History in Funter Bay

Funter Bay Location: 58 15.304 N  134 54.242 W

We escaped from The Big City (Juneau) and returned to quiet places, anchoring near the top of Admiralty Island and the lighthouse at Point Retreat.20160613 2186 point retreat 2 rWe’ve always wanted to explore Funter Bay on the northwest corner of Admiralty, rich with history from logging, a cannery, mining, and the unfortunate internment of about 500 Aleut natives during World War II.20160614 2194 funter bay jim looking at gear rToday Funter Bay is a small community of private homes, all off the grid and accessible only by private boat or float plane.  Remnants of cannery machinery can be found all around, on the shoreline and in the woods.20160614 2222 funter bay low tide relic rFunter Bay was a lively place with the cannery that opened at the beginning of the 20th century as well as an active mine early in the century.  One of the first women mining engineers was hired to work in Funter Bay in 1929 – the hiring manager thought it odd for a man to have a woman’s name, and he never considered that Helen was actually a woman!  One of the old mine buildings has slid off its foundation and now sits on private land along the south shore.20160614 2257 funter bay mine warehouse rThe rainforest continues to reclaim abandoned buildings.20160614 2261 funter bay mine shack rLogging and fishing activities occurred around Funter Bay, but the most notorious event in the bay’s history occurred in 1942.  The cannery closed in 1931 and the buildings were abandoned.  When the Japanese invaded the far west Aleutian Islands in 1942, the U.S. Government decided to evacuate many of the Aleuts to protect people from the Japanese (a number had already been captured or killed on the Aleutian island of Attu), and they wanted to deny the Japanese invaders any benefit from the buildings and resources of those islands.  Native islanders were hastily herded aboard transport ships, each allowed to take only one small suitcase, and they watched in horror as U.S. soldiers destroyed their homes and churches as the ships headed out to sea.  Ultimately the Japanese never invaded additional islands in the Aleutians.

The islanders from the Pribilof Group – St. Paul and St. George islands – were brought to Funter Bay; residents from other Aleutian islands were brought to camps elsewhere around southeast Alaska.  The Funter Bay group of about 500 men, women, and children were left ashore with little or no resources except the abandoned cannery and mining buildings that had been deteriorating for 10 years, as well as some hastily constructed quonset huts.  20160614 2202 funter bay quonset hut jim looking rThese buildings weren’t insulated for the winter and there was no ready supply of fresh water available.  Hunting and fishing were difficult with few boats and rifles.  The islanders set to work to make the best of the horrific situation.  Between 1942 and 1944 about 10% of the displaced islanders died, and  some 23 to 35 of them are buried in a cemetery in Funter Bay, still visited and tended by their Aleutian relatives.  The location of the cemetery is a bit obscure, in the woods on Forest Service property behind a private home.  The trail isn’t marked, but can be found by looking for the small hole in the brush indicated by the red circle.  You have to walk along the shoreline (easier at low tide) to get around to the right spot.20160614 2252 funter bay cemetery trailhead r20160614 2228 funter bay cemetery gate 2 r

20160614 2230 funter bay crosses r

Notice that the crosses are all in the Russian Orthodox style.  These people lived so far west that they considered themselves more Russian than American, and they followed the Russian Orthodox religion (as many other native groups even here in southeast Alaska do, particularly around Sitka).  20160614 2232 funter bay childs headstone rThere were several children in the cemetery, though very few headstones or more modern grave markers were present.  Pictures of saints were often attached to the crosses, replaced by family members periodically.20160614 2240 funter bay cemetery saint closer rWhen one of the wooden crosses deteriorates and needs replacement, the old cross is laid on top of the grave and allowed to return to the earth on its own terms – you can see two of them in the photo below.20160614 2245 funter bay cemetery old and new crosses rStarting in 1945 the islanders were allowed to return to the Pribilof Islands, but there was nothing for them to return to.  One of many sad outcomes from the war.

20160614 2216 funter bay purple wildflower r

More evidence of the cannery and mining operations can be found on the beach, such as this wreck – thought to be a tug that sank around 1931, as well as barges behind the edge of the forest, slowly disappearing.20160614 2272 funter bay wreck engine jim rWe love the grand landscape and all the wildlife, but culture and history are also in abundance here.

More Celebration

There were so many sights and sounds at the Native Celebration events that I hope you’ll indulge me by letting me show some more photos and video.

There were a couple of groups who traveled to Celebration in traditional canoes – of the groups we saw, one came from Hoonah and another traveled about 300 miles.20160607 1591 juneau tlingit canoe r20160610 1856 celebration canoeist speaking rNotice that each paddle is customized with designs – that’s to tell other people as well as the creatures in the sea who you are.  Your paddle shows things about you – your moiety, clan, and/or house.  One of the gals from the 300 mile trek talked about “canoe journeys”, and how they are a very challenging but marvelous way to rediscover one’s roots by traveling as their ancestors did, sleeping rough, dealing with weather and strong tidal currents.  It’s like an Outward Bound experience, only with richer, more personal cultural foundations.

