Alaska longhouses on the rise

Among the most distinctive and important examples of native Alaskan buildings are communal longhouse, the site of ceremonies and rituals that are now often staged for the delight of cruise travelers on shore excursions.

There are new longhouses and others currently under construction in a few of Alaska’s top ports-of-call, including an Athabascan ceremonial house at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. Opened earlier this year, the new house serves as a place for gatherings and meetings and to educate visitors about Athabascan history. Altogether, the Alaska Native Heritage Center represents 11 indigenous groups and is Alaska’s premier resource on native societies, including the Athabascans, who traditionally ranged throughout the Anchorage-Denali area.

A new Tlingit longhouse is taking shape in Glacier Bay National Park. Visitors to nearby Icy Strait Point, located near the entrance to Glacier Bay, can see an exhibit this season documenting the house’s progress. When finished, the 325-square-meter structure will serve as an interpretive center where visitors can learn about Tlingit culture, the territory of which spans the Inside Passage.

Other longhouses can be seen in Sitka, where Sitka Tribal Tours uses its modern-styled clan house for performances of native dance and storytelling. One of the most remote of these, located between Haines and Skagway, belongs to the Chilkat Tlingit of Klukwan, which can be visited with Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Tours.

There is another at Saxman Native Village, located about 4 kilometers south of Ketchikan, where Cape Fox Tours’ Beaver Clan House hosts one of Alaska’s longest running and most popular shore excursions featuring Alaska’s native history and customs.

Shore programs vary by ship, so check with your favorite cruise line to see what native cultural tours they offer.

Photos: Chris Greenwald

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