The Inian Islands sit perched in the narrow passes where the Inside Passage meets the Gulf of Alaska at Cross Sound. This strategic location has attracted people for millennia – a place to camp while they hunted, fished and gathered the abundance of food that swirled around the islands. The inner harbor became an important summer camp for the Tlingit clans who eventually built their main winter village in Hoonah, and their stories of tragic events, of peril and self-sacrifice, have imbued the islands with symbols of sacredness – the animal crests of the octopus and porpoise worn by members of the Chookaneidi clan link them inextricably to the mythical events that occurred there, and the name of the place, Dakhaá Xhoo [Among the Sleeping Man], is a spirit name that conveys special meaning. Following the arrival of Europeans the Tlingit people continued to use the shores of the inner lagoon as a summer camp, and the history of their time there is still visible today. Although the establishment of a fox farm in the early 1900s excluded the Hoonah Tlingit from the use of their summer camp, they were able to maintain their strong ties to the Inian Islands as their economy shifted from the annual subsistence cycle to commercial seine fishing. It was the wealth of salmon harvested by the Hoonah fleet from the turbulent waters of the Inian Islands that moved the community into the modern era, and even though the Inian Islands were closed to the seine fleet in 1974, the people of Hoonah still identify with great pride to that time and place of their history. When the Howe brothers bought the homestead in the 1970s, a new community of fisher people came to call at the inner lagoon, and a new legacy – now named The Hobbit Hole – was born. The Inian Islands Institute is the next logical step in this historical progression, transforming this special place into an institution that benefits from the rich biodiversity through learning and experience.
-Written by Wayne Howell, anthropologist and Advisory Council member
Brothers Greg and Fred Howe bought the property in the 1970s — at that time it only had two buildings and a small dock. It was in these early days that my mother Carolyn Elder, while working as a deckhand on Fred’s troller, gave the Hobbit Hole its name.
Greg Howe is the son of a dedicated librarian mom and a career Park Service dad. He was born in North Carolina while the family lived in the Blue Ridge National Park. Subsequent homes were in Yellowstone Park and in Juneau and Glacier Bay. Greg and his brother Fred bought the Hobbit Hole in 1973 and have the good fortune to have homes near the waters where they fish for wild salmon and halibut.
Jane Button was born and lived most of her life in Reno, Nevada. She worked as a biochemist before becoming a middle school teacher of science and French. Meeting Greg while visiting southeast Alaska changed her life for good, and she soon moved to the Hobbit Hole.
Inian Islands Institute now own the property to develop their mission in building rising environmental leaders.