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The name Alaska comes from the Aleut word "aláxsxaq" meaning “the mainland or where the action of the sea is directed”. Alaska, the largest state in terms of area in the United States, was admitted to the Union on January 3, 1951 as the 49th state. Alaska is located in the far northwestern corner of the North American continent by the Canadian Province of British Columbia and the Canadian territory of the Yukon. To the north of the state lay the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and to the south and south-west lies the Pacific Ocean. The population of Alaska is currently about 710 231, most of which are clustered around the city of Anchorage, located in South Central.
Before America acquired Alaska in 1867, Russia maintained control of the land. This began in 1741 when, Russian explorer, Vitus Bering first sighted Alaska. After this initial discovery, Russians began to settle Kodiak Island in 1784. The settlers thrived on the plentiful fur acquired from animals such as otters and other Nordic animals. Other countries such as Britain and Spain tried to explore Alaska, but they failed due to the dominant presence of the Russians. In 1867, U.S secretary of state, William Henry Seward bought the territory of Alaska from the Russia for 7.2 million dollars, less than 2 cents an acre. The Russian decision to sell their former colony came as a result of Russia being in a financially troubled situation, as well as due to fears that they would lose the colony without compensation, especially to the British. In 1859, the Russians approached both Great Britain and the United States and offered to sell them the colony, however, the British didn’t express any interest in buying the colony. At this time the Americans did not express any interest either, as the risk of an American civil war was a more pressing concern. Thus it wasn’t until after the civil war that the United States re-approached the Russian Empire in hopes of purchasing the colony. Many Americans were cynical about this purchase and the transaction consequently came to be known as “Seward's Folly”.
For people who are interested in travelling to Alaska, the state prides itself on countless breathtaking views as well as a coastline longer than the cumulative coastline of the contiguous state. Additionally, the wildlife in the "Last Frontier" state is unlike any other part of the United States and there are many species indigenous to Alaska that are worth viewing first hand.
Beginning[edit | edit source]
Approximately 15 000 years ago, Indigenous peoples crossed the Bering land bridge into the western part of Alaska. In general, the Tinglit and Haida peoples occupied the southern part of Alaska, the Aleuts settled in the Western hemisphere, and the Inuit and Eskimo on the Arctic Ocean coast.
Over time, the rest of Alaska's vast landscape was consumed by other Indigenous people until the European invasion. Precolonial estimates place Alaska’s population at approximately 80,000. Russian explorers arrived in Alaska during the mid-18th century, colonizing and transforming the peninsula and its surrounding islands into a fur trade hub. In the early-mid 19th century, British and American settlers arrived to establish similar enterprises, competing with Russia over dominance of the land and sea. The triangular trade relationship formed by these three nations would dictate much of Alaska’s political and economic landscape until the territory was finally purchased by the United States in 1867.
Exploration & Political Developments[edit | edit source]
In 1741, the first Russian explorers arrived in Alaska on two ships, commanded by captains Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov. Chirikov survived the voyage home but Berin died after being shipwrecked on an island that would later bear his name. They brought back with them high-quality sea otter pelts, and further expeditions across the Bering Sea were launched, beginning the age of Russian American colonization. However, Russia wasn’t the only country to shown an interest in Alaska. Within the final decade of the 18th century, British sailors had already extensively charted most of the region, and Spain had successfully explored the southeastern Alaskan waters. Even France had shown interest in Alaska with an expedition in 1786 to the southeast. It wasn’t until 1798 when America itself finally joined the others on the northern peninsula.
The political landscape of late 18th-century Alaska, leading up to 1867, could be described as a series of competing company and colonial interests amongst the nations who’d staked a claim in the territory. Chief among these was the Russian American Company, which held possession of the entire landmass and divided it into six parcels. In 1824, the Russian American Company signed a treaty with the United States that would allow for equal trading privileges between both nations for a period of 10 years. It also signed a similar treaty with England the following year. After the ten-year period expired Russia forbid the United States from pursuing business interests in the territory. The English, anticipating a similar exclusion, sought to hold a part of their territory through military force, but were forced back by Russia. They negotiated a second treaty which required them to pay 2000 otter skins annually until 1867. The Hudson Bay Company, along with and America's growing whaling industry, threatened Russian dominance over Alaska throughout the 1840s. However, the greatest blow to Russian America was dealt from outside the continent, as the Crimean War and Napoleon’s continental system had turned Russia’s sole maritime territory from a boon to a burden, and in 1863, the Russian America Company failed to renew its charter.
In light of these problems, Russia decided to sell its territory. In 1859, the Russians approached both England and the United States with offers to sell them the colony. England declined, but America, which had been expanding across the continent and had prosperous whaling industry, showed an interest in buying. In 1867, U.S secretary of state William Henry Seward bought the territory for 7.2 million dollars. This marked the official end of the Russian America experiment and the beginning of post-Russia Alaska. The acquisition of Alaska by the United States marked a detour in domestic policy: before its purchase, all territories inducted into the United States were expected to eventually join the Union. Alaska would be an exception, and would not officially join the United States for yet another century.
Becoming a State[edit | edit source]
After the Alaskan purchase, the territory was officially incorporated into the United States of America as the Department of Alaska. The Department of Alaska lasted from the territory’s incorporation in 1867 up until May 12, 1884, when it became the District of Alaska. During the department era, Alaska fell under the jurisdiction of the US army, the Department of the Treasury, and the Navy respectively. In 1884 the First Organic Act was passed which allowed the territory to become a judicial district, with judges, clerks, and other government positions being appointed by the Federal government. Alaska then became known as the District of Alaska up until 1912, where it was organized into a territory. The territory of Alaska was created on the 24th of August, 1912. By this time, the population had swelled considerably due to the many gold rushes which took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. Alaska officially became the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959. President Eisenhower signed a proclamation and Alaska became part of the union. It was not easy for it to become a state; residents had to convince Congress they were good citizens and were able to sustain the future of the state. Legislators were concerned that the population level was too low, the land was isolated and there was no economic potential. However, by the end of World War II, Alaska had gained recognition for the valuable wartime advantages it gave and the movement towards statehood officially began. Despite the legislators' concerns, they still took the chance regardless because of the massive amount of land it has and its advantages during the war.
Geography[edit | edit source]
Situated at the North West corner of the North American content, Alaska prides itself on its gorgeous landscape, peaceful environment and physical characteristics. The geography and weather of Alaska is such that overland travel was, and still is difficult. However, the development of aircraft allowed for an influx of settlers into the interior of the region, as well as rapid transportation of goods and peoples.
Aside from the Canadian territory to the east, the state is almost completely surrounded by water. The Arctic Ocean feeds the Beaufort Sea which encompasses the Northern Alaskan coast, while the Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Ocean covers the southern border. To the West, the Bering Strait and Chukchi Strait separate Alaska from the Asian content. About 30% of the state lies within the Arctic Circle.This explains why the northern part of Alaska is mostly filled with glaciers and icebergs, which contains the majority of the world's fresh water. However, global warming has increased seasonal temperatures causing glaciers and polar ice caps to melt, thus endangering many animals such as polar bears and sea otters.
In addition, Alaska is filled with a variety of landforms such as mountains, hills, and valleys. Many of the mountains have different altitudes ranging from 2000-20 000 feet. It also consists of many lakes and rivers all across. Moreover, It has a very rugged landscape and has thick regions of forest that consist of diverse wildlife. Additionally, there are many active volcanoes throughout Alaska.
The climate varies in Alaska across different regions. In the winter, it tends to snow quite a bit and there are many blizzards and snow storms. It is freezing cold and temperatures normally reach between minus 15 to minus 20. In the summer it rains a lot and thunderstorms are common. During this season, temperatures are relatively higher, usually around 10-15 degrees Celsius.
Alaska is the United States' link to the Arctic and allows the nation to be one of the eight nations globally that own land inside of the Arctic Circle, according the U.S. Geological Survey.6 Alaska is the gateway to the Arctic for the world's most powerful nation and therefore plays a huge role in climate change diplomacy. Many internal disputes between settler communities and Alaskan natives have arisen due to the importance to the regions climate.
Demographics[edit | edit source]
Due to its far north location as well as having an arctic climate, Alaska is one the most sparsely populated and least dense subnational territories in the world. Having a population just below three-quarters of a million people in 2016, Alaska would be the United States' 19th most populous city with an area the cumulative size of the twenty two smallest states. Being as sparse as Alaska leads to harder living conditions for the state's residents.
The Klondike gold rush at the end of the 19th century lead to thousands of men and women drifting and begin permanently residing in Alaska, mostly in Juneau, where gold had been discovered some two decades earlier. Population growth continued in Alaska for the next few decades and by 1940, there were nearly seventy-five thousand individuals living in the territory. Approximately forty-five percent, or thirty-four thousand, of the people living in Alaska in 1940 were Native peoples. However, by the early 21st century, Native peoples only made up fifteen percent of the nearly seven hundred thousand Alaskans.
Economy[edit | edit source]
The economic history of Alaska is primarily rooted in natural and non-renewable resources. After William Seward initiated the purchase of Alaska in 1867, US settlers migrated to the new region to pursue the economic potential of the land's plentiful hunting and fishing.
Travel and Roadways[edit | edit source]
Alaska has a much less comprehensive road system than the forty-eight contiguous to the south. For example, the states capital, Juneau, is not accessible by road. Many cities have small airports to help shorten travel times over the large region as well as to make smaller cities more easily accessible. The difficulty to travel to many of the communities within the state leads Alaskans to have one of the highest costs of living in the developed world as companies charge high prices to reach the rural regions, especially in the western regions of the state.
Alaska is heavily dependent on tourism, and though it has seen some success in this industry in the past, the state will have to develop a more sustainable and internal economy in order to become more prosperous and rely on the federal government less. However, the lack of usable infrastructure, including roads and railways, as well as the harsh climate leads Alaska to being a seldom chosen vacation destination among not only American's but other nations as well.
In the 1990s Alaska faced great economic uncertainty due to a decrease in oil production as well as a decline in the production of many of the other non-renewable resources the state's economy had been based on for decades. This lead Alaska to rely more on tourism as well as federal government spending. With much of the economy based on non-renewable resources as well as being a point of low interest for travelers, means Alaska's old way of economic survival may not last much longer.
Already being the least urban of states, Alaska will continue to fall behind in many senses in the coming years unless a change comes about.
Animal Fur[edit | edit source]
Alaska has a diverse range of animals across its lands. International demand for fur from animals such as seals, sea otters, foxes and other mammals led to The Fur Trade becoming Alaska's primary export and source of income. The fur was used for coats, hats and other clothing.
Deforestation and Fishing[edit | edit source]
Likewise, deforestation and fishing provided huge income to Alaska. As national and international demand for lumber increased, many leaders turned their attention to Alaska because of the tremendous amount of forests. This resulted in a huge increase in local employment as Alaska created a huge labour force in logging and forestry to adhere to the international needs.
In addition, commercial fishing was very prevalent in Alaska because it is surrounded by large bodies of water. There are large fishing ports all around and this was an in-demand commodity at the time.
Mining[edit | edit source]
Alaska's economy, and subsequently their population, began to explode with the multiple discoveries of gold between 1880-1890. In 1880, the first deposit of gold was discovered by Richard T. Harris and Joseph Juneau near the modern-day capital of Juneau. While the Juneau mining community continued to grow, George W. Carmack discovered more gold in 1896 along an offshoot of the Klondike River. News of this discovery reached mainland America in 1897, and the gold rush began. Between 1890-1900 the population of Alaska doubled as thousands of families migrated north in pursuit of financial gain. By 1904, Alaska had the largest gold mine in the world. An estimation of about 100 000 migrated and over 1 million pounds of gold had been mined. A lot of people who travelled there chose to stay and settle, thus increasing the natural population.
The effects of the gold rush had a profound impact on Alaska's position within the American economy and subsequently American politics. With an influx of American people into a primarily native population, the question of Native-American citizenship arose. Although the rush had integrated Alaska into the US economy, it remained unclear if the number of American settlers was significant enough to grant the territory political significance.
Fishing and mining remained the essential economic sources for Alaska's settlers until World War II. Brief Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands persuaded the Roosevelt administration to implement new infrastructure projects to strengthen the northern territory. These projects included communication initiatives, such as telephone lines and transportation infrastructure such as roads and airports. These projects established reliable access to oil and other natural resources to the American mainland.
Thousands of workers migrated to Alaska to take advantage of the numerous job opportunities these projects created. Of all the projects, The Alaska highway project (ALCAN) required the majority of involvement. The ALCAN was a proposed 1450 miles, connecting Alaska to mainland America through the Canadian territory.
The US government passed the 100-million-dollar project in February 1942. Following Canada's approval in March, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. was given the sole responsibility of executing the plan on May 1, 1942.
Of the thousands of the Army Corps of Engineers that were enlisted to construct the road, one third were African American. Initially, black troops were employed to service the white soldiers, since authority figures assumed the African Americans were incapable of functioning in the cold. However, due to a lack of labourers and a pressing schedule, black troops were assigned to traditional white tasks. In the end, the African American soldiers were critical in constructing the strategic milestone in only eight months and twelve days.
Oil[edit | edit source]
In addition, oil is a significant part of Alaska's economy. Economic interest in Alaska surged once again in 1968 upon the discovery of the largest oil field in North America, Prudhoe Bay. Upon discovery, this oil field was estimated to contain 40 billion barrels of oil trapped beneath the Arctic Ocean. In 1969, eight oil companies, including the discovering parties, Atlantic Richfield Company and Humble Oil proposed forging of a 900-million-dollar pipeline stretching 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the more accessible Valdez port.
This discovery brought forth long-standing complications regarding land ownership between the US government and the Native peoples.Before the pipeline could continue, the stakeholders had to establish clear ownership rights regarding land ownership and the distribution of resources of this land. The Nixon administration appeased this conflict by introducing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. This agreement permitted the exchange of 960 million acres of established Native land for 962 million dollars and 45 million acres in other parts of the state.
