Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Origins of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, 1914

In 2008 Kim Metcalfe’s book In Sisterhood: The History of Camp 2 of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the first book-length publication about the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), noted the dearth of study on the ANS. Metcalfe argued that Philip Drucker’s 1958 The Native Brotherhoods: Modern Intertribal Organizations on the Northwest Coast was one of the lone publications with information about ANS, but Drucker’s research was incomplete in regards to the founding of ANS. Although little published information is available on the founding of ANS, newly located sources are helping remedy this void in the historiography.
On two different occasions Josephine Ukas (1879-1977), of the Wrangell Teeyhittaan Clan, spoke about the organization of the first ANS Camp, Wrangell Camp 1, in 1914. As one of the women present at the organization, and installed as the Camp’s secretary, her words help us understand aspects of ANS’s organization. In the July 1962 issue of the Voice of Brotherhood (cover shown below), she reported about the founding of the first ANS camp. She stated;
“I have been asked many times to tell just how Alaska Native Sisterhood was first started. I am the only one living now to tell the story. My mind goes back to 1913. In the fall of 1914 in September or October about 8 of us met at Mrs. Louisa Bradley's home. We asked Judge William Thomas to help us organize. He told us we needed a book of rules and the following women were elected to office. President, Mrs. Eva Blake; Vice Pres., Louise Bradley; Secretary, Mrs. Jo Ukas. We had to have a name. Our first choice was Alaska Daughters, Home Leaguers, and North Star. George Blake said, "Why don't you pick Alaska Native Sisterhood, then it will be an auxiliary to an organization already organized in Wrangell." So the Alaska Native Sisterhood was being born to give a helping hand to our brothers the "Brotherhood."
Additionally, in 2011 Josephine Ukas’s granddaughter, Ethel Lund, donated a collection of recordings concerning Josephine’s family, which also contains one recording of Josephine speaking about the origins of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. This collection, the Thomas and Harry Ukas Family Recordings Collection, and this 1962 Voice of Brotherhood article help answer important questions about the origins of one of Alaska’s most important Native organizations, the Alaska Native Sisterhood.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

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