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The first people known to have called Glacier Bay National Park home are the Huna Tlingit. Although recovered artifacts date Huna settlements in the Bay back to 1250, if you ask a local Huna Tlingit, they’ll tell you their people’s history in this region predates even this early estimate. But however long their history may be, undoubtedly, the Huna Tlingit are the people of this land. Every aspect of Tlingit culture embraces the very nature of Glacier Bay National Park, celebrating its resources and overwhelming abundance while meeting the inherent challenges of life in the shadow of a massive and unpredictable glacier.
In the early days of human habitation, Glacier Bay National Park was truly a place of abundance. Tlingit art and legends describe a broad, grass-covered valley, replete with freshwater streams bursting with salmon. Berry bushes bloomed across sunlit meadows and mature forests provided everything from medicinal herbs to building materials. Certainly, the massive glacier that today comprises the Grand Pacific glacier was a part of life in this region. Though confined at that time to the recesses of the valley, the Tlingit still called this homeland S’e Shuyee, meaning “at the edge of the glacial silt”.
During the 1750s, in a period known as “The Little Ice Age”, the Grand Pacific glacier began a rapid advance. Eventually flowing “faster than a dog could run” the glacier was unstoppable. The Huna Tlingit decamped as their homeland was consumed by the advancing ice. As the glacier sprawled forward into the open waters of Icy Strait, they dispersed throughout the area, finally settling in a new village now known as Hoonah, located on a small inlet on the southern shoreline of Icy Strait.
Images provided courtesy of Alaska Native Voices.
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