By Philip Drucker
Smithsonian Institution Bureau Of American Ethnology
Bulletin 168

United States Government Printing Office

Washington: 1958
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington 25, D.C. – Price $1.00



Culture Contact In Southeast Alaska


Formal Organization



Dramatis Personae

External Policy and Practice

Early Policies

Revised Policies


Political Action

Education and Schools


The Land Problem

Labor Relations

Aboriginal Customs


The Liquor Question


A.N.B. Religious Bias

Expansion Program

Metlakatla, Alaska

The Annual Convention


There is one work which I would have quoted most frequently in discussing the background of Alaskan history, law, and problems—Gruening's "The State of Alaska" (1954). In this book the author discusses in detail the numerous problems that have beset Alaskans, native and white, since early days, and in addition he deals with a number of topics such as the land problem in Alaska, the "wardship" situation of the natives, and so on, in a most perceptive manner. However, in accordance with the terms of the Arctic Institute contract, the present report had to be completed and submitted early in 1954, just before Gruening's book appeared. The most I have been able to do, therefore, in a final hasty revision of this report, has been to use Gruening's work to check, and at times correct, facts relating to various laws, etc., which affected the Indians of southeast Alaska.


The Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia are organizations whose history and accomplishments are known to but few people outside of Alaska and British Columbia. Even social scientists and culture historians whose field of interest is the process of adjustment of native groups to present-day American and Canadian civilization are, in general, unfamiliar with them. Yet the two organizations are not only unique in western North America, but have been active for some time—the Alaskan one for over four decades—and throughout their history they have been seeking to solve certain problems of acculturation. Their main concern has been, actually, to further acculturation among the Indians. It seemed obvious that a study of them would be rewarding, particularly from the point of view of determining what the Indian himself regarded as the significant aspects of acculturation. There was also the interesting situation created by the fact that the Indians of coastal British Columbia and those of Alaska shared a host of common cultural patterns in aboriginal times, and at present as well (for example, their heavy dependence, economically speaking, on the commercial fishing industry), but their political status is very different. Thus, analysis of the developments of the two organizations might be expected to provide some interesting comparative material.

The present study is basically one in cultural adjustment and acculturation, but in a very specialized way. It makes no pretense at covering the whole acculturational picture on the entire coast; attention is focused primarily on the two organizations and the parts they played and are playing in the adjustment processes. There are other aspects of acculturation which I have not touched at all. It seems worth remarking here that I am convinced that the Northwest Coast has been unduly neglected by students of this field. (Pettitt (1950) and Colson (1953) are the only honorable exceptions that I know of.) Yet every village on the coast offers excellent opportunities for a detailed study; every linguistic division offers a series of interesting contrasts, whose differences, and causes, should give a great deal of insight into the principles involved. The patterns of adjustment in Masset and Skidegate, for instance, seem to be very different; the four modern Nass villages contrast most strikingly with each other as communities. The same is true all along the coast. The day of old-line ethnography, centered in the culture of bygone "aboriginal" times, is rapidly coming to an end on the Northwest Coast, except for such scraps of information as may be salvaged here and there. This is not meant to deny the value of rescuing from oblivion such unrecorded information relating to pre-white patterns as can be found. My intent is to stress the fact that a vital new culture exists, composed of interesting blends and mixtures of ancient Indian and 20th-century white American and Canadian usages and attitudes. Whether this new composite culture will persist and develop along its own lines, or eventually be replaced by patterns 100 percent borrowed from white neighbors is not to the point. The challenging situation exists now for such anthropologists who dare to tackle it.

