The tiny town of Klukwan, located outside Haines in Southeast Alaska, is struggling to hold on and keep its millennia-old traditions alive. With a dwindling population—that numbers fewer than 100 people today—the language, land, and history of the local Tlingit tribe are all at risk.
Spotted with modest old homes and pine trees, the two-square-mile fishing town is the only remaining outpost of five Chilkat native villages that existed before 1900. The village rests at the foot of a snow-capped mountain range in the northern part of the Alaskan panhandle. The name of the town translates roughly to the “forever village,” and the Tlinglit people hope that prophecy will continue for years to come.
To combat the decades-long attrition and boost the community’s economy, the people of Klukwan have constructed the new Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage Center, hoping it will serve as both a visitor attraction and a monument to the Tlingit tribe’s rich history.
Inside the cozy, lodge-like cultural center, which first broke ground in 2013, the tribe honors its history and historic art. On display are myriad native artifacts painted in rich reds and aqua blues; intricately woven robes and blankets used in ceremonial dances; and ancient totems depicting ravens, eagles, and whales that serve as a direct connection to the surrounding natural life. The center also offers classes and camps to people that teach about the nearby land, fish and rivers.
Know Before You Go
It's open May through September 15th, Monday though Friday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.; and is closed on Sundays, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the 4th of July.