Sharing Our Knowledge conference needs Wrangell to share housing

Beginning Sept. 7, the annual Sharing Our Knowledge conference of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes and clans will be held in Wrangell for the first time. This five-day event will take place at the Nolan Center and will feature a film festival, a panel discussion and a wide variety of research presentations on subjects ranging from Indigenous history to art.

Organizers expect an estimated 200 people to arrive in town for the event. Because the anticipated attendance exceeds the capacity of Wrangell’s hotels and bed and breakfast rentals, conference visitors are seeking housing in the community’s spare rooms.

The conference was canceled last year due to COVID. This year, it will be offering one third of its scheduled programming via zoom for the convenience of out-of-state viewers and presenters.

Joaqlin Estus, the program chair, described the scheduled presenters as “real experts with a lot of insights to share.” For her, the conference’s central theme is “the continuity of Southeast Indigenous culture from past to present.”

Despite the traumatic events the Southeast Indigenous community has undergone, their “cultural strength has endured,” she said in a prepared statement.

Estus has deep family ties to the Wrangell community. She is the great-granddaughter of Chief Shakes and granddaughter of Louis Paul and Matilda “Tillie” Paul Tamaree. She attended high school in Wrangell.

Next week’s Sharing Our Knowledge conference has attracted people from across Southeast, members of the First Nations from Canada, and even east coasters from the Lower 48, wrote organizer Peter Metcalfe.

Though the presenters have been scheduled and the venue secured, the organizing committee still has to find housing.

According to Rebecca Gile, of the Stikine Inn, all of the hotel’s 34 rooms are booked during the conference. “We started getting reservations for Sharing Our Knowledge weeks ago and quickly booked every room,” she said last week. “We are still in tourism season, and we have year-round customers like SEARHC, which books rooms for visiting health professionals.”

Linda Belarde, conference executive director and president of Juneau-based Tlingit Readers, hopes that people will open their homes to Sharing Our Knowledge participants. Belarde is not asking anyone to provide rooms for free, though she doubts that any Sharing Our Knowledge visitors would turn down free housing. “I can remember when small communities would house traveling basketball teams and their fans,” she said. “Local people took care of the visitors.”

To offer a rental or host a Sharing Our Knowledge visitor, call Jana Wright of the Wrangell Cooperative Association at (907) 470-1011. Wright will serve as the point of contact between hosts and Sharing Our Knowledge organizers.

Keynote speakers will include Debra Dzijúksuk O’Gara on decolonizing Alaska Native justice and Miranda Belarde-Lewis on northern Native art.

Though many of the conference’s presentations deal broadly with Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian topics, some explore history that is specific to Wrangell. On Sept. 10, keynote speaker Jim Labelle, who attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wrangell Institute, which closed in 1975, will share his experiences as a boarding school survivor and discuss his path to healing.

On Sept. 8, at 10:15 a.m., Ronan Rooney will use historic maps to explore the 1869 bombardment of Fort Wrangell. The bombardment is an oft-overlooked historical event in which the U.S. Army carried out a multi-day artillery attack on the Tlingit village of Khaachxhan.áak’w.

Also on Sept. 8, at 2:20 p.m., James Crippen will delve into the subtleties of Wrangell’s unique Tlingit dialect, which combines elements typical to both northern and southern styles of Tlingit speech.

An hour later, Steve Brown will provide a stylistic analysis of Wrangell totem poles. Though Wrangell is famous for its totems, early photographers of the poles did very little to associate them with the carvers who created them. Through careful observation, Brown hopes to reattribute the poles to specific carvers and illuminate Wrangell’s artistic history.

In addition to sessions at the Nolan Center, a healing ceremony will be held the afternoon of Sept. 10 at Shoemaker Bay, near the former site of the Wrangell Institute. On Sept. 8, a session will be held at Chief Shakes House: “Continue to Build Our Connections with Elders from the First Nations.”

Vendors of Native arts and crafts will have their work for sale in the Nolan Center lobby Sept. 8-10.

Funding for Sharing Our Knowledge comes from a variety of sources including WCA, the U.S. Forest Service, National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, Sealaska Heritage Institute, Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and others. The first conference was held in 1993, in Haines and Klukwan.

Tickets to the entire conference cost $75, or $25 for students and seniors. A single day ticket costs $25, or $10 for students and seniors. For more information and to register, go to


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