XXI. EDUCATION AND MISSIONS (Historic Information)

American polity looks to the universal education of the people at public expense and under government control, leaving religious instruction to private initiative. The United States for a quarter of a century was. however, equally indifferent to both the moral and the mental training of Alaskan natives, which thus devolved entirely on the liberality and activities of Christian men and women, until in very recent years means and methods of secular education were evolved.

Under the Russian regime, education in Alaska was confined to a few religious and secular schools. The first, connected with Russian Greek Church missions, confined its efforts to training native priests; and the latter class, under the Russian-American Company, practically educated selected natives and half-breeds for employment as mechanics, navigators, and ship carpenters, but these training schools fell into decay about the time of the cession.

It should be added that the natives of Kodiak and several of the larger Aleutian Islands have been regularly educated since that great and noble Russian, Father Veniaminof, systematized the work and increased its efficiency by devising and publishing an Aleut-Russian grammar, which is yet in use.

American governmental control left to absolute neglect for eighteen years the important question of education, in connection with other similar administrative problems that pertain to every Christian and self-respecting nation. Stimulated by appeals from officers of the army, American missionary societies were not entirely neglectful of Alaska's necessities, and in 1877 the Presbyterians, through their agent, Dr. Sheldon Jackson, established schools in southeastern Alaska, their example being soon followed by other missionary societies.

The Alaska Commercial Company maintained under its control an English school on the Seal Islands, but the results have always been unimportant owing to the influence and competition of the school of the Russian Greek Church.

The United States was finally forced by public opinion to a tardy and meagre assumption of its duties toward the natives obligations assumed under the treaty of cession and also necessitated by regard for national morality.

In accordance with the law of May 17, 1884, the Secretary of the Interior, in 1885, charged the Com missioner of Education with the "needful and proper provision for the education of the children of school age in the Territory of Alaska, without reference to race". The pitiful sum of $25,000 was appropriated, and for the following ten years the school system, pecuniarily unable to install its own plant, was maintained largely by contracts with the missions, which generously supplemented the deficient support of the nation.


The question of education was brought indirectly to public attention by the influx of whites into the Territory in 1898, which necessitated the establishment of civil government in Alaska. In the law of June 6, 1900, for this general purpose, provision was made authorizing incorporated schools, which should be maintained by fifty per cent, of the fund arising from license fees collected within their corporate limits.

In 1901, Congress withdrew all national support for education, and the expense of all schools devolved on Alaska, to be met from license moneys. Better counsels prevailed later, and by the law of January 27, 1905, regarding roads, schools, and the insane in Alaska, the education of white children devolved on local officials, while that of the natives remains under the Secretary of the Interior and at the expense of the United States, which appropriated $200,000 for this purpose in 1908.

Public schools are now of three kinds town, territorial, and native. Those of incorporated towns, Juneau, Eagle, Nome, Valdez, Ketchikan, Skagway, Douglas, Wrangell, Fairbanks, are under three school directors, elected by the people and supported by the revenue from Federal licenses levied on local business, an ample fund in most towns. These directors by law "have exclusive supervision, management, and control of the public schools and school property."

The "territorial schools outside of the incorporated towns are under the Governor, as ex-officio superintendent, and are maintained from Federal license funds collected from the Territory at large. The native schools are controlled by the United States Commissioner of Education, and their support is through appropriations from Congress. Native education is especially in charge of the chief of a sub-bureau known as the Alaska Division, with headquarters in Washington city. Of the two local superintendents, one is located at Teller, in charge of schools north of Cook Inlet, and the other at Sitka, in charge of the schools from Ketchikan to Yakutat. There are sixty-one native schools, of which forty-five are provided with go\ eminent buildings, the others being principally kept in structures belonging to mission societies. The school year covers from eight to nine months, and the teachers receive an average annual salary of less than SSOO. School attendance is irregular, and in many cases very discouraging. The enrolment of native children rose from 2,136 in 1906, to 2,369 in 1907, and 3,067 in 1908. The cost of each pupil present was $63.55, with an average attendance of only forty-eight per cent, in 1907, which fell to thirty-nine per cent, in 1908. Methods to prevent truancy have been diligently and fruitlessly sought, but Congress seems favorably inclined toward enacting such legislation as will make school attendance obligatory to a certain degree.


