|NÁAY I'WAANS/WHALE HOUSE|
A Joint Project with Kavilco Incorporated and the Organized Village of Kasaan
Chief Son-I-Hat’s Whale House/Náay I´waans and Totems Historic District is located in Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. It consists of Chief Son-I-Hat’s Whale House and frontal pole with eight additional poles which are either restored originals or copies of the original poles from the Old Kasaan village site. The park was established in the late 1930s as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project with James Peele, son of Chief Son-I-Hat, as the chief carver at New Kasaan. James Peele was father to Kavilco shareholder David Peele.
In 1880, Chief Son-I-Hat (Kóyongxung), a Yáadaas clan (Eagle moiety) chief, built Náay I´waans (Whale House) near Kasaan Bay northwest of New Kasaan and lived there with his family until 1915. In 1938, the CCC employed local Natives to rebuild Náay I´waans, since it had not been occupied since the Chief left and had become badly deteriorated. The walls and roof had caved in, but the basic timbers were sound with little decay. The interior roof support house posts (see above) remained. According to Dr. Viola Garfield, who researched the Haida from 1935 to 1970, the posts had been carved to represent “Coon-Ahts who captured the monster Gonaqadate, got into its skin and hunted whales for his mother-in-law.” The carving of these two poles had been assigned to brothers, so although the poles are basically identical, each pole has unique details. Also remaining was the center house post that Chief Son-I-Hat had brought from his uncle’s house after his uncle died.
CCC representatives obtained permission from James Peele to restore the house and its totem. The Whale House frontal pole was copied from the original and replaced. Considerable effort was expended in drawing plans for an accurate reproduction. Experienced Native craftsmen who utilized traditional tools and woodworking methods were employed to reconstruct the house and various poles from Old Kasaan. Great attention was paid to duplicating traditional formulas for coloring the poles. The CCC reconstruction of the Whale House stands as a remarkable example of Native craftsmanship and as a faithful reconstruction of an Alaska Haida community house. Due to its isolated location, this site retains an element of originality and mood often lacking in reconstructions or replicas which have been modified or decorated in a nontraditional manner.
In 1938, the National Park Service, who had acquired the area of Old Kasaan and dedicated it as a National Monument in 1916, negotiated with the Peele, Thomas and Young families to move several totems from Old Kasaan to New Kasaan, provided none of these monuments were moved to Ketchikan. Nine poles were moved to New Kasaan and renovated.
Sitting Bear Grave Marker
Killer Whale Grave Figure
Frog/Two Eagle Memorial Pole
Back Potlatch Ring (Flying Groundhog) Pole
Ha´u (East House) Pole
Bear Memorial Pole
Skáwaal Pole (aka First Eagle Pole)
The three interior carved house posts (gotz) are originals from Old Kasaan. These posts were not re-carved, apparently, during the CCC years. The outer two are alike in totemic design, each depicting the common whale and the “man of the sea.” Because of these totems the building has always been known as the Whale House (Náay I´waans). Each post is approximately 12’ 6” high and carries the large horizontal adzed log (zance ´ka geet´). The corner posts represent the story of “gunaakadeet,” the wealth giver from under the sea.
Mr. Peele was unable to tell the story of the center house post in English. After a lengthy discussion in Haida with some of the other Natives, he said it was called the “Head House” totem. This post is older than the two house posts on either side. It was moved to the Whale House when it was built in 1880. The center post belonged to Son-I-Hat’s uncle and was brought to Kasaan after the uncle’s death as part of his heritage.
Cultural Resource Evaluation of the Old Kasaan Village Site and New Kasaan Community House and Totem Park
The study did find that despite the lack of a rigorous maintenance program, the Whale House fared remarkably well during the 40 years since it was completed. However, in the mid-1990s many noticed that the foundation timbers were showing signs of decay. Kavilco’s Board of Directors felt it was time to take action before Kasaan’s only remaining example of traditional Native architecture disappeared.
Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation
Because of the lack of maintenance by the U.S. Forest Service since the early 1940s, the Whale House and totems have fallen into disrepair. The only Haida clan house in Alaska is in serious danger of being lost through deterioration. KHHF is eager to dedicate its resources toward the goal of restoring the Whale House to a sound condition and are seeking grants and appropriations funds to that end. With its unity of context this site has considerable potential for interpretive and/or display purposes, as well as serving as a meaningful locale for ceremonial or other community functions.
In 2008, with grant funds from the National Park Service, Kavilco again contracted with MRV to perform a more detailed Schematic analysis of the building itself. Those services included the addition of BBFM Engineers, who worked with MRV to establish general extent of rot, and analyze overall structural stability of the building. The final Schematic report included detailed drawings, narratives, cost estimates, and strategy for possible construction approaches
Click on the PDF links below to view MRV Architects reports.
Memorandum of Understanding
OVK contracted with MRV Architects to develop a detailed proposal for Kavilco, KHHF and OVK consideration, identifying steps to move forward on the overall restoration project. The construction process uses a number of sequential phases, allowing the highest priority portions of the work to be initiated, while funds are pursued for subsequent portions of the work.
Kavilco and KHHF provided immediate authorization in November 2011 to initiate Phase I work to arrest on-going deterioration of the structure and house posts, while the broader approach and recommendations of MRV’s plan are evaluated for adoption by Kavilco, KHHF and OVK.
The general phasing strategy by MRV proposes stand-alone phases that will allow the project to move forward sequentially, in a priority basis, and working in smaller cost increments that are more likely to be achievable with available grant funding.
A Southeast Alaskan carving team consisting of several lead and apprentice carvers from Hydaburg and Kasaan will be utilized to complete all carving and construction activities. Initial fabrication of replacement wood framing members will be accomplished in Hydaburg, with final installation and detailed wood finishing done on-site in Kasaan.
The project will use traditional carving and construction knowledge, tools and techniques to renovate the Whale House in as traditional manner as possible. Temporary power, through the use of an on-site generator may be brought in for the construction phase if needed. Materials will either be barged to the beach or carried to the site by hand.
With the concurrence of Kavilco and KHHF, OVK will take the lead on securing funding; both for the renovation work as identified, and for ongoing maintenance needs of the Whale House. OVK will be responsible for overseeing the administration of all grant funds, timelines, work plans, and reporting. OVK will report to Kavilco and KHHF at mutually agreed milestones to assure that all parties understand the status and needs of the project.
MAKE A DONATION
SAVE THE WHALE HOUSE T-SHIRTS & HOODIES Kavilco, KHHF and the Organized Village of Kasaan are working jointly to restore the Chief Son-I-Hat Whale House /Náay I´waans, the only Haida longhouse left standing in Alaska. 100% of the proceeds go directly to the project. Order on OVK's website www.kasaan.org.
National Register of Historic Places Program:
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