XX. INHABITANTS - WHITES AND NATIVES (Historic Information)
Definite information as to the population of Alaska is not obtainable, and among the reasons therefor are the rapid and frequent changes necessitated by Alaskan industries. Including those engaged in the fishery industries, it is believed that the summer population is fully 15,000 greater than that in winter, when the demand for labor falls off greatly.
By census there were 33,426 inhabitants in 1880, of whom only 430 were whites; in 1890, 32,052, of whom 4,298 were whites; and in 1900, 63,592, of whom 30,493 were whites nine-tenths being males.
One of the best authorities, E. H. Harrison ("Alaska Almanac", 1908), places the white population at 40,000 in winter and the summer inhabitants at 55,000. The distribution assigned was: Seward Peninsula, 15,000; Tanana Valley, 15,000; southeastern and southwestern Alaska, 18,000, other districts, 7,000.
The whites are very largely of American birth, as, including the miners at Treadwell, Douglas Island, those of foreign birth in 1900 formed only one-sixth of the total white population. The Asiatics, almost entirely employed at the canneries, numbered 3,385, of whom 3,116 were Chinese.
Contrary to the oft-expressed opinion, the Alaskans are neither reckless, dissipated, nor lawless. In the main they are law abiding, hard working, and temperate men. The rapid and successful development of the Territory has been the outcome of intelligent, persistent struggles on the part of self respecting communities that are above the average of those in the United States proper. The writer has been familiar with mining camps and frontier settlements for forty years, and has never elsewhere seen the equal for high qualities of manhood that are usually found in Alaska. This is doubtless due in large part to the fact that Alaska is not a "poor man's country," as only men of some means can even reach the country, while considerable money and credit are necessary for the smallest ventures.
By census, the natives numbered in 1880, 31,240; in 1890, 23,531, and in 1900, 27,037.
Considered from the linguistic standpoint there are five native tribes, which in order of importance are as follows: Esquimaux, the Tlinkits (or Koluschantook), Athapascans, Metlakatlas (or Tsimpseans), and Haidas (or Chimmesyan). They were divided as follows, according to the census of 1890: the Esquimaux, 14,012; the Tlinkits (or Koluschantook), 4,737; the Athapascans, 3,439; the Metlakatlas (or Tsimpseans), 952; and the Haidas, 391. In 1900, they were not enumerated separately, and the accuracy of the various enumerators has been questioned. Their increase or decrease is a matter of opinion, the writer believing that they are slowly vanishing as races.
Tourists and prospectors travel everywhere without danger to life or person, though the adventurous can readily find associates of kindred and vicious qualities, if so inclined. It may be added that sojourn among the natives entails danger only on the rarest possible occasions, the killing of a peaceable white man by a native being almost unknown in recent years.
This is not the place to tell the story of the Alaskan natives, which in its totality can only be viewed as disgraceful to a nation claiming to be civilized, humanitarian, or Christian.
In general, contact with the white man has steadily tended to degeneration among the four principal tribes of Alaska, though at times there have been spasmodic and usually fruitless efforts on the part of the United States to correct the most flagrant and degrading violations of personal rights and public decency.
The results of the labors of Christian men and women by personal service and moral teachings to raise the native to a higher plane of life and action are briefly outlined in another chapter. In several localities the educational opportunities of a quarter of a century have been so utilized that many natives are better qualified for the war with civilization, as regards its material aspects. In unfortunately too few cases there has been a development of moral virtues and strengthening of Christian character, but the general outcome is pitiful in the extreme. In a journey of over 2,000 miles through Alaska, the writer discussed the situation with a dozen or more missionaries, at nine separate stations and representing six religious bodies. Every one answered in the negative when asked if the natives had improved in honesty, the men in industry, the women in chastity, and the youth in promise of higher morality.
In mining towns and camps the saloon and dance-house, which foster in the men indulgence in liquor and offer to the young girls the allurements of finery and a life of apparent ease, are factors potent in degeneration and so attractive in appearance that only few natives withstand them. At remote points traders, fishermen, and whalers have been only too often guilty of gross misconduct destructive of the moral character and physical health of the unfortunate natives. The conduct of the white man toward the Alaskan natives is not unlike that shown toward the American Indian.
