Berg Bay property to provide Huna Tlingit access to traditional cultural site

    Aerial view of Berg Bay in Glacier Bay National Park.

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Conservation Fund, National Park Foundation, Hoonah Indian Association and National Park Service announced the addition of a 150-acre cultural site to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

    The newly acquired property, which sits at the head of Berg Bay, is a sacred site for the Huna Tlingit and will be managed in collaboration with the Hoonah Indian Association, a federally recognized tribal government through a unique conservation easement.

    The land will provide opportunities for tribal members to engage in traditional cultural practices and will support public access to fishing, hiking and camping opportunities thanks to funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other sources.

    The property encompasses a large portion of Chookanhéeni [Grassy River], site of an ancestral Tlingit village and the place of origin of the Chookaneidí Clan.

    It is one of the tribe’s most revered sites and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property. Generations of Huna Tlingit hunted, fished and gathered on the surrounding lands and waters, and tribal members retain strong ties to the area.

    Bob Starbard, Tribal Administrator for the Hoonah Indian Association noted, “The identity of the Huna Tlingit depends on maintaining meaningful connections with Glacier Bay Homeland. Bringing our youth to sacred places like Chookanhéeni to harvest fish, to learn our stories, to be part of our history, and to walk with ancestors—that is what sustains our culture. We cannot and must not let that go.”

    The 150-acre Berg Bay property faced potential development as one of few parcels left within the national park boundary not in federal ownership. When the property was listed for sale in 2018, both the Hoonah Indian Association and the National Park Service (NPS) prioritized federal acquisition of the property to protect its cultural values as well as the 2,000 feet of highly visible and sensitive shoreline, upland forested habitat and productive river it encompasses.

    The Berg River, which passes through the property, supports runs of sockeye, Coho and pink salmon, and surrounding lands are important habitat for black and brown bears, moose, wolves, bald eagles and migrating waterfowl.

    Recognizing its importance to the Huna Tlingit and its ecological significance, NPS worked with the Hoonah Indian Association, The Conservation Fund, and National Park Foundation to find a conservation solution for the land.

    “We knew that protecting the cultural and natural resource values associated with this special place required a unique solution,” said Philip Hooge, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Superintendent. “We found that solution by partnering with our tribal neighbors and the conservation community. We share common stewardship goals for Glacier Bay, a place that is homeland to some, and a source of renewal for many others.”

    “The challenge here was to find a way to protect the property while maintaining tribal member access to an important cultural site inside Glacier Bay,” said Brad Meiklejohn, Alaska Senior Representative at The Conservation Fund. “Beyond the conservation value and sheer wildness of Berg Bay, its land and waters are essential to wildlife and cherished culturally and recreationally. This partnership allowed us to support the cultural heritage of the Huna Tlingit, support our recreation economy and keep Alaska wild.”

    “The National Park Foundation is honored to partner with the Huna Tlingit, the National Park Service, The Conservation Fund, and Alaska’s congressional delegation to preserve the Berg Bay property,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “This collective effort is rejuvenating the land itself, the spiritual connections to it, and the economic benefits it provides to local communities.”

    The Conservation Fund purchased the land with support from the National Park Foundation and additional private contributions in 2018. NPS acquired the land in September of 2020 using funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). With the signing of a historic bill in August 2020, the U.S. Congress and President passed the Great American Outdoors Act, ensuring full and permanent funding for LWCF—supporting future projects like this one for generations to come.

    Alaska’s Congressional delegation, including U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Representative Don Young, played an instrumental role in securing LWCF’s ongoing success for Alaska residents, economy, environment, and cultural and historical values.

    “For centuries, the livelihood and traditions of the Huna Tlingit people have been inextricably tied to Glacier Bay. The purchase of this inholding parcel will preserve a sacred site for the Chookaneidí Clan of the Huna Tlingit while reserving certain rights for the Hoonah Indian Association (HIA). I applaud The Conservation Fund, National Park Foundation, HIA, and National Park Service for the partnership that made this possible. I’m pleased we were able to work together to get this collaboration completed with funding provided by the Interior Appropriations bill,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.

    "I am very pleased that The Conservation Fund, National Park Foundation, Hoonah Indian Association, and National Park Service have worked together to acquire this critical cultural site, and look forward to its preservation for generations to come,” said Congressman Don Young. “The Huna Tlingit have a rich history, and ensuring their traditions and stories are preserved requires hard work and a commitment to collaboration. I commend all involved parties for their efforts to preserve these lands, and will continue doing all I can to protect them in the years ahead."

    Through a unique conservation easement, the Hoonah Indian Association retains certain traditional rights of access and can build and maintain the simple structures required to support traditional uses including a smokehouse, food cache, and tent platforms to support youth culture camps.

    The land will serve as an ideal location for culture camps, cultural fishery programs, and other traditional activities, providing opportunities to maintain and strengthen the connection between the Huna Tlingit and their ancestral Glacier Bay homeland.

    Located just 15 miles from Bartlett Cove where the Xunaa Shuká Hít (Huna Ancestors’ House) stands, Hoonah Indian Association and NPS envision cultural programs that link activities at the Tribal House to camps and other traditional gatherings at Chookanhéeni.

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