The efforts to improve the condition of natives, by their instruction in agricultural and industrial pursuits, have met with considerable success. Training in agriculture and in boat building has been especially satisfactory at Sitka. At Unalaklik quite a number of small schooners have been built, manned, and operated entirely by Esquimaux. In several schools cooking, sewing, dressmaking, and basketry have been taught to native girls.

Enlarging its sphere of usefulness, the United States Board of Education has provided means of medical treatment for many isolated Indian villages. It also initiated plans for systematic and suitable industrial training, which will conform to special local industries and consider the crying needs of the natives: from this method marked benefits should result.

At present, the means and methods of educational establishments in Alaska may be considered as quite satisfactory, though desirable improvements are recommended by the authorities, particularly the extension of school facilities to the less populated Aleutian Isles and an increase in the supervising force.

As elsewhere stated, the mission schools render most valuable service, aiding and supplementing the Federal system.


The enduring bases of missionary work in Alaska were laid by that remarkable man, Innocent Veniaminof, who died as Primate of Russia. Laboring assiduously for nineteen years, 1823 1842, as missionary and priest in Alaska, he exerted an extraordinary influence over all natives that came under his supervision.

The treaty of cession provided that the churches which have been built in the ceded territory by the Russian Government shall remain the property of such members of the Greek Oriental Church resident in the territory as may choose to worship therein." Although its Russian communicants very largely departed, the Greek Church, to its great credit, kept alive for twelve years in Alaska, under alien and discouraging conditions, the feeble flame of Christian faith; even now the Russian Church pays five-sixths of the salaries of its Alaskan priests. To this day the Russian Church maintains its active and financial interest in Alaska, and its bishops and priests still officiate in churches at Sitka, Kodiak, Unalaska, and St. Michael, besides keeping up its mission work at Ikogmut and elsewhere.

In addition to the Greek cathedral at Sitka, there were, in 1900, seven parishes and thirty-four minor churches with twenty-seven chapels. Their field of operation lies largely on the fringing islands of southern Alaska and in the Aleutian Archipelago from Sitka to Atka, the Seal Islands, and the western Aleutians, though it has missions on the Yukon and Kuskokwim. Yearly visits are made by priests to minor settlements where there are but few natives. Those who think that the Greek Church is dead in Alaska will be surprised to learn that in 1890, although there were missions representing eleven faiths, the Greek Church had 10,335 communicants as against 1,334 of Protestant faiths and 498 Catholics. Of the 10,509 who were within the pale of the Church in 1905, only 59 were Russians and they mostly clergy. Criticisms regarding Greek formalism and the efficiency of its clergy are often heard, but so are similar disparaging remarks in Alaska as to the consistency of doctrine and practice as set forth in the lives of missionaries and teachers of other faiths. The Christian and tolerant view of the local head of the Greek Church is shown by the recommendation of the Alaskan bishop in 1905, that Russian and Aleutian should be replaced by the English language in all exercises.


Suffice it to say, that as a body the representatives of the various churches in Alaska are devoted, self-sacrificing men and women, who labor faithfully and strenuously for the welfare of the natives, often under the most discouraging and trying circumstances. The advent of American churches into this field came after twelve years of hesitation, and then through the efforts of the United States Army. Sheldon Jackson says. Christian women, wives of army officers stationed at Sitka and Wrangell, were continually writing to their friends concerning the need of mission-anes." With the aid of General (then Captain) S. P. Jocelyn, United States Army, the first Indian church outside of the Greek pale was opened at Wrangell in 1876. The next year a soldier, whose name is unknown, wrote General Howard, asking that some church send a minister to guide and instruct these Christian Indians. This letter was sent to Dr. Sheldon Jackson, who made such prompt and effective representations that he was sent, in 1877, to institute the first Presbyterian mission in Alaska. The number eventually increased to six Wrangell, Sitka, Hooniah, Howkan, Haines (all in Sitkan Alaska), and at Point Barrow. The most important work for uplifting the Indians, practically as well as spiritually, has been the development and extension of the Sitka Industrial School, in which ex-Governor Brady was for many years the dominant and inspiring spirit. There are accommodations for about 160 pupils, both boys and girls, who are trained industrially and religiously. Formerly the pupils were from Sitka or adjacent islands, but they now represent three tribes and are recruited from distant points in southeastern Alaska.

