TRAYLS program creates job experience for rural Southeast Alaska youth

The 2017 TRAYLS crew. Rear, left to right: Ryan Billy (Kake), Chad Ward (Kake), and Sealaska Intern Talia Davis. Front, left to right: Bob Girt (Sealaska), Crew leader Terrie Ward (Kake), Yajaira Ponce (Klawock), Noah Rasmus (Hydaburg), Skyler Peele (Hydaburg), and Stephen Hill (Kake). Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

Written for Alaska’s Capital City Weekly

I had the opportunity of meeting the small group of youth and young adults as they assembled at the head of a trail leading into the mist wrapped mountains of Prince of Wales. The trail is in reality an old logging road, overgrown in many places by tall green alder trees and thick salmonberry bushes. The bridges and culverts were removed when the road was closed in the mid-1990s and is often overlooked as residents drive past. But the young crew of the aptly named TRAYLS program is working to change that.

The Training Rural Alaska Youth Leaders and Students (TRAYLS) program was launched on June 5, 2017, as a pilot program designed to train rural Alaskan youth and young adults in various forestry related skills.

Bob Girt of Sealaska dubbed the project “The One Duke Trail,” referencing the trail’s location by Duke Creek and playing on the name of another local trail called “The One Duck Trail.” The trail will consist of approximately one mile of reconstructed logging road and nearly an additional mile of new trail construction that will provide access to alpine areas, as well as areas for berry picking and possibly even viewing stations. The project itself, which is entirely on Sealaska Corporation land, is expected to take at least two weeks of dedicated work to complete.

TRAYLS mentors Bob Girt and Frank Peratrovich sharing a laugh while overseeing work on the One Duke Trail. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

“This trail is a public usage project really,” Girt explained, “It was originally a logging road, and has since been used by local residents for primarily subsistence use. It’s a great trail to work on because it’s wide enough for ATVs and hiking up to the alpine; we’re going to clear out the brush, make the trail safer, and put in a few culverts and even construct a bridge suited for ATV and foot use.”

The One Duke Trail project is only one of a number of possible projects slated for this summer, other projects include the maintenance of several other existing trails, and it’s hoped by TRAYLS program coordinators that the crew will have the opportunity to begin development of at least one new trail along a recent stream restoration project. But trails, aren’t the only projects that the coordinators hope to tackle; they hope to actively engage in a stream restoration project.

“That’s what sets this program apart from others,” said Stephen SueWing, Development Specialist with the State of Alaska’s Division of Economic Development. “We aren’t just teaching the participants how to build trails or clear brush — we’re getting them involved with an entire gamut of resource management possibilities and basic employability skills. Yes, they’ll get work experience in building trails and the like, but they’ll also get experience in many other fields. We hope that the variety of experiences that the students will be exposed to will inspire some of them to pursue careers in these fields.”

The TRAYLS crew getting their morning briefing. Left to right: Bob Girt, Terrie Ward, Stephen Hill, Noah Rasmus, Chad Ward, Ryan Billy, and Corey Peratrovich. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

There is already potential of SueWing’s vision forming with 16 year old Noah Rasmus of Hydaburg, Alaska. Noah spent three years attending Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, and will be finishing his senior year in his home town; after, he plans to enter college, preferably Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to begin pursuing a degree in civil engineering.

“I’m excited to build the bridge on this trail,” Rasmus said, “It’s something that I’m already interested in, and being able to gain experience in engineering through this program will look great when I apply for college after my senior year.”

Other participants simply enjoy the fact that much of the learning is hands on, and immediately applicable. Crew leader Terrie Ward and her son Chad are two such participants. Terrie supervises the TRAYLS crew when they’re off shift as well, ensuring that their housing as well as health and hygiene are cared for. Chad, at age 14, is the youngest member of the TRAYLS crew but works just as hard as the others.

“I like working outside,” he said. “I learn better this way, when I can see how it’s done, then do it.”