Each dancer’s regalia is a lovingly created means of personal expression, combining their moiety, clan, and house symbols in unique ways.  Button blankets are common, often using buttons made from abalone shell.  You see lots of ravens and eagles – those represent the two moieties of the Tlingit people.  The culture is matrilineal, following the moiety of the mother’s side of the family, and it’s traditional to marry across moieties.  When a person of one moiety dies, the other moiety hosts the funeral – isn’t that a lovely tradition?

20160609 1617 celebration loon hat rArtful wood carving can be seen throughout the Pacific northwest native communities, but the most clever carving is done to create hats and masks.  Native art celebrates the creatures that live in their world – the orca, eagle, raven, humpback, salmon, seal, sea lion, frog, bear, wolf, beaver as well as fanciful creatures like the thunderbird.

20160609 1632 celebration orca hat r

20160609 1684 celebration raven mask dancer r

20160610 1942 celebration humpback hat rThe most wonderful masks are those that can move – a raven’s beak that opens and closes, or a mask within a mask such as this bear mask…20160610 1927 celebration bear-man mask closed r…that opens to reveal a man’s face.  Notice that even the inside of the mask halves have bear motifs.  Each is a masterful work of art.20160610 1932 celebration bear-man mask open r

Another Celebration event we enjoyed was the toddler regalia show where tykes ages 2-4 showed off their dancing and ceremonial outfits.  Most of the little ones looked a little “deer in the headlights” when they first came out, but often they warmed up to the audience’s reaction to the narrative describing each piece of their regalia about the materials used, the origin of the designs, and which family member or ancestor made each piece.  20160609 1738 celebration toddler regalia 6 r20160609 1712 celebration toddler regalia 9 r20160609 1705 celebration toddler regalia 1 rThis fierce little fellow was my favorite.20160609 1721 celebration toddler fierce little eagle r20160609 1754 celebration toddler regalia tiny dancer rThere were contests to see who could whip up the best soapberry dessert, weaving classes, language classes, and an expert available to help anyone with an old piece of jewelry to identify its origins.  We should all be so lucky to live in a culture so rich with traditions and connections to ancestors and to the world around them.  20160610 1917 celebration celebrate rJuneau in summertime swarms with tourists from cruise ships, but this week the hats, vests, engraved bracelets and other native garments colored the landscape with rich meanings, begging to be explored.

As we sat at a cafe for lunch one day it was easy to figure out who was a local, who was attending Celebration (so many smiles!), and who was from a cruise ship.  Desultory little clumps of people sitting around a table with their eyes welded to their phones were obviously from a cruise ship… more interested in a bit of WiFi than in the magnificent mountains, history, and culture surrounding them.  It’s not to say that all cruise ship tourists are like that, but we do see that bored-grumpy look accompanied by shopping bags full of cheap t-shirts all too often – such a shame.20160610 2076 juneau street ship bow rThe Summer Solstice marks the first day of summer, which we spent in sweatshirts since it was an overcast day.  We have had a lot of nice days with sunshine, and the sun is so strong that it’s almost too hot.  The sad thing about the Solstice for those of us who live in these higher latitudes is that from now on we know the days will be getting shorter until late December.  Right now we have about 18 hours of daylight, and that will shrink to less than 7 hours before the days will once again grow longer.

Surprise in Juneau

We headed into Juneau to do some shopping in The Big City, where we can find Costco, Home Depot, and a big Fred Meyer store.  We have two grocery and hardware stores in Petersburg, but the prices and selection can’t compare to the capital city.  We tried to arrange for a rental car to do our shopping, but we discovered that the biennial Native Celebration was going on that week and there wasn’t any hope of getting a car.  That was the bad news… and the good news.

20160608 2547  bad gen impeller rWe managed to borrow a car from friends for a few hours, and with well-organized lists in hands and a brisk pace we got a lot accomplished.  We were also having some cooling issues with the generator, and when Jim replaced the impeller it was obvious what the problem is.  Oh, and you also have to find all the little bits of broken off blades downstream in the cooling system, or they’ll continue to cause problems.

20160608 1595 juneau jims decadent lunch rOnce the shopping and the generator were taken care of we could take some time to enjoy the city, particularly the State Museum which JUST re-opened after a lengthy renovation.  I’ve been wanting to see it ever since we moved up here, and the new displays did not disappoint!  It was also a treat to eat out for a change, and the restaurant just around the corner from the museum had some fantastic lunch specials.  One of them should just be named the “Jim Roberts”, because it was a peanut butter waffle covered in sauteed bananas and candied pecans.  Jim was thrilled.  We typically prefer the quiet wilderness over the bustle of the city, but we’re open to new experiences… especially the culinary kind!

