Sealaska Heritage Institute
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has published a book documenting the historic and decades-long battle to protect Juneau’s Indian Point, considered to be a sacred site to Native people.
The book, National Recognition of the Traditional Cultural Significance of X'unáx̱i (Indian Point), traces the saga that began in 1959 with a proposal to develop the site and culminated in 2016, when Sealaska Heritage Institute prevailed in an effort to list it in the National Register of Historic Places, making it the first traditional cultural property in Southeast Alaska to be placed on the register.
The case offers a clear lesson that can be learned or affirmed: that we as Native Americans view the protection of our sacred sites as essential, and we will avail ourselves of every mechanism to shelter them, said Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl, Ph.D.
“We are not apologetic that our cultural beliefs may conflict with Western values or stand in the way of progress or the construction of a new facility. Our cultural values must be interpreted and applied on their own merit and not defined or structured in the context of national laws or needs,” she said.
The book is an anthology of three papers titled Indian Point Not for Sale; Or, Reflections on Indian Point; Anatomy of a Traditional Cultural Property: The Saga of Auke Cape; and The Long Journey from a Cultural Landscape to a Traditional Cultural Property: The Story of X'unáxi penned by Worl; Thomas F. Thornton, Ph.D.; and Charles W. Smythe, Ph.D. respectively. Worl and Thornton’s papers were previously published by the George Wright Forum and reprinted with permission.
The book was published through Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Box of Knowledge series, which was founded to encourage scholarship on Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures; to disseminate papers and research more widely; and to circulate work that has not been published. People interested in publishing through the series should contact Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Senior Ethnologist Chuck Smythe at email@example.com or 907.586.9282.
The book is available at the Sealaska Heritage Store.
Contention over the area began in 1959, when the National Park Service sought to acquire the western portion of Indian Point for use as an administrative headquarters. The local camps of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) and people from the Áak’w Kwáan objected to the proposed transfer, and their protests ultimately resulted in a provision guaranteeing that their customary use of herring camps located in Herring Cove would not be affected or impaired by the land reservation.
In 1968, the state transferred the southern half of Indian Point to the city of Juneau, which proposed to subdivide the property for residential housing. Once again, the Native community mobilized in protest and asked the city to reclassify the area for public use to ensure their continued access to the area for harvesting herring eggs and other fish. It was the first political issue Worl fought after the Alaska Native Sisterhood kookéínaa (sash) of her mother, Bessie Quinto, was transferred to her after Quinto’s death in the 1960s.
“My mother was politically active in civil rights and salmon cannery unions seeking equal pay for Natives and improving working and living conditions. She taught me that Indian Point was an Áak’w sacred site,” said Worl, who at that time testified against the proposal, which was widely publicized by the Tundra Times.
In 1969, the Native community and local recreationists forcefully objected to the proposal to subdivide, and their protest paid off when the city assembly passed an ordinance reclassifying the area as “recreation land to be used in its natural state [that] shall be kept open and clear.”
The issue arose again in 1992, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed to build a large facility at Indian Point, sparking a contentious battle that would last for six years. At one point, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offered $1 million if the Native community would drop their opposition. The clan leader of the Áak’w, Rosa Miller, adamantly opposed the destruction and desecration of their sacred site and the Áak’w immediately rejected the offer. The Áak’w Indians were supported by the Native community, and Sealaska Corporation was prepared to go to court to defend the site. That battle ended in 1998, when the federal agencies selected a different location outside of Indian Point.
Around that time, Dr. Thomas F. Thornton, on behalf of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, completed a report titled “Traditional Cultural Property Investigation for Auke Cape, Alaska,” which found the property was eligible for listing in the National Register.
In his paper, Dr. Charles W. Smythe describes the decades-long and sometimes arduous task of applying to list the site on the National Register. Sealaska Heritage first applied to list it in 2002, triggering a lengthy process through which all levels of government scrutinized the application, which was eventually re-written and approved by the National Park Service in July 2016.
About Sealaska Heritage Institute
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.