In former days the Alaskan Indians were divided into two classes, those of the coast and those of the interior. There are now popularly recognized the Tlinkits of the Sitkan Archipelago; the Aleuts of the Aleutian chain of islands; the Athapascans, of the interior watersheds of the Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Copper; and the Esquimaux, who fringe the shores of Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Additionally, there are the Tsimpseans (better known as Metlakatlans), immigrants from British Columbia, and a few hundred Haidas.
Though numbering less than a thousand, the Aleuts are probably the most interesting of the natives, as having acquired certain benefits of civilization, with minor elements of its vices. Dwelling on the Aleutian Islands, with the seas as their field of occupation, they live largely on fish, varied in summer by a diet of berries and wild-fowl. Their peculiar cellarlike and sedge-covered huts are comfortable and fairly well-kept. On the larger and more accessible islands the construction of framed houses and the presence of gaudy lithographs, coal-oil stoves, granite ware, and cotton prints display the taste of the natives and the influence of the trader. The Aleut is docile, peaceful, a good husband and father, honest and industrious. Baptized in the Greek Catholic Church, and visited at least annually by a priest, he is fond of festivals and ceremonies, which are infrequently marked by excesses. Largely influenced by the Church, which uses a mixture of Russian and Aleut in its ceremonies, they have not taken kindly to American speech or education. However, the past neglect of the United States along these lines has been largely responsible for such existent conditions.
These interior Indians are steadily fading away, as civilization enters the valleys of the Copper, the Yukon, the Tanana, and upper Kuskokwim. In 1900, an epidemic of the measles and the grippe killed off at least twenty-five per cent of the Indians of the central and lower Yukon. In later years tuberculosis has made havoc with those remaining, and it has been said that more than half the deaths in many villages are from this dread disease. "With the destruction of fur-bearing animals and the enormous slaughter of the caribou, there have come seasons of dire distress, so that in too frequently recurring years there are a large number of deaths from starvation. Only two things are certain diminution of numbers and increase of misery.
About sixty per cent of the natives are Esquimaux, who are found in all parts of Alaska except to the south-eastward of Prince William Sound. Contrary to the general opinion, their main habitat is not along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Less than one-fifth live within the Arctic Circle, while the favorite and most populous district is the coastal plain of Bering Sea, from the Kuskokwim mouth to the Yukon Delta, where fully forty per cent, of the Esquimaux live permanently.
Peaceful and docile, trustful and generous, the Alaskan Esquimaux have gained a precarious living from adjacent seas in summer and from the lakes and tundras in winter, principally by fishing. More than any other Alaskan race they have suffered by contact with the white man. The whale and walrus are practically annihilated, land animals have likewise disappeared, the Seward Peninsula is one great mining camp, and Bristol Bay is the great centre of the salmon fishery. These vitally changed conditions of life have seriously affected the Esquimaux, who find their means of subsistence largely destroyed, their habitat invaded, and new methods of life forced upon them. Decimated by epidemic diseases introduced by the whites, victims of unprincipled liquor dealers, often maltreated by vicious traders and exploited by the unscrupulous trader, the steady degeneracy of these hospitable, merry-hearted, and simple minded people is apparently a matter of brief time. As elsewhere shown, the introduction of the reindeer, the efforts to teach industrial methods, and the rendering of medical aid to the suffering, are the only redeeming and hopeful features of the Esquimaux situation at present.
Fortunately, the very barrenness of the Yukon-Kuskokwim coastal region is in itself a partial protection to these so-called children of the ice. Here, apart from the white man, they are yet able, through fish and seal, to eke out a bare sustenance in good years, while in bad seasons the old and sick give up their lives so as no longer to imperil the enfeebled and starving community.
Less than four hundred in number are the Haidas, part of the Queen Charlotte Indians. Known to tourists of southeastern Alaska for their basketry, hats, and ornamental carvings, they play no part in Alaskan native life.