With the land dispute settled, construction on the Trans-Alaska pipeline began in 1974.
Being an oil rich state, Alaska relied on the expansion of pipelines to transport the oil from the north into the continental United States hundreds of miles south. This caused more disputes between Native Alaskans and brought up concerns for the regions environmental future. Oil transportation also created concerns for Alaska's other economic sectors that rely on the regions natural resources, specifically agriculture.
The discovery of oil had singlehandedly made Alaska one of the wealthiest states in America. Alaska sold its rights and made agreements with oil companies so they can create a pipeline and drill for oil. Alaska made billions of dollars from its oil reserves. This also helped stimulate the economy financially by increasing the amount of well-paying jobs in the oil sector. The price of oil dropped as a result. Many people, who were jobless and poor, were now acquiring jobs to help support their family and make a decent living.
Alaskan Permanent Fund[edit | edit source]
As the completion of the Trans-Alaskan pipeline neared, legislative leaders such as Hugh Malone and Governor Jay Hammon developed the idea of a permanent fund to extend the revenues from nonrenewable resources to future generations. This plan came to fruition in 1976, when Alaskans voted to amend their state constitution and place at least 25 percent of all mineral revenue into a fund for future generations.
With the completion of the Trans Alaskan pipeline in 1977, business in Alaska began to boom, and the political leaders discussed the optimal method to distribute the fund. In 1980, the Alaskan legislature established The Permanent Fund Dividends, making the nest egg more accessible Alaska's citizens. By 1982, eighty-six percent of state revenues came from the oil industry and by 1992 the fund was worth fifteen billion dollars. Details of this can be found here: Alaska Permanent Fund
World War I[edit | edit source]
The first World War drastically slowed down the economic expansion of Alaska, and brought an economic depression to the area, many individuals lost their jobs or were enlisted to fight overseas. Many of the male Alaskan residents left to fight in the war. Of those who returned to America, many were unlikely to return to Alaskan territory. Post-war, the prices for Alaska's two main exports, copper, and salmon, lost value dramatically. The decline in price for these two major exports had a major effect on the economy and Alaskan standard of living as a whole. The economic downturn leads the abrupt stop in the Alaskan Railroad, limiting migration from the US mainland to the north. This had major implications for Alaska's population. Post World War I marked an all-time low for Alaska’s economy.
World War II[edit | edit source]
Alaska, being extremely close to Russia and Japan, made for, arguably, the most important strategic position for the United States of America during both World War II and the Cold War. America, however, did not realize their advantage until General William Mitchell fought for air defence in Alaska and said, “He who holds Alaska holds the world” in Congress in 1935. Due to their forced realization and the General’s fight for a stronger defence, America built naval bases such as Dutch Harbour and Kodiak to protect their weak northwestern front.Planes leaving from these harbours could not travel far enough out west; thus, refuelling stops were built on the Aleutian Islands strategically to allow for further travel out west. The Lend-Lease Act passed in 1941, which allowed their then ally, Russia, to fly American planes through the Alaska-Siberia route to use the planes in the battle against the Germans on Russia’s western front.
The Lend-Lease Act proved successful, making up 12% of the Red Air Force and devastating Hitler’s troops, showing Alaska’s value as a strategic base during World War II. Not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, the valuable Dutch Harbour was bombed by the Japanese in 1942. While ignored in history, the Japanese went as far as occupying the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska as part of their plan to expand in North America; though many historians will also argue that the occupation of the islands was merely a distraction for a more significant attack on Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific. This marked the first time that a foreign force has occupied American land since the war of 1812. Due to this occupation, 44 Americans were taken as prisoners by Japan, 17 of them dying. Given the occupation of the Aleutian Islands, it is arguable that the Alaskan people were reasonably suspicious of Japanese-Americans and the possibility of them betraying the country. Therefore, as was seen in the most of America, many Japanese-Americans were taken to internment camps from their homes in Alaska. This fear came along with the anxiety of a larger attack by the Japanese which led to food rationing and obligatory blackouts. In May 1943, American troops arrived to get rid of the Japanese occupation in the Aleutian Islands. Almost unbeknownst to history was the combat that took place on Alaskan soil.
The actual fighting during the battle of the Aleutian Islands lasted for nineteen days, and by the end of the occupation of Attu, only 29 Japanese prisoners remained of the initial 2600 that had fought against the Americans.As for the Island of Kiska, the other occupied island, before American troops could even arrive to push the Japanese out of the land, the Japanese had already evacuated. Thus, after making sure the island was secure, the only World War II battle ever fought on American soil officially ended two months after it began, in August 1943.
As a result of Alaska’s involvement in World War II, a supply route had to be built. The Alaska Highway, then called the Alcan Highway, was built by 11 000 troops in 1942 connecting Alaska to the rest of America through Canada. At this time, black soldiers were still deemed to be incapable of frontline duties; however, their work on the Alaska Highway greatly contributed to the historic integration of the army, which occurred in 1948. Due to the new connection and newfound jobs at the naval bases in Alaska, there was a population boom, and by just the end of the 1940s, the population had gone from 72 000 to almost 129 000. By the end of World War II, Alaska had gained recognition for the valuable wartime advantages it gave and the movement towards statehood officially began.
The Cold War[edit | edit source]
As the American people were just beginning to recover from World War II, the fear of a Soviet attack grew rapidly, and the Cold War began. Russia had built four-engine powered bombers which could reach Alaska on a one-way trip across the north pole. The American government believed that if Russia captured even one of Alaska’s islands, it could be used as a refueling point to extend Soviet bomber range, resulting in unimaginable harm to the American people. Thus, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia and the possible danger this presented, the state was thrust onto the frontline of the Cold War. Just as it had been during World War II, Alaska once again became an active air defense center.
During World War II, Alaska focused on fighting the Japanese coming from the south, not an enemy coming from the north. When the Cold War began, new bases needed to be built that could defend America from their northern foe. As a result, new Air Force bases were constructed strategically to combat their new enemy, Russia. In 1949, when the Soviet’s detonated their first atomic bomb, the American government panicked, and new technological advancements were funded to combat Soviet progress. From 1951 to 1958, Aircraft Control and Warning systems were constructed to detect Soviet bombers and stop them in their path, 18 of these systems were placed in Alaska.
However, the system proved unsuccessful in giving an early warning. Thus, the Distant Early Warning Line was constructed, twenty-four of them stationed in Alaska. The “Mile 26” base, renamed Eielson AFB in 1948, was modified to accommodate the planned deployment of Strategic Air Command intercontinental bombers. The massive Convair B-36 "Peacekeeper" bomber was the largest bomber in the US Air Force’s inventory, and the largest hangar on Eielson today was originally built to house two B-36 bombers. The existing west runway was expanded in 1946 to a length of 14,500 feet, making Eielson the Air Force base with the longest runway in North America, and consequently the most well known base in Alaska at the time. Strategically, by using polar routes, Eielson's location allows units based here to respond to hot spots in Europe faster than units at bases on the East Coast. The same is true for Korea and the Far East, where Eielson based units can respond quicker than many units based in California.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICMB), followed by the world’s first satellite, Sputnik. This change in strategies by the Russians decreased the use of bombers. Thus there was less of a need for Alaska’s military bases. As ICMBs became a more imminent threat, warning radar bases providing incoming missile warnings became Alaska’s primary job throughout the rest of the Cold War.
Aboriginal Alaxsxaq (to 1800)
Indigenous Origin Theories[edit | edit source]
The Bering Land Bridge Theory[edit | edit source]
The Bering Land Bridge Theory is one of the most widely supported theories explaining how Paleoindians came to inhabit North America. The theory hypothesizes that when glaciers blocking the Bering Strait began to melt approximately 12,000 years ago, they broke into sheets that carved out a path of land approximately 1,000 kilometres long. This temporary path could have been crossed by Paleoindians from Siberia into Alaska, explaining how North America became inhabited by humans as well as many species of plants and animals. Recent grass and sage fossils found in eastern Beringia suggest that the area was a part of the mammoth steppe, a system of dry grassland climate stretched from Europe, through Eurasia and eastwards onto Canada and played the role of a ‘safe haven’ for many species escaping the ice age.
Most historians and other scholars believe that people from Asia were able to cross the Beringia during the Ice Age, specifically the Pleistocene epoch, between 12,000 and 60,000 years ago. These people became the first natives of Alaska, most likely belonging to either the Nenana or Denali complexes that eventually settled in central Alaska. It is believed that all of the natives in Alaska descended from these original groups as they share many similar characteristics. Their physical similarities, for example, dark hair, and eyes, set them apart from the European settlers. Over time, the hunter-gatherer communities continued to migrate from Asia to North America in search of fertile land. It was only until after the glaciers south of the mammoth steppe begin to melt did the Paleo-Indians continue their migration southward, making way for the possibility of the Denali and Nenana people are the first ancestors of all human life in the western world. However, scientists and historians continue to dispute on the timeline, as well as whether or not the materials excavated in the south match the original tools from the Alaskan complexes.
In the mid-1700’s when the Russians first made contact with the people spread out across North America and particularly Alaska, it was theorized that these people had originally came from northeast Asia across the Bering land bridge. Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer in the service of Russia found this strait during his voyages in the years of 1728, and 1733-1741. Bering’s discovery of this strait was Russia’s “formal claim to what is now Alaska,” according to Karam. As the Russians had claimed this first, they saw it as theirs instead of being part of early America. For over a century Russians dominated and controlled Alaska and the natives that were living there. The Bering land bridge made travel easier between Asia and North America. It was also seen as an advantageous area for military attacks and trading ports.
Controversy[edit | edit source]
Although the Bering land bridge theory is widely supported in the scientific community it is also frequently critiqued, especially among First Nations, for its use in discrediting Aboriginal claims to land and justifying their physical and cultural displacement by European powers. Some historians argue that there is no evidence to support the theory that people could have survived the trek to Alaska through such a harsh environment. Many would have died from diseases, famine, and cold climate conditions. There is minimal archaeological evidence from this time to support this theory. Although there were Indigenous populations there when the Russians arrived, there was no telling of how exactly they got there. Later Europeans dubbed them “Indians” who had settled in North and South America. The Bering Land Bridge Theory is also criticized for its lack of evidence in the oral histories of Indigenous people.
The time frame in which the Bering Strait would have been accessible to humans has also been disputed. Tools manufactured by humans discovered at an excavation in Clovis, New Mexico has been dated back to 11,000 years ago, supporting the theory. In 1978, however, an archaeological expedition in Monte Verde led to the discovery of relics including the remains of hunted animals and spearheads dating 13,000 years ago, putting the Bering Land Bridge Theory in contention.
Other Theories[edit | edit source]
Some theories propose that two migrations across the Bering Land Bridge occurred throughout history. This theory supports the original Bering Land Bridge Theory but adds that the second migration of people occurred approximately 5000 years ago, populating Alaska. This theory is supported by similarities in skull measurements collected from human remains. The same criticism that surrounds the Bering Land Bridge Theory also applies to this theory, but it is also disputed by researchers who deny that there is any link between the size of a skull and genetic history.
Another theory suggests that a group of people sailed along the Bering Strait to reach North America. The Bering Land Bridge Theory, which suggests that a group of people walked across the Bering Strait during a specific period of time when the glaciers were melting, is constrained by the specific circumstances that it suggests. If a group of people instead sailed along the Bering Strait, it would leave the period of human migration open to a much larger period of time and explain any artifacts that predate the Bering Land Bridge Theory.
Other theories contend that the Indigenous people of North America are descended from a different species of human distinct from those who populate Europe. This theory potentially has some overlap with the Bering Land Bridge theory, suggesting that some First Nations, including many residing in Alaska, are descended from people who migrated across the Bering Strait, while others are descended from a distinct species of human.
Native Ethnology[edit | edit source]
Although the terms 'Eskimo' or 'Esquimaux' have been used to refer to the inhabitants of Alaska, they are broad terms applied by Europeans to the numerous and culturally distinct tribes of Indigenous people that live in Alaska. These terms generally refer to the Inupiat and Yup’ik peoples of Alaska collectively. Upon the discovery of Alaska by Russian explorers in 1741, the land was made up of several distinct cultures, including the Inuit, Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiat, Yup’ik, and several other southern coastal nations.
Inuit[edit | edit source]
The Inuit were located along the coast of Alaska, from the Alaskan Peninsula to the Arctic region. Many of cultures that made up the population originated from the Inuit, such as the Inupiat. They were known for their peaceful nature and for their poetry and music. They were primarily meat eaters since they hunted caribou in the summer months and lived off of salmon and other sea mammals in the winter. In the summer, they built tents from the skins and furs of animals they hunted, whereas, in the winter, they constructed snow houses for residence.
Athabascan[edit | edit source]
The Athabascans were located in the interior of Alaska. Eleven different languages were spoken throughout Athabascan society, with dialects dividing each family of languages even further. The Athabascans took residence over a large area of land, migrating to different parts of the region depending on the season. They were also known as hunters and trappers.
Aleut[edit | edit source]
The Aleuts were located on the Aleutian Islands. Their culture was unique from other Alaskan cultures due to the isolated nature of their islands. They were named Aleuts by Russian explorers but traditionally referred to themselves as Unangax or Unangan. Following the Russian discovery of Alaska in 1741, Russian explorers and hunters heavily depended on the Aleuts, who were adept hunters. Russian fur hunters known as the promyshlenniki forced the Aleuts to hunt pelts for them since they themselves were unfamiliar with hunting sea mammals in this territory.
Inupiat[edit | edit source]
The Inupiat were located within the northern region. They are divided into groups, each being unique by dialect and environmental differences. The Bering Straits, North Alaska Coast, and Interior North Alaska Coast Inupiat make up three distinct groups separated by geographical location. The Kotzebue-sound and Norton-sound Inupiat have been grouped by dialect.
