Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall

Published on December 13, 2011 by Amy

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Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall
Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall

Alaska Native Brotherhood, Sitka Camp No. 1, a National Historic Landmark, is the original local chapter of this pan-Alaska native organization that, for most of the first half of the 20th century, was the only such group representing Alaska’s natives.

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Built in 1914, the Sitka ANB Hall is the headquarters of this camp and its counterpart in the Alaska Native Sisterhood. Founded in 1912, apparently an outgrowth by efforts by Tlingits to fight discrimination by restaurants and movie houses, the Brotherhood is a federation of local camps. Although there are now scores of these, the Sitka group is distinguished by its role as the first local camp and by the fact that Sitka’s large native population for a long time made it one of the parent organization’s most powerful elements.

During its lifetime, the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood has been instrumental in gaining full citizenship for Alaska’s natives (by supporting such legislation as extension of the Indian Reorganization Act to Alaska) and in curbing discrimination. More recently, the group has been an important force in preserving native heritage through support of projects such as “Alaska Totems; a heritage in peril,” restoration of Chief Shakes Community House, and passage of the Alaska Historic Preservation Act. The Hall at Sitka continues to serve the native community, as camp headquarters, in which many social events and ceremonies such as funerals are held, and as offices for administrators of the Indian Education Act and Alaska Legal Services. Owned by Camp No. 1, the building is open to visitors when these offices are open, as well as during the many cultural activities occurring there.

The Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood Hall of Local Camp No.1, Sitka, sits facing the waters of Sitka harbor. The building is in the area to which the Sitka Tlingits returned some 20 years after being defeated by the Russians at the 1804 battle of Indian River. They have occupied the area since that time. Approximately 40 x 60 feet, this building is of wood frame construction. It is rectangular in shape, consisting, from external appearance, of two stories and an attic.

Before the Europeans came to Alaska in the form of Russian explorers and traders, Aleuts, Eskimos, and Indians occupied much of the area that was later called Russian America. Relations between promyshlenniki (Russian or Siberian hunters who came to exploit Alaska’s fur resources) and the natives were often stormy, although as early as March of 1766, Russian Empress Catherine the Great enjoined her subjects to “be good to their new fellows, the inhabitants of the islands [the Aleutians], refraining from the slightest oppression or deceit.” Later all Russians in Alaska, including dependent tribes, were declared Russian subjects. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States, Article 3 of the Treaty of Cession of March 30, 1867 promised “all the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States” to those in Alaska, excepting “uncivilized tribes.” Thus, those natives who were members of settled tribes and people of Russian-Alaskan Native heritage could claim the right of American citizenship. Unfortunately, citizens of the United States who settled in Alaska often brought with them their experiences on the western frontier, and prejudice against native Alaskans manifested itself, especially in southeastern Alaska.

In 1912, 12 southeast Alaska native men and one woman met in Juneau at the offices of W.G. Beattly, Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Alaska–this meeting initiated the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood. In the first years, the ANB/S achieved many victories in extending rights to Alaska’s natives, including the right to Workmen’s Compensation and the right of native children to attend public school. In 1929, ANB/S initiated the first native claims court suit, seed of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which awarded nearly a billion dollars and 40 million acres of public land to Alaska’s natives. For further information on the Act, see our page highlighting the Campus Center from our 2003 American Indian Heritage Month feature.

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