Sunday, July 19, 2015

Historic Metlakatla

Cholmondeley Sound
Metlakatla is a large Native village of nearly 1500 people, certainly the largest Native town that we have ever seen.  The town is located south of Ketchikan in Port Chester on the east side of Nichols Passage.  We motored for five hours after departing Kasaan Bay and entered Clarence Strait, then rounded the south tip of Gravina Island and turned eastward through the pretty Bronaugh Islands and across Nichols Passage.  
Bronaugh Islands
The seas were flat, calm except for the area where Cholmondeley Sound (pronounced Chumly) intersects with Clarence Strait, the winds kicked up from 10 to 20 knots but quickly subsided to 8 knots after passing the entrance to Cholmondeley Sound.  We could see Metlakatla across Nichols Passage once we passed through the beautiful Bronaugh Islands - homes, churches, and other buildings lined the shore along Annette Island backed by large, imposing mountains.  
Approaching Metlakatla
Metlakatla, meaning “salt water passage” in the Tsimshian language, has an interesting history.  
Metlakatla, Annette Island
Tsimshian Natives migrated here from Prince Rupert, British Columbia in 1887.  Seeking religious freedom, they were led by Father William Duncan, a Scottish lay priest of the Anglican Church who had begun his missionary work with the Tsimshian at Fort Simpson in 1857.  Around 1886 he traveled to Washington D.C. to request land from President Grover Cleveland for the Tsimshians.  
Father William Duncan
With his help a local search committee selected Annette Island covering 86,000 acres, and in 1891 Congress declared the Island a federal Indian reservation.  Not subject to state jurisdiction, Metlakatla regulates its own commercial fishing in nearby waters and operates its own tribal court and government.  
Metlakatla Packing Plant
The community packing plant, housed in an old cannery, processes salmon, halibut, and sea cucumbers caught by the local fishing fleet.  The majority of the population is Tsimshian, but Metlakatla is also home to many individuals with diverse tribal affiliations such as Tlingit, Haida, Aleut, Yupik, and other Alaska native peoples.  A clause in the Metlakatla Charter allows for such membership.  
Fishing Fleet, Metlakatla
Today, Metlakatla remains the only officially designed Indian Reservation in Alaska.  Unlike the States of the lower 48, Native towns and villages in Alaska are typically owned as a Native corporation.  This arrangement came about when the U.S. Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971 which settled land and financial claims made by the Alaska Natives and provided for the establishment of 13 regional corporations.  
One of Several Churches in Metlakatla
Regional and village corporations are owned by Alaska Native people through privately owned shares of corporation stock.  We had fun touring Metlakatla by bicycle, seeing its many churches, homes, schools, and the company packing plant.  
1891 Duncan Cottage, Museum in Metlakatla
We also stopped by the historic home of Father William Duncan, which now serves as a museum.  The house was built in 1891 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Community Docks at Metlakatla

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