Yup’ik[edit | edit source]
Having been isolated by mountain ranges and distances from other Indigenous peoples, the migrants from Asia created a culture and language to define them. As Alaskan natives, they formed many different groups fanning out across the expanse, with continued differences including language or dialect. Some peoples focused on the sea as a source of food while others pursued the caribou. The Yup’ik was one distinct group that settled in the western part of Alaska. Yup’ik natives were called Eskimo-Yup’ik to distinguish them from other Eskimo communities.
The Yup’ik community was located in southwestern Alaska near the shores of what we now call Koyuk, closest to Asia and Russia. Their territory did not expand too far inland. They were individual tribes that all made up one location, however, the boundaries were unclear. They mostly lived in coastal areas and traded with inland villages as they had access to trade routes and the sea. The Yup'ik have historically been separated into two divisions of distinct culture: the Siberian Yup’ik and the Central Yup’ik. The Siberian Yup’ik resided on St. Lawrence Island, whereas the Central Yup’ik were located in the southwestern area of mainland Alaska. Each division of the Yup’ik held their own individual social and cultural practices. There were many tribal wars between the Yup’ik and the Athabascan over territorial disputes. The Yup’ik were settling along the lower regions of the Yukon River once they came to Alaska.
The Yup’ik were an Indigenous tribe that was known for their fishing and hunting skills. As they were a very mobile group, the clothes that they wore reflected their lifestyle of being outdoors. They would wear animal furs that were waterproof and warm to protect themselves during the cold winters. They would travel often in search of food and would follow whatever big game was in the area. They heavily depended on migratory salmon and hunting sea animals along the Bering Sea coast. They traded fur and pelts with the Europeans for other food sources and materials. In 1799 the Russians formed an agreement with the Americans to have an outpost in this area and took over the fur trade and exploited the Yup’ik in order to gain control of the valuable resources of Alaska.
A ‘qasgiq’ was known as a community center where members of the tribe would gather for social interactions. Often at these meetings, there would be eating, dancing and singing, and celebrations taking place. It would be considered the equivalent of a church. It was highly respected and was a place where religious festivities took place. There are certain types of music that were played in order to represent where the tribe came from and how the natives used what they had to make sounds. The drum is the center of music while dancing was happening. The drum represents new life returning after death, a renewal of sorts that allows the Yup’ik to survive.
The Yup’ik had certain religious beliefs including believing in good and evil shamans. The good shamans performed magical acts and would help people, whereas the evil shamans would cast spells and create bad omens. They were a very superstitious group who believed in a balanced life. ‘Ellam Yua’ is the belief that every living thing is tied to a spirit. The Yup’ik believed strongly in this idea. This meant that they had to treat living things with respect even though they had to kill animals for food. Something that is still practiced in the Yup’ik society today are the rules for how each animal is killed, there are different instructions to follow so that the order of life remains intact. There are connections between the human and animal world. The Yup’ik live in peace with the animals on their land and always give back to the earth in some way to repay it for everything it has given them.
The 20th century brought change to the land distributions for the Yup’ik as they started expanding and moving into the Arctic Wrangell Island and the shores of the Gulf of Anadyr, up to the mouth of the Anadyr River. This tribe still continues its traditions today as part of the history of the people who migrated to Alaska.
Southern Coastal Nations[edit | edit source]
The Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit cultures resided on the southeastern coast of Alaska. The Tlingit were well-known fishers, carvers, which included the making of canoes, and weavers. They were notably aggressive towards Russian settlers, instigating a war against those who encroached upon their land. The Kaigani, a subgroup of the Haida, drove the Tlingit out of Prince Wales Island and settled there. They were known for their carvings and paintings. The Tsimshian were located on Anette Island, although they were a very small nation.
Russian Alaska (1780-1867)
Introduction[edit | edit source]
Russian Alaska was the name given to Russian owned lands in North America during the years 1780-1867. Debates over who first discovered the land have been integral to the politics of Russian Alaska since its settlement. The first Russian settlements are most often dated to the seventeenth century. After the discovery of Alaska, news returned to Russia of resources available in America. A sort of “fur fever” began and a stream of Russian fur traders and Siberian merchants traveled to Russian America to take part. Fur trade companies quickly followed, supported by the Russian government. The companies sought to turn Russian Alaska into a commercialized and useful territory for the empire. Russian Alaska, in this period, was marked by instability and uncertainty regarding control of the territorial claims in America. Russia struggled to rule the far reaches of their empire and took a variety of actions to attempt to strengthen their authority in Alaska. The Russian-American Company was created to control Alaska while the Russian Orthodox Church was sent to civilize the Indigenous Alaskans. Both powers had distinct and lasting impacts on the native populations in Alaska.
Russian Exploration in Alaska[edit | edit source]
Early Russian exploration into Alaska began in 1725 with the Kamchatka Expedition. This exploration mission was led by Vitus Bering, who originally left from St. Petersburg. He traveled North through Siberia and the Sea of Okhotsk to determine if there was a separation between Asia and America.
Bering was largely unsuccessful until 1741 when he eventually discovered Alaska. This discovery would establish an early Russian claim to Alaskan lands. Unlike the British, the Russians were primarily concerned with the increasing capabilities of European empires, and were intent on modernizing and expanding their lagging empire. Subsequently, this was also the focus of the Spanish during the late eighteenth century, which increased tensions surrounding territorial claims and sovereignty.
Not only did the Russians attempt to disrupt Spanish territorial claims, the Russians would also bury and destroy possession plaques and royal crests that were involved in ritualistic British territorial claims to the land. Furthermore, British Captain, James Cook’s extended presence in Alaska prompted Catherine II to declare the Alaskan territory the possession of the Russian crown in 1786. The Russians eventually established a strong post at Nootka Sound, thus contributing to the Nootka Crisis of 1789.
Spanish Claims in the Pacific Northwest[edit | edit source]
Spanish involvement in Alaskan territory developed shortly after Columbus’ initial journey in 1492. The discovery of new lands to the west of Europe and Africa meant that existing international agreements did not account for a large area of the world’s undeveloped land. This created conflict between Spain and Portugal, two countries with established imperial ambition in the fifteenth century. In the twenty years following Columbus’ initial voyage, Spain issued a series of claims to territory in North and South America, including present day Alaska.
The Inter Caetera, Treaty of Tordesillas, and Vasco Nunez de Balboa’s act of sovereignty were the three most notable Spanish claims during the early era of exploration. The Inter Caetera, a papal bull passed in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, gave Spain sovereignty over any territory west and south of a meridian line approximately 550 km west of the Azores and Canary Islands. There are many interpretations of the bull, but the Spanish interpreted it as full sovereignty of all lands in the new world. In 1494, both the Spanish and Portuguese signed the Treaty of Tordesillas which created a new meridian line approximately 2000 km west of the Cape Verde Islands. This new meridian line granted Portugal all lands to the east and Spain all lands to the west of the line. Consequently, in 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa became the first European to reach the Pacific coast of the new world, and proclaimed all coastal lands in the name of Spain in a ceremonial act of sovereignty. Thus, from the early days of western exploration Spain had already established a claim to the entire Pacific coast of North and South America, including the land of present day Alaska.
Spanish Expeditions and Enforcement in the Pacific North-West[edit | edit source]
Spain never settled any effective colony north of Mexico by the middle of the seventeenth century. However, knowledge of Russian and British exploration in the north-west Pacific prompted Spain to build a naval base in San Blas, Mexico in the eighteenth century. This Naval base was mainly utilized for north-west exploration into Canada and Alaska. Russian fur trappers and hunters had established permanent settlement in Alaska, James Cook had made claims of British sovereignty, and Spain’s claims of ownership were fragile considering she did not have a single settlement north of California. Therefore, the Spanish Crown funded several journeys in the years between 1774 – 1794 to try to enforce Spanish control over the Pacific Northwest.
In 1774 and 1779, Bodega Y Quadra led the first two successful Spanish expeditions to Alaskan territory. These journeys marked the first time Spanish ships had sailed north of the Columbia River, eventually reaching latitude 60º North. Bodega Y Quadra and company explored many notable Alaskan landmarks (Puerto de Santa Cruz) and named many in the name of the Spanish Crown (although all names have been anglicized since). The Spaniards did not encounter any Russian or British inhabitants on these two early voyages, but they did perform symbolic “acts of sovereignty” that declared Spain’s ownership of the land. In the end, these two voyages were little more than a quick visit to the area.
In 1789, another Spanish expedition sailed to the Pacific Northwest to investigate Russian activity in the region. Esteban José Martinez and Gonzalo Lopez de Haro led the voyage and reached Alaskan waters in May. On June 30th the Spanish arrived at Three Saints Bay, where they encountered a Russian post commanded by Evstrat Declarov. Haro and Declarov exchanged goods and information, most notably Declarov informed Haro of the other Russian settlements in the area. With this information Haro and Martinez sailed to Unalaska where they received news that the Russians were preparing to occupy Nootka Sound, which was located off the west coast of Vancouver Island. The events of Haro and Martinez’s expedition led to an international crisis between Britain and Spain, deemed the Nootka Crisis. This voyage was the first meeting between Russian settlers and Spanish sailors. This signified Russia’s expansionist attitude, specifically, it showed that Russia was planning on colonizing southern territory and Spain would have to compete with other imperial powers to enforce their claim.
British Presence in Alaskan Territory[edit | edit source]
In 1778 James Cook became the first British explorer to reach modern-day Alaska; his voyage signified Britain’s interest in the Pacific Northwest. Cook traveled to the Alaskan frontier in search of the Northwest Passage, sailing up the western coast of North America from California to the Bering Strait. Cook mapped a large portion of Alaska, including areas of the Bering Strait which had not previously been charted by Europeans. Cook also laid claims to the Pacific Northwest for Great Britain, an act that challenged Spain and introduced the west coast as a possible outlet for the British fur trade. The British believed they were entitled to the land following the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763, which settled land disputes between the United States and British North America. This treaty granted most of the land in Upper Canada to the British Crown.
Cook’s voyage spurred British development in the Pacific Northwest. This was an act that discredited Spanish claims and led to an increased British influence in Alaska. Moreover, James Cook led an expedition to Nootka Sound in 1786 where he executed early British territorial claims to the land. The British were primarily interested in these lands for their lucrative advantages to the fur trade. The Spanish Empire was forced to establish sovereignty over the lands not only due to British interest, but also because of growing concern for the Russians. British merchants began challenging Spain’s sovereign claims by engaging in commercial activity in the region. Subsequently, an expedition three years later led by James Colnett of the British Royal Navy discovered a Spanish garrison claiming sovereignty of the lands in Nootka. Colnett was apprehended promptly and had his ship seized, which led to the Nootka crisis of 1789 that brought Spain and England to the brink of war.
Tensions at Nootka Sound[edit | edit source]
Disputing Claims: Spain, Russia, and Great Britain[edit | edit source]
Spain believed they had territorial claims to the Pacific North-West through the Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1494. Their naval base was mainly utilized for north-west exploration into Canada and Alaska. Juan Francisco de la Bodega commanded the Sonora and led an expedition to Alaska in 1775 to establish Spanish claims in Nootka Sound. After encountering Russian activity around the Pacific north-west and British utilizing the land for the fur trade, Spanish sovereignty on the Pacific coast had been compromised. By 1788, tensions escalated at Nootka, as the Spanish were not only concerned with British fur traders and increasing Russian activity, but also with the Indigenous peoples of Nootka. One of the Captain’s, Martinez, shot a Chief named Callicum who was well-respected among local settlers, the Indigenous of Nootka, and an advocate of English trade in the colony.
In addition to the dispute of claims by the Spanish, the British also believed they were entitled to the land at Nootka Sound because of a treaty of their own; the Treaty of Paris. The treaty was signed in 1763 and intended to bring an end to the Seven Years War. In addition to ending the war, the treaty also settled land disputes. The treaty “drew the line” between Canada and the United States and granted the British lands in Upper and Lower Canada. Thus, both nations believed they were entitled to the territory of Nootka Sound.
Unlike the British, the Russians were primarily concerned with the increasing capabilities of European empires, and were intent on modernizing and expanding their lagging empire. Subsequently, this was also the focus of the Spanish during the late 18th Century, which increased tensions surrounding territorial claims and sovereignty. Not only did the Russians attempt to disrupt Spanish territorial claims, the Russians would also bury and destroy possession plaques and royal crests that were involved in ritualistic British territorial claims to the land in Alaska. Furthermore, British Captain, James Cook’s extended presence in Alaska prompted Catherine II to declare the Alaskan territory to belong to the Russian crown in 1786. The Russians eventually established a strong post at Nootka Sound, thus contributing to the Nootka Crisis of 1789.
"Crisis of 1789"[edit | edit source]
Nootka Sound is a network of islands off the coast of Vancouver Island. The Nootka Crisis of 1789 is important when considering the struggle for settlement and territorial claims in Alaska. The Nootka Crisis of 1789 emerged as a power struggle among three great powers: Russia, Spain, and Great Britain. The crisis became a political dispute among these powers, and almost began a war between Spain and Great Britain.
Due to the Treaty of Tordisilla and the Treaty of Paris both the Spanish and the British believed that they had rightful sovereignty over Nootka Sound. In addition to the territorial claims of Spain and Britain, Russian involvement in Alaska led to disputes about their right to the land as well. An exploration mission was led by Vitus Bering in 1741, and provided evidence for later territorial claims by the Russians. The Russians managed to set up a fairly successful post at Nootka Sound by the late 18th century. However, the explorations of James Cook led to a need for diplomatic intervention to solve the territorial dispute. Catherine II declared that all land north of Bering’s discovery was to be subject to the Russian crown. However, Britain's increased presence eventually suppressed Russian establishments in the Pacific north-west.
