Ever since the white man came to Alaska, the indigenous wildlife has suffered. Their habitat has been plundered and taken away from them and if that isn’t bad enough they are shot, trapped or caught for sport. But when their numbers get seriously depleted they are protected as an endangered species. And today there are a handful of people like Steve Kroschell who care and try to make a difference (see previous blog)
Sadly it is not just the indigenous wildlife that has suffered at the hands of the settlers. The indigenous people have also had their habitat plundered and taken away from them, and they too have been abused and slaughtered. Maybe a few people care but there is no Steve Kroschell speaking out for the people, giving the injured and the orphaned a home.
Alaska is a beautiful but inhospitable land. For a town to prosper, it needs to be by the ocean as this provides a more temperate climate as well as plentiful fish. And in order to catch the fish, there needs to be a natural harbor
The settlers realised all of this and built their charming little townships on the water’s edge in protected inlets. Wrangell, is a perfect example of this and is one of our favourite little towns
Haines is another town where the settlers built themselves charming little houses on charming little streets
Then they built a road out of town into the inhospitable hinterland
Next they rounded up all the indigenous people and moved them to a village many miles down the road and a lifestyle away from the ocean, but on the banks of a river.
Their little settlement does not look like Haines or Wrangell
This is the village of Klukwan, home to the Chilkat tribe. Their little houses do not look like the townsfolk’s houses.
The only fishing they have is in the river, and even this is regulated, allowing them to catch only 250 salmon a year.
But chasing the indigenous tribes out of town wasn’t enough. The settlers wanted to change them, to make them into their likeness. They wanted them to worship their God and to talk their language. They forcibly took the children away from their families and sent them to American schools. There they had their culture and their language literally and figuratively beaten out of them. The children were physically and mentally abused, often raped and discarded.
They were shipped back to their villages and left to get on with their life. No longer able to speak the language or understand the life, they found it difficult to integrate.
But they continued to have children. So a new policy was introduced.
This time it was the women who were forcibly taken and then, unbelievably, they were sterilized. An incredibly barbaric act that only ceased thirty years ago
Today they are understandably a broken people. Many have no work. Their only livelihood is fishing and that is regulated. They can only afford to eat what they catch, barter, grow or forage.
Many of them turn to drink and drugs to help them get through each day. And the parenting they learned at school is used on their own children.
And the white people wonder why.
And now the final indignity. Sulfide has been discovered in the mountains. Sulfide mines are planned and these mines will poison the rivers, kill the fish and destroy the indigenous culture.
A culture that brings us canoes like this, carved out of one enormous log
A culture that gives us tribal meeting houses or ‘long houses” like this, built without the use of nails and decorated with totem poles
A culture that gives us petroglyphs carved many centuries ago and found discarded on the beach
There are lawsuits to stop the mining.
And who will win?
Big industry with their billions of dollars?
Or the tribal offices with nothing but a sign and a little hope?