Metlakatla, August 3, 2011
07 August 2011 | posted at Ketchikan
Photo: William Duncan Memorial Church, Metlakatla
As we approached the town of Metlakatla there was no doubt this was a fishing town. We could see salmon trollers and seiners going in and out of the marina and just off the marina a gillnetter patrolled a long net marked by white floats.
We called the harbor master on the radio but received no reply so went on in and took a vacant slip, avoiding the ones with lines and fenders that might indicate ownership. Two Native men offered to take our lines. “Is this okay to tie up here?” I asked. “Oh sure,” they replied. We were the only recreational boat in the marina but they didn’t seem to mind.
Ashore, we walked by a longhouse, a totem pole and a carving shed and into a long gray building designed as a series of shops. Only one shop was open: Laughing Berry Gifts and Botanicals (laughingberry.com). Shelves of baskets, racks of earrings and tables of devils club salves filled the shop along with T-shirts and scarves. We were the only customers in the shop. “Metlakatla doesn’t have any tourism anymore,” the woman told us. “None. Since Cruise West went out of business we don’t get any cruise ships in here.”
They don’t get many yachts either. Yachts don’t often frequent the small Native towns and Metlakatla is off the beaten track. It’s a shame because the yachts are missing a good thing. There’s a pleasant waterfront park, a good grocery store, a nice hike out to Cedar Point and lots of friendly people. Metlakatla also has a fascinating history. It’s the only Indian Reservation in Alaska but its residents are Tsimshians indigenous to Canada, not Alaska. They came from Canada under the leadership of an Anglican missionary, William Duncan. (For the story of the founding of Metlakatla see Glaciers, Bears and Totems, Chapter 2).
We walked around town where everybody was getting ready for founders day August 7 (the anniversary of the day they emigrated from Canada).
A block in from the marina we found a small restaurant. “We’ll be open until 6:45,” a worker told us. The library we discovered was open from 5-8. We could eat out or do our email. We opted for email. As we left the library at 7:30 the sound of recorded church bells greeted us. The William Duncan Memorial Church was calling its faithful to Wednesday prayers.