Photos and Story by Bethany Goodrich, For Alaska Business Monthly December 2015
It was approaching dusk in April when something out-of-the-ordinary, yet strangely familiar, caught Casimero Aceveda’s eye. “It was like something being reborn,” says Aceveda. The lights in the old cannery were on for the first time in almost 40 years.
Aceveda is the tribal president for the community of Kake. A predominately Tlingit village of ~650 residents, Kake is located on Kupreanof Island in Southeast Alaska. Like many of its elder residents, Aceveda grew up in the days when the salmon cannery was thriving.
“People were happy they were working. Our sisters and aunties would babysit the younger ones. Our dads fished and our moms worked on the cannery. It was a central part of our life,” remembers Aceveda.
At its peak, the Kake cannery was a force to be reckoned with. In 1930 it exported 615,000 full cases of salmon, more than double what its competitors produced.
“Everyone was working, everyone was doing things and things were going well. The cannery was really the hub of employment and activity at the time,” says Aceveda.
As the political, environmental and economic atmosphere that stimulated the canning industry waned, Kake’s cannery joined others across the region in collapse.
“When the cannery closed down around 1980, everybody had started putting away their fishing boots and were going into the woods to go logging, so it switched from one entity to the other and the cannery kind of fell to the wayside. The community altogether changed,” says Aceveda.
Breathing new life back into Kake’s historic cannery buildings has been a dream for Aceveda and his community for decades. Although tinged with nostalgia for the past, the cannery restoration project has more to do with securing Kake’s future.
“This is about all entities working together for the common cause of economic development and education for our kids. They need to step up and help themselves but they can’t do that unless we can offer a space for them to go and do it,” says Aceveda.
This was once the bustling site of Kake’s historic cannery. Today, the site is
being stabilized and renovated to suite Kake’s modern economy. In the process, local workers and local
wood (pictured) are being utilized wherever possible to inject more money into the community.
Teetering on Catastrophe
In 1997, the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service recognized the Kake cannery as a National Historic Landmark. After two of the buildings later collapsed, the cannery was added to a less celebrated list: the “Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The need for help was urgent. After years of working tirelessly with state and federal agencies, Kake’s call was finally answered on Christmas Eve, 2014. Gary Williams, the executive director of the Organized Village of Kake (which is the tribal government for the Kake area), was contacted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Funding had come through.
“When they told us the amount, it truly and literally brought tears to my eyes because it gave us enough, along with other resources we had found, to do the stabilization that needed to be done. That was the Christmas Miracle, it was truly a blessing,” says Williams.
Securing funding was only part of the struggle. The magnitude of the job that lay ahead was formidable. There were no blueprints and the remaining structures literally teetered on the verge of catastrophe. This contract would require a fearless, imaginative and talented crew to complete. In January of 2015, came Kake’s second miracle.
“This is fun, you’ve got to use your imagination, and you’ve got to figure it out. New construction can get boring. This job does not bore me,” says Greg Harrison.
Greg Harrison is the owner and operator behind Diversified Diving, a Ketchikan based construction company. While working with the tribe, the project’s engineer, Harrison and his crew have risen to the challenge with grace and good humor.
“With a job like this, there is a lot of shimmying that happens. When you are doing a new construction you try and get everything plumb and level. These guys will be working on something here and be like ‘Well it’s an inch and a half off Greg!’ and it’s like well, after almost a hundred years I’d call that perfect!” laughs Harrison.
The team is innovative. They rely on the tides to help raise heavy wood pilings, salvage wood from the original structure whenever possible and straighten the building with a series of counterbalances. The magnitude of the construction is impressive. There’s something else notable happening here: local wood and local workers.
Adam Davis is the Community & Economic Development Specialist for the Tribe.
“The scale is impressive, the scale of the work being done with mostly local hands, local wood and materials. It’s very impressive to see and, now that the building is getting more work done on the outside, it’s coming to more people’s attention. People are taking note and more of the community is getting excited about what this all means for Kake’s economy,” says Davis.