The Tsimpsean Indians, under the leadership of their devoted missionary, William Duncan, immigrated in a body from near Port Simpson, British Columbia, to obtain greater religious liberty, to Alaska in 1887. On March 3, 1891, Congress set apart the Annette Islands, now popularly known as Metlakatla, as a reservation "for the use of the Metlakatlan Indians and those personally known as Metlakatlans, who have recently emigrated from British Columbia to Alaska, and such other Alaskan natives as may join them."
The town of Metlakatla is perpetual evidence of the soundness of Governor Swineford's judgment regarding the capabilities of Alaskan natives. They labor at fishing, in the cannery, in the saw-mill, live industriously and exemplarily in the clean, well ordered, and picturesque village that is the work of their brains and hands. They have built a church, a school house, town hall, guest-house, saw-mill, cannery, several stores, and many comfortable dwellings - in short, they are a community that does not compare unfavorably with any white settlement in Alaska in thrift, comfort, and order.
Repeated efforts to reduce the size of the reservation and open it to whites have so far failed, and should fail. Their isolation has been a most favorable factor in the prosperity of the Metlakatlans, and complete success can only be expected in Alaskan missionary work through rigid separation of whites and natives. Missionaries recognize almost universally that the white men seek intercourse with Alaskan natives only for exploitation or debauchery.
While in late years some Tsimpseans have settled elsewhere, so as to be more independent and individual, yet the greater number wisely adhere to the communal life which has so improved their material, mental, and moral conditions.
The habitat of the Tlinkit Indians extends from the southeastern boundary of Alaska to the mouth of Copper River. In consequence he is the Alaskan Indian, as far as the experience of the summer tourist extends. There are twelve subdivisions of the tribe, but in general the Tlinkits are divided into two clans: the Wolf, which has minor branches, such as Bear, Porpoise, Eagle, etc., and the Raven, to which belong the Frog, Owl, Sea Lion, and Salmon. Marriages are invariably made between members of different clans, as those of the same clan are assumed to be within prohibited degrees of consanguinity.
Hereditary chieftains and slaves formerly filled the upper and lower tribal positions, but slavery is now extinct and the claims to higher station and power on account of birth are steadily weakening.
Originally marine nomads, with settled habitats in winter alone, these Indians have, under changed conditions, become permanent in their residences. The original disinclination of the men to work has disappeared under the stimulus of artificial wants, so sedulously fostered by the whites and favored by native women. The mechanical skill of the men is well known, having in the past been applied to the carving and erection of artistic totem poles, the construction of large log houses, and especially in the building of war canoes, usually from a single huge tree, and their elaborate carving and ornamentation. These huge canoes, capable of carrying sixty to seventy warriors, are now rarely seen, giving way to small boats fitted for sea and coast fisheries. The totem poles, formerly ornamented by elaborate and curious carvings, related in a manner to their clan connections, family history, and pedigrees. While small totems are now made for trading and sale, yet the old order of family coat-of-arms, as one may say, has passed among the younger generation. The skill in copper forgings, once so highly prized, has yielded to cheap iron and steel from the trader.
The women were once famous for their closely woven, plant-dyed blankets of mountain-sheep wool, the cherished form of personal wealth, but now they apply the least work consistent with the untrained demands of summer tourists to imported wools colored by aniline dyes. Similarly, there has been marked decline in the basketry methods and styles, which formerly were so artistic and pleasing.
In short, the Tlinkits have changed from a warlike, proud people to the positions of hewers of wood and drawers of water. They live through labor in the saw-mills, canneries, and fisheries, that are the main industries of the Sitkan Archipelago, supplemented on the part of the women by shrewd and profitable curio trade with the summer tourist. Gradually the natives are engaging in the minor operations as miners, wherever the union does not emphatically forbid. Industrial training, along with their peculiar gifts, is hesitatingly but fairly well received, especially by the men, and the Tlinkit has become a valuable factor in the development of southeastern Alaska, justifying the faith of the first American Governor, A. P. Swineford, who, in his annual report for 1885, writes:
All the natives are self-sustaining. They are for superior intellectually, if not in physical development to the Indian of the plains; are industrious, more or less skilful workers in woods and metals. They yield readily to civilizing influences, and can, with much less care than has been bestowed on native tribes elsewhere, be educated up to the standard of a good and intelligent citizenship.