The efforts of the Baptists in Cook Inlet, on Copper River, and Prince William Sound, have been supplemented by establishing an orphanage at Wood Island, Kodiak. Of the six missions of the Methodists, the most important is a girls home at Unalaska, which, with the Baptist orphanage, have done much to make useful and honest the lives of the helpless waifs, for whom otherwise there were scant hopes of the future. The Swedish Lutheran Church has three missions at Yakutat, Golofnin, and Unalaklik while the Norwegian Lutherans took station at Teller. The last three missions have become especially important from their association with reindeer work, later mentioned.

The most northern mission, at Point Barrow, was opened by the Presbyterians. As Point Barrow is a whaling centre, has a trading post, and is occupied as a governmental relief and life-saving station, it is a highly important outpost, and the mission influence is correspondingly necessary. Altogether, the Presbyterians have established sixteen churches, of which twelve are for natives.

The Moravians have a mission at Kwinak village, at the mouth of the Kanektok. They also opened two missions, Bethel and Carmel, under contract with the United States Bureau of Education, to establish schools in connection therewith. Bethel was founded in 1885, near the Esquimaux village, Mumtrelak. Its usefulness has been largely increased in late years by its herd of reindeer, which in 1907 numbered about 2,100. Carmel was opened in 1866, near the Esquimaux village Kanulik on the Nushagak River. In addition to its religious work it has instituted industrial schools for boys and for girls, which have materially benefited the Esquimaux who, to the number of several thousands, live in that region.

The Society of Friends, beginning operations at Douglas City, extended their work to the Kotzebue Sound region, where they have at present three missions - Deering (now an important mining centre), Kotzebue, and Kikiktak. They have given much practical instruction and are actively interested in training apprentices for the reindeer, which, to the number of 845 and 1,193 (in 1907) head, were collected at the two latter stations. The Kotzebue school had the largest enrolment in 1907, 120 pupils, of any Federal school.

St. James Mission, and Native Children, at Tanana, Contral Yukon.

The Kinegnak mission at Cape Prince of Wales, and that on Shismaref Inlet, are supported by the Congregationalists. The Esquimaux villages of Kingegan and Kinegnak, of several hundred natives, from their association with whalers, liquor smugglers, and prospectors, have great need of guidance. The institution of this mission has been supplemented by a Government school with 105 enrolled pupils, and a reindeer station, in which there were 1,261 reindeer in 1907.

Though late in entering the field, the Episcopal Church has pursued its Alaskan work with great vigor. It opened a mission and school at Anvik in 1887, and has steadily extended its operations in the shape of schools, hospitals, and churches, occupying twenty three stations in 1908. Alaska was organized as a missionary diocese in 1888, but its first bishop, P. T. Rowe, was not ordained until 1895. With his diocesan residence at Sitka, Bishop Rowe has stimulated missionary zeal by extraordinary personal efforts in the field. He has made winter journeys of thousands of miles, following the sledge through Alaskan cold and darkness to encourage the missions on Bering Strait, and in the valleys of the Tanana, the Yukon, and the Koyukuk. The most promising of missions lately established is that on the Koyukuk, which, from its isolated position, is free from the disadvantages inseparable from those at or near white settlements. The conditions of the service, despite Bishop Rowe's personal efforts, are indicative of the great difficulties under which missionary work is done by all churches. Of the twenty-three stations in 1908 there were no less than eight vacant, while three had only a native helper.

Fidelity, faith, courage, above all practicality and administrative ability, are essential qualities for missionary work in Alaska, where climate, environment, and isolation are all adverse to successful work.

The most striking and favorable results through mission work among the Tsimpseans are in evidence at Metlakatla, the Indian community transferred from British Columbia, some fifty miles to the eastward, ii 1887. Mr. Henry S. Wellcome, an able and warmhearted champion in their days of oppression, in his most interesting Story of Metlakatla, says.

This people, only thirty years since, consisted of the most ferocious Indian tribes, given up to constant warfare, notorious for treachery, cannibalism, and other hideous practices. Mr. William Duncan, with rare fortitude and genius, began single-handed a mission. He educated them and taught them Christianity in the simplest manner, at the same time introducing peaceful industries; and by these means he wrought in a single generation a marvellous transformation. Where blood has flowed continually he founded the model, self-supporting village of Metlakatla, of one thousand souls, that will compare favorably with almost any village of its size in England or America for intelligence, morality, and thrift.