Diversified Diving uses beams that have been milled by Kevin Merry using locally harvested timber to replace rotten ones. The project explores every opportunity to stimulate the local economy.
Kevin Merry milling locally harvested timber at his saw mill in Kake, Alaska.
A Community-Driven Economy
While the dream of rebuilding Kake’s historic cannery has been lingering for decades, it was during a series of community economic meetings that the project was formally established as a priority. Currently, Kake is the only rural community in southeast Alaska that regularly drafts an economic plan. The Kake Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy was established after the logging era met a similar fate as the canning industry.
“We lost half of our community because of lack of work in our community. The younger ones with families took off to the bigger cities to find work to survive,” recalls Aceveda.
The magnitude of community out-migration has plateaued in recent years, but the community still faces formidable social and economic challenges. According to a community survey conducted in 2009, more than half of the working population between the ages of 18 and 64 is unemployed with 61 percent of surveyed families reporting at least one household member actively searching for work.
“In 2004 was when our economy really took a downturn and that was when the charter members of the Kake Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy came together to put together the first edition of the current economic planning process,” says Gary Williams.
Gary Williams takes records community feedback at the 2015 Community Economic Summit
Fast forward one decade later to Kake’s 2015 Economic Summit and the process is thriving. Representatives from the tribe, city, school and village corporation joined business leaders and other residents at the school for dinner and discussion. On giant sheets of paper hung across the cafeteria, participants mapped Kake’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Participants voiced concerns and spoke passionately about building a sustainable and prosperous future for their home village.
Input from these meetings is regularly compiled into a formal plan that identifies priorities, fosters collaboration and drives an informed, community-driven development process. Over fifty projects have resulted from this process since the first plan was published in 2005.
“Right now we are working on the fourth edition of this economic plan and throughout it all, the cannery has been recognized as an integral part and priority because so much economic opportunity can and does branch off of it,” says Williams.
While Kake’s historic cannery provided community employment while in operation, a series of out-of-state companies ran the show during the first half of the last century. The majority of profit was thus siphoned out of Kake. Today, the historic site is owned in trust by the tribe for the purpose of stimulating the local economy. With more than 70 percent of Kake’s households headed by enrolled tribal members, the future of the cannery will remain a community owned asset.
Like many communities on the Inside Passage, Kake identifies tourism as an economic priority. Residents and leaders view the cannery as a unique asset that sets them and the type of tourism they want apart.
“Right from the beginning of the planning process, it was identified that in Kake we didn’t want to go too large in scale with tourism. If you go too big it destroys the character of Kake for the community and the visitors,” says Williams.
Building an authentic tourism experience for Kake’s visitors, while at the same time ensuring it respects community residents, has been central to the planning process. While a few small tourist boats visit Kake, existing opportunities for locals to capitalize on tourist dollars are limited. Located next to the main dock, the cannery will act as an iconic gateway to Kake with spaces for artisans, vendors and other service-industry entrepreneurs.
The space however, is not slated to be only a tourist attraction. The tribal transportation program will move in and light industrial options are being explored to help diversify the benefits. A section will be dedicated to Kake’s Keex’ Kwaan Dancers, room made for a community meeting space and a cultural and historical museum will span across the central floor. The idea is for Kake’s cannery to become an incubator of entrepreneurial, social and cultural ingenuity, a space for the community to gather and collaborate, share ideas and face the many challenges that come with living in a remote community head on. Proponents of the project continually stress the desire for the cannery to be “a part of the community” rather than a playground for tourists.
The stabilization stage of the project is wrapping up. The tribe is well positioned to secure funding for the final process of bringing the rooms up to code while preserving the historic structures of this historic landmark. Some space may be used as soon as next year and momentum in the community is building.
From a window in Kake’s Historic Cannery, Gary Williams overlooks Greg Harrison and his construction crew. This hardworking team is inventive, fearless and includes five Kake locals (including Williams).