Yajaira Ponce clearing and leveling a section of trail. Photo by Quinn Aboudara

“It’s a great opportunity for these young folks,” Terrie said. “They’re developing a good work ethic, learning that if they work hard then they’ll get paid. In the evenings everyone is tired. We’ve worked all day, but they’re learning that when they get home someone has to cook, and someone has to clean. These are good skills to have, especially for the ones that are going to be going on to college and will be on their own.”

Another component to the TRAYLS Program, an opportunity to teach good work ethics as well as combining applicable life skills and resource management skills to provide the students with a good foundation to enter the workforce and lead happy, productive, and healthy lives.

The program was initiated by the Organized Village of Kasaan through a grant funded by the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Youth Initiative Program, as well as a Summer Intern Scholarship from the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society. Additional funding was also provided by a Challenge Cost Share Grant agreement the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has with the State of Alaska Division of Forestry. The State of Alaska Division of Economic Development, who is tasked with workforce development under this agreement, also contributed.

The Organized Village of Kasaan partnered with the Organized Village of Kake, Sealaska Corporation, and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership with support from the Klawock Cooperative Association, the USFS, and The Nature Conservancy.

TRAYLS crewmember Ryan Billy clearing a scenic area for future trail users. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

The crew completed their first month in Kake, where they worked closely with the USFS on a variety of projects, including stream and culvert surveying, documenting an archaeology site, and training in USFS Safety Standards. On July 6 the crew arrived on Prince of Wales Island, where they will spend the remainder of the summer.

Loretta Gregory, the Community and Economic Development Specialist for the Organized Village of Kake and a Community Catalyst with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership expressed her gratitude to the many people and organizations that helped make the first month in Kake a success.

“The TRAYLS program had a few bumps but we were able to land on our feet, figure it out and continue,” Gregory said, “A big thank you to Alaska Seaplanes for their generous help in getting groceries and supplies to Kake and for their generosity in helping transport the TRAYLS crew from Kake to Klawock!”

Fostering Youth Opportunities

Photo By: Quinn Aboudara

Students from the Klawock Middle School hike through the Harris River Interpretative Site.

Spring is turning into summer and schools around the nation are releasing their students to a well-deserved vacation. The schools in Klawock, Alaska are no exception. There’s a catch however. Before letting kids head home for summer vacation, the Klawock School District is releasing students into the woods. 

On May 24th, teachers Abe Horpstead and Corby Weyhmiller loaded 18 students from the Klawock Middle School into vans to go on a field trip put together by a diverse group of professionals who make their living working in the woods.

Weyhmiller, of Klawock City School District, stated “This was a great opportunity for students to learn in the greatest classroom we have available.  Our students had a blast learning from nature and seeing local people that have made a living that allows them to explore, protect, and manage our natural world. ”

Bob Girt of Sealaska Timber, along with Gary Lawton, a forestry and silviculture consultant for Sealaska Timber coordinated with Stephen SueWing, a Development Specialist with the State of Alaska Division of Economic Development, Michael Kampnich of The Nature Conservancy, and Quinn Aboudara a community catalyst with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and Klawock Cooperative Association to engage local youths. Kai Environmental Consulting Services, based in Southeast Alaska generously provided lunch for these students and instructors in the field.

Bob Girt of Sealaska demonstrates some of the equipment used in many forestry careers.

 

Eighteen students from the Klawock Middle School first stopped along the Klawock Lake watershed where introductions were made and the students were able to speak with Aboudara.  Aboudara spoke of the many restoration and research projects throughout the watershed.  The students asked questions in regards to local sockeye salmon populations and possible careers in research fields.

Next, the students met Bob Girt and Gary Lawton at the Harris River Interpretive Site, a United States Forest Service experimental forest site that demonstrates various land management prescriptions such as different forms of tree thinning.  Lawton, who had worked for the United States Forest Service for thirty-six years, discussed some of the benefits of the various forms of tree thinning as well as the numerous career paths associated with the Forest Service.  Girt, demonstrated various types of equipment used by many in forestry careers.

