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Posts Tagged ‘Tlingits’

After lunch on 24th June, the “Sea Lion” relocated further north up Chatham Straight to Sitkoh Bay which is a narrow inlet on the southern end of Chichagof Island and directly across the Straight from Angoon.

Sitkoh Bay map 1

Sitkoh Bay map 1

The story of this bay provides an insight into the consequences of the way resources are harvested and why it’s so important to understand and respect relationships in the environment. This is a story that wasn’t told to us on board the ship, but it probably should have, could have, been. It’s a story I’ve had to piece together from my own research.

Map of Sitkoh Bay Alaska

Map of Sitkoh Bay Alaska

This 8 km (5 mile) long bay is fed by the Sitkoh River which, in turn, is fed by a mountain lake. And that’s just the type of environment Sockeye salmon require in order to spawn. But this type of stream is comparatively rare in South East Alaska and, when man changes and spoils this pristine environment, so the numbers of Sockeye decrease markedly.

Summer Camps on Sitkoh Bay

Summer Camps on Sitkoh Bay *

The first humans known to come to this bay were groups of native Tlingits who made their summer camps along the edges of the bay. Tlingits had lived in South East Alaska for 10,000 years before the first white men arrived. They were subsistence harvesters of fish and they understood the importance of not over fishing and also the need to keep the environment clean for the fish to spawn. They fished according to their need.

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Tlingit fishermen with canoe ©  JT of jtdytravels; P1140668

Each year, the Tlingits harvested some of the Sockeye as they moved upstream. At that time, the fish were full of fat; good food but difficult to smoke for later consumption. These were eaten immediately. Fish caught after spawning, the ones that would die naturally anyway, were less fatty and able to be smoked for later use in winter. There was a healthy balance between man and resource.

Map of Sitkoh Bay

Sitkoh Bay in Relation to Sitka *

The first pressure placed on the numbers of Sockeye in the bay came after the Russians took the land around Sitka by force in 1804. Many Tlingits fled over the hills from Sitka to live in the Chatham Straight area. More people put pressure on the bay in summer and fights broke out between the different groups. But there were still sufficient Sockeye salmon for all.

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Chatham Cannery Site © DY of jtdytravels; P1130991

This balance in nature changed dramatically in the years after the Chatham fish processing plant was built in 1900. It was set up to take advantage of the rich resources of Sockeye in this bay.  When the Tlingits expressed their views on the way the fish were being over-harvested, they were silenced by armed US guards. The price for good red Sockeye was high in the market and the Cannery made of the most of Sitkoh’s summer spawning runs.

While some Tlingits were employed by the cannery, at a very low rate of pay, the owners of the cannery continually refused to listen to them about the need to take fewer fish. As a result, by 1920, the numbers of Sockeye had begun to diminish markedly.  Eventually, the cannery closed in 1974 but not until the Sockeye had been almost totally fished out. 

The third pressure that beset the Sockeye salmon was forest logging around the mountain lake that fed their spawning stream. Logging took place in this pristine valley between 1969 and 1974 and, according to research reports, silt had a big effect on muddying the stream and on changing the water temperature. Since logging ceased, efforts have been made to clean up the water ways and the Sockeye are recovering in number. Fortunately, nowadays more is known about the interdependence of life in the wilderness and changes are being made.

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Chatham Cannery Site  © JT of jtdytravels; P1130988

There’s not much left of the Chatham Cannery site and its village. When in use by the Cannery, the inhabitants were segregated into three areas; White owners, Asians and Tlingits. It’s still used by Tlingit peoples for summer harvest of salmon.

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© JT jtdytravels; P1130989

Much of the once bustling village is now derelict!

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© JT of jtdytravels; P1130992

No-one uses this jetty anymore. It stands as a mute reminder of the days of the cannery and the consequences of not understanding the needs of a natural resource.

Jennie and David

* A good report and commentary on the story of Sockeye in Sitkoh can be found on:

http://www.arlis.org/docs/vol1/A/24172307.pdf

‘Use of Sockeye Salmon in Sitkoh, Alaska’

Technical Report Number 174

by

T F Thornton, R F Schroeder and R G Bosworth

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All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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After our morning exploration of Juneau it was time to meet our fellow “explorers” and hop onto a tour bus to travel 19km (12ml) north along one of Juneau’s two major roads (in blue on the map). Our destination was the base of the Mendenhall Glacier, the only glacier we would be able to get to, in a fairly close up and personal way, on this trip to the Inside Passage area of Alaska.

Map of Juneau

Map of Juneau

Mendenhall Glacier, top centre on the map, on the northern side of Mendenhall Lake, is a glacier in retreat.  Early mention of the glacier came from Joseph Whidbey, master of George Vancouver’s ship HMS Discovery, who visited the area in 1794. He noted that most waterways here were unnavigable because of ice flows from glaciers.