Although territorial claims were the contributing factor to the development of the crisis at Nootka Sound, it was the seizure of British fur trader ships that ignited the conflict. James Colnett of the British Royal Navy led an expedition to Nootka Sound in the spring of 1789, and upon arrival was arrested by a Spanish garrison who had claimed the territory of Alaska for Spain. This act prompted serious protest and backlash from the British and nearly pushed the two great powers to the brink of war. Along With the fear of British involvement at Nootka the tensions grew higher when a Spanish Captain, Martinez, shot and killed an Indigenous Chief named Callicum. It is well understood that the Chief was an advocate for the British fur trade although it is generally unclear why the Captain killed the Chief.
Demise of Spanish Involvement in the Pacific North-West[edit | edit source]
The Crisis ended with an agreement allowing Britain to settle in lands historically claimed by Spain, and led to widespread British settlement in present day British Columbia, Washington state, and Oregon. By the early 19th century the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a trading post on Vancouver Island. British settlement in the Pacific Northwest quickly expanded to consist of a vast network of trade between British merchants and their Russian (and increasingly American) neighbors to the North. By the mid-19th century the British population had grown substantially in the area. Diplomatic activity had reduced Spanish claims of sovereignty in Alaskan territory and commercial enterprises strongly linked Alaska and its neighbors.
Many other Spanish exploratory voyages occurred in the following decade, but none had much significance outside of ceremonial acts of sovereignty. The Malaspina voyage of 1789 led by Alejandro Malaspina and José de Bustamante y Guerra is perhaps the only exception as its purpose was largely scientific. Malaspina and crew searched for mineral deposits of gold and silver in Alaska, likely a prerequisite for Spanish colonization. However, the expedition also collected information on the Indigenous Tlingit community as well as glacial measurements. Spanish expeditions ended in 1794 and by 1819 Spain ceded their claims to Alaskan territory when they signed the Adams-Onis Treaty with the United States. Little Spanish influence remains in Alaska today, largely due to a lack of attempts at permanent settlement.
Early Russian Settlement and The Russian Fur Trade[edit | edit source]
There is some evidence that Russian settlements appeared in Alaska in the fifteenth century during the rule of Ivan the Terrible. However, most sources date the discovery of Russian America to the middle of the seventeenth century by Captain Vitus Bering, who led a government-sponsored expedition that visited the shores of the Gulf of Alaska. This expedition returned laden with sea otter pelts in 1741, which struck a pattern of sailors traveling to Alaska in small merchant vessels to hunt furs. This lead to the opening of the Aleutian Islands and mainland Alaska. It was not until forty years later that permanent settlements would come to Alaska.
Illiuliuk and Eguchshak were the earliest Russian settlements established on Unalaska Island in 1722-1775. However, the first permanent Russian settlements in Alaska were settled between 1784 and 1786 by the well-known merchant G.I. Shelikhov on Kodiak Island, located near the south coast of Alaska. In 1781 Shelikhov had petitioned the government to gain permission to establish a permanent colony in Alaska, he believed that a permanent settlement would serve to uphold Russian territorial claims and generate large fur revenues. In early August 1784, two vessels under the command of Shelikhov arrived on the coast of Kodiak Island. Here Shelikhov founded Three Saints Harbour, these settlements would serve as bases on the Pacific Islands and the Alaskan coastline for harvesting fur pelts. Three Saints Harbour became the first founding settlement of Russia’s colonial enterprise. Structures and facilities at Three Saints harbour included wooden buildings used as residences and company offices, earthen-walled workers’ barracks, a school, a cemetery, storehouse, gardens, and animal pens.
Three years after Shelikhov settled Three Saints Harbour, Pavel Lebedev-Lastochkin’s company was the first to settle the shores of Kenai Bay and then Chugach Sound in 1793, today's Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound respectively. Lebedev-Lastochkins men picked the mouth of the Katnu (Kenai) river for the establishment of their first settlement, named Pavlovskia, this settlement came to be the base for the Kenai Bay hunters throughout the years of Russian presence in Alaska. During the period from 1787-1798 Lebedev-Lastochkin’s employees explored new lands, built several settlements and small fur trading posts. The Lebedev-Lastochkin’s Company employees were the first to establish permanent contacts with the Tanaina Indigenous peoples which they referred to as Kenaitzy. Lebedev’s employees explored the shores of Kenai Bay and took hostages from the neighbouring Kenaitzy in order to secure their safety and barter for furs. The settlement of Pavlovskaia was not located far from the Indigenous village called Skittok, because of this many Natives lived alongside Lebedev’s employees in the twenty-three structures located in the fort. Some buildings in the fort were also used as facilities for teaching the indigenous children the Russian language. The settlement at Pavlovskaia faced some struggle in the late 1780s and early 1790s. July 1789, Stephen Ziakov the commander of the St. Paul, one of Lebedev’s ships and some other crewmen set sail for Okhotsk leaving thirty-eight Russians behind at Pavlovskaia. Over the next two years seven people died, supplies ran out, and everyone in the settlement developed low-spirits waiting for aid form Okhotsk. Although during those two years the settlement was able to gain 250 sea otter pelts, 500 arctic fox pelts, and 350 beaver and river otter pelts. The settlers bartered for these pelts with the Indigenous groups which had depleted the settlements exchange goods.
Lebedev’s company was the first to secure a position in Chugach Sound, and in 1793 his employees started building a fortified settlement in the southwestern part of modern Constantine harbour on Hinchinbrook Island. This settlement came to be known as Fort Konstantinouskaia. Just as they had done in Kenai Bay, Russians in Chugach Sound settled near Indigenous villages in order to establish a profitable barter. The most important goal of Lebedev’s company was to find profitable hunting grounds and to use the labour of skilled Indigenous fur and food hunters to their own benefit.
Originally, Russians and Siberians had engaged in agreement pertaining to the fur trade. However, as the fur trade continued, different companies emerged to deal with the increased pelt demand. Lebedev-Lastochkin’s company and Georgii Shelikhov's companies are two influential fur trading enterprises that emerged in this era. By the end of the 18th century, Shelikhov and Golikov’s company was a part of the main settlement on the Kodiak Islands. These companies eventually led to the creation of the Russian-American Company that became the ultimate representative of the crown in Russian America.
Russian settlers did not live without their share of troubles. Harsh conditions made life difficult for young fur traders, and a lack of young Russian women made companionship non-existent. It was difficult for settlers to become accustomed to the difference in climate, food, and the heavy workload. The difficult circumstances caused much discontent among the Settlers. In early years of Russian Settlement, there were many uprisings by Russian settlers protesting against the living conditions. Shelikhov used many tactics to try to keep his workers content but eventually resorted to trapping workers into financial contracts. As a result, workers became indebted to company owners for the duration of their work in Russian Alaska.
Russian Relations with the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska[edit | edit source]
The first contact between Russians and the Aleutian people likely occurred during the Bering Expeditions. Bering encountered the Aleutian peoples, or Aleuts as referred to by missionaries. Other Indigenous peoples encountered by the Russians were the Inuit, Athapascan, and Tlingit, among other existing tribes in the area. However, in studying Russian influence on these populations, the most notable is the influence upon the Aleutian peoples.
Relations between Aleutian peoples and Russian workers in Alaska included marriages between Russian men and Indigenous women. Aleutian hunters helped the fur trade, as their knowledge of the land and hunting skills were highly valuable to Russians. Bartering between Russians and Aleutians also took place. However, the Russians often exploited the Indigenous People of Alaska. The explicit commercial agenda of Russian colonization established the policies and practices of its colonists and structured their encounters with local populations. The primary interest in local Indigenous people was for exploitation as cheap labour by the fur trade companies. The Russians brought a practice of controlling the Indigenous people of Alaska, forcing them to pay a tax or a tribute in furs. Early exploitation of sea otters on the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak Island involved using military force against Indigenous communities, which included taking women and children as hostages to ensure that local Indigenous people paid their fur taxes. Catherine II banned this form of tribute in 1788, and replaced it with a mandatory conscription of Indigenous people to hunt for Russian companies. The Russian-American Company had difficulties recruiting Russian people to populate its colonies, and therefore heavily relied on the Indigenous population of Alaska for the economic continuation of their colonies. Due to this lack of Russians, the colonies supported few Europeans, but supported many Indigenous workers.
Russian immigrants had a major influence on the Native peoples and the cultural landscape of Alaska, that left lasting effects on the population today. Diseases brought over by the Russians, as well as early massacres, caused serious declines in the Indigenous population in Alaska. The effects of the Russian language on Native groups can also be seen through the use of "loan words". Similarly, The Russian Orthodox Church had a huge and lasting impact on the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska, and Orthodox Christianity remains the predominant religion within the native peoples of Alaska.
The Russian Orthodox Church[edit | edit source]
The Russian Government employed many methods to strengthen their somewhat tenuous hold on Alaska during their control over the territory. One such way was through the Russian Orthodox Church. The missionaries, who followed the fur trade to Alaska, were directly connected to Russia’s plan for assimilation. Russian officials were aware of the controlling power of religion, and used it to their full advantage. The Orthodox Church made no attempts to disguise their motives and publicized their goal of “creating a preference for settled life and labor among the newly-baptized.” Religious conversion was viewed as a symbolic pledge of allegiance to the Russian Empire, and an important first step of assimilation into Russian culture. Assimilation remained a major goal in companies such as the Russian-American Company, throughout their existence.
The first group of Russian Orthodox Clergy arrived on Kodiak Island in Alaska in September of 1794 on orders from Catherine the Great. However, this was not Indigenous Alaskans first encounter with Russians or Orthodox Christianity. Russians who had first explored Alaska, or had come later for the fur trade, had converted some Indigenous Alaskans to Christianity as early as 1747. There were some instances of baptism of Indigenous people well before the arrival of the Orthodox Priests. The clergy was sent by request of Russian Fur Trade Companies who saw the opportunity to strengthen their control over, and commercialize, Alaska through the Orthodox Church. However, the relationship between the clergy and the Russians people living in Alaska was not as smooth as expected. Many Russians had taken informal Indigenous wives, and had stopped following the rules of the Orthodox Church. The new arrivals forced the Alaskan Russians to practice a religion they had grown unaccustomed to, which led to a great deal of resentment between the clergy and Russian Alaskans. The priests also disliked the Fur Trade Companies which had sought to use the clergy for their own gain. All churches, schools, pay, and living quarters of the clergy were funded by the Russian-American Company. As a result, the company had a great deal of control over the clergy and the mission could not function without the support and cooperation of the company.
After the abolition of the Patriarchate under Peter the Great in 1700, the Orthodox Church and the Russian state became more closely intertwined. In theory, The Tsar was the head of both Church and State, and had the opportunities to use the church to further his political agenda and gain control over the empire. During the reign of Nicolas I (1825-1855) the Russian Orthodox Priests were encouraged to adopt a more Protestant version of missional Christianity. The Priests were asked to add a component of political propaganda to their sermons, and serve as government officials in the new world. They were required to create reports, compile statistics, and deliver the news of new laws to the Indigenous population. Despite the actions taken by Russian officials to bolster missional Christianity in Russian America, Orthodox Christianity was met with mixed results until smallpox epidemics in 1835 and 1837 failed to be stopped by the local shamans. The priests were equipped with the smallpox vaccine, which assisted in the turning of Indigenous favours to Russian Orthodoxy. Policies implemented in the 1840s and 1850s also saw Indigenous Alaskans taking a larger role in the Orthodox Church. The native Alaskans filled the seminaries, and began to preach and proselytize to those not yet reached by the Russian Orthodox Priests. Relations between the priests and the Russian-American Company were better during this time and Russian Orthodox Christianity began to flourish.
The Russian Orthodox Mission to Alaska was limited by the small Russian population in Alaska. As a result, the mission was unable to reach vast areas of Alaska, and left groups of Indigenous Alaskans untouched by Christianity. To combat this issue, the Orthodox Church focused heavily on developing an Indigenous Alaskan clergy. A school had been established on Kodiak Island since the first arrival of missionaries in 1774, but had struggled due to the language barrier between Natives and Russians. As the language skills of the missionaries improved, more schools were built. A school was built in the Aleutians in 1825, and five more were established throughout Alaska by 1829. A theological school was also opened in Novo-Arkhangel’sk in 1841 which, when merged with the Kamchatka theological school in 1844, became a seminary able to educate Indigenous priests and clergymen. While the main purpose of the seminary was to educate future priests, the Russian-American Company continued to use the Orthodox Church to their advantage, and used schools to develop clerks and government officials, as it was the only secondary education available in Alaska. The church also attempted to encourage Indigenous people to join the clergy by conducting services in Indigenous languages.
After the sale of Alaska to the United States, the Orthodox Church persisted in Indigenous cultures of Alaska. Some even referred to Orthodox Christianity as the “native religion” and saw Orthodox Christianity as a form of resistance to American culture and Protestantism. As a result of its huge success, Russia lobbied the American government to allow the Russian Orthodox Church to continue to practice and proselytize Indigenous peoples. Support for the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska from Russia continued in the form of money and missionaries until the Soviets took control in 1917. As a result, many native Alaskans converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity even after the sale of Alaska in 1867.
Native Interaction with the Russian-American Company[edit | edit source]
In 1799, the Russian-American Company (RAC) located a depot in Sitka Sound, a small port built off the Gulf of Alaska, where the Sitka Tlingit village was stationed. This calm bay was a safe harbour and provided a good base for Russia’s North American operations. The RAC also used this village as a base for planning southern advances in the region and hunting. Unfortunately for the RAC, the Tlingit tribe fought for their land and managed to destroy the Russian redoubt after a battle in 1802, but the Russians would come back. In 1804, the Russians returned and took the land back from the Sitkans, causing them to flee the area. The company would go on to formally establish this base as the capital of Russian America, Novo-Arkhangelsk, now known as Sitka.
