Business
Sitting tranquilly in the shade on the corner of Ferry Way, Harlena Warford conferred about how to balance being a medicine woman with being a businesswoman.
Hoonah medicine woman sets up shop in Juneau 081110 BUSINESS 1 Capital City Weekly Sitting tranquilly in the shade on the corner of Ferry Way, Harlena Warford conferred about how to balance being a medicine woman with being a businesswoman.

Richard Radford/Capital City Weekly

Harlena Warford of Hoonah sells holistic ointments on the corner of Ferry Way in downtown Juneau. She has been running her company, Gut' Shu wu, for several years in Hoonah, but this is the first time she is selling directly to the public in Juneau.


Richard Radford/Capital City Weekly

Warford rubs ointment on the arm of Juneau resident Aaron Monette, who has a scar on his shoulder from a recent surgery.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Story last updated at 8/10/2010 - 5:48 pm

Hoonah medicine woman sets up shop in Juneau

Sitting tranquilly in the shade on the corner of Ferry Way, Harlena Warford conferred about how to balance being a medicine woman with being a businesswoman.

"It's something that you don't want to get attached to for a while," she said. "But society in this day and age tells you to run ... run fast!"

Warford has been running her Hoonah-based company, Gut' Shu wu, for several years, but this is the first time she is directly selling her line of holistic Tlingit medicine to the public in Juneau.

Growing up in Hoonah, she learned about the medicinal properties of plants both from her relatives and from other village elders. Though the products are based on traditional recipes, containing extracts from regional flora like devil's club and skunk cabbage, she has made some modifications over time. For instance, Warford employs shea butter in her ointments. Customarily, a mixture of bear fat and tallow were used.

"Gut' Shu wu" translates to "dime cut in half." Warford said the name came from the shoestring budget she had when she began her company.

"It took every single dime that we had to start this business," she said.

The original name was going to be "I don't have any more nickels," but she said it wouldn't fit on the sign.

Now, people who visit the store in Hoonah later contact her through the website, and orders for her products come in from many different countries.

"We get e-mails from India, Germany, Japan, England," she said. "It's a worldwide business."

Warford decided Juneau would be an ideal place to spend the summer selling her wares. The limited tourism in Hoonah has curtailed her ability to meet with new potential customers, she said, though getting her business up and running in the city was an ordeal.

"I just told them, I'm just a plain, simple country girl, tell me what to do next," she said.

When all of the bureaucratic hoops were finally jumped through, Warford said the relief was enormous.

"It was just like a baby being born," she said.

Balanced with trying to make a living, Warford said, the key to a successful business is helping people.

"There are a lot of lonesome, sick people in the world," she said.

She also provides services for prison inmates, creating a venue in her Hoonah storefront for them to sell crafts they make. Warford said it is vitally important to aid those who need the most support.

"Even when they serve their time, humanity won't give them a chance," she said. "Somebody has to believe in them."

Warford rose immediately when a man came up to the table and asked for a sample. Rolling up his sleeve, Juneau resident Aaron Monette displayed a long, deep scar traveling across his shoulder. He said it was from a work-related injury. He had just had surgery done on it and was in pain. Warford examined the skin, and then carefully rubbed some ointment on his arm. She encouraged him to sit and rest for a moment in the sun, but he said he was busy and needed to leave.

"If it works, I'll be back," he said, hurrying off.

Warford smiled after Monette, and said that people are sometimes skeptical when they come to her.

"One person came and he asked me, 'How do I know you're not a fraud?' I said, 'Spend five minute with me.'"

The streets were teeming, and Warford turned and squinted through the bright sunlight at the traffic and pedestrians roaring around the corner.

"My favorite time is when we go up into the mountains, try to decide what to bring next," she said. "You stand there in total and complete awe of what nature has to offer you. You wonder, what can we bring them now? What are they suffering the most from now? All these questions come into your mind when you get into the woods."

For more information, visit the website gutshuwu.com, or stop by the Ferry Way location.

Richard Radford may be reached at richard.radford@capweek.com