Bearfest kicks off at Shakes House


Greg Knight

The Shtax’Heen Kwaan dancers welcomed a large group of visitors to the opening ceremony of Bearfest on Wednesday evening. From left: Lu Knapp, Sue Stevens, Pacita Laws, Linda Churchill, Joel Churchhill, Michaela Larsen, Sarah Sue Williams and Arthur Larsen.

The 2013 Bearfest celebration came roaring back to Wrangell last Wednesday as the Shtax’Heen Kwaan dancers presented a moving and eloquent recitation of traditional Tlingit dance and language – and fed the nearly 60 visitors with fresh baked and smoked salmon dishes at the Chief Shakes Tribal House.

Wrangell Cooperative Association president Tim Gillen said the sharing of food is important to the Natives of Southeast Alaska as a way of keeping ancient Tlingit culture alive.

“From my perspective, the sharing of food is to educate the people that visit about our culture,” Gillen said. “It’s about showing them our way of life. It was always typical that when people come to visit we would feed them and when they left, you usually supplied them with food for their trip. It’s a way of keeping our history alive.”

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Bearfest organizer Sylvia Ettefagh was at the kickoff event and said utilizing the Shakes House was important for a variety of reasons.

“It’s important to start this off here this year because Lance Craighead of the Craighead Institute gave us a grant to help get Bearfest going and the grant had to do with preserving wildlife and cultures,” Ettefagh said. “So this was a welcoming ceremony for him and to establish bigger links and wider stance for the Tlingit culture, which is important in Wrangell.”

As in past years, the celebration featured the instructive work of Robert E. Johnson, a Yakutat-based professional photographer and outdoorsman who spent many hours at the Nolan Center and out in the field sharing his knowledge with Bearfest visitors.

Johnson spent a number of days traveling to Anan Observatory with Ettefagh and visitors who would come to see the bears in the wild habitat.

Live music, as in years past, was also important to the event; Seattle’s gypsy jazz maestros “Pearl Django” took the stage on Friday night, while Saturday’s entertainment showcased Native storyteller Jack Dalton – and capped off the weekend with singer-songwriter Krista Herring and her trio from Portland, Ore., playing their unique brand of music at the Nolan Center.

One of the highlights of the week Native storyteller Jack Dalton, who took to the stage of the Nolan Center on Friday night to entertain audiences with his tales of ancient and modern Tlingit culture.

Dalton also stole the show as the intermission artist at Herring’s performance when he had a moment of laughter with her and her band – which had been decked out in three fur coats, each of a different color.

“You the drummer, you are the black bear, the big black bear,” Dalton said, referring to drummer Adolfo Angel Cuellar. “And you, the bass player, David (Rueda,) you are the small little brown bear.”

Herring, who was wearing a pure white coat, was aptly named the “polar bear” by Dalton.

The marathon, half-marathon and 5K walk began the final day of Bearfest with participants lining up at the Nolan Center. A total of 29 runners and walkers took part in the event.


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