Left to Right: Gary Lawton, Bob Girt, Stephen SueWing, and Michael Kampnich

 

The students then joined Michael Kampnich at the Harris River Campground, where they learned of The Nature Conservancy’s role in a number of projects around Prince of Wales Island, including genetic sampling of wolves, various restoration projects around the island, and supporting the various works engaged in by multiple tribes and other interested organizations. 

This field trip is one of many ways in which the State of Alaska’s Division of Economic Development has been partnering with local tribal organizations such as Klawock Cooperative Association and the Organized Village of Kasaan, regional corporations such as Sealaska, other interests such as The Nature Conservancy, and local schools to engage with youth to foster opportunity and interest in the forest and promote local workforce development. 

 

Náay í’Waans: A heritage restored


Written for Alaska’s Capital City Weekly

 

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Haida apprentice carver St’igiinii (Harley Holter) works diligently on a totem pole that will be completed later this year. Photo by Quinn Aboudara

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From left to right, restoration crew apprentice carver Wooshdeiteitxh (Justin Henricks), lead carver Gitajang (Glenn “Stormy” Hamar), apprentice carver Nang K’adangaas (Eric Hamar), and apprentice carver St’igiinii (Harley Holter) stand behind the plaques honoring their and past carvers’ contributions to the restoration of Náay í’Waans. Photo by Quinn Aboudara

As the morning of Sept. 3 broke warm and clear over the village of Kasaan, a small southeast Alaskan village of approximately 50 year-round residents, a sense of excitement and celebration — along with laughter, music, and the sound of carving tools on wood — filled the air. Carver Gitajang (Glenn “Stormy” Hamar) along with apprentice carvers St’igiinii (Harley Holter), Nang K’adangaas (Eric Hamar), and Wooshdeiteitxh (Justin Henricks) were in the carving shed, preparing for the rededication of Náay í’Waans (The Great House), better known as the Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House.

“It (Náay í’Waans) is our history and connects us to our heritage, our ancestors, and means everything to the people and to the village of Kasaan,” said Gitajang.

Prior to the past three years of reconstruction, the longhouse, built in 1880, was subject to insects, adverse weather and vandalism. Gitajang and his crew have replaced rotting and weakened poles, planks, and roofing, carefully restoring Náay í’Waans to its traditional beauty and strength. They’ve used as much of the original longhouse as possible.

As the day progressed, nearly 1,000 visitors began to make their way from Kasaan to Náay í’Waans, a leisurely stroll along a sun dappled trail, to meet canoes from Kasaan, Klawock, Ketchikan, and as far away as Juneau. St’igiinii ran briskly along the trail, calling out greetings to guests as he raced to meet the first of them.

St’igiinii has worked tirelessly on Náay í’Waans. Many who call him nephew or friend have heard his laughter in the carving shed or through the forest. On Sept. 3, however, he was serious when he spoke of what the longhouse means to him. “Náay í’Waans was a beacon of hope to the people of Old Kassan,” he said. (A century ago, many people moved from Old Kassan, on Skowl Arm, to Kasaan for jobs and the school.) “It was built to preserve and protect the Haida culture. And today it still serves as that beacon of hope to this community. It still preserves and protects the Haida culture and connects us to our ancestors.”

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Náay í’Waans, The Great House in Kasaan, as seen from the beach. Photo Quinn Aboudara

 

That morning, a young voice announced the sighting of the first canoes as they rounded the point into the small bay in which Náay í’Waans sits, its main entrance facing the beach. People began to fill the beach as the canoes paddled closer to shore. Both those on water and on shore sang traditional songs as each canoe passed the beach, allowing the standing Chief Son-i-Hat, John McAllister, to recognize them before they gathered off shore and waited to be recognized. (Kóyongxung was the original Chief Son-i-Hat, a wealthy Haida chief and the man who commissioned Náay í’Waans; he died in 1912.)

