; bear; wolf; and frog, which are all common symbols used in Alaska Native art.

So, essentially the phrase "low man on the totem pole" is incorrectly used since the bottom figure of a totem pole was most often the most important figure...and usually, that bottom figure was NOT a man.

Above is a closer look at the totem pole depicting a killer whale.

A view of the harbor.

I took this picture when I was sitting on the plane waiting for the take off.

Below are the waters of the Inside Passage as we were departing for Petersburg - a 12 minute flight.

Because of "puddle jumper" routes, a flight from Anchorage to Wrangell takes about four and a half hours, with only about two and a half hours of flight time. Typically, the flight will consist of a layover in Juneau and Petersburg before landing in Wrangell. Often times this plane will continue on to Ketchikan, Alaska, and then Seattle, Washington.

After taking off from Petersburg, Alaska, headed for Juneau, Alaska.

The following pictures are from when I visited Wrangell in November of 2009. My second trip to Wrangell was also a great experience, even though I stayed in the same bed and breakfast, drank coffee from the same coffee shop, and ate at the exact same restaurants.