Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Yakutat Photographs by Japanese National Seiki Kayamori Received by Sealaska Heritage Institute

In 1912 thirty-five year old Japanese national Seiki Kayamori arrived in Yakutat, Alaska to work at the local salmon cannery. He joined a crew of Japanese, Filipino, and Tlingit workers already employed in the Yakutat cannery. Kayamori, however, was an amateur photographer, and spent the next thirty years photographing the people, community life, and environment around Yakutat, and his surviving photographs provide an intimate glimpse into the environment and life of those in Yakutat between 1912 and 1941.

In 2012, a century after Kayamori arrived in Yakutat, Sealaska Heritage Institute received 28 photographs taken by Kayamori, a donation by Yakutat born-resident and Tlingit leader Byron Mallott on behalf of the community of Yakutat. These 28 photographs were recently discovered in Yakutat and have now been scanned and placed online [click here]. Sealaska Heritage Institute is interested in engaging the public to assist in photograph identification and study.

The bulk of Kayamori’s photographs were obtained by the Alaska State Library in 1976, amounting to 694 images. The State Library’s collection of Kayamori photographs (PCA 55) has been studied with great interest, and some of the Kayamori images have been placed online via Alaska’s Digital Archives. The photographs and life of Kayamori will continue to capture the interest of educators for generations to come, especially on account of Kayamori’s unfortunate death. The below text provides a slightly more detailed biographical sketch of Kayamori and suggestions for further study. Sealaska Heritage Institute is pleased to make this collection open to the public for research and educational purposes.

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.

Photo credit: Tlingit logging crew near Yakutat, circa 1930.

Biographical Sketch of Seiki Kayamori (1877-1941)

Seiki Kayamori (1877-1941) was born in 1877 in what was then the village of Dembo, today part of Fuji City in central Japan. He was the fifth of eight children; the second of four sons. The wealthy and prominent Kayamori family owned a paper mill, farm lands and a small department store. Under Japan’s conscription law, Kayamori likely served a three-year military term. The law also required an additional three-year term in the reserves. In 1903, Japan was on the brink of war with Russia, and reservists like Kayamori waited to be called back to duty.

In September 1903, Kayamori turned 26 aboard the steamer Iyo Maru during the voyage from Yokohama to Seattle. He arrived with $87.10 and a steamer ticket for San Francisco, according to the ship’s manifest, which lists his last residence as Tokyo and his occupation as “laborer and farmer”. The ship's manifest lists his destination as the Japanese Methodist Mission on Pine Street.

By 1910, Kayamori was living in Seattle's Welcome Hotel and working as a “cleaner and passer” at a dye works, according to census records. Around 1912, he moved to Yakutat, a small Tlingit village in southeast Alaska, where he worked in the Libby, McNeil & Libby fish cannery. Racist attitudes and active unions at the time ensured that the jobs available to Japanese immigrants on the West Coast were largely limited to agricultural, railroad, laundry and cannery work. After his father’s death, Kayamori’s mother went to live with her grandson’s family in Manchuria, then a Japanese colony. According to family members, Kayamori sent letters, money, pictures, toys and once a whole salmon packed in salt.

In Yakutat, children just called Kayamori “Picture Man”. For thirty years, he photographed celebrations, ceremonies, remnants of traditional Tlingit culture, and the growing influences of white society. Kayamori had a box camera with a hood, and a darkroom in his small house near the cannery on Monti Bay.

Yakutat’s exposed Pacific coastline made it vulnerable and U.S. military forces began to fortify the area as World War II escalated. Soldiers warned Yakutat residents to prepare for an attack. In October 1940, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sent a letter to the bureau’s Juneau agent requesting the names of “persons who should be considered for custodial detention pending investigation in the event of a national emergency.” The reply included the name S. Kayamori and a description: “Is reported to be an enthusiastic photographer and to have panoramic views of the Alaskan coast line [sic] from Yakutat to Cape Spencer.”

A day before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hoover wrote to the War Department’s military intelligence division requesting information on a number of individuals. Under Kayamori’s name the reply noted: “Reported on suspect list, Alaska.” After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, soldiers reportedly beat up Kayamori, a 64-year-old, 5-foot-3 photographer, according to a town resident. Locals say Kayamori knew he would soon be arrested. On December 9, he committed suicide in his home.

Under cause of death, his death certificate asks “Drug?” The doctor who responded to Kayamori’s death later wrote that he found evidence of an attempt to burn some documents. Locals say soldiers buried Kayamori across the bay, a site that was later paved for a naval ramp.

