WCA blesses tree for Christmas display at Governor's House

The Wrangell Cooperative Association blessed a tree harvested from ancestral Native land on Etolin Island and headed to the Governor's House in Juneau for Christmas display.

The blessing in front of the Chief Shakes Tribal House on Thursday, Nov. 18, was a partnership of the WCA, U.S. Forest Service Wrangell Ranger District, and U.S. Coast Guard, which provided the Elderberry, a 65-foot buoy tender, based in Petersburg, to transport the 14-foot-tall lodgepole tree.

The Elderberry left for Juneau on Monday, after the crew held off departing until stormy weather had passed.

Esther Reese, tribal administrator for WCA, Aaltséen in Tlingit, spoke ahead of the blessing.

"I am Eagle, Tsaagweidí - Killer whale - and my father was Ḵaach.ádi, my grandfather was T'aḵdeintaan," she said. "I grew up in the X̱áay hít Yellow Cedar House, in Ḵ'éex̱' ḵwáan, which is Kake. I am honored to be standing here in front of the Tribal House."

Reese turned the program over to Luella Knapp, or AAnshaawasnook in Tlingit, speaker of the Naanyaa.aayí clan house.

"Welcome to our land," said Knapp/AAnshaawasnook. "The tribal house is the ancestor house of the Naanyaa.aayí. My English name is Luella Knapp. This house was rededicated in 2013, the Chief Shakes house, and it was done by the help and vision of our elders."

Tory Houser, acting district ranger for the Wrangell Ranger District, said she was grateful for the participation of the Wrangell schools' Tlingit class, and the help of the Coast Guard crew who came to transport the tree to Juneau.

Houser said the tree is known as "Togetherness Tree."

"Like the trees that stand in the forest together, we are all stronger when we all stand together," Houser said. "I am so glad that we are all here."

Richard Oliver, Xúns' in Tlingit, president of the Wrangell Cooperative Association, thanked the tree for giving itself up for the governor.

"It's a very nice gift," Oliver said. "I'd like to thank the Coast Guard for being here. The Tlingit class, and all of you, here to bless this lovely tree."

The tree will be displayed in the Governor's House for the holidays. It's a tradition to bring in a tree from a different area of the state each year.

Local storyteller Virginia Oliver, Xwaanlein in Tlingit, acknowledged the presence of elders Sue Stevens of the Naanyaa.aayí, or Eagle clan, and Emma Frost of the Kiks.ádi, or Raven clan.

Oliver led the blessing with the singing of two songs: A Wrangell entrance song, and a paddle exit song.

Tommy Rooney, known by the Tlingit names Kaalyaakw and Xookkwei, rallied the call of "haa hee" during the singing, which the participants echoed.

The story is there was a shaman, Rooney said, who went under the water on the way to an island. The loons started to call him, he called back to them, and that was the call.

"I was crying while they were doing it," Rooney said. "They were bringing the tree up there (in front of Chief Shakes house) and it was blessed by us. It's really emotional."

Wrangell last provided a tree for the Governor's House in 2018, according to the Forest Service.

Garrett Kravitz, officer-in-charge on the Elderberry, said they were asked by the Forest Service for a ship that could transport the tree to Juneau.


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