In 1807, over 2000 natives gathered in the Sitka harbour threatening to attack the settlement. They were hoping for news to be brought to them by women from the tribe who had decided to marry Russian hunters who worked for the RAC. The natives waited outside the town for days before they were no longer interested in staying, then left for their homes. In the early years of the settlement of Sitka, the Kolosh tribe were determined to rid their land of the Russian-American Company and all who came with them. War parties were always waiting for an unsuspecting hunter or fisherman to leave the fort but once the RAC became settled, their strength and weapons commanded the natives.
The Russian Ukase and the Monroe Doctrine[edit | edit source]
The area of land that would become Alaska was originally occupied by various groups of Indigenous peoples as well as traders from Britain, America, and Russia. Outsiders had interest in this area for trading possibilities. Being some of the first foreigners to occupy the area, the Russians were frequent traders with Indigenous peoples of the region and established the Russian-American Company at the end of the 18th century. In September 1821, Tsar Alexander I extended Russian territories to the fifty-first parallel of north latitude along the Northwest Coast of North America by issuing a ukase, forbidding any other group from trading with Indigenous people within this zone. A ukase was an arbitrary command issued by the Russian government. In addition to forbidding trade and fishing, the ukase also closed access to foreign ships entering through Russian waters along the coast. However, not all limitations made by the ukase were enforced, meaning many ships continued to pass through Russian waters. Tsar Alexander I, argued that the ukase was justified because Russia had first discovery claims to the area and had occupied the region peacefully for over half a century. Russia’s decision to implement this restrictive law was not driven by territorial expansion but instead by a policy of aggression against the growing numbers of British and American traders in the area. While ships did continue to pass through Russian waters, the news of the ukase was ill-received in the United States and generated protest from its citizens for the country to take a firm stance against Russia. The United States government was mainly concerned about the limitations the ukase placed on trade and fishing on the coasts rather than concerns about Russia's territorial possessions.
The United States responded to the Russian problem by creating a document known as the Monroe Doctrine. Introduced by President James Monroe in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine stated European expansion and colonization of the continent would no longer be tolerated. The Doctrine was a direct response to the trade restrictions of the Russian ukase of 1821.Many Americans supported the doctrine and believed it was a justified response. Although many scholars argue the document was directed towards British claims in North America, it also applied to Russia and enabled the United States to eventually obtain full control of the area. The non-colonization principle of the doctrine was created by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Adams argued that this aspect of the Monroe Doctrine would persuade Tsar Alexander I to recede his implementation of the Russian ukase. The establishment of the Monroe Doctrine allowed the United States to argue Russia should not have the right to maintain a colony in North America, let alone make claims that restricted Americans’ movement and trade within the area. Although the ukase of 1821 negatively impacted American sentiment towards Russia, both President Monroe and John Adams wanted to maintain good relations between the two countries. Both the Russian ukase and the Monroe Doctrine were important pieces of legislation that uncovered major territory and trading region problems between Russia and the United States. These disputes subsequently led to the Russo-American Treaty of 1824 that resolved the problems which had been building over the years.
The Russo-American Treaty of 1824[edit | edit source]
The Russo-American Treaty of 1824 aimed to solve boundary and trading issues that had risen on the Northwestern Coast of North America in the early 1800s. While tensions had raised between the United States and Russia as a result of the Russian ukase and the Monroe Doctrine, the United States continued to value diplomatic and peaceful relations with the Russians. On April 17th, 1824 the convention between the countries fixed the southern boundary of Alaska at 54°40′ north latitude and granted Americans access to Russian-Alaskan coasts. The convention also allowed Americans to fish and trade with the Indigenous populations in the area. For Americans, this was one of the most important outcomes of the 1824 convention. However, this trading period only lasted for a ten year period, after which restrictions were to be reinforced. Although Alexander I agreed to the terms of the treaty, the officials of the Russian-American Company were not content with it as the treaty appeared to be more advantageous for Americans. Initially, the Russian-American Company’s leading spokesman, Count Mordvinov, wanted the Russian government to argue for inland territory that stretched to the mountain range. Once the convention had been signed, more complaints from the company arose regarding the terms of the treaty. The Russo-American Company argued that American trade should be restricted to Behring Bay and Cross Sound. By the time the convention reached Washington on July 26th, 1824, both John Adams and President Monroe were comfortable with the changes requested by the Russian-American Company and agreed that the terms were fair for both countries.
The requests by the Russo-American Company were applied to the original treaty and approved by the Senate on January 5th, 1825. The convention was officially ratified and concluded on January 11th, 1825. The treaty held high importance as it finally settled conflicting claims to the area. For Russians, the treaty ended any hopes of territorial expansion on the continent and ultimately denied the demands of the early Russian ukase. However, Russia had greater concern for more pressing conflicts occurring within Europe. This was the major reason Alexander I willingly agreed to the terms of the convention and let the earlier demands of the Russian ukase become irrelevant. On the other hand, the United States was able to gain access to trade in settled Russian areas as well as claimed territories, but not officially settled by Russia. Overall, the Russo-American Treaty of 1824 was important to Alaska’s history because it granted American rights to the area and began to push other groups, such as the Russians, out of the region.
The Russian-American Company[edit | edit source]
Origins of the Russian-American Company[edit | edit source]
Russia first arrived in Alaska in the early-to-mid eighteenth century and are thought to be the first Europeans to reach the modern-day state. After first contact, the Russian-American Company would be born. The company became the first ever Russian joint-stock company created at the end of the eighteenth century by Tsar Paul I in the Ukase of 1799. The company originally started with Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, son-in-law of a former fur trader, Shelikhov, obtaining a 20 year contract from Tsar Paul I. Tsar Paul I granted Rezanov a monopoly over the Alaskan fur trade, with a donation of 724,000 rubles from the Russian royal family. The main purpose of the company was to aid in the colonization of modern-day Alaska, as well as establish trading relationships between Aboriginal groups and the Russians. Outside of mainland Alaska, the company also controlled posts and settlements throughout the Bering Strait, as well as some regions in the lower Pacific Northwest. Although the land claims by the Russians were legitimate, Great Britain and America challenged the borders set out by the Tsarist government. However, these disputes were put to rest by treaties agreed on at international conventions. These treaties would firmly set Russia’s Southern and Eastern boundaries in Alaska. The Russian-American Company's issued their flag in 1799 and used on the company's ships and settlements throughout Alaska. The flag changed a few times throughout the company's history, starting with the original design only being used until 1806 when Tsar Alexander I approved a new design. While there were several variations of the flag, it was used up until 1881 while the company was being liquidated, even though the company ended in 1867.
Alexander Baranov was the first and longest-standing manager of the RAC until his position was appointed to naval officers. Baranov was one of the key players in bringing the company to new heights, especially since the major stockholders of the fur trading enterprise were unable to conduct business themselves as they were stationed in mainland Russia. While Baranov never expanded into middle or eastern Alaska, he made it his mission to strengthen the RAC’s position along the Pacific coast and islands situated in the Bering Strait. His actions resulted in the primary establishment of the major settlements that would further allow for the company to profit from trade, however, the lack of mass expansion ultimately hurt the company in terms of progress and growth in North America.
Conducting Business In & Around Alaska[edit | edit source]
The Aleutian Islands were one of the primary targets for the Russian-American Company to exploit and its people, the Aleuts, were some of the first native populations to come into contact with the Russians. Native men, from islands off the coast of Alaska were forced to work for the company, due to their high skill in hunting animals at sea such as otters, beavers, and seals. By using tribesmen, the company could work much more efficiently. The Russian-American Company had issues with recruiting skilled Russian seamen in earlier years, and thus believed it was necessary to conscribe Indigenous men to work for them. As a result, the furs of sea otters and seals became some of the most profitable items collected and sold by the RAC. One major reason behind the company's continued success was their ability to sell the valuable furs to China. The company's industrious nature led them to look southward to present-day California. Eventually, the Russian government would take over from the merchants who controlled the charter of the enterprise. Shortly after, the company saw a decline in the number of fur-bearing animals, especially sea otters.
The Russians were still not willing to give up on the colonies and kept supplying them with resources, such as salt to preserve food, in an attempt to sustain the outposts. Fortunately, the government was able to take outright control of the company, when the Crimean War broke out, as a wartime precaution for the possibility of an invasion by the British. This was a real threat to the Russian-American Company and Russian-controlled Alaska, as the Hudson’s Bay Company, a British-owned trading organization, was operating out of what is now Canada. The two companies would eventually broker peace, as neither side was in favor of the war since it would greatly disrupt both of their profitable businesses. Despite this agreement, a British and French ship attacked an outpost controlled by the RAC in 1855 which was located in a set of islands off the coast of Russia called the Kuriles. The post, on Urup Island, was thought by the attackers not to be protected under the agreement. After the war, the Russian-American Company branched out from primarily trading pelts of animals and began whaling, however, was only successful in erecting a small number of stations for this purpose.
The Decline of an Enterprise[edit | edit source]
On April 20, 1866, the Russian-American company called an emergency shareholders’ meeting where they announced that the company sustained major losses on the tea trade. In early 1867, the RAC told the finance minister that they had losses equivalent to that of an entire annual income in the late 1850s. The company would receive loans from the government in early 1867 and continued to receive subsidies to cover the costs of Russian America but their stock continued to fall. The shares reached an all-time low on February 27, 1867. Eventually, the United States purchased Alaska in 1867 for $7.2 million. This would lead to the end of the Russian-American company in Alaska. In October 1867, the inhabitants of Sitka raised the American flag, ending an era of northwest dominance from the Russian-American company in North America.
At the time of its inception, the Russian-American Company was not as well established as other new-world businesses of the time, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Company faced a decline in profitable goods, such as the disappearance of fur-bearing animals, which was a key factor in the company’s demise. The RAC also executed expeditions poorly, resulting in a limited expansion of Russian territory outside of Alaska. Although Russian Alaska was no more, they had achieved remarkable feats ever since its creation. The RAC managed to explore nearly the entire modern-day Alaskan State and managed to colonize major waterways. Also, through Russian funding, they could investigate natural resources and profit from many of them which would not have been possible through a private enterprise.
The Sale of Alaska[edit | edit source]
Overall, Russia's attempts at settlement and colonization were largely unsuccessful. It was difficult for Russian Alaska to have any permanent settlers, as Russians who worked for companies were only living in settlements for a limited time, and still had family in Russia that they returned to after their contracts were complete. As the United States began to acquire more of the North American continent, Russian America became viewed by the Russians at home as an obstacle to their own growth in Siberia. Many Russians, including politician Eduard Stoeckl, began to view American Manifest Destiny - the belief that US expansion of the American continent was a god given right - as an inevitability. They also began to view Russian America as a thorn in the side of Russia.
With ports of trade opening between Britain and China in the 1840s, Russia feared involvement with Great Britain, and Britians power to overtake them. The final factor contributing to the sale of Russian America was Grand Duke Constantine’s dislike of the Russian American Company, which he saw as a drain on Russia’s treasury. Negotiations between America and Russia on the sale of Russian America were taking place on and off for at least ten years before the final sale took place. The sale of Russian America was a viewed as a triumph of Duke Constantine, and an acknowledgment to Eduard Stoeckl of the inevitably of Manifest Destiny.
From Department to District (1867-1912)
From Department to District (1867-1912)[edit | edit source]
- Seward's Folly:
The phrase “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” refers to the United States' purchase of Alaska (Russian America) from Russia in 1867, which sparked much debate between the American people. The purchase was orchestrated by the United States Secretary of State, William H. Seward. The negotiations regarding the purchase of Russian America began in March of 1867, between Seward and Eduard de Stoeckl, a Russian Diplomat who was sent by Russian authorities to negotiate the deal. Stoeckl was a very smart and strategic man who was adamant on the deal going through. Stoeckl wanted the first move in the negotiations to be made by the Americans, as this would give him the upper hand in the deliberation. The notion of buying Russian America was not a new concept as Seward had been anxious since 1864 to speak of negotiations with Russia, as he felt it was an extremely beneficial deal for both parties. When Stoeckl and Seward finally met, Seward immediately took control of the conversation and began to inquire whether Russia would sell Alaska to the United States. After both men agreed on the benefits the deal would bring to their respective countries, Seward needed to seek approval. Seward went to President Andrew Johnson asking for permission to go through with the treaty. Initially, Johnson was not as enthusiastic as Seward was about the purchase and the President thus decided that the decision should be left to the Cabinet. The Cabinet approved Seward’s proposition and authorized him to negotiate a deal with Stoeckl.
Seward began the negotiations by initially offering Stoeckl $5,000,000, then quickly added on an extra 500,000 before Stoeckl even said a word. Prior to the negotiations, Stoeckl had informed authorities in Russia that he was going to try and get anywhere from $6,000,000 to $6,500,000 for the territory, so upon Seward’s offer, the Russians issued a counter-offer of $7,000,000. Stoeckl stood firm with his price after seeing how eager Seward was for the deal, and Seward relentlessly kept raising his offer until finally meeting Stoeckl's demand of $7,000,000. After the deal was decided, Stoeckl tried to add conditional terms to the deal. These terms stated that with the purchase of Russian America, the United States was to take over certain obligations of the Russian American Company. Seward immediately refused this condition, but to compensate for the loss added another $200,000 to his offer. At this time it was not public knowledge that negotiations for Alaska were taking place, thus Seward urged Stoeckl to maintain the secrecy of the matter.
On March 25th, 1867 Seward asked Stoeckl to send the proposed agreement to St. Petersburg, and if a reply was received within six days, the treaty would be signed and confirmed by the Senate before it adjourned. Finally on March 30th, 1867 the treaty was put into its final forms and signed by the U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, and the Russian Diplomat Eduard de Stoeckl. It wasn’t until October 18th, 1867 that the possession of Alaska was formally transferred to the United States, marking the successful completion of Seward’s Campaign to purchase Russian America.