Despite the fact that the average Tlinkit is self-supporting and resourceful, there is no solidarity among them, and their steady decline in numbers and importance is probable. The United States takes no active interest in the care of the helpless and unfortunate, and private charity is inadequate to a task almost hopeless in the beginning.
GENERAL CONDITION OF NATIVES
This subject has engaged the earnest attention of the writer for eight years, extending from personal observation during the fatal epidemic of 1900 to official investigations initiated by him when Alaska was within his military command from 1906 to 1908.
In 1905 the writer, at the request of the late Ethan A. Hitchcock, then Secretary of the Interior, also made a personal study of the problem, during an inspecting tour through Alaska. It appears certain that general and indiscriminate charity is not only undesirable but also deleterious in its effects. My official recommendations looked to especially encouraging the Indians to help themselves. To this end it was suggested that there should be employed Indian inspectors, whose moral influence should be strengthened by clothing them with a certain coercive authority. Such inspectors should be medical men with the true missionary spirit. Their specific duties were to furnish treatment to natives remote from medical aid. There was to be instruction in, and enforcement of, sanitary methods, supplemented by industrial training suited to the environment; finally, there was to be the minimum of food and clothing issues.
These suggestions, appear to have had weight, for the Bureau of Education furnished the following year medical supplies and text-books to eleven Indian villages destitute of medical means. The Secretary of the Interior also set aside $5,000 to be spent by officers of the army in affording relief in emergent cases of great destitution and need.
Medical investigations, directed by the writer at two widely separated points Haines Mission and Eagle disclosed shocking conditions of disease and sanitation. At one place more than half the natives were afflicted with contagious diseases tuberculosis (forty-eight per cent.) and trachoma (seven per cent.). Twenty-four per cent, of the children die as infants and sixteen in childhood. The investigations covered over 600 Indians. The natives were reported at one place as largely free from prejudice, "tractable, easy to teach, and eager to learn."
Many high officials of the nation have publicly deplored the condition of the natives, and President Taft, when Secretary of War, officially recommended legislative action in his annual report of 1906, saying:
"From time to time during the past four years the War Department has been called upon to extend relief to destitute natives. This destitution (he adds) is owing to increasing scarcity of game, and the decline in the run of the salmon, due in large measure to the ingress and encroachments of the whites, and from the ignorance and improvidence of the Indians themselves." He recommended: "The adoption of radical measures of relief not only from a standpoint of humanity, but from that of the moral obligation and honor of the nation."
Every thoughtful man must realize the moral duty of this nation toward those whom we have materially, morally, and physically injured especially to those of the extreme northwest. To these natives, Prof. W. H. Dall, an authority from his extended associations with them, covering with intervals forty years, pays the following deserved tribute:
The men of the Yukon had, like other men, their careers, affections, tragedies, and triumphs. The valley whose rim enclosed their world was as wide for them as our world is for us. It is certain that for their world they had worked out problems which we are still facing with trepidation in ours. No man went hungry in a Yukon village. No youth might wed until he had killed a deer, as token that he could support his family. The trail might be lined with temporary caches, yet no man put out his hand to steal. Men were valued by their achievements and their liberality.
Such were the men of the Yukon, to whom civilization and the greed of gold brought drink, disease, and death. The fittest has survived, but the fittest for what?
What, if anything, does the General Government owe the natives of Alaska, and in what form shall the payment be made? It is a problem great in its moral as well as in its practical aspects. Having largely destroyed their food supplies, altered their environment, and changed their standards and methods of life, what does a nation that has drawn products valued at $300,000,000 owe to the natives of Alaska? Will this nation pay its debts on this account?