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Sitka Alaska Tribe Seal | by Native American Seals/Logos
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Sitka Alaska Tribe Seal



Sitka is located on the west coast of Baranof Island, fronting the Pacific Ocean on Sitka Sound, in southeast Alaska. It is 95 miles southwest of Juneau and 185 miles northwest of Ketchikan.




The climate of Sitka is maritime, with relatively warm winters, cool summers, and heavy precipitation. January temperatures range from 23°F to 35°F; summer temperatures vary from 48°F to 61°F. Average annual precipitation is 94 inches.




Now primarily a non-native community, Sitka is also home to Tlingit and Haida Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts. Russian and native influences, arts, and artifacts remain a part of the local culture. Sitka was originally inhabited by a major tribe of Tlingit Indians, who called the village Shee Atika. The site was named New Archangel in 1799, as the capital of Russian America. During the mid-1800s, Sitka was the major port on the North Pacific coast, with ships coming from many nations. Furs destined for European and Asian markets were the main export, but fish, lumber, and ice were also exported to Hawaii, Mexico, and California. After the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, Sitka remained the capital of the territory until 1906, when the seat of government was moved to Juneau.


A Presbyterian missionary, Sheldon Jackson, started a school in the village, and in 1878 one of the first canneries in Alaska was built in Sitka. In the early 1900s, gold mines also contributed to its growth. During World War II, the town was fortified, and the U.S. Navy built an air base on Japonski Island, across the harbor. After the war, the Bureau of Indian Affairs converted some of the buildings to be used as a boarding school for Alaska native children. The U.S. Coast Guard now maintains the air station and other facilities on the island. A large pulp mill began operations in 1957.


ATHABASCAN INDIANS (ATHABASKAN) - There are eleven Athabascan-speaking groups in Alaska: the Tanaina (Dena’ina), Ingalik (Deg Het’an), Holikachuk, Koyukon, Tanana, Kutchin (Gwich’in), Han, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Ahtna, and Upper Kuskokwim. They occupy vast areas of the interior of the state, stretching from Cook Inlet in the south to above the Arctic Circle in the north, and from the Canadian border in the east almost to the Bering Sea in the west. The Eyak Indians of Prince William Sound, now extinct as a people, were similar in culture to the Alaskan Athabascan groups, although the Eyak language was only very distantly related to the Athabascan languages.


While there are cultural differences among the different groups, their languages are closely related, and all share a subsistence-based way of life. In addition, all but those people living along the lower Yukon River are matrilineal; descent is determined through the mother, and tribal members belong to the clan of their mother, which in turn belongs to one of two divisions of Athabascan society called moieties. Tribal ceremonies such as the potlatch and stick dance, both associated with funerals, continue to be an important part of Athabascan life. There are approximately 13,700 Athabascan people living in Alaska today.


SOUTHEAST ALASKAN INDIANS - The Indians of the Alaska "panhandle" live in an archipelago of heavily forested islands and the coastal area of the mainland, with deep fjords interspersed with glaciers. The Tlingit Indians are the most numerous of the southeast peoples, with a population of approximately 20,000; there are about 1,800 Haida Indian people; and there are about 2,400 Tsimshian Indians.


All three peoples belong to the Northwest Coast culture area, characterized by the use of clan houses with elaborately carved crests and house posts with carvings of important clan animals ("totem poles") and the institution of the potlatch, complex public ceremonies in which vast amounts of goods were given away or destroyed. The Tsimshian of Metlakatla, while from a similar cultural background, were a Christian settlement founded by immigrants from Canada in the mid-19th century. Today all three groups depend on fishing and logging for their economic survival; some of the traditional ways of life are still practiced.


TLINGIT - In the eighteenth century the Tlingit occupied nearly all of what is today southeastern Alaska, portions of northern British Columbia, and part of the Yukon Territory of Canada. Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, some Haida migrated into southeastern Alaska and their descendants remain neighbors to the Tlingit. The Tlingit language is unique but shows some grammatical relationship to Athabaskan languages.


Traditionally, the Tlingit were a matrilineal society and according to the earliest explorers, women were frequently in charge of trading expeditions. Today, most members still recognize the principle of matrilineal succession. They had developed some highly sophisticated art forms, particularly in the areas of woodcarving and the weaving of blankets and robes. Today, Tlingit art forms a major portion of Northwest Coast collections in museums around the world.


HAIDA - The Alaska Haida were located in the traditional villages of Howkan, Koinglas, Klinquan, Sukkwan, and Kasaan; most of the people of these villages relocated to the villages of Hydaburg and Craig as well Ketchikan, Seattle and other urban centers. Today, Kasaan has a sparse Haida population. Hydaburg is the last organized Haida community in Alaska.


In the 1700s, the Haida traveled to Prince of Wales Island from British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands. The Haida erected their own clan houses and totem poles. By the early 1800s, the Haida were doing a booming business providing otter pelts for foreign fur traders.


Haida were known for their intrepid seafaring in some of the world’s most perilous seas.


TSIMSHIAN - The Tsimshian people of Alaska came from British Columbia where they lived in villages known as Port Simpson, (old) Metlakatla, and Ckain. In the mid-eighteen hundreds William Duncan, a missionary sent by the Church of England, lived with the Tsimshian people and established a Christian community. He taught the people the Bible, how to weave and make clothing and other known trades. In addition, Duncan successfully negotiated with President Grover Cleveland for the entire 86,000-acre Annette Island which is where the Tsimshian permanently settled. Today the only Indian reservation in Southeast Alaska, Annette Island and its only town of Metlakatla is governed by a mayor and 12-member council.




Sitka was incorporated under Alaska law as a unified home-rule municipality in 1971, with a unified city and borough government . It also has an Indian Reorganization Act village council, headed by a chairman. Shareholders in the village corporation also hold shares in Sealaska Corporation regional native corporation.

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Taken on February 5, 2008