Before beginning the factual account, it will be worthwhile to define a term or two. As interest in the anthropological phenomenon of "acculturation" has increased in the last few years, numerous definitions of it have been developed. There has been a tendency to expand the significance of the term to cover all transfer of concepts across cultural boundaries; in other words some writers use it as a synonym for (or to replace entirely) the older term "diffusion" (Herskovits, 1938). However, anyone, even an archeologist, has a right to his own definitions, provided he consistently adheres to them. As used in these pages, "acculturation" refers to the processes and results of situations of diffusion of culture, in which materials and concepts are transmitted from one culture to another, when some degree of compulsion toward acceptance is exerted by the contributing culture on the recipient one. The nature of this compulsive force does not matter: it may involve military (or police), economic, or religious sanctions, or those of any other conceivable type, singly or in any possible combination. The significant point is that complete freedom of choice, from the point of view of the recipient culture, does not exist. In other words, the culture exposed to acculturative influences must be situated in a subordinate relationship to the donor culture. This definition has a real utility in the present study. The Northwest Coast offers examples of both ordinary diffusion and acculturation, in terms of this definition. During the epoch of the trade for sea otter furs, diffusion of Euro-American tracts to Indian cultures occurred at a great rate. The traders had material possessions which the Indians wanted, and acquired, along with ideas and concepts that went along with the trade goods. There was no real compulsion; the way the Indians turned up their noses at articles that had passed their vogue, driving the skippers to distraction, is the clearest proof of this. (Intracultural compulsions, such as the culturally derived motivations of the Yankee skippers to get rich, have nothing to do with the case.) Later on, when governmental controls were established, missionary influences, at first voluntarily accepted then highly compulsive, were introduced, and finally when the Indians got caught up in the web of an industrial economy, this element of free choice disappeared. If one or several individuals tried to exercise choice, and attempted to refuse the innovation, they exposed themselves to penalties of one sort or another. In the midst of an acculturational setup, diffusion (voluntary acceptance of concept) may also occur. No white pressure forced the Tlingit to learn to distill molasses rum in the 1860's–70's. They did, though, with an enthusiasm which might have been better devoted to more useful activities.

I am not arguing that the foregoing is the only valid usage of the term "acculturation." My aim is simply to explain how I am using it. What this study is about, therefore, is to try to see what certain groups of people trapped in the compulsive bight of acculturation think about it, and try to do about it.

Another term that seems to require definition is that old ethnologic workhorse, "clan." While the northern Northwest Coast groups had social units that duplicated in many respects anthropologists' structured and synthesized concepts of "clan organization," they also created a series of functional and conceptual variants of the stereotype. When I speak of a "clan," however, I refer to the individual local unit—if I speak of the Kagwantan clan in discussing Sitka, I mean only the Sitka Kagwantan, and not the branches at Yakutat and Kluckwan and elsewhere; the Killerwhale (gicpawudada) clan of the Tsimshian in my usage refers only to that unit of a specified tribe such as the Ginaxangik and to no other, unless stated to be of wider reference.

There is one final matter to be put on record, and it is one which concerns my own attitudes. The study originally interested me purely for its theoretical implications. These remained of importance to me, and still are, yet as I discussed the problems of the modern Indian with various informants, the goals of the Brotherhood organizations, and the efforts to attain them, I found it very difficult to retain that icy impartiality which is supposed to characterize the scientific observer. I became, and still am, most sympathetic toward the aspirations of the two Brotherhoods, and toward the members who have fought such long bitter battles to achieve their goals. This is not the result of one of those transfer-in-reverse reactions that cause some ethnographers to become emotionally wrapped up in "their Indians." Rather, it stems from an honest admiration of a people—the coast Indians of British Columbia and of southeast Alaska—who have stood on their own feet and fought their battles with no handouts, until recently, from paternalistic administrations; a people who passed in one jump, or at most a hop-skip-and-jump, from the blanket to life in an industrialized economy and by their own efforts managed to compete with reasonable success with the heirs of generations of such industrialized systems; and a people who, by and large, have retained those characteristics that Emmons (1916, p.1) described for the Chilkat Tlingit as he knew them in the 1880's: "proud, vain, sensitive, but with all, a healthy, honest, independent race, and friendly when fairly met." Naturally, as a scientist, I intend to keep my bias out of my descriptions and appraisals in the pages that follow, but if it shows through here and there, the readers (if any) are hereby forewarned.


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