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Alaska Natives offer tourism consulting

A Tlingit dancer performs at the Native theater at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, Alaska. (Associated Press)
A Tlingit dancer performs at the Native theater at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, Alaska. (Associated Press)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – An Alaska Native village corporation that operates a popular cruise ship destination has launched a commercial consulting service for others seeking help developing their own cultural tourism ventures.

Huna Totem Corp. opened Alaska Native Voices on Wednesday. Huna Totem is the village Native corporation for Hoonah – a largely Tlingit community of 775 in southeast Alaska – and one of the front-runners of tribal tourism, a growing trend in Alaska and nationally.

The corporation is entering the 10th year of operating its Icy Strait Point, a long-closed salmon cannery near Hoonah that was converted to a tourism complex with offerings that include Tlingit heritage performances and nearby attractions such as nature tram rides, whale watching tours and a mile-long zip line with a 1,300-foot vertical drop. Huna Totem also is entering its 13th year of providing cultural heritage guides to visitors of Alaska’s Glacier Bay.

The corporation’s new consulting business is available to Native groups as well as communities worldwide wanting to establish tourism around their own cultures, Alaska Native Voices director Mark McKernan said. The cost will vary, depending on the extent of services sought, he said.

“This idea has been slowly developing over time,” McKernan said. “It became very clear that it was time to bring our experience out into the open and out to be made available to others.”

Hoonah struggled after the salmon cannery closure in the 1950s, followed by the gradual decline of fishing and logging industries. Then Huna Totem transformed the 1912 cannery buildings into the cruise ship port.

Since opening in 2004, Icy Strait has drawn more than 1 million visitors. Another 135,000 cruise ship travelers are expected to stop there this year. For Hoonah, the enterprise has been lucrative, bringing an enormous boost in sales taxes and creating scores of jobs for locals, officials have said.