 

Standing Chief Son-i-Hat’s voice sounded across the water as he identified each of the canoes and granted them permission to land upon the shore before Náay í’Waans. Those on land sang them in, and St’igiinii waded into the water to help the crews disembark and join those gathered on the gravelly beach. People sang songs of celebration and welcome as they walked the canoes up the shore with the rising tide; guests and locals filled the area around Náay í’Waans. As the grand entrance began, dance groups from Hydaburg, Klawock, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), circled the longhouse, singing and dancing as they entered. Their voices and drums filled the air and drifted through the trees.

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Standing Chief Son-i-Hat, John McAllister, welcomes and grants permission to canoes to land on the beach before Naay i’Waans. Photo by Quinn Aboudara

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Canoers from Juneau passthe shore to be recognized before requesting permission to land on the beach before Náay í’Waans. Photo by Quinn Aboudara

Haida elder from Kasaan Julie Coburn gave opening prayers and recognition to Taslaanas, the bear clan of Kasaan. Then Anthony “Tony” Christiansen, mayor of Hydaburg, and Chalyee Éesh (Richard Peterson), President of Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, who is from Kasaan, took over the duties of announcing the speakers for the event.

Speakers included Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot, Kavilco Incorporated president Louis Jones Sr., Organized Village of Kasaan tribal president Ronald Leighton, City of Kasaan mayor Della Coburn, Rasmuson Foundation representative Jason Smart, Skidegate Traditional Chief Russ Jones, and Chief Son-i-Hat descendant Clinton Cook Jr.

 

 

As the speeches ended guests began to make their way back toward Kasaan, where an evening of celebration awaited before the recently opened Totem Trail Café. Kasaan community members and volunteers had been preparing throughout the day, cooking and setting up seating for their guests. They filled long tables with traditional foods: salmon, halibut, venison, and more, along with endless pots of hot coffee and strong tea.

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Lt. Governor Byron Mallot speaks before Naay i’Waans. Also standing, to the right, is Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) President Richard Peterson (Chalyee Éesh), who is from Kasaan. Photo Quinn Aboudara

As dance groups from around Southeast Alaska and Haida Gwaii sang and danced, gifts of carved panels, woven cedar hats, headdresses, and regalia were given to honored guests while gifts of t-shirts, jams, honey, jarred salmon, jewelry, posters, clothing, and many other items were given in thanks to all that attended.

And as the sun set on Náay í’Waans and the village of Kasaan, the carvers had been honored, respect had been given to all who had made this historic event possible and Náay í’Waans, The Great House, often known as the Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House stood, restored, in the brilliant glow of the setting sun, a continued beacon of hope for the preservation and protection of the Haida culture and a testament of strength and unity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The traditional Haida longhouse restoration project was made possible through the partnership of the Organized Village of Kasaan (OVK), Kavilco Non-Profit, and the Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation. The efforts were also aided through funding from the Rasmuson Foundation as well as donations of timber from Sealaska Corporation, The U.S. Forest Service, and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

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Whale house carvers dance before guests at the Discovery Center/Totem Trail Café in Kasaan during the rededication of Naay i’Waans. Photo by Quinn Aboudara

Local Land, Local Work

Written for Alaska’s Capital City Weekly

Student Zach Gardner measures stream width as part of forestry training on Prince of Wales. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

Student Zach Gardner measures stream width as part of forestry training on Prince of Wales. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

April 4 began early for Prince of Wales resident Buck Grasser. A single father of two living in Craig, he was busy getting his children ready for school while hastily checking that he had everything prepared for his first day of training at the Forestry Training Academy. “It’s a long drive from Craig to Thorne Bay, but I’m excited that this opportunity is available,” he said as he buckled his children into the car.