The Power of Collaboration
Returning the old cannery site to a community asset has taken dedication. This work is a promising example of economic innovation in a state replete with untapped opportunity. Alaska boasts a unique history, cultural identity and natural assets that, with hard work, can be harnessed to build a more prosperous and sustainable future for our rural communities.
This story is about more than just a restored cannery. It is the story of a community coming together to persevere through economic hardship. The community of Kake has come together to ask: What makes our community unique? How can we develop these assets and opportunities in a way that maximizes benefits both locally and long-term? And, how can we keep our families and quality of life at the forefront of every step in the process?
For Kake, achieving a long-term prosperous community vision starts with revisiting its historic roots. These roots run particularly deep for Casimero Aceveda.
“My dad worked on the cannery and when I grew up my first paying job was working on that cannery. I was a carpenter. So now, third generation coming down I got my nephew working to remodel the place! So yeah, we have pride in that cannery. The whole community has pride in that cannery, that’s where our families grew up, it’s part of us.”
Spotted through a hole in the cannery’s floorboards, Kake local, Tyrone Paul grins while stabilizing a wood piling.
The community’s mission to restore the historic cannery to incubate local business is made possible with the support of local, regional, state and federal partners. This includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Alaska State Historic Preservation Office, Organized Village of Kake Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Mike Jackson of the Organized Village of Kake Transportation Program, National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Development Agency, University of Oregon, Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and former-Senator Begich’s office.
This long list is a testament to the collaborative effort and far-reaching impact and significance of the project. The first stage of building stabilization is set to be completed by the new year.
This summer, SSP’s Regional Energy Catalyst brought together energy experts to the communities of Haines, Hoonah, and Prince of Wales Island to help commercial building owners identify energy savings through a Level I Walk Through Energy Audit. With the help of on-the-ground Community Catalysts, the team was able to identify plenty of interested commercial building owners, managers and tenants. Jim Fowler of Energy Audits of Alaska audited 35 buildings totaling nearly 230,000ft2! These Level I Audits were paid for by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with support from Southeast Conference, Renewable Energy Alaska Project, and Alaska Energy Authority. By coordinating the audits all together, the cost of these audits was cut by an estimated 2/3. The effort also included free energy workshops and outreach to numerous other building owners, managers and tenants through a ‘walking workshop.”
Direct follow up is being provided for all building owners that received an audit report. The real results will hopefully be realized in the coming weeks and months. We are optimistic that businesses can save money on their bottom line with energy efficiency measures, and hopefully re-invest in their businesses and community. Thank you to all participants and partners!
Written for and published with the Capital City Weekly
In 1926, the village of Kake reluctantly decided under heavy pressure to burn all of the community’s totem poles in the name of “progress.” Decades later, in 1971, Kake elders rose the world’s tallest pole as a reaffirmation of Kake’s cultural roots. In April of this year, a powerful gust of wind snapped the top of the 136-foot-tall pole. Now, the community must decide how to move forward.
Ruth Demmert is a cultural leader and teacher in Kake. In her elementary school classroom, among carved paddles, Tlingit textbooks, and Tlingit worlds sprawled across the whiteboard, we flipped through old newspaper clippings and photo albums stuffed with polaroids. She shares some of the pole’s secrets and explains the significance of this particular totem in helping Kake “recapture its culture.”
Q: How did the pole come to be?
A: They cut Kake’s totem poles down and had a big bonfire and people cried just like losing loved ones all over again. I was not alive at that time, but I have heard the history. There were tears shed but that was their decision to go forward for ‘progress.’
I was really young and I don’t know who all took part in the planning of the pole but I remember my grandparents being together over coffee and my grandfather talking about how it was a shame that all the poles were burned and that we need to replace them because we are losing the culture. We need one put up in place for all those that were lost, that were cut down and burned.
We need to recapture our culture.
So they were talking about a pole being put up to represent all of the clans here in Kake. The killer whale, the shark, the salmon, the frog, the beaver, the eagle, the raven and more.
