history of Yakutat
History of Yakutat
Primarily a fishing village, Yakutat, and its economy, is dependent upon fishing, fish processing, government services and tourism. Yakutat is located two hundred twelve (212) miles northwest of Juneau and three hundred eighty (380) miles south of Anchorage.
The Tribe’s traditional territory is approximately the same as the City and Borough of Yakutat boundaries, which encompass nine thousand four hundred and sixty (9,460) square miles. The total population of Yakutat is approximately 662 residents, of whom about 46.8% are American Indian/Alaskan Native (2010 Census).
Historically, Yakutat was the principal winter village of the indigenous clans in this area. The Tlingit word Yaakwdáat means “the place where canoes rest” and is suggestive of the time when the village was renowned as a major hub for trade with inland tribes from as far away as Yukon, Canada and as far south as the Oregon/California coast.
The people who migrated here long ago were of many diverse tribes and came from the southeast near Ketchikan (Tlingit & Haida), the northwest near Copper River (Eyak), the interior above Copper River Flats (Athabascan) and inland from Yukon Territory, Canada. Speaking as many as four different languages, these Tribes became united through trade, war, potlatches and intermarriage. Eventually they learned to speak one tongue, Tlingit, though in a different dialect than that of their southeastern neighbors.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, English, French, Spanish and Russian explorers came to the region. The Shelikhov-Golikov Company, precursor of the Russian-American Company, built a fort in Yakutat in 1795 to facilitate trade in sea otter pelts. It was known as New Russia, Yakutat Colony, or Slavorossiya. When the Russians cut off access to the fisheries nearby, a Tlingit war party attacked and destroyed the fort.
By 1886, after the Alaska Purchase by the United States, the black sand beaches in the area were being mined for gold. In 1889 the Swedish Free Mission Church opened a school and sawmill in the area. A cannery, another sawmill, a store and a railroad were constructed from 1903 by the Stimson Lumber Company.
As immigrants moved into the area and missionaries began pressuring the native people to abandon all aspects of their traditional Tlingit way of life, the need for English fluency became prevalent.
Within a few years of the Alaska purchase, the US government began removing Alaska Native children from their families and sending them to distant boarding schools. This, along with outlawing and forbidding ceremonial potlatches and abolishing tribal houses, ultimately resulted in the eventual near loss the Tlingit language and culture.
Today, although English is the dominant language spoken in the community, Tribal efforts to revitalize the Tlingit language have been successful. In recent years the Tribe has implemented community and high school based language classes, introduced modern technology as a language learning tool (see the APPLE store: Yakutat Tlingit by Thornton Media, Inc.https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/yakutat-tlingit/id1163942042?mt=8 ) and in 2018, opened an early childhood “language nest” day care program that incorporates locally developed and age appropriate curriculum. These efforts have elevated the Tlingit language from being on the endangered language list, to one that is used on a daily basis by children, adults and elders.
Similarly, traditional ceremonies, customs and social laws that were once forbidden are honored and practiced throughout the community today.
Yakutat Tlingit Tribe
The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe (YTT) is a federally Recognized Tribe and the lead agency for the Yakutat Community Health Center (YCHC). YTT took over management of the health center in 1997 and serves all members of the community regardless of tribal enrollment status or ability to pay. YCHC became a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) §330 grantee in 2004. YTT is dually-funded from HRSA and Indian Health Service which allows service to the entire community of Yakutat.
Since its inception, the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe has demonstrated a fierce determination to create and expand programs to serve its people and meet its own unique challenges, with health care needs being top priority. YTT believes that Self-Governance is a fundamental right that Tribal Nations practiced for thousands of years before the formation of the United States. YTT has been involved in Bureau of Indian Affairs Self-Governance Compacting since 1996. The government-to-government compact agreement returns decision-making authority and management responsibility to Yakutat Tlingit Tribe as a federally recognized Tribe and empowers the Tribe to implement and design programs, services, functions, and activities that directly address Tribal needs.