Spook Island, Hydaburg

Spook Island, Hydaburg

by | Aug 28, 2021

Spook Island is in Cordova Bay, on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island, about 23 miles (37 km) southeast of Craig and across Sukkwan Strait from and 0.75 miles (1.2 km) west of Hydaburg, Alaska. Spook Island is north of Sukkwan Island and separated by Sukkwan Narrows. The local name was published in 1965 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The Kaigani Haida name for Spook Island is “K’adaan Gwáay“. The island is connected at low tide to Mushroom Island to the north, and a smaller island to the southwest that was historically used as a burial ground and once had totem poles associated with the Tlingit and later by the Kaigani Haida living at Sukkwan. Sukkwan was a historical village situated on the northern tip of Sukkwan Island, a site now occupied by the Sukkwan Narrows federal lighthouse reserve. The name Sukkwan is the Haida version of an ancient Tlingit name meaning Town on the Fine Underwater Grass, a reference to the edible seaweed that grows there. Between 1836 and 1841, the village had a population of 229 Kaigani Haida people. The village was situated on a point of land, with five houses on the south side of the point and seven on the north with names including Grizzly Bear House, Cedarbark Skin House, and Clay House (because it was painted with clay), and Watery House after the name of a house at Kiusta, the Haida Gwaii village on Parry Passage at the northern tip of Graham Island where the Kaigani Haida people of Sukkwan originated.

Thousands of years ago, Tlingit people traveled from the interior of British Columbia to the coast via the Nass and Skeena Rivers and then migrated north to eventually occupy what is now Southeast Alaska. The Haida soon followed the Nass and Skeena routes and occupied the coastal area and islands of British Columbia. The Haida used their skill as canoe builders to explore the coast and raid other villages, thereby acquiring objects of wealth such as metal and blankets that were in short supply on the Haida Gwaii islands. But primarily the raids were intended to acquire slaves either for forced labor or were traded to other tribes for ransom. In the 1700s, the Haida from the north coast of Graham Island began an aggressive territorial expansion possibly as a result of growing population density. Canoes probably made tentative excursions to locations near the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island, several of which were likely to have been seasonal camps of the Tlingits. According to the accounts of Euro-American traders of the late 18th century, families on Haida Gwaii were actively relocating to Southeast Alaska to the extent that villages were virtually abandoned by the early 19th century. According to Haida oral history, the initial landing spot of the emigrants and the first settlement of the Haida was a place called Kaigani on Long Island from which they took their name. Slowly, the Kaigani Haida replaced the Tlingit people, however, the original Tlingit place names survived, at least in part, in many Kaigani Haida village names. Eventually, the Haida towns and camps included Kaigani itself, a camp that waned as initial immigrants moved on to other permanent villages including Klinkwan, Sukkwan, Howkan, Koianglas, and Kasaan. Beginning in 1901, the residents of Kasaan moved to a new village, and the old village was completely abandoned by 1904.

The community of Hydaburg was formed in 1911 when the Kaigani Haida living in Howkan, Klinkwan, Sukkwan, and Koianglas consolidated on the western coast of Prince of Wales Island. The site selected for the new village had no traditional meaning for the Kaigani Haida but had a good water supply and the consolidation was probably accomplished with pressure from the U.S. government. The Kaigani Haida may have signed the consolidation document in order to obtain citizenship believing the only way they could protect their resources was to obtain property rights by becoming citizens. The relocation to Hydaburg had a fundamental impact on the Kaigani Haida people and marked a radical transition in their history and traditions. Historical photographs, as well as archaeological studies of Kaigani Haida settlements, illustrate changes in the material culture of Kaigani Haida villages over time. They abandoned their traditional large cedar plank dwellings and architecture for non-Native style housing. One of the main differences from the traditional villages was that in Hydaburg the buildings faced the main street instead of facing the water. The old villages were abandoned and looted. Many totems and artifacts were taken for exhibitions and museums. In 1939, a totem park was created in Hydaburg that contains a collection of preserved and recreated totem poles based on originals from the villages abandoned in 1911. Some of the original totem poles were brought to Hydaburg by the Civilian Conservation Corps and either recreated or preserved under the guidance of Haida master carvers. Read more here and here. Explore more of Spook Island and Cordova Bay here:

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