Q: Who carved the pole?
A: When the tree was found they barged it to Haines and Carl Heinmiller was the master carver. You recognize the name Heinmiller? German! He hired his apprentices and of course, he had the blueprints of what the people wanted on the pole.
And when the pole was finished, probably in 1969, elders from Kake went to see it. I know my grandfathers were up there and their wives and people went to Haines for the busing of the pole. The Kake people blessed it and then they barged it to Japan for the World Fair.
It came to us in 1971. But while in Haines, Carl Heinmiller carved his face on there! But, I don’t think you want to mention that because it will bring back hard feelings, Ha! But he had his face on the pole and people were shocked to see it. A German’s face and he had an eye patch! They did not want him on the pole, it was our pole and he put himself on there so I think they shaved it and carved over his face.
Q: What is the significance of the totem pole to people in Kake today?
A: It brings a lot of tourists to Kake, to us. There are three other really large totem poles that I hear of, I don’t know where they are, but I still consider ours to be the world’s tallest because it is one tree, not two trees put together.
But to me, I always tell the kids that this pole was put up so we can recapture our culture our history, our way of life. I think it is a remembrance for us, it makes us remember the things our families went through, our ancestors went through to get our culture back and this pole was the beginning.
Q: How do you think Kake should move forward now with the broken pole?
A: I think it should be laid to rest just like our ancestors were laid to rest and not just cut down any which way. There needs to be a ceremony for it like laying it down and put back on the earth carefully, with branches like blankets underneath it. There is going to be a lot of tears shed when it does come down.
I really believe there should be one to replace it, I don’t know that it will be just as tall and who knows what crests will go on there, maybe the same crests because they are crests from all our clans here in Kake.
Q: Can you comment more broadly on your time as a cultural leader in Kake, as a teacher?
A: It was still shameful you know, when I started teaching in the ’70s, people were still ashamed to speak Tlingit in public.
Now in the classroom here we teach Tlingit culture and language. Even those that come in blonde and blue-eyed, learning Tlingit culture gives them the respect they need for other cultures. So, I am really glad to have a part in their lives too. I teach respect in this classroom. I used to be a tour guide too and I taught a lot of those people to tell their people back home that we are the same as you. We might speak different, look different but our blood is just as red as anybody else’s and we are survivors we are not just in the museums, we are still here.
I’m working on a song for our dancers, I was given the song from someone in Klawock and reworked it a bit. This will be the dance at the ceremony to take down this pole.
“Our way of life and our language is our strength our inner strength.
The love of our ancestors along with their respect for one another, let it be within us.”
The community of Kake has created a committee to discuss the future of the pole and is currently looking to secure funding for a lowering ceremony.
• Bethany Goodrich is a freelance storyteller and the Communications Coordinator for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. For more, visit www.SustainableSoutheast.net
For anyone living in Southeast Alaska the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway is obvious. After all, it is the only ‘road’ connecting 15 of our rural communities to the outside world. Island communities in Southeast Alaska are dependent on air and water to transport people, vehicles, and goods, including basic commodities such as food and petroleum products. Barriers to efficient transportation lead to higher fuel and grocery prices, making the cost of living considerably higher.
The Alaska Marine Highway system is more than just a convenience. For many residents, ferry service is essential and budget cuts present a formidable challenge to rural communities and the region.
In response to the state’s proposed multi-million dollar budget cut to the Alaska Marine Highway, a group of students are putting their concerns on paper.
Located on Kupreanof Island, Kake is a vibrant and isolated rural community with 600 residents. Shopping in Kake is limited. A single grocery store supplies residents with day to day essentials.
Adam Davis is a lifelong resident of Kake and the Community and Economic Development Specialist for the Organized Village of Kake.
“The store bought selection of food in Kake is limited, the quality is not the best and, it is definitely expensive. There is no place to buy organic food here and getting goods and services, heavy equipment, appliances, and supplies can be a logistical nightmare that takes up two weeks on the barge from Juneau.”