In addition to its labor elsewhere among the whites, the Catholic Church has contributed much to the material as well as the spiritual advancement of the Yukon natives, especially at Nulato and Koserefski, the better known Holy Cross, on the lower Yukon. Conditions are not favorable for great improvement at Nulato, where there is a shifting native population, varying from 250 to 350, owing to its being the centre of trading operations for that region. Between liquor dealers, traders, steamboat men, and prospectors, the environment is somewhat irreligious. Great benefits and extraordinary success have attended the work of the Holy Cross mission, which was wisely established apart from villages or posts, across the Yukon from the Indian village of Koserefski, population from 300 to 400. Despite predictions of failure as to agriculture and stock-raising, this mission, established in 1886, is a striking evidence of what zeal, intelligence, and labor can do in an unfavorable environment. Some forty acres of land are under high cultivation, yielding such wealth of vegetables, forage, and flowers as must be seen to be fully appreciated. The Jesuit fathers have supervised the construction of substantial log buildings for house, school, and church, the bringing of the land to cultivation; the construction and operation of a steamboat; and have fostered successful methods of fishing. The sisters, meantime, conjoin, with primary instruction for the girls, methods of household economy, instill a useful knowledge of womanly duties, and inculcate lessons of moral value. From fifty to sixty children are here taught each year, very greatly to the benefit of the Esquimaux who live in adjoining regions.


The wholesale destruction of land game, the practical extermination of sea game, and the displacement of natives in many places by the influx of miners and prospectors, wrought such disturbances in the economy of native life that the extermination of thousands by starvation was imminent. Among other methods suggested to improve permanently the condition of the natives, especially of the Bering Sea region, was the importation of Siberian reindeer. This action, inspired by Dr. Sheldon Jackson, promises in its results to be the most important benefit ever accorded the natives by the United States.

Doubtless in this, as in other novel and extended enterprises, there were errors of administration and policy, with exaggerated expectations and consequent disappointments, but, as a whole, the policy was wise and the results valuable and far-reaching.

Initiated by Dr. Jackson in 1892, Congress came to its support, and between 1894 and 1908 appropriated 8240,500 for the import and support of deer. Importations aggregating 1,280 were made from 1892 to 1902, when the Russian Government withdrew its permission for such purchases and shipments. The herds have rapidly increased, have been invaluable for food supply, and in cases have rendered important and timely service in transportation.

Holy Cross Mission, Lower Yukon Valley,

(Remarkable for its successful agricultural work.)

There have been three classes of stations. (1) Government, entirely under Federal control, (2) Mission, where herds are loaned for industrial training, an equal number to be eventually returned, (3) Relief, maintained at suitable points for emergency purposes.

On June 30, 1907, there were twenty-four stations, the most important being Point Barrow, with 629 deer (1905 figures), Kotzebue, 732, Teller, 941, Wales, 942, Eaton, 1,008, Unalaklik, 1,020, Golofnin, 1,164, and Bethel, 1,329.

The herds now aggregate about 20,000; at the last detailed report on June 30, 1907, numbering 15,839, of which 4,519 were fawns. The policy of the Interior Department looks to the gradual and early transfer of all deer to industrious and worthy natives, as rapidly as competent and worthy men are available. In order properly to distribute the reindeer and foster their care and breeding, small herds were loaned to such missions as agreed to train Esquimaux apprentices as herders and return at the end of five years the number loaned, retaining the increase.

In past years loans or gifts of reindeer have been made to the Congregational missions at Wales and Shishmaref, to the Swedish Evangelical Union missions at Golofnin and Unalaklik, to the Society of Friends missions at Deering and Kotzebue, to the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Mission at Teller, to the Moravian Mission at Bethel, to the Catholic Mission at Nulato, and to the Methodist Mission at Sinuk.

The imported Lapps and certain natives have prospered in the reindeer industry. There are five Lapps and nine natives who owned in 1905 more than a hundred deer, the richest native being Ke-ok, of Deering, with 327 deer, closely followed by Mary An-drewuk, of Eaton, often called Reindeer Queen, with 317 head. Altogether there were in 1905 seventy-five natives owning deer. Owners may kill surplus males and sell their meat and skins, but female deer are not allowed to be sold to white men.

The satisfactory results of the system are shown both by the increase, and also by the ownership, which in 1907 was vested to the extent of fourteen per cent, in Lapp instructors, twenty-two in missions, twenty-three in the United States, and forty-one per cent, in Esquimaux reindeer herders and apprentices. Unfortunately, the benefits of the reindeer service are strictly limited, as is shown by the fact that only 114 Esquimaux, about one per cent., own deer. The greatest benefit, however, is moral and educative, instilling a personal self-respect, sense of ownership, and inclination to self support.

Back to Table of Contents