When news broke of the United States' cession of Alaska, mixed emotions of opposition and enthusiasm surfaced from the American people. Americans on the East coast were outraged by the treaty because for them the immediate economic benefits were less concrete, while those companies on the West coast saw an opportunity to extend whaling boundaries into the Beaufort Sea. The American Civil War had only ended two years before negotiations began and many Americans felt that the $7,200,000 involved in the purchase could have been spent on more beneficial ways that supported the reconstruction of America. Newspapers like the New York Herald began to refer to Alaska as ‘Walrus-sia’ and ‘Icebergia’ as many believed that all Alaska had to offer was in fact, walruses and icebergs. However, newspapers on the West coast in San Francisco saw that Alaska was not a wasteland, as it offered an abundance of natural resources that would be of great benefit to the United States. The papers compared Alaskan forests to those of Maine and stated that Alaska had better fishing than found in Newfoundland.
Many Americans began to believe that the appropriation for the purchase had been arranged through corruption and that the key figures involved did so for their own personal benefit. Much of the resistance to the treaty stemmed more from the resistance to Seward and President Johnson. Seward supported Johnson while he was on the brink of impeachment, which tainted the treaty for many Americans. Seward began to receive backlash for the treaty as many believed he had been manipulated by Stoeckl to pay such a large sum for the territory and that he had made a huge mistake. The situation began to be described as ‘Seward’s Folly’ or ‘Seward’s Icebox’ as many felt it was an irrational decision made with no real benefits.
Many were skeptical of Seward's ambition to annex Alaska from Russia, it was rumored that Seward had little to no knowledge of the resources the north possessed and that Seward was driven to extend the boarders of the United States. To Seward, the purchase of Alaska was the Americans' gateway to Asian markets. Seward believed that commerce was a great agent of movement and that whatever nation should put commerce into motion shall conduct it with sufficient expansion. This was his hope for the United States. With expansion on the forefront of Seward’s mind, the purchase of Alaska was a stepping stone to creating a Pacific trading empire and commercial route to China. To Seward, the American empire began with Alaska.
- Alaska Commercial Company:
The Alaska Commercial Company formed out of the purchase of the territory of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Company records and documents remain, but many were destroyed by a devastating fire at the company’s headquarters as a result of an earthquake in San Francisco in 1906. Today, the company is a retail store which provides groceries and other merchandise to the residents of Alaska and is owned by the North West Company. Originally operating under the title of the “Russian-American Company”, firms operated by Hayward Hutchinson and William Kohl merged to purchase the assets of the Russian-American Company as they were looking to liquidate after the purchase of Alaska by the United States Government. Through this, the firm acquired warehouses, a fleet of merchant ships, and trading posts scattered along the coast of Alaska. In the coming years, a successor company was made, titled the Alaska Commercial Company. The purchase of this company by firms in San Francisco would prove incredibly profitable in the company’s early years.
The early decades of the Alaska Commercial Company’s presence reflected how Americans of European descent intended to capitalize on the natural resources and environment of Alaska. Examples of this can be seen not only in terms of exploiting resources like seals and furs but also by the exploitation of residential indigenous peoples in certain regions of the state. By 1872, after the acquisition of the company was settled, shares were distributed, allocating twenty-thousand shares among members of three firms: The Hutchinson, Kohl Group; The Williams, Haven Group; and The Parrot Group. The main goal of the controlling parties of the company was to secure the Alaskan fur trade and to acquire a sealing license in the Pribilof region from the federal government. Acquiring this license cost an annual price of $55000, and the government would also receive royalties on the pelt. The license was active for twenty years. This action allowed for a massive fur trading operation run by the firm in San Francisco and was quickly opened up to international markets. Furs and seal skins were shipped first to San Francisco, and from there were shipped to be sold in London, the center of the fur trade industry. Fur trading and sealing, the killing of seals for their pelts, were vital to the company's success. Most of the profits from this operation came from the sealing portion of the business. Although the land-based fur trade was profitable, competition from other companies affected their profits. The sealing license, which was granted to the company in 1870, caused the killing of seals at unprecedented levels. In addition to this statistic, seals were being mass-hunted by the local indigenous populations as well. Many residents of southeast Alaska killed seals in vast numbers, and sell them to the Alaska Commercial Company. This became a very prominent source of income for Alaskan residential communities. The success of the business attracted the attention of previous bidders for the assets of the Russian-American Company. Those who originally passed over the opportunity to buy these assets began spreading rumors of unethical practice in accordance with their seal operations, leading to several investigations within the company’s early decades. The company was investigated several times, but none of the allegations brought any evidence of any legitimate unethical practice by the company.
When the sealing license was up for renewal in 1890, the company’s monopoly over the sealing operation in Pribilof was at stake. Since most of the profits during this era came from sealing, a license renewal meant that the company could no longer enjoy this monopoly over the Pribilof operation. By the time of the renewal, shareholders had begun to sell their portion of the company. The remaining shares were bought up by four remaining shareholders of the company: Lewis Gerstle, Louis Sloss, Gustave Niebaum, and Simon Greenwald. The company’s monopoly over the sealing operations in Pribilof ended in 1890. Instead, Congress awarded the lease to a similar San Francisco competitor, the Northern Commercial Company.
The Alaska Commercial Company proved to be much more than a standard fur-trading company. After the government’s purchase of Alaska, there was an absence of local government, as well as minimal federal governance from Washington. In absence of an established government institution, Molly Lee explains that the Alaska Commercial Company served northern residents as “de facto banker, postmaster, doctor, lawyer, and, occasionally, jailer, in addition to carrying out its own trading and sealing enterprises.” The company was also prevalent in supplying groceries and supplies to an influx of miners during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s.
Alaska’s Gold Rush:
In 1896, a small group of American prospectors and hunters were travelling along the Klondike River in Yukon Territory. Upon the advice of fellow prospector Robert Henderson, the party traveled to a small area just off the river known as Rabbit Creek, later renamed Bonanza Creek, where they discovered a gold nugget on August 17, 1896. It is debated whether the discovery of this Klondike gold was made by George Carmack or his brother-in-law Skookum Jim of the Dakhl’wedi clan, although the former ultimately registered a claim for the gold on August 20 of that year. The news of the strike was brought to the country in July of 1897 with the arrival of a steamship in Seattle carrying the modern equivalent of 30 million dollars worth of gold. The discovery of gold in the Klondike regions of Canada and Alaska initiated a four year long gold rush known as the Klondike Gold Rush, with the Klondike stampede occurring between 1897-98.
The Klondike Gold Rush saw the influx of thousands of Canadians and Americans to the Klondike regions; the Americans were especially driven to claim gold of their own after the severe American economic depression known as the Panic of 1893, which left 43% of the population unemployed. Of the nearly hundred thousand people that came to Alaska in pursuit of fortune, very few made a significant profit from gold mining. On average, a prospective gold miner paid the modern equivalent of $27,000 for his ticket to Alaska, which would far exceed the value a miner was likely to get back in gold. A key aspect that made the journey so enticing was the lack of wealth needed to conduct the mining once arrived. Mining in the states had already become heavily industrialized and required large amounts of initial capital for machinery, opposed to Klondike mining which was still stream side and only required simple hand tools. The cultivation of the area was another expensive task, which for the major town of Skagway cost about $100,000 per mile to the summit of White Pass – the safest and direct route – a distance of approximately 20 miles. Arrival to the Klondike was also no simple task, as the closest large city and travel hub to Alaska was in Seattle Washington. From Seattle, Klondikers would have to travel by ship to reach the northern state and required months worth of supplies of food, heavy clothing, and other sundries to sustain themselves while on their mining expeditions. Routes to the Klondike included the "rich man's route”; taking a ship to the mouth of the Yukon River in western Alaska and navigating a boat more than 2,000 miles up the river to the gold fields, as well as the "poor man's route" which saw a miner travel by ship to Skagway or Dyea in southern Alaska, climb over mountains by foot, and finally build their own boat to navigate over 500 miles of the Yukon River. In 1898, the so-called “Klondikers” caught word of a strike occurring at more successful mines in the Noma Alaska and beyond, inspiring many of the thousands of miners to leave the Klondike as quickly as they had arrived there, in hopes of finding a more accessible, more prosperous goldfield.
The impact of the Klondike Gold Rush lay in the cultivation and population growth of much of Alaska, predominantly the towns of Skagway, Dyea and Dawson, as well as Juneau, Douglas and Treadwell for access to and supply of the mines respectively. The ‘Klondikers’ mined an estimated $22 million US in “gold-bearing gravel,” which would be equivalent to nearly $600 million US today. Seattle Washington benefitted greatly from the Klondike stampede, as the city became a temporary home to many thousands of travellers, where the shops and inns were always full. During the construction process, the White Pass and Yukon Railroad was built, employing some of the 35,000 workers who came to the Klondike region. While the completion of the railroad in 1898 occurred at the tail end of the stampede, its creation helped with the further development of the state in coming years and made the territory more accessible to those miners who chose to remain in Alaska. Along with the railroad, the Klondike Gold rush led to the establishment of a more coherent mail delivery system, as Alaskan Postal Inspector John Philip Clum established over a dozen post offices across over 8,000 miles of the frozen territory in order to better deliver mail to the thousands of miners whose mail had been delayed for months. The gold rush helped to demonstrate the potential value of America’s most northern state to many U.S. citizens and indicated that perhaps Seward’s purchase of the state had not been such a folly after all.
The Klondike Gold Rush, while prosperous for both Americans and their northern neighbours, created a push for control over Alaskan territory infamously known through history as the Alaska Boundary Dispute. Canada’s seventh Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier was determined upon his election in 1896 to secure Canadian territorial claims and turned his attention to Alaska, where he pushed to establish control over two of the most significant mining settlements; Skagway and Dyea. Control over this territory, if Canada could obtain it, would assure access to any other valuable materials that might have existed there, which was largely the cause of the dispute over the Alaskan border. The patrol of the region during the Klondike gold rush by the Northwest Mounted Police served to further agitate Canadian claims to the Arctic territory. This dispute has continued into the 21st century between the nations of Britain, Canada, the United States, and Russia, as control over Arctic territory and resources continues to become an increasingly controversial topic in international affairs.
- Development of Infrastructure:
Throughout Alaska's history, there has been a focus on the expansion and the ability to navigate the difficult terrain that has caused many problems over the years. The recurring issue that hindered the development of Alaska was the vast terrain that would prove to be both a blessing and curse as many natural resources could be found there but problems with getting to them. The United States government made a focus to develop infrastructure thus ensuring the land could be used to its full potential.
After the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire in March 1867 there was quick movement by the United States government to make the most of the newly acquired lands. There were difficulties overcome by the government before progressive actions could be taken place. One of the difficulties that they had faced was the navigation throughout the region and understanding the topographical challenges throughout the landscape. The early maps of Alaska were very under detailed and were not very high quality, usually showed the peninsula stretching out rather than down and this translated to troubles navigating the waters in the early days as part of the United States, meaning this was an extremely hard place to start a life. After many years of mapping there were many companies that were able to produce very high-quality maps of the landscape, and by 1897 Rand McNally and Company produced a map very close in similarity as we know Alaska today. Map making was the next focus on improving the quality of life in Alaska as there became a new motive to use the land to its full potential. The United States government put out an early geological expedition, however, to have this problem overcome. This providing both a strategical advantage as the land was now able to become a tool and the resources were becoming known to the government.
As the benefits of the landscape became available to profit from, the United States set out to support the expansion in anyway they could to improve the economy in the country and use the new land up to its full potential. The travel into the Alaska was one of the main areas of focus in the development of Alaska. The expansion of Alaska could not move forward until there was safe passage available into the land. Alaska borders on the Canadian Yukon, and the Pacific Ocean, there was a necessity to have a harbour in Alaska as to not need to be passing through Canada with all the supplies going in and out of Alaska. As there was already an existing deepwater harbour, such as Dutch Harbour that is still in use today, that was set up from the Russians, the need was more focused on the development to navigate the waters. The need for this came as the United States gained the land, gain access to enter the Gulf of Alaska, and one way to accomplish this was to start building lighthouses along the coastline. This was achieved by Andrew Johnson in approving the formation of federally funded lighthouses along the jagged coastline of the Alaska Peninsula. This aided the many ships coming into Alaska without the fear of striking shallow or dangerous waters. These lighthouses were the first major step in improving the welfare of Alaska as a newly founded part of the United States, as there were new options for trade coming in and out. This boosted the economy as more ships were able to set sail. As they were only made of wood these short-term structures are all but gone today, with only a handful of these original lighthouses still standing.
The newly founded infrastructure would benefit the growth and development of Alaska as there were new options for the outcome of the new land. The next step in the development of infrastructure was the railway that would sweep across the landscape. The first initial company to try and benefit from the trade via railroad was the Alaska Central Railroad company which started to set up its infrastructure in 1903. Up to this point, there was a main concern for who would be able to get materials into the wilderness to make this possible and the ACR was the first to make it possible. The movement set up railroads was one path that many followed, as the ACR was mainly concerned with the movement of product from the southern parts of Alaska there was still great areas in the North that needed to be covered. One company that was interested in the development of railways was the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railroad) which was looking to put rails right into the heart of Alaska, however, this was never accomplished. This infrastructure was quickly expanding bringing both workforce and supplies into the countryside as forests and mountains were quickly converted to basecamps and railways. This expansion of the railway and the infrastructure was crucial in the initial development of the land, as supplies and trade goods were now flooding into the mainland United States. Goods from the industries such as such as fisheries, timber, and fur pelts were now becoming available from a land that was virtually untapped. This all became available because of the infrastructure that was being developed in Alaska and the development of towns took place. Because of the jobs being created this was all possible as the influx of workers into the new land was now becoming a settler population in which infrastructure was taking place.