Kake is an eight hour ride on the Taku ferry from Juneau and many residents have come to depend on consistent and affordable ferry service.
“The ferry service needs to continue to be funded and scheduling needs to be reworked so that it can service the coastal communities that it was designed to serve. By cutting off our communities from accessing stores in Juneau, we indirectly increase our state deficit because we are decreasing in-state business and forcing rural residents to spend their dollars out of state by sourcing more from the lower 48. Taking away our connection to the region also takes away our economic opportunities and further isolates our rural communities.”
Evelyn Willburn is the principal for students K-8 and assistant principal of 9-12. Adam Davis and Willburn worked together to encourage students to write letters of support. Willburn felt compelled to involve students because of how essential the ferry is to the school system, the students, and their families.
“The ferry is important to our students and families in many different ways. They use it for sports travel, for medical appointments, they use it to visit family members, to buy groceries- in lots and lots of other ways the ferry is important.”
Last week, Kake’s High School basketball team joined teams from across Southeast at a tournament in Sitka. Athletes and their families used the ferry system to go to and from the tournament. Residents and the school system also depend on the ferry system for exploring new opportunities to engage and connect our communities across the region.
“We are starting to explore the possibility of having our students take swimming lessons in Petersburg for summer school but, we would very much need services from the ferry in order to do that.”
So, what did the students have to say?
Here is a sample of letters collected by Kake kindergarten, elementary, and middle school students. The original letters have been sent to legislators to encourage state officials to keep rural Southeast Alaskan communities in mind when they consider cutting funding for the Alaska Marine Highway.
Please Click the Below Thumbnails to Enlarge
5 February 2015
Registration Begins for the Southeast Alaska Farm and Fish to Schools Conference
Connecting Alaska’s Schools with Local Food Entrepreneurs
Registration has begun for the Southeast Farm and Fish to Schools Conference. This event will be the first regional opportunity focused on building connections between Alaska’s school systems and local food entrepreneurs. Anyone interested in bringing more local foods into our school system is invited to collaborate and connect with regional experts to strengthen fish and farm to school programming across the state.
Southeast Conference, the regional economic development organization, is coordinating the conference in conjunction with the newly formed Sustainable Southeast Partnership, a diverse network of organizations working together on community sustainability in Southeast Alaska.
Alana Peterson, program director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Haa Aani, LLC comments:
“Often we find that the barriers to achieving access to local, healthy foods can be overcome if we work together as a region to make this initiative a priority. By bringing all the key players together for a conference we are hoping to achieve just that.”
Fish and farm to school programming offers significant economic, environmental cultural and nutritional opportunities to our rural communities and region.
“Schools in southeast received more than $500,000 last year to buy Alaskan produced foods through the Nutritional Alaska Foods to Schools grant program.” Shelly Wright, Executive Director of Southeast Conference comments. “However, schools are often limited by what they can procure. There are untapped opportunities for, farmers, fishermen and small business in our region. We are eager to break down barriers and grow the opportunities for everyone.”
About the Southeast Alaska Fish to Schools Conference
Conference Dates: April 2-3, 2015
Conference Location: Centennial Hall, Juneau Alaska
Online registration and more detailed conference information available at www.seconference.org
Register before Feb. 28 to be eligible for a travel stipend
Contact Lia Heifetz for more information about the conference and accessing a travel stipend email@example.com
Who Should Attend
- Existing or aspiring businesses and entrepreneurs interested in growing or harvesting local foods
- Fishermen who want to explore school markets
- School administrators and community members interested in procuring more local foods for schools
- People interested in starting a school growing program (greenhouse or garden)
- Educators looking to exchange insights and obtain resources for developing food systems curricula for the classroom
- Local entrepreneur development track with experts in developing business structure, planning, financing and marketing for a local foods enterprise
- Information and resources for educators to increase awareness for students around food origins, health and traditional use
- Resources for projects to sustain local foods in schools
- Success stories from around the region and state
- Opportunities for networking and collaboration