Thesis Prospectus – Lingít ḵa Waashdan Ḵwáan

Do you remember back to this post in September when I first mentioned I would be writing a senior honors thesis in history, or this post when I first announced what I would write about? Well if you don't, there isn't much need to read those posts, as now I am here to update you with a much more thorough thesis prospectus—essentially the biggest product of all my work on my thesis this semester. The prospectus is intended to lay out my argument and the tentative structure of my paper, as well as including some of my methodology and so on. Essentially it's a very rough draft of my introduction, plus a plan for the rest of the thesis. I hope you enjoy reading it; I've left out the bibliography and footnotes to simplify things, so all's that's there is the text and the outline. I'm going to be writing the actual thesis over the next several months, so let me know if you have any suggestions!

Lingít ḵa Waashdan Ḵwáan, The Tlingit and the Americans
Interactions and Transformations, 1856-1896

The Tlingit (Lingít) are the northernmost of the indigenous civilizations that comprise the Northwest Coast cultural sphere of North America. Their historical homeland, Lingít Aaní, includes the Alexander Archipelago and mainland of the region now known as Southeast Alaska, as well as parts of present-day British Columbia, Yukon, and Southcentral Alaska. With a dynamic history stretching back thousands of years on the continent, Tlingit people formed an integral part of the Northwest Coast civilizational matrix, participating in highly developed systems of trade, warfare, and socio-cultural exchange. Approximately 70 different clans organized according to matrilineal descent formed the fundamental units of Tlingit governance and social identity. Lingít Aaní also had at least 20 distinct geographic areas, or ḵwáan. In 1741, Tlingit in the Xunaa Ḵwáan area became the first people on the Northwest Coast to encounter Europeans, and from the late 1700s onward Tlingit clans developed commercial and diplomatic relations with Euroamerican powers, among them the Russian-American Company, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the commercial fleet of the United States.

The first American vessel to visit the Northwest Coast arrived in 1788, and over the following decades Tlingit-American interactions were episodic, most often characterized by peaceful trade, sometimes punctuated with conflict and violence. In the meantime, Russian attempts to colonize Lingít Aaní during the first half of the 19th century had a major influence on some ḵwáan, while others had more contact with the British as a prospective colonizing power. In 1856, however, warriors from multiple Tlingit groups participated in an unprecedented foray into American waters, journeying hundreds of miles south to the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, engaging in deadly altercations with the residents of the U.S. Territory of Washington. These and retaliatory events over the next two years very clearly represent a high level of independence on the part of Tlingit clans; this independence obtained in interactions with the Russian-American Company as well, helping demonstrate that the Russian Empire never succeeded in establishing hegemonic control over the Tlingit and their land. This thesis, then, asks how Tlingit modes of interaction changed as their land became increasingly dominated by another group of strangers—Americans.

In part due to their inability to subdue the Tlingit, the tsarist government sealed the fate of Russia’s claim to North American soil by the late 1850s, and only the American Civil War intervened to postpone the sale of “Russian America” to the United States. The “Alaska Purchase” of 1867 did not immediately alter Tlingit lives, but it did signal a turning point in the period from 1856 to 1896 that brought fundamental changes to Lingít Aaní—forty years in which the Tlingit lost much of their former independence. By 1896, the number of Americans living in Southeast Alaska remained relatively small, but those who came carried out a multi-pronged series of assaults on Tlingit communities, including their autonomy, resource control, and economic and spiritual ways of life. At each step, Tlingit groups and individuals responded to these pressures by resisting, negotiating, and adapting to the terms of interaction demanded by American soldiers, businessmen, missionaries, and others. Tlingit also took decisive actions that forced American response, and the continued strength of Tlingit society clearly shaped the spaces—political, economic, and intellectual—by which Americans could enter Alaska. Nonetheless, by the time of the Klondike gold discovery in 1896, many Tlingit communities had undergone dramatic transformations, as demonstrated by fundamental changes in their daily practices, cultural institutions, and the attitudes of a new generation.

This thesis argues that for these reasons, the forty years between 1856 and 1896 constitute the key period of international history that took place between the Tlingit and the Americans. It is, after all, an international history: Though decentralized politically, the Tlingit nation stood as a powerful and unified socio-cultural entity in opposition to the colonial ambitions of Russia, Britain, and the United States. Through the early 20th century, however, it may be argued that Tlingit history increasingly became a part of the history of the United States—and the history of Canada, on the other side of the border—particularly as more Tlingit became citizens of those nations. However, the analysis presented here strives to combat forms of historical “upstreaming” in which the Euroamerican domination of the present becomes an assumed inevitability in retellings of the past. The consequences of Tlingit-American interactions and the transformations of Tlingit communities had nothing assured or inevitable about them, and this thesis may occasionally reflect on how history might have unfolded differently.

