Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reassessing the Native history of Metlakatla

I recently came across an online version of an essay that caught my attention by Mique’l Askren, a graduate student working toward her Ph.D. in Art History at University of British Columbia. Mique’l (pronounced my-key-el) Askren is Tsimshian and Tlingit from Metlakatla, Alaska, and I recently met her at SHI’s Celebration 2010 where we discussed her research. In addition to her scholarly work, she is a member of Git Hayetsk Dancers, an internationally renowned Northwest Coast dance group based out of Vancouver, BC.

In regards to the essay she recently composed, entitled "Bringing our History into Focus: Re-Developing the Work of B.A. Haldane, 19th Century Tsimshian Photographer," she discusses the problems with the colonial narrative of Metlakatla’s Native history. By using photographs taken by Tsimshian photographer Benjamin Alfred Haldane (1874-1941) and other sources, she offers a new perspective on Metlakatla’s past. She shows how Tsimshian at Metlakatla did not abandon their cultural values and practices for Christianity after moving to Metlakatla in 1887, but retained them, and even held cultural celebrations against rules of the religious community. Overall, it’s great to see scholarship that makes use of archival resources and challenges current perceptions of Native history. To read the article you can click here.

Image shown below is a view of Metlakatla circa 1895, SHI Special Collections.