Let's explore one part of the story of land ownership for Alaska Natives by reading a series of newspaper articles, diary entries and photographs.
Alaska Natives had thrived for thousands of years by living on the fish, wild game, moose, caribou, berries and roots that the land provided. The gold rush brought people to parts of Alaska where white men had rarely gone. The miners and the new towns were a threat to the Alaska Natives' semi-nomadic life style and traditional dependence on the land.
What were the laws at this time for land ownership?
Read the letter from Governor Brady to Mr. S. Stanley Osterhout in Port Simpson, B.C. on July 20, 1900.
What do you think the conflict being addressed in the letter is about? What does Governor Brady say about Indian claims? What authority (or law) does Governor Brady use to explain his opinion?
"I am writing to ask for help…"
look at a letter sent by Tanana Chief Alexander to Judge Wickersham. The
letter gives a glimpse of what life was like for the Tanana Indians in
What problems did they want the Judge to help them solve?
What solution does Chief Alexander propose to the problem? If you could speak directly to Chief Alexander what other information would you want that is not in the letter?
What were the conditions in Tanana in 1910?
Follow the trail of letters to piece together another part of the story. Through official correspondence over a number of months the situation for the Tanana Indians was discussed.
Who were the people involved? What were the specific problems being considered? What relief was being sought? What was the outcome of these letters? Study the documents before you read them to understand who was the author, who was the recipient, what date it was written, and what date it was officially received by the government office. How would you try to solve the problem? Use the map to identify the areas being discussed in the letters.
Challenge: We do not have a copy of the Chief Charlie letter referred to by Commissioner Brown. Where do you think a copy might be if it still exists?
"I am a friend of my people and I want to look out for their interests…"
One of our legacies in Alaska is that we continue to seek ways to share the land and the resources among all the people. It is a difficult problem. What ideas about land ownership do you believe?
An important meeting took place on July 5 and 6, 1915 between a number of Athabaskan chiefs, translators, Judge Wickersham and other government officials. The meeting was called to discuss whether the Tanana Indians would accept the offer of either 160-acre homesteads or reservations. The 35-page document is a complete transcription of the discussions.
Look at the photograph: What can you learn about the men in the picture? Why is this picture considered important? What do you like about the picture? What does it tell us about the time it was taken?
Do all newspapers report the same information in the same way? Does the way a newspaper report an event influence the way people think?
Read four different newspaper reports about the same Indian Council meeting.
What is the point of view of each newspaper? Which papers favor a reservation? Which papers support homesteads? How can citizens get a fair report about an event?
Challenge: How does the media today influence your thinking? How can you find information from both sides of a debate? Choose a situation of importance today and research both sides of the issue. Consider an Internet search or use a library.