Hydaburg is a community situated on Sukkwan Strait at the northern end of Cordova Bay, opposite Sukkwan Island to the south, on the highly convoluted southwestern coast of Prince of Wales Island in the Alexander Archipelago, about 160 miles (258 km) south-southeast of Sitka and 48 miles (77 km) west of Ketchikan, Alaska. Hydaburg is named after the Haida people who during the mid to late 1700s migrated to Prince of Wales Island from Graham Island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago, British Columbia. The Alexander Archipelago extends for about 300 miles (480 km) along the Southeast Alaska coast from Cross Sound in the north to Dixon Entrance in the south. It contains about 1,100 islands representing the tops of submerged coastal mountains, separated by deep ice scoured channels and fjords. Most of the islands are part of the Tongass National Forest. Prince of Wales Island is part of the Alexander terrane, part of a tectonic plate that migrated into the northern proto-Pacific Ocean where it merged with the Wrangellia terrane during the late Carboniferous. The two continental fragments remained isolated in the open ocean until they were accreted to the North American plate in the Middle Jurassic. The existing landscape is a result of several glaciation episodes during the Pleistocene and much of the land is still rebounding vertically from the release of pressure caused by glacier retreat and ice melting.
Prince of Wales Island was the territory of Tlingit peoples until the early 1700s when bands of Kaigani Haida migrated into the area as a result of internecine warfare between the various Haida groups inhabiting Haida Gwaii. The main cause of the strife was food supply on the islands, and the migrations were motivated by an expansion of territories for securing food commodities and furs. Prince of Wales Island contained numerous species of wild animal meat sources, such as deer, mountain goats and sheep, as well as herring spawning areas, and an abundance of salmon. The Kaigani Haida first settled on the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island. In 1741, the Russian navigator Aleksei Chirikov was the first European to sight the western coast of Prince of Wales Island. In 1774, Juan José Pérez Hernández sighted the south coast of Dall Island, and the following year Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra entered Bucareli Bay off Prince of Wales Island. In 1778, Captain James Cook explored the area and in 1787, George Dixon began trading sea otter pelts with the Haida. Around 1840, John Work with the Hudson’s Bay Company, noted six Kaigani Haida villages on Prince of Wales Island including Kasaan, Sukkwan, Howkan, Klinkwan, Koianglas, and Kaigani.
Following the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the Federal government and missionaries asserted more authority in the region by providing access to schools, financial support, and mail and steamer service which created a local dependence so that families were eventually coerced to take up residence at new locations. Hydaburg was created in 1912 by consolidating three Haida villages at Klinkwan, Sukkwan, and Howkan. When this was done, none of the old-style communal houses that characterized traditional Haida villages were built. Instead, under missionary instruction, only single-family, European-style houses were constructed along a single boardwalk, anchored at one end by the church and at the other by a salmon cannery. In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed, forming both the regional Native corporation called Sealaska, and the local village entity called Haida Corporation. Both are now major landholders and economic developers in the region. In 2021, Sealaska and the Tongass National Forest both announced intentions to transition away from large-scale old-growth logging. Sealaska is shifting toward an approach focused on healthy communities, healthy oceans and a sustainable future. The U.S. Forest Service has pledged support for community-based conservation as part of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. Today, much of village life centers around subsistence hunting and fishing, and traditional arts. Read more here and here. Explore more of Hydaburg and Prince of Wales Island here: