AHS Blog

The 1915 Tanana Chiefs Meeting

Date Posted: July 18, 2015       Categories: 49 History

by William Schneider


Group portrait at the first Tanana Chiefs Conference, 1915. Seated front, L to R: Chief Alexander of Tolovana, Chief Thomas of Nenana, Chief Evan of Koschakat, Chief Alexander William of Tanana. Standing at rear, L to R: Chief William of Tanana, Paul Williams of Tanana, and Chief Charlie of Minto. Albert Johnson Photograph Collection, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Group portrait at the first Tanana Chiefs Conference, 1915. Seated front, L to R: Chief Alexander of Tolovana, Chief Thomas of Nenana, Chief Evan of Koschakat, Chief Alexander William of Tanana. Standing at rear, L to R: Chief William of Tanana, Paul Williams of Tanana, and Chief Charlie of Minto. Albert Johnson Photograph Collection, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

One hundred years ago this month (July 5-6, 1915), Native leaders from the Tanana River gathered in Fairbanks to meet with government officials and express their concerns about the impingement of White prospectors and settlers on their hunting grounds. Present at that meeting were representatives from Tanana (or Ft. Gibbon), Crossjacket, Tolovana, Minto, Chena, and Salchaket. Government officials included Judge James Wickersham, Thomas Riggs of the Alaska Engineering Commission, C.W. Richie and H.J. Atwell of the United States Land Office, and the Reverend Guy Madara from the Episcopal Church. (A full list of participants can be found in the transcript of the meeting at the Alaska State Library, ASL-MS-0107-38-001.) This was not the first gathering of Native leaders to express concerns about the impacts caused by the newcomers (1898 Juneau School House Meeting and a 1913 or 14 meeting in Tanana). However, this meeting stands out for several important reasons.


The 1915 Tanana Chiefs meeting is the first public occasion for Interior Natives to discuss their issues in their own words with government officials. Before this meeting, others had spoken for them expressing their understanding of Native conditions and needs. Preceding this historic meeting and earlier in the summer, Judge Wickersham had met with Chief Charlie and Chief Alexander on the lower river and together they made the plan to hold the meeting in Fairbanks and listed some of the leaders to attend. Wickersham arranged the meeting to coincide with the laying of the cornerstone for the University and the Fourth of July celebration. The meeting was recorded by a stenographer; photographs were taken by a professional photographer; there was an article in the newspaper describing the proceedings, and Wickersham reported the proceedings to the Secretary of the Interior in Washington D.C. In these ways, Wickersham insured that this meeting and the concerns of the Native leaders would be heard and preserved for future reference.


The Indian leaders were eager to discuss possible solutions to the problem of protecting their land and way of life. One year earlier, President Wilson had signed the Alaska Railroad Act and the government officials warned that it would be hard to protect Native land rights with the expected development the railroad would bring to the Interior. Wickersham encouraged the leaders to consider the two legal options available to them: Native allotments or reservations. In eloquent terms, the leaders described how both were incompatible with their hunting and fishing life that called for unrestricted access to hunting, fishing, and trapping areas. There were other concerns. The Native leaders called for medical assistance, education, particularly in the form of industrial schools, and they asked to be informed about events affecting their lives and livelihood such as opportunities for wood cutting contracts.


In a very fundamental way, the Native leaders were asking for a relationship with the government and the means to attain rights, opportunities, and control of their affairs in the new realities they were now facing. In just fifteen years they had watched their world change dramatically with the coming of prospectors and the attendant development of the Tanana valley. Ironically, the Indian groups living on the Tanana had traded on the Yukon for many years before the gold rush but had maintained a homeland intact from White settlement. With gold discoveries in the Tanana Valley, development of Fairbanks as a supply center, establishment of the Valdez Trail, steamboat traffic on the Tanana River, and the telegraph line, life changed drastically. Where once the Indians had guided and rescued military explorers, now the Indians were considered unimportant to the development interests of the country. David Jarvis, the Customs Agent at Eagle noted the change to Senator Dillingham’s Senate committee investigating conditions in Alaska in 1903. He sadly noted that after the gold rush, Alaska had become “a white man’s country.”


This is what makes the 1915 meeting so important. Wickersham and the Native leaders who gathered in Fairbanks began a public dialogue about the government’s responsibilities to Native people, a responsibility that went back to the Treaty of Cession in 1867 and has evolved to the present. The chiefs’ meeting reminded the government and the public of that responsibility and the difficulties of addressing Native concerns. Resolution of land claims would take years to resolve but anyone looking back at this meeting can see that it offers all of us a way to assess what has been gained in many areas over the years and that it represents a beginning point in efforts to address Native needs in a multi-cultural world. As Native leaders today attest, there have been gains but there is much work to be done.

100 years of higher education

Date Posted: July 4, 2015       Categories: 49 History

Today, the Fourth of July, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, today known as the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The cornerstone was set absent any formal approval from Congress that there even would be a land-grant institution in Fairbanks. Not until 1917, two years later, did the Alaska Territorial Legislature approve the establishment of the school, and the first students would not enroll until 1922. For more info on the centennial and the celebration to take place at UAF on Monday, July 6, please visit: http://news.uaf.edu/cornerstone_rededication/

004 real HIS-1915-003-031

Alaska students win big at the National History Day Competition

Date Posted: July 4, 2015       Categories: News

Alaska students Clare Howard, Camille Griffith, and Leo McNicholas were awarded the Junior Division Native American History Award at the annual National History Day (NHD) competition, held last month at the University of Maryland.

002 NativeAmericanHistoryAward_2015

Clare, Camille, and Leo, all from Anchorage, won for their documentary entitled Elizabeth Peratovich’s Leadership to Change Native Rights and Her Lasting Legacy in Alaska.


Two entries from Alaska also received the Outstanding Entry Award, which recognizes quality work, well-rounded research, and great student achievement. Kasey Casort of Fairbanks received the award for her website entitled Bayard Rustin: Leading the Fight for Civil Rights. Bailey Buenarte and Sam Michelle Tuazon of Anchorage received the award for their group website on Theodore Roosevelt.


“We are incredibly proud of our students for all of their time and effort they put in to their projects,” said state coordinator Valerie Gomez. “These students have not only deepened their understanding of their chosen topics, but also been energized by learning. This program truly brings history to life for students.”

001 CongressionalDelegation_2015

Twenty-three middle and high school student from around the state represented Alaska at the national competition. Each student developed entries based on the theme Leadership & Legacy in History.


National History Day is a year-long academic organization for elementary and secondary school students that focuses on the teaching and learning of history. More than a half million students across the nation participate each year.


For more information, please contact Valerie Gomez at the National Park Service (907-644-3467; valerie_gomez (at) nps.gov.

Alaska’s Filipino community and the Fourth of July

Date Posted: July 2, 2015       Categories: 49 History

The Fourth of July parade in Juneau has long been a huge event for the Filipino community! The group has often received awards for floats and enthusiastic show of patriotism. Pictured below is a float from 1958.

Caroline Jensen, ASL-P417-123, courtesy Alaska State Library

Caroline Jensen, ASL-P417-123, courtesy Alaska State Library

The Filipino community continues to figure largely in the annual parade. As you can see if the two photo below from the 2014 parade, the Filipino Dance group received 1st Place for Most Patriotic and 1st Place for Best Musical Group.

Courtesy Adele Hamey

Courtesy Adele Hamey

Courtesy Adele Hamey

Courtesy Adele Hamey

Reminder: Anchorage Event—Anchorage Centennial Symposium, June 18-20

Date Posted: June 8, 2015       Categories: News

The Imagining Anchorage Symposium, a four-day event in honor of the founding of Anchorage, will take place June 18-20. It includes a Thursday evening, June 18, reception at the Anchorage Museum for the Mayors of Whitby, England, and Anchorage, Alaska; a series of lectures with international speakers on the subject of Captain James Cook’s Third Voyage on Friday, June 19; and a separate Anchorage Symposium on the city’s past and prospects for the next 100 years on Saturday, June 20. Charles Wohlforth, local author who has written the official centennial publication, From the Shores of Ship Creek, Stories of Anchorage’s First 100 Years, as well as Dr. Sophie Forgan, Chairman of the Trustees, Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby, England, are among the speakers.

CIHS Symposium Poster

(click on poster to see larger version)

If you have not yet registered for the symposium ($85 for Cook Inlet Historical Society members; $95 non-members), the fillable registration form can be found at: http://www.cookinlethistory.org/registration-form.html


Thursday, June 18 through Saturday, June 20

Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street

All Symposium events, except for the John Bagoy Memorial Cemetery Tour, will be held at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, AK  99501.

There is an excellent turnout of former and current Anchorage mayors for the “Coffee with the Mayors” conversation (Saturday, June 20, 10:00 AM-12:00 PM), among many other important centennial events.


Thursday evening:  June 18:

Reception for Mayor Heather Coughlan, Whitby, England–6-7 pm, Anchorage Museum Atrium (with Mayors Sullivan and Berkowitz); by invitation and for all symposium registrants.  Hosted by Mayor Dan Sullivan, Cook Inlet Historical Society and Anchorage Sister Cities Commission.


Followed by lecture from Dr. Sophie Forgan: “James Cook from Whitby”. 7:30 – 9:00 pm, Museum Auditorium, symposium registrants only.


Friday, June 19:  Lectures on Captain Cook’s Third Voyage and his Visit to Alaska (1778):

Anchorage Museum Auditorium (9:00 am to 4:30 pm):

  • Dr. Michelle Hetherington–“James Cook: from the South Seas to the North Pacific”–9.00 – 9.45 AM
  • Dr. David Nicandri–“Intimations of Cook’s Achievements and Mortality that Emerge from his Earlier Voyages–9.45 – 10.30 AM
  • Dr. Aron Crowell–“Imagining Alaska in North Pacific America:  Native Peoples and their Material Culture”–11.00 – 11.45 AM
  • John Robson–“Cook and Vancouver’s Cartographic Contributions to Alaska and the North Pacific”–11.45 – 12.30 PM
  • Robin Inglis–“Imagining Alaska in the North Pacific  – The Visual Record”–2.00 – 2.45 PM
  • Dr. Barry Gough–“Alaska and the Northwest Coast beyond Cook:  Russian, British and American Trade and Encounters”–2.45 – 3.30 PM
  • Dr. Ian MacLaren–“Bones of Empire: Imagining Alaska in the North Pacific and Arctic North America”–3.45 – 4.30 PM


Saturday, June 20, The Anchorage Centennial (1915-2015), Anchorage Museum:

  • Lecture:  Bill Bittner, Esq.–“Growing Up in Anchorage”–9.00 – 10.00 AM
  • Panel Discussion with Mark Begich, Tom Fink, Tony Knowles, Rick Mystrom, Jack Roderick, and Dan Sullivan–“Coffee with the Mayors”–10.00 AM – 12.00 PM
  • Lecture:  Sara Piasecki–“Anchorage in Pictures”–12.00 – 1.30 PM

Also includes:  Buffet Lunch and Book Signing


Two Optional Break Out Panels–1.30 – 3.00 PM

  • Panel One–Panel Discussion with Jim Blasingame, Vic Fisher, Steve Haycox and Aaron Leggett–“Envisioning Early Anchorage:  from Fish Camps to Fourth Avenue”
  • Panel Two–Panel Discussion with Eleanor Andrews, Sherri Buretta, Neil Fried and Archana Mishra–“The 61st Parallel in the 21st Century:  A Modern and Diverse Community”


Lecture:  Mr. Charles Wohlforth–“Searching for the Heart of Anchorage: Reflections on Writing the Centennial History”–3.00 – 4.30 PM


June 21, Sunday night (Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery):

21st ANNUAL SUMMER SOLSTICE TOUR, 7 pm–enter at John Bagoy Gate, 7th and Cordova Streets, Downtown Anchorage

The Symposium is a community-wide event supported by an Anchorage Centennial Community Grant awarded by the Municipality of Anchorage’s Anchorage Centennial Commission and the Alaska Humanities Forum, with major funding support from the Municipality of Anchorage and the Rasmuson Foundation.  Other support is provided by the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Hotel Captain Cook, Odom Corporation, and from private donors.