The newly restored Chief Shakes House was dedicated last weekend in Wrangell. In today's post, Rasmuson Foundation President Diane Kaplan shares her story about one woman's decade-long commitment to gather the community around their most prominent landmark.
My first meeting with Tis Peterman about renovating the Chief Shakes Tribal House took place in Wrangell ten years ago. I had known Tis for many years, going back to the days when she ran Wrangell’s public radio station, KSTK, and I headed Alaska Public Radio Network. According to Tis, the project was urgent; the House, which pays homage to the original Naanya.aayi clan house located at the same site in the mid-1800’s, had been built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, working with local Native artists and laborers. The southeast Alaska rainforest climate was taking its toll on the House which was deteriorating rapidly.
I mentioned the meeting to Ed Rasmuson. Early in his banking career, Ed ran the National Bank of Alaska Wrangell branch, and was very familiar with the Chief Shakes House. He encouraged the Foundation’s involvement.
That first meeting was with Tis and a colleague with the Alaska Native Sisterhood, an important civic group in the region. Over the years, ownership issues and political winds stunted the project but Tis never let go of it. Years later, then employed with Wrangell Cooperative Association, the local Tlingit tribal government, Tis was back in touch. Rasmuson Foundation funded assessment of the building with a small grant, and watched as the whole community came to embrace the project to restore their most prominent landmark.
Tis was a tireless and humble promoter, giving tours to potential donors like the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, writing numerous grant applications, securing the support of members of the legislature and city government, and generally keeping the faith. Potential donors who came to Wrangell to view the House were treated to Tis’s warm hospitality, including drives around town and her great cooking.
Rasmuson Board Member Anthony Mallott accompanied me on one such visit. After viewing the stunning screen in the House and seeing firsthand its condition, we joined four young women working on preparing logs for the reconstruction project, a process called adzing. Tis suggested Anthony take a try at adzing a log; it’s a little harder than it looks. Tis was proud that the project was employing the first all-woman adzing team under the tutelage of master carver Wayne Price.
Last weekend, Rasmuson Chair and Vice Chair, Ed and Cathy Rasmuson, Board Member Anthony Mallott, Program Officer Jayson Smart, and I had the privilege of attending the dedication of the reconstructed Naanya.aayi clan house. Some 700 people from throughout the region traveled to Wrangell for the event, many arriving in traditional Tlingit canoes and enduring fierce weather along the way. The parade was magnificent. The weather cooperated. The ceremony was brilliant, beautiful and moving. The traditional banquet and dancing were unending. The dedication, spirit and beauty of Tis Peterman resonate in every inch of Chief Shakes House.
How lucky Alaska would be to have a thousand Tis Petermans.