Territorial Alaska (1912-1959)
Territorial Alaska (1912-1959)[edit | edit source]
Presidential Visits to Alaska[edit | edit source]
Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1923[edit | edit source]
Warren Gamaliel Harding was the 29th president of the United States, and the first president to visit the territory of Alaska while serving in office. In July 1923, while traveling on the USS Henderson, Alaska became the end destination of President Harding’s “Voyage of Understanding." On this journey, the President brought with him three members of his cabinet, including Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The tour made at least nine stops and was done in an effort to restore faith in President Harding's administration. The "Voyage of Understanding" lasted two months and provided the president with a better understanding of Alaska and its potential resource development. While in Alaska, one purpose of his visit was to place the ceremonial golden spike of the railroad located in Nenana, connecting the last two ends of the railroads to the southern port of Anchorage. Over the 15 days spent in the Territory of Alaska, Harding and his entourage visited Metlakatla, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Skagway, Seward, Anchorage, Wasilla, Willow, Nenana, Fairbanks, Cordova, and Sitka. After Harding’s visit to connect the two railways, Alaska saw an increase in tourism due to their newly finished mode of transportation. Alaska Railroad Corp was created during this time due to the increase in railway use.
On route from Alaska, Harding was also the first U.S president to set foot on Canadian soil in July on the 26th. One week after his arrival in Canada, and completing the railway, marked President Harding’s last public appearance. President Harding would die after suffering a sudden heart failure in San Francisco on August 2. A separate speculation regarding the president’s cause of death was brought into the public's eye, which claimed the natural cause of death resulted by eating poisoned Alaskan crabs, however, the official ruling was reported as a heart attack.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944[edit | edit source]
Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Alaska as part of his trip across the Pacific during World War II in 1944 to tour military facilities in Hawaii and Alaska.He left his wife at home however he was accompanied by his black Scottish Terrier, Fala, on the USS Baltimore. Since Roosevelt’s health had been declining his assistants believed that a trip to a quiet war zone, such as Alaska, would do well to not only help the president's health but to increase moral with the troops.
With the Second World War coming to a close, one major purpose of this trip was to lift spirits of the troops. While addressing over 150 troops in a mess hall located in Adak, FDR was taken aback by the beauty and prosperity set forth by Alaska, gaining admiration from the soldiers after stating "I wish more people back home could come out to Alaska -- and see what we have done here in an incredibly short time." Phrases such as this were repeated throughout FDR’s visit to Alaska where he encouraged the troops to build a life there after the war. These notions increased the number of veterans that chose to settle down in Alaska, and even today the state currently hosts the highest number of veterans nationally.
While visiting Alaska, President Roosevelt and his associates were taken fishing, a pastime the president enjoyed, to a variety of destinations along the Alaskan coast. Amid his leisure fishing time, there was a concern for Japanese submarines being located within Roosevelt’s designated path. This led to the president switching ships from the Baltimore to the USS Cummings in Auke Bay. After making these vessel changes, Roosevelt and his entourage headed to Tee Harbor, where he wrote that they caught five salmon, one halibut, two flounder and numerous cod, before heading south to Tolstoi Bay on Prince of Wales Island. It is rumored by the Republican party that in the time of his ship change and departure from Alaska, Roosevelt had left Fala, his faithful companion, behind and diverted a warship to retrieve the dog, costing up to 20 million dollars in taxpayers’ money. This was denied by Roosevelt, stating that "These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them." This lecture was given over the radio during Roosevelt’s campaigning for a fourth term and is referred to as the “Fala Speech”, of which Roosevelt denied causing such an action and costs to taxpayers, leading to a win of his fourth term as president. Ultimately, it was confirmed that the trip to Alaska was not as beneficial to President Roosevelt’s health as expected, as he died eight months later from a stroke, making him the second sitting president to visit Alaska and die less than a year later.
Alaska and the New Deal[edit | edit source]
Role of Highways[edit | edit source]
The beginning of highways in Alaska started with the large networks of dogsled trails and trading routes across the Territory. The Chilkoot Trail is one example of a critical trade route for the easy access to the Yukon Goldfields. In the twentieth century, traditional dogsled trails quickly became obsolete as Alaska’s railway system took shape. This network of railroad track continued to experience growth through the Territorial Alaska period with new rail lines extending to Seward, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Ship Creek (later known as Anchorage) and eventually to the Mears Memorial Bridge that crosses the Tanana River at Nenana. These routes were critical to the population growth and economic development in Alaska in those geographical areas.
With Canada being between the continental United States of America and Alaska, support from the Canadian government was critical to the highways success in connecting Alaska to the mainland US. Originally the Canadian government did not see any value in putting up the required funds and support for any new highways to Alaska since the only Canadians that would benefit from a highway were the few thousand people that lived in the Canadian Yukon Territory. Real support for the highway began in 1929 when the British Columbian government wanted to build a highway to Alaska to promote tourism and economic development in the province. With the impacts of the Great Depression and the Canadian government still not on board with the idea, efforts for new highways to and within Alaska were again forgotten.
With both the United States of America and Canada declaring war on Germany and allied powers in WWII, the changing needs and wants for both the US and Canada were greatly aligning with the increased attacks on the West Coast from Japan. On February 6, 1942, the United States Army approved the construction of the Alaska Highway and received authorization from Congress 5 days later. The Government of Canada also agreed with the construction of the Alaska Highway (also known as the ALCAN Highway, Alaska-Canadian Highway or Alaskan Highway). The Canadian Government was in agreement as long as the United States paid the whole cost of it. They also wanted the highway and any other facilities built to manage the highway, that was built in Canada to be turned over to them after the war ended. The highway was very important for the US Army to have a steady and easily accessible connection to Alaska. This strategically important connection between the Continual United States and Alaska was vital if Japan were to attack Alaska, especially after Pearl Harbour.
The construction of the ALCAN Highway also now connected many population centers together and could now be accessed more easily. The route initially connected Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Tok and Delta Junction together for an easier transfer of goods and services. The ALCAN Highway was constructed in the extreme terrain in a very short amount of time. Construction commenced on February 6, 1942, and finished on October 28, 1942, proving how critical this connection to Alaska was for the US Government. The highway didn’t end up going the most efficient way since time was more important than efficiency. This direct connection, while still a very long highway, contributed greatly to the population growth in Northern Canada and especially Alaska. The ALCAN highway was one of the main contributing factors to economic growth for Alaska in the time after it was built. Highways were, as they still are, critical to the delivery of goods and services. They also provided land travel to Alaska so new residents could more easily get there to settle the snowy terrain. Since automobiles were ever growing in popularity in the 20th Century, more and more people had cars and could easily move to a new part of the country when there was a promise of work or land ownership. Highways are also very fast methods of transportation when compared to traditional methods of walking across the land, by train when a railroad was already built or by boat through the Pacific Ocean.
After the war, the highway continued to be the ultimate way to get to Alaska cheaply and easily. It also contributed to the rise of tourism in Alaska as a way of income for many of the residents. Early tourists travelling on the new highways in 1950s Alaska loved the state because the glaciers shimmered in the sun, which never set and thus the state’s reputation as a tourism destination began to grow. The new modern highways that were being built also contributed to the growth of oil production and pipelines in Alaska. This was one of the great economic values to Alaska’s land before tourism really started to take root. The CANOL pipeline was also built during the construction of the ALCAN Highway and laid the groundwork for the extensive network of pipelines that Alaska has today. This new type of ‘highway’ system contributed to the discovery of more oil across Alaska and more economic growth in the Territory throughout the 20th Century.
Mining / Public Works[edit | edit source]
Following his election in 1932, President Roosevelt began implementing the New Deal: a multifaceted approach to relief, recovery, and reform in the wake of the Great Depression. One objective of the New Deal involved the reorganization and revitalization of natural resource industries. Alaska’s export-driven economy relied heavily on natural resources and was particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in world commodity prices. The effects of the Great Depression were further increased by the introduction of tariffs and market blockades by central states seeking to protect farmers and cattle herders in the continental United States. The FDR administration established the National Resources Board and appointed a Federal Alaska Committee to study the Alaskan economy and propose solutions. The mining industry was revitalized after an executive order was introduced to increase the price of gold from $20.67 to $35 an ounce. Renewed interest in mining led to a 135% increase in coal production from 1935 to 1940. Exports of other mineral products such as platinum, Quicksilver, antimony, and gypsum, doubled in value to over a million dollars annually in the late 1930s. The Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, created in 1933 and 1935 respectively, financed various infrastructure projects throughout the territory which provided employment to thousands of Alaskans and facilitated the construction of schools, emergency services, waterworks, and paved roadways. A steel bridge was constructed between Juneau and Douglas Island, and harbours were renovated based on the expertise and approval of US army engineers. In an effort to provide jobs and promote tourism, hotels were built near Alaska’s National Parks and hundreds of young men were employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps to carry out conservation work.
Matanuska Colony[edit | edit source]
Rural resettlement projects organized as part of the New Deal involved the relocation of struggling farmers to cooperative farming communities in under-cultivated areas. The Matanuska Valley in south-central Alaska was home to one of the largest and most expensive rural resettlement projects in the country. Harry Hopkins, the supervisor of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), proposed the establishment of a government-assisted agricultural colony in Alaska. The Matanuska Valley, sitting approximately 45 miles northeast of Anchorage at the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet, was chosen as the ideal location due to its proximity to the Alaska Railroad and it’s relatively mild climate, generous rainfall, and fertile soil.
In 1934, federal agents were sent to survey the valley and access its agricultural potential. The promising results of the survey led to a decision on the part of the FERA and the Department of the Interior to develop and implement a plan for the creation of a government-assisted agricultural colony in the Manasuka Valley. The plan called for the relocation of 200 families from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The Social Services Administration selected settlers based primarily on the amount of time they had spent on active relief rolls. Preference was given to experienced farmers between 25 and 35 years of age, particularly those of northern European descent since it was thought that they could adapt more easily to the Alaskan climate. The primary objectives of the colony were to encourage the self-sufficiency of the farmers, supply food, and promote the growth of Alaska’s economy. The colony was organized based on building types, farming practices and spatial arrangements found in small Midwestern agricultural communities. It was to be a cooperative community in which members would raise similar crops and engage in cooperative marketing. Scandinavian agricultural models were adopted based on the “Scandinavian Analogy”, which pointed to similarities in latitude and day length between Alaska and Scandinavia. This led government administrators to incorrectly anticipate similar levels of agricultural productivity. The “Scandinavian Analogy” ignored differences in climate and soil composition, as well as Scandinavia’s proximity to large populations and the centuries of infrastructural development that facilitated the country’s agricultural production. Implementation of the plan in Alaska began on February 4, 1935 with Executive Order No. 6957, which prohibited homesteading, allowed the federal government to take possession of all abandoned homesteads and declared that all government lands in the area would be reserved for the colony. Government agents and surveyors plotted out two hundred 40-acre tracts of land. The 917 adults and children who arrived at the Matanuska Valley in May 1935 struggled to adapt to the climate, and grew frustrated after several poor harvests and delayed supply shipments. After 4 years, almost half of the original colonists had departed. While the colony did not achieve the success that was hoped for by government administrators, it publicized the area and led to an influx of other Americans seeking to capitalize on Alaska’s natural resource potential. Remnants of the project can still be seen today throughout the landscape of the Matanuska Valley, as many of the houses, barns and roadways all resemble those found in the Midwest.
Alaskan Natives[edit | edit source]
The FDR administration established the Indian Civilian Conservation Corps (ICCC) in April 1933 to improve reservation lands throughout the country. Projects in Alaska included the construction of new living quarters for teachers in Hoonah and reparation of the Juneau Government hospital. The Department of the Interior, under Secretary Harold Ickes and his Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, appointed a committee to study the link between Alaskan Native arts and their economic and cultural welfare. The committee concluded that government-assisted development of Native arts could provide income, promote self-sufficiency, and help the tribes maintain their cultural heritage.
After years of assimilation policies, the traditional practice of totem pole carving in Alaska had nearly ended. The ICCC, working in collaboration with the Forest Service, administered a program aimed at restoring totem poles throughout the territory. More than one hundred 19th century totem poles were restored, and over 250 Alaskan natives were employed in the process. Miniature models of the poles were sold to tourists with the help of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which developed promotional strategies to expand the market and used a government trademark to ensure authenticity.
Alaska in World War II[edit | edit source]
Prelude to the Japanese Invasion of Alaska[edit | edit source]
After the First World War, a key treaty was made between the winning powers. The primary signers that affected Alaska were the United States and Japan. The treaty was called Five-Power Naval Armament Treaty and was signed in 1922. The treaty restricted what the United States could fortify, Hawaii was non-negotiable. But the United State made concessions with Japan saying that they would leave the Aleutian Islands alone. However, this treaty expired in 1936 after which the United States made no move to fortify them. Five years later the United States realized that the Aleutian Islands were very important to their national defense as they helped to prevent Northern Pacific naval attacks. The United States military built bases to occupy these islands. This pressured Japan into feeling like they were slowly being surrounded by the rival power. Newspapers in Japan commented that an outside power was trying to strangle Japan slowly. Hence the Japanese attacks on the Aleutian Islands which led to them occupying the islands of Kiska and Attu.
Another event prior to the American-Japanese conflict in World War II, was an incident that occurred in which Japanese naval aircraft mistakenly fired upon an American ship off the coast of the Chinese city of Nanking, believing it was an enemy Chinese vessel. Japan took full responsibility for the attack and apologized to the United States; however, many Americans grew suspicious of the Japanese imperial expansion and worried that the Japanese government would launch an attack on America across the Pacific Ocean. Brigadier General William Mitchell recommended to Congress that the United States develop strong air defences to protect the West Coast from a potential Japanese attack. At the start of America’s involvement in World War II in 1939 – and two years before the Pearl Harbor attack – the American Congress created a Panama-Hawaii-Alaska defense triangle, which the Americans planned as the main defensive line against a possible Japanese assault. However, Alaska was not adequately fortified which allowed to the occupation by Japanese forces.