The following work utilizes both indigenous and Euroamerican historical accounts, seeking to reconcile them where possible while also recognizing their inherent differences in perspective. Myriad factors privilege European and American voices in the historical record, and their abundance in the face of few surviving Tlingit narratives from the period represents an enormous bias that requires acknowledgement and resolution in some justifiable fashion. For that reason, this thesis will privilege Tlingit accounts wherever possible, in some cases seeking to reconstruct events from a Tlingit perspective. Fundamentally, the thesis relies on many scholars who have investigated the past of Lingít Aaní, those who have interrogated the biases and motives behind American records, and in particular those who have recorded invaluable oral histories. It also seeks to elucidate the nature and the purpose of indigenous histories—how scholars should investigate them, and how communities like those of Southeast Alaska should use them in the present.

The initial chapter intends to contextualize the study, first by attempting to explain some of the fundamental characteristics of Tlingit society and culture, including Tlingit conceptions and constructions of history. The chapter then moves to consider Tlingit interactions with Europeans and Americans that predate 1856—a highly significant subject to address, considering that some Tlingit ḵwáan had regular contact with the Russians or Euroamerican trading ships for the better part of a century before that date. An analysis of Tlingit norms of commerce and cross-cultural interaction will appear here as well, as these norms significantly influenced the strategies pursued by foreigners entering the region. An overall introduction to Tlingit values and worldviews should prove vital to readers’ comprehension of cross-cultural encounters.

The subsequent four chapters deconstruct the forty years addressed by this study, the first two examining approximately ten years each, while the second two consider the period of 1877-1896 in a more thematic fashion. Chapter 2 considers the way in which Euroamerican powers increasingly encircled Lingít Aaní, despite the flailing nature of the Russian Empire’s colonial project in North America. Tlingit engagements with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) merit particular attention: They provide ample evidence of the centrality of trade to Tlingit life, particularly trade with inland Tlingit groups and Athabaskan peoples, which led in to contestation—sometimes violent—of the role the HBC sought to fill as middleman. Tlingit ventured beyond their home territories not only for peaceful commercial interaction, but also to engage in warfare, as occurred in the 1850s during altercations with Americans in Puget Sound. However, the relationships most important to Tlingit history from 1856-1867 likely remain those with Russians and the Russian-American Company (RAC). While tempting to view these years only as a Russian denouement preceding the Alaska Purchase, this simplistic and “upstreamed” perspective negates essential developments that occurred, among them further Tlingit interaction with the institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as clans’ accommodation of Russian presences, particularly at Sitka, continually providing the would-be colonizers with the supplies necessary for their survival.

Chapter 3 transitions the reader to the post-Purchase era while reemphasizing the initial irrelevance for much of Lingít Aaní of the newly established American claim to Alaska. Contrary to what some secondary literature purports, American administration during this time period was not anarchic or negligent so much as it was extremely limited in capacity and scope. U.S. military commanders executed policy with very little informational or material support during this time period, and the nature of an unbridged Tlingit-American cultural divide precipitated several violent confrontations in 1869: At Sitka in January, at Kake in February, and at Wrangell in December. By the time of the precipitous withdrawal of American military force from Alaska in 1877, the numerous clans and ḵwáan across Lingít Aaní had experienced an enormous diversity of interactions with American soldiers and civilians: They ranged from limited contact in isolated areas to peaceful coexistence at some sites to extremely traumatic occurrences of violence at others.

From 1877 to 1896, a number of themes come to the forefront of this history, among them the growing struggle over resources in Lingít Aaní, especially maritime resources, the backbone of all Northwest Coast civilization. Chapter 4 speaks to this issue by explicating the nature of Tlingit connections to their resources, then by analyzing examples of Americans’ arrival to Alaska’s salmon-rich waters and their actions relating to them. The enforced denial of Tlingit access to many streams and resource areas, as well as the establishment of salmon canneries beginning in 1878, represented a sea change in the economic basis of Tlingit communities and prompted a variety of responses, including resistance and adaptation, for clans, villages, and individuals. Secondly, chapter 4 readdresses the military balance between the Tlingit and the Americans, a central question in relations between the two nations since 1856. The bombardment of Angoon stands out as a particularly violent episode during this time period, but this thesis will argue that even that show of force did not entirely confirm the preeminence of American power.

The fifth and final chapter of the thesis explores dynamics of Americanization and Alaskanization at work among the Tlingit, including their increased exposure to American migrants who began bringing with them not only entrepreneurial aspirations but also religious ones. The accounts of Sheldon Jackson, S. Hall Young, and Edward Marsden—the first indigenous minister in Alaska—prove particularly useful in demonstrating these transformative ideologies. The abandonments or relocations of many Tlingit communities constitute some of the most physical and dramatic transformations experienced by Tlingit people, occurring most heavily in southern Lingít Aaní where exposure to some American influences had been strongest. The midst of these trends proves a vital moment in which to take stock of the changes that had occurred in Tlingit daily life and cultural practices, as well as in the inclinations of new generations.