So besides the surprise of the State Museum re-opening just two days earlier, we thought we’d check out the Celebration events.  Celebration occurs every two years, and it’s primarily focused on the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes of southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia.  It was fantastic – like a gigantic family reunion.  We spent two days watching dancing and drumming, listening to the native language speakers, and learning more about the culture.20160609 1672 celebration eagle feathers dancer r20160609 1643 celebration drummers 2 r20160609 1615 celebration wrangell dancer rThe first thing you notice is all the regalia, highly personalized and decorated with symbols of the person’s moiety, clan, and house.  Everything is hand-made, and some items are quite old.

The speakers introducing the various dancing groups all spoke in their native language first, then translated into English.  A Tlingit gentleman sitting next to me told me that even as recently as four years ago we would not have heard much native language, and he was astounded at how many people were proficient.  The Juneau school system now has a Tlingit program in the elementary school that teaches culture and language every day!

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments tried to eliminate the native culture and language, almost succeeding in erasing thousands of years of development.  The great-grandparents and grandparents of the current generation still remember the old ways and stories, but the parents of the current generation were raised in a sterile environment.  Thankfully interest in the native ways is experiencing a great resurgence, particularly among the young people, and they are capturing as much knowledge as they can while their elders are still around.  These people have suffered civil rights injustices for over 200 years at the hands of various European settlers, and then the U.S. and Canadian governments.  They remain hopeful and patient, relentlessly trying to preserve their heritage and reclaim some of what has been taken from them – the first residents of this land.  We continue to mourn horrific events around the world caused by hatred, intolerance and misunderstanding, and we need to remember that we’re all One Human Family and that our differences, working together, make us all stronger.

One of the beautiful aspects of the native culture is respect for elders, reflected in reserved seating in the front rows for elders only, and the number of elders who were seated on the stage during every dancing performance, drumming or just moving their hands while seated.  20160610 1949 celebration frog sticking tongue out rAudience participation during the dances was frequent and welcome, sometimes from the seats, and sometimes people would be invited up on stage.  20160609 1686 celebration audience participation rIt’s hard to choose a favorite thing about Celebration, but I loved seeing all the little children on the stage – infants riding in carriers, held in arms, or toddlers dancing in their own way.  EVERYONE was included – it was just beautiful.20160610 1890 celebration dancing with tot 2 r20160610 2032 celebration dancing with tot r20160609 1780 celebration sleeping through dance r20160610 1882 celebration two little dancers rI’20160610 1885 celebration young dancers closer rI’ll post more photos and video in the next installment… stay tuned.

Whale Feeding

After all the excitement dodging icebergs we headed up to Taku Harbor, about 20 miles south of Juneau.  Taku was the site of a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post starting around 1840, and later became a salmon cannery around 1901.  It’s interesting to see the pilings and some rusted remains of the old cannery on shore.20160604 1391 taku cannery pilings view r20160604 1382 taku harbor view rWe had a beautiful sunny day, a nice change from the somewhat monochrome look of the overcast weather we often get here.  A month ago, boating friends saw some brown bears mating on the beach at low tide, so as always we were prepared for bears and we clapped and talked loudly as we explored ashore.

The wildflowers were in bloom, and the salmonberries and cloudberries were just starting to ripen.



The bachelor’s button flowers were a carpet of purple…20160604 1424 taku field bachelors button flowers r20160604 1438 taku bachelors button flower r…and we saw liverleaf wintergreen, and plenty of tiny forget-me-not – Alaska’s state flower.20160604 1419 taku liverleaf wintergreen flowers r RESIZE20160604 1440 taku forget me not rThe flowers were certainly beautiful, but the highlight of our stay in Taku Harbor was the humpback whales feeding in the harbor at the beginning of every flood tide.  It was wonderfully crazy – 4-5 whales all around the bowl-shaped harbor, diving and either lunge feeding against the shoreline or blowing a “net” of air bubbles to encircle herring, swimming up through the middle of the “net” with their mouths agape.20160605 1482 taku whale mouth 8 rThis feeding behavior went on for a couple of hours at the beginning of each flood tide, though where the water was deep we didn’t have much warning about where the whales would erupt next.  It was great to watch, but very frustrating to try and photograph.  We had whales come up 20′ behind our boat once, and about 30′ off the side several times.  The sound of their “blow” (exhale) is quite loud, and when they blow close by it sounds like they’re IN the boat!20160605 1572 taku whale mouth 8 r20160605 1515 taku whale mouth 5 rWe lucked out one morning and had an extra-low tide, yet even with the very shallow water in the harbor the whales still arrived and started to feed as soon as the tide turned.  The shallow water made it much easier to see them under the water because their pectoral fins have a lot of white.  They couldn’t dive as deeply so we had a few seconds of warning when they were about to come up – giving us a good opportunity to get some better photos and video.  Our arms ached from holding binoculars and cameras up, but it was wonderful to watch the whales so closely.

Jim put together some video of the shallow water feeding, and you can often see the whales making tight turns to herd herring just under the water – look for the white pectoral fins.