Changes Affecting Native Communities: 1917-1941
excerts of

A History of Prince William Sound, Alaska


The Sound's Native Population:

Events of the period affected the distribution of the Sound's Native population. Disease, especially influenza and tuberculosis, struck Native peoples especially hard. The Native villages of Kiniklik and Nuchek were abandoned. With the closing of the mine at Ellamar in 1929, the nearby Native village of Tatitlek experienced a loss of population from 187 to 75. Chenega maintained a population of around 110 during this period becoming the Sound's largest Native village. The canneries in Cordova and Valdez acted as magnets to Natives seeking a livelihood. The Native population of Valdez more than doubled between 1930 and 1939 and around 350 Natives lived in or near Cordova.

Alaska's Native peoples continued to be economically and socially disadvantaged with little help from the territorial and federal governments. For example, in 1924, the Territorial government spent approximately $280 per white and nothing on Natives while the federal government spent $380 per white Alaskan and only $190 per Native. In the same year, the Bureau of Fisheries prohibited stake-net fishing in the Copper River Delta, which affected far more Indians than whites.

The year, 1925, marked the final demise of two of the oldest Native villages in Prince William Sound-Nuchek and Kiniklik. The two sites, which were managed by the Bureau of Education, were transferred to the Chugach National Forest for possible commercial development. A small family fish plant operated at Kiniklik for several years after the transfer. The Native chief and his family who were living at Nuchek were relocated to Cordova which was fast becoming the Sound's most populous Native center.

After the mines closed at Ellamar and Latouche, fishing, fox farming and cannery work provided the main source of Native employment. A fur farm operated at Chenega during the late 1930s. Native fishermen also supplied fish for canneries around the Sound. Birket Smith describes how during the thirties the Chenega people moved to a summer camp in Port Wells to fish for the canneries. "On May 1 after school teaching discontinued, the inhabitants except some of the women and children together with most of the dogs move to Port Wells where they live in (white man's) tents with wooden floors, which are left from one season to another. Here they fish salmon for the canneries until August 2, when the season closes." Presumably, the Natives were fishing the red salmon run at Coghill.

Russian Orthodox Church & Native Brotherhood:

The Russian Orthodox Church continued to look after the welfare of the area's Natives. When Rev. Kashevaroff became the head of the Russian Greek Church in Alaska and moved to Juneau, he continued to visit the Sound. On his 1923 visit to Cordova, Native elders requested that a new church be built on the Eyak Russian Reservation near Eyak Lake and that a regular priest be assigned to Cordova. A committee was formed with Chief Makar Chumevisky as chairman. Fred Allen of Eyak was treasurer and Michilos Michiloff, the secretary. In 1925, Rev. Kashevaroff appointed Russian born, Tikhon Lavrischeff, priest for Prince William Sound. Lavrischeff chose Cordova for his headquarters because "Cordova has a central position in Prince William Sound, is a healthy place, the Native can get jobs here all year round and Cordova is a town of the future." Morning and evening services were held three days at week at the Episcopal Church's Red Dragon. After returning from a visit to Tatitlek and Chenega, Lavrischeff praised the Sound's Natives for leading a "clean and sober life." He praised the Native Brotherhood for their work. "Natives are receiving much help from brotherhoods . .. Each member pays $3 per annum and from this money the brotherhood gives support to poor members during sickness, helps with burials and with the care of mothers and newborn children. Loans are also made from the funds. The brotherhoods are likewise a valuable means of developing social life and cooperation in work." (Cordova Times, May 6, 1925).

In 1925, the Episcopal church established a Native hospital at Cordova. A new Russian Orthodox church was built at the old Native/Russian site on Eyak Lake. Church fixtures from Nuchek were moved to this new church.

The Tatitlek School Photograph. The Russian Orthodox Church established the first schools for children in Prince William Sound. The Russian Revolution eliminated funding from Russia which created a gap in funding for native education. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art. B62.1.799.

Native Education:

Because of the prejudices of the period, Native children were not allowed to attend locally controlled white schools. Children "of mixed blood" who were "civilized" were required to attend local schools. Since local schools were better than the federally operated Native schools, many Native parents attempted to enroll their children while local communities attempted to exclude them as "uncivilized." Thus Aleut, Eskimo, and Indian students and "uncivilized children of mixed blood" were required to attend federal schools. The Alaska School Bulletin provided local schools with guidelines for excluding creole children. Grounds for denial of admission included having infectious or communicable diseases, possessing vicious or immoral habits, being habitually unclean in person or dress, or having parents who refused to make them conform. A more general guideline gave school boards even more discretion: children could be excluded by the vague criterion that their "presence is detrimental to the best interests of the school."

Because about 50 Native children lived in the Cordova area, a school for Native children was established there. Mrs. Marie Frantzen continued to teach at Tatitlek and Rev. Lavrischeff and the elders continued to work for a school at Chenega. Following a trip to Chenega in May 1925, Lavrischeff told the Cordova Times: "Absence of a school there [at Chenega] . . . is my only cause for sorrow. There are about sixteen children of school age and twice as many adults all desirous of learning English. They say that if they have a school they will all enlist and pay for special evening courses. The Chenega people need a school and are deserving of one. They are very industrious and clean and will take advantage of all the opportunities offered by such a school." Through the efforts of Lavrischeff and the elders, the Bureau of Education for Alaska Natives finally reopened a school at Chenega.

The U.S. Office of Indian Affairs assumed responsibility for Native education in 1931. The curriculum in Native schools differed from locally controlled white schools emphasizing instruction in basic English, vocational crafts, and hygiene. No attempt was made to provide a culturally relevant curriculum or to give village elders and parents a role in curriculum development. Bright students were "creamed off" and sent to boarding schools in Wrangell (later to Sikta) or elsewhere in the continental United States for more advanced vocational education.


Many of the Sound's Natives continued to live a subsistence life-style. A 1925 issue of the Cordova Times quotes the school teacher at Tatitlek: "the natives are now making bidarkas, bows and arrows and are preparing for their summer's activities-fishing and hunting bears and sea gull eggs. By June 1, the tiny settlement will be entirely deserted."

The law recognized the dependence of some Native peoples on game for subsistence; however, it began to take into account the increasing number of Natives who had "severed their tribal relations and exercised the right of franchise." Whereas, before 1925, all Natives were allowed to take game at any time, the new law stipulated that Natives living in a civilized state would be subject to the same hunting and trapping closures and licenses as whites. Natives not living in a civilized state would continue to be allowed to take game at any time.

Literacy Act:

In 1925, an important and controversial bill affecting Natives passed the territorial legislature-the Alaska Literacy Act of 1925. The act stipulated that to vote in territorial elections, the voter had to pass a literacy test. Delegate, Tony Dimond, argued that literacy was a necessary precondition for anyone participating in the democratic process regardless of race.

Many believed the intent of the Act was to keep Alaskan Natives from voting- and indeed for many this was true. After Native attorney, W.L. Paul, was elected to the Alaska legislature in SE Alaska, the possibility that Natives throughout the territory might vote stirred many fears among the white population. The editor of the Cordova Times, expressed these fears when he pointed out that while there were only 8-9000 whites eligible to vote in the territory, there were 15-17000 potential Native voters. He elaborates these concerns in a second editorial:

White people will not come to Alaska and develop the country if the country is going to be run through the mass voting of the Indians. We must have a white man's government or white men will not invest money in the North.. . . They will not come and be governed by the Indians who are organized to protect "the ancient rights of the Indians" and who are educated by designing politicians and sentimentalists to believe that the fish in the sea and the lands on which some remote ancestor at sometime or another had lived for a time belong to them and that these white people who build traps or take up fox islands are trespassers. (12/26/24)

Others, observing that Paul was asking for equal treatment of whites and Natives, were fearful that the territory's funds would be inadequate to cover the expense of including the Native population. Paul argued that the territory's old age and mothers' pensions which did not apply to Natives should be amended to include them. Local white opinion, as expressed by the Cordova Times, was incensed by the idea. Not surprisingly, the legislature refused to extend coverage.

Paul also stirred the ire of the "fish trust" which joined the battle for the Literacy Act's passage. Paul argued for a heavy nonresident fee on fishermen and opposed fish traps.

The final legislation included an amendment allowing Natives who had voted in previous elections to retain their voting privileges. How much the Literacy Act prevented or discouraged the Sound's Natives from voting or participating in the political process is difficult to determine, because accurate voting records were not maintained.