Metlakatla, Annette Island

Metlakatla, Annette Island

by | Feb 18, 2019

Metlakatla is a Tsimshian community on the west coast of Annette Island, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Ketchikan, Alaska. The name Metlakatla comes from the Tsimshian Maxłakxaała, meaning “Salt Water Passage”. Annette Island is about 20 miles (32 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide, located between Gravina and Duke Islands, and south of Revillagigedo Island. The island was named in 1879 by W.H. Dall, of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, for his wife, Annette Whitney Dall.

In 1862, the Anglican lay minister William Duncan established a utopian Christian community at Metlakatla, British Columbia. Duncan’s dissident style and independent temperament led to his expulsion from the Church of England’s Missionary Society in 1881, and the creation of his own non-denominational Independent Native Church. In 1886, Duncan went to Washington, D.C., and lobbied the U.S. government to give his group land in Alaska and President Grover Cleveland gave them Annette Island. In 1887, he led a group of devotees on an epic canoe journey to Alaska in search of a new home. The spot chosen for the new settlement was once the site of a Tlingit village called Taquan. The gently sloping beach was pebbled and sandy, and ideal for beaching canoes. There were a number of lakes in the mountains and from one flowed a stream with a steep drop of 800 feet (244 m) which could be utilized for power. Most importantly, the advance party was told by Tlingits at nearby ‘Tongass Narrows’ (soon to become Ketchikan) that salmon were abundant in the surrounding waters. The Tsimshian were granted permission to own the land by Chief Johnson of the Tlingit tribe.

In 1887, the SS Ancon arrived at the townsite with Duncan, a sawmill, and 50 tons of supplies to help establish the Tsimshian people in Alaska. The group laid out the town in a European-style grid pattern. It contained a church, a school, a cannery, and a sawmill. They named the town New Metlakatla, after the town they had left behind. In 1888, Duncan returned to Washington and lobbied the U.S. Congress for an Indian reserve on Annette Island. Although the reservation system had not been used in Alaska, Congress granted his request in 1891. Today the Annette Islands Reserve, including surrounding islands, is the only Indian reserve in Alaska. In the 1970s, the Metlakatla did not accept the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and give up their reserve and maintain sovereign immunity. The Metlakatla Indian Community still has exclusive commercial and subsistence fishing rights to the islands’ waterways. Read more here and here. Explore more of Annette Island here:

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