  1. Introduction 
    1. A “dramatic introduction” using a retelling of the Port Gamble bombardment and related events, written from a Tlingit perspective 
    2. Statement of the work’s central questions, chapter-by-chapter outline of the subject matter 
    3. Thesis methodology, sources, and literature review (locating the work in the historiographical context) 
    4. A clear conclusive statement of the thesis arguments 
  2. Lingít Aaní to 1856 
    1. Lingít, People of the Tides 
      1. Brief exposé of Tlingit culture and social, economic and political structures 
      2. Selected oral narratives of early Tlingit history 
        1. Oral histories from Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 
    2. Dleit Kaa, the White Men 
      1. Russians, British, Spanish, and French encounters with the region 
        1. Accounts from Gibson’s Otter Skins 
        2. Olson’s studies of Spanish accounts 
      2. Analysis of Tlingit norms of interaction, commercial and otherwise 
        1. How different was Tlingit trade with Europeans, fundamentally, than trade with other indigenous peoples? 
  3. Winds Before a Sea Change, 1856-1867 
    1. Encirclements and Expeditions 
      1. Engagements with the Hudson’s Bay Company 
        1. The HBC lease of Fort Stikine (later Wrangell) and the relationship with the Shtax’héen Ḵwáan there 
        2. Jilḵaat Ḵwáan destruction of Fort Selkirk, threats on Fort Taku, and other Tlingit-British confrontations 
      2. Forays outside of Lingít Aaní 
        1. Ḵéex̱ʼ Ḵwáan, Shtax’héen Ḵwáan and others in the Salish Sea - the Port Gamble and Port Townsend incidents, the Whidbey Island beheading, etc. 
        2. Continued contact with other Northwest Coast civilizations and Athabaskan peoples - Haida, Tsimshian, Tahltan, Tutchone and so on 
    2. Russian America’s Last Gasps 
      1. Dependences and weaknesses of the Russian presence 
        1. Pavel Nikolaevich Golovinʼs letters 
      2. Tlingit assaults, accommodations, and adaptations 
        1. Tlingit military challenges to the Russians 
        2. The smallpox epidemic of 1862-1863 
  4. Ambiguities in the Alaska District, 1867-1877 
    1. Strategy and Speculation 
      1. Context of the Indian wars and Indian policies in contiguous U.S. territory 
      2. Early American views of the Alaska District 
        1. Congressional and public opinions on the Purchase 
        2. Military perceptions 
        3. The first American migrants to Alaska 
    2. Independent Commanders, Independent Clans 
      1. U.S. military activities 
        1. Documents from Fort Tongass, Fort Wrangell, Fort William H. Seward, Camp Dyea, Camp Skagway, and the military post at Sitka, all available at NARA 
      2. Tlingit actions and the bombings of Sitka, Kake and Wrangell in 1869 
        1. Tlingit accounts of the violence 
        2. Official vs. unofficial American accounts 
  5. Struggles for Sovereignty, 1877-1896 
    1. Fighting for the Fisheries 
      1. Tlingit connections to their resources 
      2. Interventions on behalf of American interests 
        1. Establishment of the first canneries in 1878 
    2. A Monopoly on Violence? 
      1. The state of American and Tlingit military capabilities 
        1. The U.S. military withdrawal of 1877 
        2. The Osprey affair 
      2. The bombardment of Angoon in 1882 
        1. Tlingit accounts of the violence 
        2. American accounts: Captain Merriman, Frank Clark 
  6. New Generations and New Communities, 1877-1896 
    1. Americanization and Alaskanization 
      1. Secular: Economic pursuits and daily life 
        1. Effects of American migration on Lingít Aaní 
        2. What industries did Tlingit people participate in? 
      2. Religious: Spiritual life and modes of thought 
        1. Accounts from Sheldon Jackson, S. Hall Young, Edward Marsden and others 
    2. The Extent of Transformation 
      1. Village abandonments, relocations, and new local governments 
      2. The state of culture, traditions, and generational change 
        1. In re Sah Quah (1886) 
        2. Observations of Muir, Emmons, and others 
        3. Oratory of Kah-du-Shan (1898) 
  7. Conclusions 
    1. Review of the thesis, its arguments and nuances 
    2. An assessment of potential weaknesses and criticisms 
  8. Epilogue 
    1. A brief look to this period’s connections with 20th century Tlingit history 
    2. Explanation of 19th-century Tlingit history’s significance and continuing questions to keep in mind