HMS Discovery

HMS Discovery

 

Of course, shipping was so much different then…. no ice breaking hulls and only wind power, so exploring in amongst the islands of the Inside Passage would have been all but impossible for such a sailing ship. Boat parties were sent out to chart some of the coasts of some of the islands. However, that was all that was possible before Vancouver turned south again to return to England.

By 1888, when the famous naturalist John Muir came to explore in the area, the native peoples, the Tlingits, inhabited part of the valley left by the retreating glacier. Muir gave the glacier the name Auke (or Auk) in honour of that group of Tlingits known as the Auk Kwaan. But the name was changed in 1891 to honour an American physicist and meteorologist, Thomas Mendenhall, the Superintendent of the US Coast Guard and Geodetic survey.

The glacier has been monitored since 1942, so it is known that Mendenhall Lake is a modern day lake, created by the large amount of moraine pushed down while the glacier has been retreating rather quickly, (2.82km or 1.75 ml), since 1958.  It is thought that the glacier has retreated a total of 4km (2.5ml) since the 1500s. With warming temperatures it is expected to retreat further.

Top section of Mendenhall Lake  ©  JT  of  jtdutravels P1130478

Top section of Mendenhall Lake © JT of jtdutravels P1130478

Viewed from the “Discovery Centre”, it’s easy to see how the glacier melt has gradually formed the lake with piles of murrain. Much of that moraine is now covered with young trees. The sides of the glacier are still all but devoid of vegetation. The glacier itself vanishes into the distance for 19 kilometres (12ml) to where it joins the vast Juneau Icefield.

Juneau Icefield

Juneau Icefield

There are a couple of ways to enjoy the icefields from the air,

either by small plane or by helicopter.

Our group took the option of viewing the glacier from ground level.

Juneau Icefield from maps in the Park Centre.

Juneau Icefield from maps in the Park Centre.

At the Discovery Centre, a map shows the extent of the Juneau Icefield which covers 3,900 square kilometres (1,500 sq ml) and crosses the border between USA and Canada. Mendenhall (pin pointed by the small banner on the left) is just one of 40 major glaciers spawned by this Icefield. There are also about 100 smaller ones. All are in retreat except for the Taku Glacier, centre right, which filled its valley with so much glacial moraine that it has blocked its own waterway. It can no longer calve and has steadily been growing.

A piece of calved ice ©  Jt  of  jtdytravels; P1130466

A piece of calved ice © Jt of jtdytravels; P1130466

Calving happens when a chunk of ice breaks off the face of a glacier. This chunk of ice now floats in the lake. The men in the row boat give an indication of scale as does the next photo. Most chunks that we saw calving were much smaller than this one and are invisible in the longer distance.

Mendenhall Glacier ©  JT  of jtdytravels; P1130473

Mendenhall Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130473

There were two paths to follow. One through the trees towards the waterfall and one down to the lake’s edge. David chose the former; I chose the latter.

David’s aim was to seek out some of the native plants of the area.

Mine was to take a closer look at the glacier.

Face of Mendenhall Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130459

Mendenhall Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130459

The face of a glacier is a truly magnificent, awe inspiring sight.

It makes one feel quite small.

Close up of face of Glacier ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130477

The face of the Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130477

The leading edge of the glacier is very dirty although the ice itself has a lovely blue tinge. The dirtiness is made up of earth and rocks carved out from the mountain sides by the moving glacier.

Closer look at the face of the glacier ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130468

Closer look at the face of the glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130468

An even closer look, thanks to my 30 times camera, shows the great, blue chunks of ice that will eventually calve from the glacier, each one shrinking the total ice mass. What will be the future of this glacier?  Who can tell? How much does global warming effect them? There are so, so many questions we need to answer about the health of glaciers… and of our beautiful planet!

Colours of ice! ©  JT  of jtdytravels; P1130471

Colours of ice! © JT of jtdytravels; P1130471

From afar the iceberg looks white. But what is white?

This close up shows the many colours that an artist would need to use.

Ice caves at Mendenhall.

Ice caves at Mendenhall.

The beautiful blue of the ice is much more evident under the glacier inside the Mendenhall Ice Caves. I found this photo in a wonderful set of photos of these ice caves on the internet and will add the site below for those who wish to enjoy that aspect of the glacier. Going into that cave is certainly something I wouldn’t do, but I’m always grateful to those who do and who share their experience.

Our thought for the day comes from the great naturalist, John Muir, who urged us all to:

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile; climb a mountain or spend a week in a woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

This we hoped to do on this expedition into the wilderness of Alaska.

In our next post we’ll share a different aspect of our visit to Mendenhall Glacier…

 the native flora of the area, the Tongass National Forest.

Jennie and David

our other travel site is

www.dymusings.com

more travel photos are on our flickr site

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

The internet link to the site for photographs of the beauty of ice inside Mendenhall Glacier is

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/mendenhall-ice-caves_n_4374019.html

or

Ditch Your Responsibilities And Go Hike The Mendenhall Ice Caves

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