-          India Spartz and Ron Inouye, "Fhoki Kayamori: Amateur Photographer of Yakutat, 1912-41," Alaska History 6, no. 2 (Fall 1991).
-, accessed October 2, 2012.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Series will focus on Native art

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a noon lecture series to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November.

The brown-bag lunch series will focus on Native art, said SHI Arts Director Rico Worl. The institute has expanded its art program in recent years to assist artists and to teach the public about Native art, said Worl, adding the lecture series is open to anyone who is interested in the topic.

“The decision to make a more focused effort on arts is to improve the opportunities for artists but also to educate the public—to develop a greater cross-cultural understanding,” Worl said.

The lectures, sponsored by ConocoPhillips Alaska, will be held from 12-1 pm in the 4th floor boardroom at Sealaska Plaza in Juneau. Attendees are invited to bring their own lunches.

12-1 pm, Sealaska Plaza, 4th Floor Boardroom (bring your own lunch)
Tuesday, Nov. 13
On the Origins and Diversity of Northern Northwest Coast Headgear
Steve Henrikson
Curator of Collections, Alaska State Museum
The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people are renowned for the spectacular hats and headdresses used by clan leaders, warriors and shamans. With a focus on art history, this presentation will review what is known or surmised about many types and styles of headgear, with an emphasis on some of the earliest hats, the more unusual forms, and those imported from neighboring Native groups.

Tuesday, Nov. 20
Basketry and Alaska Native Art Revival
Delores Churchill
Haida master weaver and artist
This presentation will discussed the revival of Native art during the late twentieth century in communities like Ketchikan and the impact these activities have had for Southeast Alaska Native arts today. The discussion will also focus on Churchill’s own artistic experience as a master weaver

Tuesday, Nov. 27
Three Hundred Years of Tlingit Art
Aldona Jonaitis, Ph.D.
Emeritus Director, Museum of the North
This presentation will overview the history of Tlingit artworks made in the eighteenth century to those created in the twenty-first century. Special attention will be devoted to artist elements that have been consistent over these centuries, and those that have changed.

Sealaska Heritage Institute was 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.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Missionary’s Words from the Past & Tlingit Language

Today many Native American and Alaska Native cultures work to combat language fluency loss and revitalize language use, seeking to overcome a complex past where U.S. federal Indian policies and laws fostered programs of language eradication. Often attacks on indigenous languages and cultures were carried out against tribal youth in classrooms, in boarding schools away from their families, or in day schools operated by Christian missionary educators. It is important to note that in many instances Native Americans and Alaska Natives intervened when schools abused their children or attacked their cultures and languages, but the wide ranging application of polices and laws made it difficult to avoid and combat all of the many aspects of language and cultural eradication programs.

Recently I came across a published memoir of a missionary couple, Charles and May Replogle, who operated a day school for Alaska Native youth in Douglas, Alaska during the 1890s. Their memoir, entitled Among the Indians of Alaska, published in 1904, contains wording about their efforts to stop the use of indigenous language of tribal youth in the classroom. Their words, when read today, sound very harsh and are troubling for many Alaska Natives seeking to learn their respective languages, but it is important to acknowledge the practices of the past and what indigenous communities have overcome. Although additional forms of punishment occurred, Charles Replogle’s words on page 95 from his chapter “Training the Children” give context to what children faced in boarding and day schools in Southeast Alaska.

“In order, that the children might the more rapidly acquire the English language, they were expected to speak nothing but English in the home [school]. Of course, this was hard for many of them who only knew two or three words, knowing none at all when they came, and naturally they would among themselves talk Indian. This made their pronunciation of English very bad, and interfered with their construction of sentences; so we required them to speak nothing but English except by permission; but they often would get into the washroom or in the wood shed, and having set a watch, they would indulge in a good Indian talk. A few cases of this kind, and we applied a heroic remedy to stop it. We obtained a bottle of myrrh and capsicum: myrrh is bitter as gall and capsicum hot like fire. We prepared a little sponge; saturated it with this solution, and everyone that talked Indian had his mouth washed to take away the taint of the Indian language! One application usually was sufficient; but one or two cases had to receive a second application. From that time on, progress in their studies was almost doubly rapid, for they dared not talk their own language.” C. Replogle, 1904.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute and other organizations are committed to advancing language learning. Sealaska Heritage Institute hosts language learning courses, develops language curriculum, and works with language on many fronts. 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.

Photo credit: Image of Charles and Mary Replogle from Among the Indians of Alaska and cover page of their book.