Eagle down, released from the fingertips of Tlingit children, drifted through the forests of Bartlett Cove during a groundblessing ceremony for the recently completed Huna Tribal House. Tribal elders, supported by their cultural nephews spoke traditional words of welcome and thanked the towering trees for offering their lives in aid of the planned 2,500 square foot cedar structure. Xunaa Shuká Hít—roughly translated as "Huna Ancestor's House"—is the first permanent clan house in Glacier Bay since Tlingit villages were destroyed by an advancing glacier over 250 years ago. A long awaited dream, it is a gathering place where tribal members can reconnect with their treasured homeland through ceremonies, workshops, camps, tribal meetings and other events. It also provides park visitors with opportunities to learn about Huna Tlingit history, culture, and life ways. The Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) and National Park Service (NPS) have worked closely with a team of clan leaders, craftsmen, planners, architects, and cultural resource specialists to design a building that reflects traditional styles but meets the needs of contemporary tribal members as well as park visitors. The focal point of the Tribal House is a large open gathering area with a central fire pit, but modern amenities including utilities, a small kitchen for preparing native foods, dressing room for dancers and performers, and detached restrooms have been incorporated in the design.
The design is based on accounts and photographs from the historical and ethnographic records. These ingenious buildings had gabled roofs held up by four interior posts that supported two massive horizontal beams upon which the rest of the roofing members rested. The walls and floors were of thick, adze finished planks. Inside were square pits, about 25 feet to a side and about 4 feet deep, where daily life circulated around a central hearth. They traditionally housed extended families and a cluster of houses would comprise a clan's winter village. Multiple clans would reside together, and legends tell us that the principal pre-Little Ice Age village of the four Huna clans was located in what is now Bartlett Cove.
The "Return to Homeland" event took place August 25, 2016 coinciding with the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service.
Project Background briefing sheet provides more information on this collaborative project and status.