The Keex Kwaan dancers perform under blue skies at the beginning of the 2018 Dog Salmon Festival.
(Photo/Alanna Elder)

The small Southeast Alaska community of Kake held its Annual Dog Salmon Festival for the 24th time Saturday, July 28. The event was originally founded to celebrate the chum salmon run outside the village’s now defunct cold storage. The festival has become a little less fish-centric. This year, it was a venue for a few temporary jobs and an excuse to celebrate.

When it comes to jumping chums, the water off the dock in downtown Kake was pretty quiet. The hatchery that used to support this run shut down a few years ago, although it is in the process of reopening under a new owner. It was over 70 degrees during the 2018 festival. Participants faced the almost snow-less peaks of Baranof Island, and worried aloud, like in other parts of Alaska, that the weather is bad news for fish returning late to low stream levels.

Still, human chums stepped in with other sounds of summer, setting their worries aside and dedicating themselves to a good time. Three teams competed in the canoe races, rowing around a buoy in the same canoe Kake dancers paddled to Celebration earlier this summer. There were other water games – teams of two rowing square plastic totes toward a much closer buoy, swimmers backstroking in survival suits, and a line facing the dunk tank for most of the afternoon.

In the parking lot, there were foot races, a fish fillet contest, a pop and capris sun drinking competition, a hot dog eating contest, and plenty of vendor food you could eat at any pace you wanted.

The Keex Kwaan dancers began the event, welcoming a group of tourists who have come in on a small cruise ship. The announcers honored Adeline Jackson and Wilbur Brown Sr., two elders born in Kake who had been nominated by the community.

Announcer Wilfred Skeek has been going to these festivals since they began in 1995. His favorite moment from the day was seeing the baby crawling and toddling races.

“I saw a three year old take off from here and instead of running straight he ran all the way to his grandpa. So that was crazy,” he said, chuckling.

Baby crawling competitors play their own game at Kake’s annual festival. (Photo/Alanna Elder)

There’s one event Skeek and others I spoke with missed this year – a holdout, like the fillet contest, from when the festival took place in front of the cold storage.

“Before, we used to have a dog salmon toss. That was pretty popular. Take a dog salmon and throw it from here to there in a tote. See how many you can throw in a minute,” Skeek said.

And, though there were quite a few visitors from other Southeast towns, they arrived more quietly this year.

“We used to have catamarans come in from Sitka and Juneau,” Skeek said. “They’d land out here and we’d have canoes like on this canoe. Dancers would go out there and greet them. We’d go out there with our regalia and drums and sing songs while they’re out there.”

No catamarans came this time, and the ferry schedule didn’t jive well with the festival. But comparisons aside, Kake Tribal Heritage Foundation Ellie Jackson said, “Dog Fest was awesome this year.”

Jackson said her organization raised 13 thousand dollars to put on this year’s event. They also hired several locals to help run things, part of the Kake Tribal Corporation and the Organized Village of Kake’s ongoing efforts to dredge up new sources of local income. All of the proceeds from the dunk tank and vendor fees will go into an emergency medical fund.

“Patients who travel to Anchorage or Sitka and they’re short of funds, we donate money to them,” Jackson said. “Our organization didn’t have that program going for a few years so we’re happy to be doing all those fundraisers for it.”

Jackson said this is one of the last gatherings of the summer – there will be a back to school carnival this month.