Story last updated at 4/10/2013 - 6:20 pm
Writing about Native villages is a perilous task for me. The Elders who started Hydaburg are no longer with us. And the memories of the descendents often do not include many of the things that I want to know. Why did the people decide to start what was said to be one of the most progressive Native villages at that time and not stay in their traditional villages? I had to rely on what the "white man" wrote at the time.
On the lower part of Prince of Wales Island and its western islands, the Haidas moved from the Queen Charlotte Islands before recorded time and occupied several villages. By around 1910, the major villages were Klinquan and Howkan. Other villages were at Kaigani, Koianglas, and Sukkwan on the northern tip of Sukkwan Island. These three were always smaller and few, if any, Haidas lived at the places by 1910 when the new village started.
After the purchase of Alaska, the U.S. Government provided services, as did the missionaries: Both encouraged education and other "white-man ways." EuroAmericans soon arrived at the villages. The Millar family started salmon salteries in both Klakas Inlet and Hunter Bay but lived in Klinkwan in the 1880s. At that village and Howkan, there were stores. Freight and mail was delivered at least every month. At Howkan, the Northwest Trading Company established a post in 1881. It later moved to nearby American Bay because of the deep water and protected anchorage.
By 1910, the villagers were troubled about their lifestyle. The families left their villages to earn money each year. Many worked at the Hunter Bay cannery and at the mild-cure salting station at Howkan. Many traveled north to Klawock and Shakan to work in the canneries. Many fished. Generally this migration began in January and all the people were gone by April: they began to return in October.
The villagers depended on earnings to make ends meet.
Then companies put in fish traps: canneries no longer depended upon the fish caught by Natives in seines. The shortage in wages and the uncomfortable way families lived away from home during the fishing season produced a strong group in favor of one town to unite the Haida villages. They could live there year-round and earn a livelihood. A deep-water port would make it possible to moor fishing boats.
Another advantage was bigger and better schools. The Indian Service had procrastinated because it wanted a centralized school system instead of continuing to provide teachers and schools for each village.
Representatives of the various villages and from the Indian Service in 1910 decided on a new site that became today's Hydaburg. The U.S. Forest Service made the official town site survey Sept. 24 to Oct. 2 in 1912. The site is located across Sukkwan Strait from the Old Sukkwan village site. Floyd Frank told me in 1968 that his grandfather was one of those who helped in the site selection. He remembers his grandfather telling him some of men really liked the site because it had a nice flat in front of town that would make a good baseball field at low tide.
Some of the younger, more progressive Haidas began the move in 1911. By December there were about 140 people at the new town. C. W. Hawesworth, of the Bureau of Indian Service came to live in Hydaburg that year. He had been the superintendent for the reindeer in Point Barrow. At his new posting, he helped the residents establish a local government with articles of incorporation and a set of officers, all Natives except one, probably Hawkesworth. This local government had to be redone after Alaska became a U.S. territory. Hydaburg organized a semi-municipal organization under new laws in November of 1915.
The first local government may have been necessary for the Hydaburg residents to incorporate a trading company and establish a store with regular business hours. The capital obtained from the Natives was $2,100, enough to start. New houses were going up in January 1912. In spite of efforts by the older chiefs to keep the tribal customs, most inhabitants insisted on imitating the ways of the white men. There were several non-traditional houses and buildings in the original villages, but especially in Klinkwan and Howkan. Thus, the people were accustomed to frame buildings.
One of the necessities was lumber. A sawmill was erected and began cutting in April 1912. At that time the mill consisted of only a boiler, an engine, and a circular saw. Hawkesworth stayed to help with the sawmill operation. He went on in 1916 to be in charge of the Alaska Bureau of Education for Southeast. He was with the Alaska Division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1931.
The community received a post office on May 16, 1912, with Hawkesworth as the postmaster. This was said to be the first post office established in a purely Native village in Southeast Alaska.
By November 1912, there were 250 people with 38 in school. The Juneau paper reported the school attendance was the largest percentage (15 percent) of any Indian village in Southeast Alaska. The school, however, was in temporary quarters. Once it was clear that the village was a success, a new permanent government school building was constructed.
As for the cooperative store, it was a success. In December 1912 after a year of operation, a meeting was held of the stakeholders. Each member received a 50 percent dividend from the profits. By December 1913 there were 150 shareholders. A government official visited and inspected the accounting books. The store and sawmill, under the management of James Edenso, were still making money, and a dividend was declared: 20 percent on "stock" and 20 percent on purchases made by community members. The store continued for a number of years.
By August 1913, there were 300 people living in Hydaburg. A few people still lived in the original villages until finally the places were abandoned. All five of the village sites were selected by Sealaska as Native Heritage Sites.
It wasn't until 1915, that the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions received permission by the Department of Interior to occupy two lots for a church and a minister's residence. There were always plans for a cannery, but it wasn't until the mid-1920s that one came to Hydaburg.
After these first five years, many events took place at Hydaburg. Today it is a bustling small community. In 2012, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development's Research and Analysis Section estimated Hydaburg added eight percent to its population.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at email@example.com.