MARRIAGES (Historic Alaska Information)

At the present time marriages among the Siwash Indians are of the "common-law" kind usually, and divorces are as frequent and easily obtained as among the whites at Seattle.

In fact, neither the old customs of the Indians or new of the missionary are observed.

In general it may be said that few laws of the whites are observed, and fewer customs of the natives followed now, excepting such Christianized communities as Sitka and Metlakahtla.

The officers of our government and courts give little attention to the conduct of the native, so long as he does not involve our race or property. One of the missionaries tells of open murder of a wife, unpunished. The Indian even bragged that he purchased his wife and had a right to kill her if he chose.

Where tribal government existed, no doubt our officers had little authority, as was decided in our Supreme Court December 14, 1883 holding that our Federal Courts could not convict a tribe Indian of murder.

I he forms of marriage years ago were as varied among the tribes as those of burial, and the bride had little or nothing to say in the matter. She might be purchased or stolen by the groom, or exchanged by her parents for a trinket. She is considered a chattel by the husband, treated as a slave by him, and is a subject of ridicule and abuse by the children. All the work is hers to do. except the lordly occupation of hunting. At one time many of the tribes imprisoned the girl for several months as she arrived at womanhood, and then pierced her lip near the corner of the mouth and inserted a stick, piece of ivory, silver pin or the like, which was enlarged as she grew older, or became a wife, a mother, etc. Some of the old squaws had large round-ended pieces of stone inserted, so heavy and big as to draw the features of the face all out of shape. Perhaps for the same barbaric reasons that the Chinese have when they black the teeth or bind the feet of their women and girls, or other natives of Alaska have when they tattoo theirs.

I attempted to get a list of the numerous grounds of divorce, and was told that a squaw had no grounds for divorce, but that her husband might divorce her for laziness, drunkenness, and for anything he chose, except I did not find the ground or reason of the white man "incompatibility of temperaments."

Prostitution, bigamy, polygamy and even incest have been common, and even now occur not infrequently.

A man's wealth is often measured by the number of squaws that he possesses for wives. They are the most faithful slaves. By their industry he acquires numerous blankets and chattels. These he can give to his friends at the Potlatch, and they in time will at their Potlatches give him as much or more. Numerous kinships are added to his family and tribe, so that it is only a question of time when a man with many wives becomes a powerful chieftain.

Back to Table of Contents