November 5, 2018, Community Happenings

Category: News
Created on Monday, 05 November 2018 15:38
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Tlingit Potatoes, Stories

Brought Up at Harvest

Potato harvesters from Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the U.S. Forest Service had a surprise on Oct. 24.

When they went out to the patch of Maria’s Tlingit potatoes at the Sitka Ranger District, they found the potatoes in one bed completely unearthed. 

Michelle Putz, the project’s lead organizer from the Forest Service, had noticed a group of ravens around the bed that morning. After spotting some distinctly beak-shaped imprints in the soil around the unearthed potatoes, she’s pretty certain those ravens were the culprits (or helpers). 

The two groups have partnered to grow Maria’s Tlingit potatoes since 2017, and this harvest was by far the largest, STA said. Putz estimated they harvested around 90 pounds of potatoes, about three times as much as last year.

Eleven volunteers joined Putz and Tammy Young, the cultural coordinator for the tribe’s Resource Protection Department, to harvest the potatoes. Volunteers this year included three students from Pacific High School and a few employees with STA, along with other community members. Two of the students had helped plant the potatoes last April. 

The harvest began with participants telling their favorite story about potatoes. They ranged from ‘‘the excitement of uncovering odd shapes’’ to the ‘‘unique history of the Tlingit potatoes.’’ 

With a slight break in the rain, everyone geared up and went outside to unearth the potatoes. 

Volunteers pulled out the remnants of the plants’ stalks and sifted through the soil to collect all of the potatoes. Following the harvest, Young and Putz shared their knowledge about this  crop.

They said the potatoes are not native to Southeast Alaska, so the big question is how did they make it up here?

Young said her clan has stories from more than 200 years ago of people traveling by canoe down the continent’s coast, all the way to Chile. Travelers brought back plants from South America, and Young thinks this likely included the potatoes.

Putz said this history has been corroborated by genetic testing; the Tlingit potatoes are more closely related to potatoes from South America than European strains.

Native Alaskans have grown the potatoes for more than 220 years, from long before European settlers arrived.

“With the influence of religion and education, there was an interruption that happened for many people,” Young said. “Now with projects like we’re working on here, we’re working to enhance our relationship and take care of the land, water, and air jointly so that interruption doesn’t happen again. So that each generation in turn can become the caretakers that we’re meant to be.”

With the volume of potatoes harvested this year, volunteers were able to take some home to eat and to save for seed potatoes. Putz gave instructions about how to keep the potatoes through the winter – they need to be dried out and stored in a dark area to prevent them from sprouting before they can be planted.

“This plant is something that someone has taken care of every year for the past 200 years. It’s a big lesson in sustainability. If you don’t do these caretaking actions, the plants wouldn’t be here,” she said.

Volunteers said they were excited to learn about the potatoes from Putz and Young.

“This potato is really amazing in the way it can feed our bodies and our minds,” said Emelia Vigil, a volunteer at the event. “It afforded us the opportunity to come together in the name of harvesting, but more importantly to learn its history from extremely knowledgeable and fantastic women, Michelle and Tammy included.” 

Young took the remainder of the potatoes to use with STA.


“Last year, we incorporated the potatoes into deer stew that we served at our annual meeting,’’ she said. ‘‘We’d like to incorporate them into our social services program and use them to start addressing food security.’’



Support Given

The Breastfeeding Support Group will meet 10:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Yoga Union.

The group is free and open to parents of breastfeeding babies and provides an open forum to share questions, challenges and suggestions. This month’s group will be hosted by the SEARHC OB department. For information, contact Sharon at 738-4507 or Susan Ward at 966-8331.


Volunteers Sought

For City Boards

Volunteer positions are available on municipal boards and commissions.

Open boards include Animal Hearing Board, Gary Paxton Industrial Park Board of Directors, Health Needs and Human Services Commission, Library Commission, Local Emergency Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Committee, Planning Commission, Police and Fire Commission, Port and Harbors Commission and the Tree and Landscape Committee.

A letter of interest and board application may be submitted to the Municipal Clerk’s Office at 100 Lincoln Street. Applications are available online at or at the clerk’s office. For further information,  call Melissa at 747-1826.


S.E. Gymnastics

Meet Nov. 10

Sitka Gymnastics Academy will host a Southeast Alaska gymnastics meet Nov. 10 at 207 Smith Street.

Competitions start at 10 a.m. for bronze and silver levels, and 1:30 p.m. for gold and platinum levels.


Tax-Free Days

Ahead for Sitka

The City and Borough of Sitka Assembly recently voted to authorize Friday, Nov. 23, and Saturday, Nov. 24, as sales tax-free days. Tax will not be collected on sales made on those days – except fuel, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and marijuana.

For information, contact city administration at 747-1808.


Hames Center

Open Nov. 12

Hames Center will be open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, in observance of Veteran’s Day.

Programs for the day include tots gym, 9-10:30 a.m.; TRX, 10:30 a.m.; dance fitness, 12:15 p.m.; and lunch spin at 12:15 p.m.

A SEARHC-sponsored spin class will be held outside holiday hours at 5:30 p.m. For information call Hames at 747-5080 or visit


Sunday Spin

Back in Lineup

Sunday spin classes are returning to the Hames Center beginning Sunday, Nov. 11. Spins will be one hour long beginning at 3:30 p.m. and are led by Michalene Smith and Susan Compagno.

For a full schedule of classes visit or call 747-5080 to sign up. 



Event to Celebrate

Pauline Seesz

The family of Pauline Seesz invites all to celebrate and honor her at a dessert get-together 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at Grace Lutheran Church, 304 Tilson Street. Pauline went home to be with her Lord on Aug. 15 following a sudden illness.

Maria will be visiting from Colorado, along with her husband Tim and their daughter Willa, to share stories and conversation with Pauline’s friends. Beverages and desserts will be served.

Contact Don or Jane Seesz with any questions.


Elder Services,

Housing Discussed

Expanding services and housing options for elders in Sitka was identified as a top goal at the Sitka Health Summit.

The second meeting for the new Health Summit initiative action group will be 1-2:30 p.m. Wednesday,  Nov. 7, at the Swan Lake Senior Center. All are welcome. For information contact Erin Matthes at 966-8720.



Signups Taken for

STA Kid’s Party

Registration will be Nov. 5-Dec. 3 for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s annual holiday children’s party for enrolled tribal citizens and their children.

The party will be 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Blatchley Middle School commons, multipurpose room, gym and pool.

Tribal children must be pre-registered to receive a gift card. Stop by STA social services department, 110 American Street, to register. Call 747-7293 with questions.


Chamber to Meet

Brit Galanin and Mike Venneberg of the Greater Sitka Legacy Fund will address Chamber of Commerce members at a noon luncheon Wednesday at the Westmark Sitka.

The topic will be ‘‘Greater Sitka Legacy Fund: Grants For Today, Growth for the Future.’’


The public is invited to attend.