Our Leagacy

How did the Gold Rush impact Native Alaskans?

Beaded sled bag from Fort Yukon. Native tanned bag with floral beadwork on the front panel.

Tananah Indian squaw returning from the hunt.

     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.

Can the land be shared?

     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…"

     Let's 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 1910.

     What problems did they want the Judge to help them solve?

Governor's letter including information abut the Organic Act of 1884 and Indian possession of land. July 20, 1900.

Tananah Indian. Nebesnatanas Kheeltat, his son and Deshaddy.

Letter from Chief Alexander Tolovana Sept. 11, 1910. 2 pages

James Wickersham in mosquito net hat standing on riverbank.

     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.

Letter outlining the situation facing Tanana Indians to Judge Wichersham Nov.1, 1910. 2 pages

Letter responding to the situation in Tanana by the Supt. of Schools in Upper Yukon Jan. 31, 1911. 5 pages

Letter to Judge Wickersham from the Dept. of the Interior about situation in Tanana Mar.15, 1911.

Unsigned copy of letter sent by Judge Wickersham to Commissioner of Education April 10, 1911.

Map: Fairbanks, Tolovana area. [no date] Alaska Road Commission. Maps and Drawings. Asa_ RG 306, Series 1380

     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…"

Fairbanks, July 1915. Indian Council group photograph.

     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?

Handwritten cover letter by Judge Wickersham for Proceedings Report on Tanana Chiefs meeting July 22, 1915.

Selected pages from the Tanana Chiefs Meeting Fairbanks, Alaska July 5, 1915. 8 pages

Letter discussion concern about reservations for Tanana Indians Oct. 2, 1915.

Cover letter [with red tape] that accompanied the Proceedings Report from the Tanana Chief Meeting July 22, 1915.

Judge Wickersham diary entry on the Tanana Chiefs meeting July 5, 1915.
     Judge Wickersham kept a diary that insight into his point of view. From the diary entry what do you think Judge Wickersham wants from the meeting?

"I only know what I read in the papers"

     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.

Newspaper: Fairbanks Daily News Miner, July 6, 1915.

Newspaper: Fairbanks Weekly Times, July 12, 1915.

Newspaper: Alaska Citizen, July 12, 1915.

Newspaper: Nome Daily Nugget, January 13, 1916.

     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.

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Alaska's Gold was developed through a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission by the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, the Alaska Dept. of Education and Early Development.  © 1999.  All rights reserved.   Alaska Gold Themes written by Cristine Crooks, Alaska Consultants in Education.  Alaska's Gold Themes website developed by WEBDesign.