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Partnership works together to paint Southeast Alaska's rich cultural history

ALASKA—In mid-May, some of us on the Tongass National Forest were given the opportunity to team up with the Wrangell Cooperative Association for a field trip to Anan Creek on the Wrangell Ranger District. The day centered on the rich cultural history of Anan and allowed the tribe and Forest Service employees to share information and build connections. The tribe and Forest Service archaeologists have long known the importance of Anan’s significance within the Tlingit culture, but this was the first time we were able to be on site, sharing what we know with each other.

We arrived in the morning at a low minus tide, ensuring our ability to visit the ancient wood stake fish traps buried in the intertidal sediments at the mouth of the creek. People shared stories of commercial fishing as kids with their parents and grandparents, and where they had seen other, similar fish traps. And since archaeologists had previously sent in two wood stakes for radiocarbon analysis, we discussed how Tlingit people have been harvesting fish at Anan for at least 1,600 years.

Photo: Single-file line along boardwalk trail.
Wrangell Cooperative Association and Forest Service employees walk along the Anan Wildlife Observation Area trail. Photo courtesy Wrangell Cooperative Association.
Photo: Members of the Wrangell Cooperative Association & Forest Service employees on observatory deck.
Forest Service employees joined members of the Wrangell Cooperative Association for a day exploring the Anan Creek area. Here, they are stopped on the Anan Observatory deck. Photo courtesy Wrangell Cooperative Association.

Photo: Ashton holds soil auger.
Tribal Administrator Esther Ashton holds a soil auger containing prehistoric shell midden deposits likely to be over 1,000 years old. Photo courtesy Wrangell Cooperative Association.

After our hike to the Anan Wildlife Observatory and lunch on the beach, we visited the historic site of Anan Village. We listened to stories about traditional use of the area; one man talked about summers in Anan with his mother putting up fish. Archaeologists demonstrated how we use soil augers to find buried cultural sites. We invited association members to give it a try and they successfully found a prehistoric shell midden at the Tlingit village site that was not found in the original 1970s investigations.

Many from the tribe were excited and impressed to find the midden, which could be as old as the fish traps, and others liked seeing how it corroborated their own stories of their long cultural history of the area. Building these connections reinforced our belief that Tlingit oral histories and the physical remains from the Forest Service archaeological records work hand in hand to paint the rich cultural history of Southeast Alaska.