The Forestry Training Academy is an intense two-week course made possible by a collaboration between Sealaska’s Haa Aaní, LLC, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Kai Environmental, the United States Forest Service and the State of Alaska. Its goal was to provide Prince of Wales residents with free forestry skills training.

Organizers chose eight people to attend training in Thorne Bay through a competitive application and interview process open to all residents on Prince of Wales Island. The academy covered diverse topics in forestry such as timber inventory, logging operability, protection of fishery and karst resources, and deer habitat enhancement. Skills training included stream and land surveying, land navigation, first aid and CPR, as well as plant and animal identification.

Many of the students were longtime residents of Prince of Wales Island, with families and children, homes and property located around the island. Several of the students, such as Grasser and Tally Carlson of Hydaburg, had to drive several hours to Thorne Bay each morning.

“It’s worth it though,” Grasser said. “This is the kind of thing that Prince of Wales needs. We keep sending people off island to get training and they so rarely come home. Or, if they do, they find that their degrees and schooling aren’t applicable. It’s much better to train us on our home turf for the kind of work being done here.”

The work Grasser mentioned includes the transition from the harvest of old growth timber to young growth timber in the Tongass National Forest, a task that will require continual monitoring and data collection. It also includes the opening up of new economic opportunities for local communities and a more community based approach to resource management. U.S. Forest Service land managers, and industry, will use data collected by the students during their training and afterward to develop better resource management plans that have less environmental impact while supporting growing industries such as tourism.

The amount of opportunity in this field is vast. “One thing that I like about this training is that we’ve been exposed to numerous fields that can be pursued. We’re being trained in general forestry, but it includes geology, hydrology, biology, and a lot of others,” says Michael Melendrez of Craig.

A recent forestry academy on Prince of Wales trained a local workforce to carry out work typically contracted to non-local crews. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

A recent forestry academy on Prince of Wales trained a local workforce to carry out work typically contracted to non-local crews. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

During the second week of the Forestry Training Academy students stepped into the woods near the Harris River Interpretive Site. They were eager to apply the lessons and skills they learned in the classroom to the reality of the woods. The instructor, Carol Mahara of the Thorne Bay Ranger District, gathered the students around her, ankle-deep in a stream. She rapidly pointed out its various features as the students identified them or asked questions for clarity. Then with a quick “Get to it!” Mahara turned the students loose.

The students, who ranged in age from 21 to 51, broke into two person teams, strung surveying tape across various points of the stream, and took measurements. They measured bank height, stream gradient, and streambed substrate as Mahara moved from team to team giving advice or asking clarification.

As each team finished its survey of the reach, or section of a stream, Mahara moved them downstream, stopping to point out features and changes. As the teams finished data collection for the morning, Mahara turned the students over to the next instructor.

“They’re a great group,” Mahara said. “They’re locals — most grew up here and know the areas that they’ll be physically working in already. That’s great.” She laughed and added, “There’s less chance that they’ll get lost. But seriously, this is the perfect application of using local knowledge to manage local lands.”

Mahara’s comment reflects a growing trend in Southeast Alaska, one that is being supported and developed through the collaborative efforts of land managers, local tribes and regional partnerships. The goal is to keep more money, more opportunity and more expertise, closer to home. Training and teaching locals to be more involved and proactive in fields that have typically been filled by a non-local workforce is a step forward for Prince of Wales residents seeking career opportunities at competitive wages.

Student Harrison Voegeli takes measurements of young growth during forestry training on Prince of Wales. The data will be used to determine the health and productivity of young growth timber as a sustainable resource. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

Student Harrison Voegeli takes measurements of young growth during forestry training on Prince of Wales. The data will be used to determine the health and productivity of young growth timber as a sustainable resource. Photo by Quinn Aboudara.

