Ketchikan Crises, May 2024

What Do We Need to Do About the Shelter, Teachers, and Poles?

Peter Stanton
4 min readMay 19, 2024

I have to admit, I’ve felt pretty overwhelmed in the past several days, thinking about everything happening in Ketchikan right now:

On May 15th, First City Haven homeless shelter stopped providing 24-hour services because the City of Ketchikan is terminating their lease, leaving about 100 people in our community with no place to sleep.

On May 15th, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District handed out layoff notices to 47 teachers and 5 administrators, because expected funding from the State of Alaska and Ketchikan Gateway Borough had not been provided by that date.

And, in the past two weeks, people in Ketchikan have learned that the owner of the property at 420 Water St. next to the tunnel plans to raise two poles there that were carved by a convicted murderer from Minnesota who had no connection to this community or authentic Northwest Coast Indigenous carving traditions.

As different as these issues may seem from each other, I think there are some throughlines in these circumstances:

In each case, different government bodies, organizations, and individuals can all point fingers at each other for actions they took or failed to take, and lack of communication and transparency that led up to these points of crisis. I see many leaders at the state and local level deflecting blame onto others and declining to take responsibility.

Another throughline is a need for compassion and respect. In each of these cases, decisions were made or actions failed to be taken in ways that neglected to care for people’s lives and livelihoods, the education of our youth, and our community’s culture.

However, a positive theme in each of these situations is that our community does have people who care. We do have people who are willing to stand up, speak out, and pressure people in positions of power to take action. In spite of the harm that has already been caused, I am still hopeful that we can and should find longterm positive solutions to each of these problems.

Our government bodies, community organizations, and individuals should work together to find a place for overnight housing as quickly as possible. I know people have had many negative experiences with the actions of homeless individuals, which then led to the City of Ketchikan ending the shelter’s lease. However, as we have witnessed in just a few days’ time since the end of overnight services, not having a shelter at all will lead to far, far worse circumstances. It is in everyone’s interest in this community for those who have no housing to have a safe place to stay.

Whale Park, just one location in downtown Ketchikan where unhoused people have congregated on at least one occasion in recent weeks

Funding should be provided and our laid off educators should be rehired as quickly as possible. Then, the school district, borough, and state should each take steps to prevent this kind of disgraceful and chaotic situation from happening again. As an educator myself, I have to emphasize: It is not okay for people to be laid off even if they get rehired a few weeks later. That is not the way to treat professionals, respect people’s livelihoods, or provide stable education for our youth. It is important to note that some incredible educators have already been pushed to resign and leave Ketchikan because of these layoffs. Real harm has already been done.

And, pressure should continue to be placed on Joseph Machini, the owner of 420 Water St., to not raise the two inauthentic and insulting poles that he purchased. If he still insists on raising them, the City of Ketchikan should respond, at the very least, by placing signage on city property in the immediate vicinity that will educate passersby about authentic Northwest Coast carving.

Machini even disrespected his own property by allowing this inauthentic pole carved by convicted murderer Carl Muggli to be covered with gravel and dust.

I even think the city should consider commissioning a local Indigenous artist (with the support of our local tribal governments and Native community, of course) to carve a shame pole that would tell the story of Carl Muggli, the Minnesota man who appropriated this carving tradition and murdered his wife, and Joseph Machini’s poor decisions to purchase and display his work. (If you don’t know what a shame pole is, you can read this article by Dr. Emily Moore about the Seward pole in Saxman, the most famous example of a shame pole in Alaska.) I feel the best way to respond to a culturally inappropriate and offensive display might be with an authentic pole that fulfills an entirely appropriate and traditional role.

[Addendum: After talking to friends, a shame pole might not be the best response, for a number of reasons. But, there are plenty of other ways to put pressure on Machini to change his plans. And, there could be other, more positive roles that a new city-commissioned pole could serve in the area of Berth 3 and the tunnel. Regardless, I’ll look forward to seeing what other ideas are shared and supported in the community.]

I am inspired by the people of Ketchikan who are being leaders, speaking out, and taking action on each of these issues—people who have committed their time and poured their hearts into advocacy and testimony, speaking at public meetings, organizing rallies, and doing the work. I remain hopeful that we can find longterm solutions, be better off as a community, and never have to face crises like these again.

Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.



Peter Stanton

I’m an Alaskan history teacher in Ketchikan writing a book on the Tlingit 19th century. I also write regularly about language, reading, travel, and politics.