Alana Peterson of Sealaska’s Haa Aani, LLC, said “This needed shift of local management of our lands on Prince of Wales is an example of how all communities in Southeast Alaska can reach self-determination. If we know the most about our lands and resources, we will be the best stewards of the land because we live here… This is stewardship in action.”

Forestry Training Academy student Harrison Voegeli of Craig’s words reflect that sentiment as well. “Train us at home and we’ll work for our homes. We’re closer to these areas than anyone else… Why wouldn’t we be? We live here for a reason. Train us and we’ll prosper. Make this training mean something,” he said.

While only eight students out of roughly thirty applicants were chosen this round, the number of applicants that were submitted shows that residents of Prince of Wales Island are turning their eyes toward the future of the island and being more proactive in how the lands they call home are managed.

• Quinn Aboudara is a lifelong resident of Prince of Wales Island and can often be found wandering the woods and waters of his home. He may be contacted at the Sustainable Southeast Partnership office of the Klawock Cooperative Association or by email: kcacatalyst@klawocktribe.org

Fish Eggs and Sunshine (Part 2)

Lawrence Armour, Brian Holter, and Marilyn Bell-Holter of the KCA participating in subsistence practices.

Lawrence Armour, Brian Holter, and Marilyn Bell-Holter of the KCA participating in subsistence practices.

With branches laid in place on Thursday and Friday, the waters around the kelp beds turning from their dark blue to the welcomed milky pastel green that signals the beginning of the spawn, the staff of Klawock Cooperative Association (KCA) waited impatiently through the weekend.

Morning arrives, overcast with a bit of a chill in the air as the crew climbed aboard the boat and headed out to check the hemlock branches that had been anchored out several days prior.

Arriving at the kelp beds the area was wild with life, sea lions and gulls, ducks and sea otters, seals and of course, the herring.  The water was active and the air was filled with the smell of spring as the crew began to pull in the branches.

Slowly they rose to the top, like a white flocked Christmas tree rising through the cloud of spawning herring came the branches to be pulled into the boat. Grinning, excited voices mixed with the happy first tastes of this spring subsistence harvest as the gear was hauled in and the branches securely stowed.

The boat starts and moves closer to the kelp bed, the kelp hook arcs into the air to splash behind a strand of kelp and the crew begin to haul it in.  Kelp fronds are carefully selected and picked leaving the kelp bulb intact so that next year the fronds will grow back.  The large leaves show a healthy layer of herring eggs as they’re also carefully stowed away, the crew enjoying a fresh morning snack of fish eggs on kelp as they finish their diligent harvest then start the boat once more and turn toward home, sending a brief message ahead of them to let the community know that it’s been a good harvest.

Brian Holter and Robert Jackson of the KCA offloading herring eggs.

Brian Holter and Robert Jackson of the KCA offloading herring eggs.

The boat arrives at the dock as the sun begins to break from behind the clouds, and even as it ties up people are waiting, small children on tip-toes, elders smiling in anticipation as the crew lifts the heavy totes from the boat to the dock.  The sounds of laughter and celebration fill the air as the crew begins to bag and distribute the harvest, we make sure that the elders get first pick, the kelp being highly prized goes first and the elders grin and smile as we make sure they have what they need.

Children dart in and out among those assembled to snatch little bites here and there from the branches or small pieces of kelp passed to them “slyly” by staff and elders alike.  The sun warms us as we share this time together, the community members coming and going as the tides themselves, the staff smiling and making sure that we share as much as possible with those who visit us.

You can feel it in the air, palpable and real, an electric current that passes between the staff and the community, a connection, a bonding developed through this sharing, a tie to the past and to the culture that we’ve continued into the modern age.

 

 

 

Thanks are given as we pass out the last of the harvest, we wash down the dock and the boats and the gear, the community thanks the KCA, and we in turn thank the herring and the ocean that provided for us once more this year.

It’s a good day, the sun is warm, the crew is tired, the community is happy and provided for, we welcome spring and the beginning of the subsistence season.

 

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