Trade During the War[edit | edit source]
Due to its unique geographic position as the most northwestern territory, and its proximity to the Soviet Union(USSR), Alaska played a vital role in the United States’ trade and support to its allies during World War II. When the Lend-Lease Act was signed in 1941, it meant that the United States could ship large quantities of military supplies such as weapons, ammunition, and vehicles to major allies such as Britain and China without any immediate compensation. Due to cultural tensions between the two countries, the USSR was not immediately included in The Lend-Lease Act as, despite President Roosevelt's sympathy for the Soviets during wartime, he did not have the support of the American people or Congress to do so. However, the United States was also aware of the importance of having good relations with the Soviets, and after holding meetings with Stalin and Churchill, Roosevelt managed to convince Congress to add the USSR to the list of benefactors. They were introduced as a member of the second Lend-Lease Act when it was renewed by Congress in November 1941.
With trading activity established between the two parties, the next challenge was to develop transportation routes by which supplies could be sent. The solution was to use Alaska as it was the closest piece of US land in proximity to the far east of the USSR, only separated by the Bering Strait. However, due to its geographic location in relation to the rest of the country, the United States had to first find a way to the get supplies to Alaska. That is why in February 1942, construction started on a brand new, Alaska-Canada Highway. The thirty-million-dollar highway stretched 2, 237 km and was composed of two parts. The first starting from Dawson Creek, British Columbia leading to Whitehorse, Yukon, and the second from Whitehorse to Fairbank, Alaska. After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, all new development was to be stopped for a brief period. However, it became apparent that trading paths and further reinforcement were needed in the northwest to prevent vulnerability facing Japan in the Pacific. Over forty-five thousand workers and engineers moved at a rapid pace as the project was completed before the end of the year. The construction was done predominately by African American workers. Conditions were quite poor as the weather was often freezing and the pace which workers were pressured to work under was quite intense. Apart from the newly acquired ability to efficiently send supplies from the US to Alaska, many consider the most significant impacts of the Alaska- Canada Highway to be the US occupation of northwest Canada. It had fundamental changes politically, socially, and economically as it brought a large diverse group of Americans into what was otherwise a scarcely populated area of the country. Many locals had not lived with African Americans in their communities previously and the large influx of workers meant a more Americanized social structure.
Now that the United States had an efficient means of getting supplies through Canada and into Alaska, transportation methods had to be established to send equipment to the USSR. The decided method of transportation was air, rather than by sea. After testing many different flight paths and differently sized air-crafts in the earlier years of the war, the United States and the USSR established the Alaska-Siberian Airway (ALSIB). The nearly ten-thousand- kilometer route went from Fairbanks to Moscow, stopping at several military bases in the east along the way. A key factor that made the airway a possible transportation route was the minimal amount of flight time over water as the Bering Strait was only 85 km wide.
Throughout the war, the Alaska-Siberia Airway helped deliver over half of a million tons of supplies from the years of 1943-1945. While ships could still use the Bering Strait to transport supplies, the air was the most efficient mode of transportation as it allowed for a greater distance to be travelled over a shorter period of time. The development of the ALSIB would later prove to be vital as the Soviet’s dependency on the Lend-Lease Act would increase when the allies announced a second front in 1943.
The Japanese Occupation[edit | edit source]
During the summer of 1942 and six months after the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack on Oahu Hawaii, which had brought America into armed conflict with Japan, Japanese forces landed troops in the Aleutian Islands. This had been preceded by an aerial attack that left several American fuel tanks and a hospital damaged. This 15-month campaign was the only World War II military campaign fought on North American soil. Japanese forces included the carrier Ryujo and a brand-new aircraft carrier, Junyo, which together carried an armada of eighty-two attack planes. Two heavy cruisers, three destroyers, and an oil ship supported the carriers. This group was also supported by Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya’s Northern Force which included four cruisers, nine destroyers and three means of transport that carried two thousand five hundred Japanese soldiers. Their plan was to assault Dutch Harbor; drawing American naval forces north toward Alaska, then Yamamoto’s Combined Imperial Fleet would make its massed attack in the vicinity of Midway Island, 2000 miles to the south of Kakuta. The Aleutian Islands were a target because of their proximity to Paramushiro in the Japanese Kuriles. The Aleutians were the only area from which American planes could reach Japanese soil.
Following the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo where American bombers targeted industrial areas, the Japanese were scrambling to prevent further attacks. Thus, the Aleutian islands were targeted by The Imperial High Command in part because they believed there were bases there. Following the battle of Dutch Harbor, The Imperial Northern Force landed on the beaches of Kiska and Attu. After some time, all the sailors stationed in Kiska were captured; William House was the last to surrender after spending fifty days at large in the Aleutian mountains. However, Japan encountered no military resistance because the United States Army had not stationed any units nearby, and the closest military units were stationed on Unalaska Island at Dutch Harbor 847 miles away. A few hours after landing on Kiska, Massacre Bay, Attu was taken. The only man to die during the invasion of the western Aleutians was Charles Foster Jones, an American civilian who died in captivity. The successful takeover of American territory represented a symbolic victory for Japan since they had taken territory from what they considered to be a strong military power. It also allowed the Japanese government to create propaganda, masking their casualties and declaring the campaign a success.
In August 1942, however, the Americans created an airbase on Adak Island located 248 miles from Kiska Island, which the Americans used to send aircraft to bomb Japanese ships stationed at Kiska. Kiska harbour was used as the main naval base for Japanese ships during the invasion. In addition, the American Navy sent submarines to Kiska to bombard the Japanese strongholds and to sink Japanese warships, though these operations were aimed just to harass the Japanese stationed there until a plan could be put in place to re-take the islands.
Prisoners of War and Evacuation of Islands[edit | edit source]
The Japanese forces held the Alaskan villagers for two months. During the occupation, Japanese forces ruled the area harshly. A local native noted “We did not have much food, but sometimes they would let us go out in a dory to fish. They made us take a little Jap flag on our boat”. The Attuans were kept under close watch by the Japanese soldiers, those who attempted to run were shot. Japanese officers were able to control their forces well, and the people of Attu were mostly unharmed.
In September 1942, forty-two Attuans were moved aboard a merchant ship, the Yoko Maru. They were allowed to bring food, blankets, and even furniture, however, the Japanese forces shipped the Attuans back to Japan as prisoners. The trip to Japan took two weeks and one casualty, Anecia Prokopeuff, died on board the ship. Upon arriving in Japan the Attuans were housed in a vacant railroad employee dormitory on Wakatake-cho. In Japan several Attuans died of disease, tuberculosis and beriberi were likely the cause, as these diseases ran rampant throughout the camp. The Attuan residents were employed in digging clay from an open pit mine, while they were supposed to be paid for this work they received no compensation until they were released. Out of the 42 prisoners taken, only 26 survived their internment. In response, the U.S. military began evacuating Aleuts (Natives of the Aleutian Islands) from the other Aleutian Islands nearby. In total, 881 Aleuts were evacuated from the Aleut islands in June and July 1942. In addition to evacuating the residents, the U.S. military burned the local residences to prevent their use by Japan.
American Re-Capturing of Islands[edit | edit source]
Battle of Attu[edit | edit source]
On May 11, 1943 the United States Army prepared to capture the island of Attu. This was known as "Operation Landgrab". The US had already started bombing the islands of Attu and Kiska before sending 11,000 troops to Attu. American soldiers rowed ashore in the dead of night, and during the landing, the army faced several challenges. These included foggy and freezing weather, a shortage of landing craft, and equipment that malfunctioned due to the cold. Many soldiers suffered from frostbite as well. The fight for the island lasted a total of 19 days. The battle for Attu would last five days before Americans could take any ground from the Japanese entrenchment. The Japanese who were severally outnumbered gained high ground making it hard for American soldiers to advance given the weather conditions. By the seventh day, American forces had suffered eleven hundred casualties, 500 of which were due to cases of exposure. However, on the final day, the entire remaining Japanese army on Attu made the LARGEST SUICIDAL BONZAI CHARGE IN THE PACIFIC THEATR1. In total, the Americans suffered 500 combat dead and 3829 casualties but the Japanese suffered 2571 dead out of 2600; only 29 Japanese prisoners were captured alive. The excessive killing was partly due to American hatred toward the Japanese for capturing American soil. The resulting anger saw many Americans killing wounded Japanese soldiers on the battlefield.
Following the end of the war, the Attuan prisoners were released. American forces were able to airdrop them much-needed supplies, which they shared with their friends among the Japanese. The Japanese eventually gave back the cremated remains of the Attuans who had died in Japan. The remains of the deceased Attuans were buried near the Atka church, but outside church grounds as the Russian Orthodox Church does not allow cremation. Though the Attuans wished to return to Attu, they were told there weren’t enough people left to resettle their village. The Attuans were moved into the village of Atka. This initially caused significant friction between the two groups, but eventually, the remaining Attuans were able to integrate with the Atkans.
Battle of Kiska[edit | edit source]
The Battle of Kiska occurred on August 15, 3 months after the battle of Attu. Prior to the battle, the Canadian Air-Force patrolled the skies above Kiska in a reconnaissance role. American and Canadian Naval Forces were also stationed off the coast of the island. A combined American and Canadian infantry force was sent to re-take the island. The American military command believed the mission would be quite dangerous; some commanders predicted the casualty rate would be upwards of 90%. However, upon arrival, they found the Japanese forces had already retreated. Rumors of Japanese snipers operating in the area led to significant friendly-fire among the infantrymen which ultimately took the lives of 28 American soldiers and wounded 50 others. The Japanese forces had actually completely left the island before the Americans even arrived. Before they left, Japanese soldiers had installed time-bombs, booby-traps, and mines throughout the Kiska area which continued to injure and kill soldiers in the days following the original battle. The operation ended with over 300 recorded casualties.
Weather and the War[edit | edit source]
The soldiers who fought at the battle of Kiska dealt with challenging weather conditions. During their first night, rain and fog came in from the Bering Sea and impaired their vision. In one case, an incidence of friendly-fire was narrowly avoided when a man appeared out of the fog and was mistaken for an enemy soldier. Fortunately, he was able to identify himself before he was shot. In the aftermath of the battle, soldiers were wrought with sickness and disease due to their exposure to the elements. Those serving in the U.S. and Canadian Air Forces were also faced with difficult and sometimes dangerous weather conditions. In the January 1943 issue of Air Force magazine, an article called “North from Great Falls” contained advice specifically for airmen flying in Alaska. For instance, it described how to navigate through the weather conditions, what to do in the event of a crash, and how to use a special heater to warm the engine prior to starting it. The survival kits that these pilots carried with them contained items such as fire starter, a pistol, bouillon cubes, and iodine to purify water. Pilots in Alaska had a wide range of unconventional duties; in addition to operating the planes and equipment, they were expected to guard gasoline and keep bears off the runway at night. The mud and slush that soldiers walked through during the spring and fall seasons made them particularly susceptible to Trench Foot. It was one of the most common medical conditions for soldiers stationed at Kiska. The Air Force Magazine mentioned earlier also had an article titled “How to Keep Well” which discusses the symptoms and treatment of trench foot.
Adjusting to life in Alaskan was especially difficult for servicemen who had come from warmer states. A common issue they dealt with was getting their skin stuck to metal objects. The “How to Keep Well” article discussed earlier talked about how to deal with that situation if it happens. If it happened to someone they could either try to break loose and risk leaving some skin behind or they could pour hot water on the metal piece in order to warm it up and risk getting burned. This was a unique and unfortunate challenge that these soldiers faced that would only add to the misery they felt.
Overall, the weather and battle conditions in Alaska were miserable for all the soldiers who served there. The weather along the Aleutian chain is among the worst in the world. Dense fogs, rough waters, and raging windstorms worn down soldiers from both sides. One physician on the ground noted how he could tell which soldiers had been on the islands for longer than six months: the number of American soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder steadily increased during this campaign. In order to keep morale up among the United States citizens and to keep them from realizing how close their homeland came to being attacked, and, in some cases such as Kiska occupied, the information given to the public was limited. The failure and the mistakes that the United States faced on Kiska also helped limit the information provided to the public. Due to all these factors, the campaign fought in Alaska has almost been forgotten but remains an important part of both Alaskan history and the history of the United States as a whole.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
Shortly after the Battle of the Aleutian Islands, the Japanese re-positioned themselves in Northern Japan to protect themselves in case of an American attack. No major form of retaliation would come from the Americans. The United States learned many lessons from the fighting that took place on the Aleutian Islands. One of the most important ones was that it was an important strategical point for their military. They learned that they should have taken the islands back quickly to prevent the Japanese from building fortifications. The United States also needed to refine their tactics in order to properly address the conditions commonly seen in Alaska. Weather and terrain needed to be considered when planning infantry attacks. They needed to plan attacks so that they could coordinate both aerial and naval bombardments which synced with the infantry divisions attacking routes. Battles in Alaska were very difficult because of the mountainous terrain and cold conditions. The time spent before battles proved that the United States was not ready logistically. The logistical failings can be seen in the United States soldiers morale. The soldiers were constantly under dressed and under supplied for the battles they were fighting, causing low morale among the troops. The United States also learned how to properly transport goods to their troops so that they could fight properly. It was events like these that forced the United States military to adapt when they built and armed the forces deployed in Alaska.
After the war, thousands of American civilians moved to the sparsely populated region. Larger cities such as Anchorage grew from 3,000 to 47,000 people and Fairbanks grew from 4,000 to 20,0000 people. Between 1940 and 1950, the Alaskan population as a whole expanded by 72,000. In addition, the Secretary of the Interior designated eight sites – including the battlefields and landing sites at Attu and Kiska – as National Historic Landmarks. Furthermore, in December 2008, President George Bush Jr. issued an Executive Order which established the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The Alaska unit includes the battlefields and landing sites of Attu and Kiska.
Statehood (1959-present)[edit | edit source]
When the question of statehood for Alaska was first raised, it was mostly Alaskan leaders trying to develop some political gain. They brought up the idea in order to blame different problems on non-Alaskan residents but never thought that the idea of statehood would ever be taken seriously. After the end of World War II, Alaska gained many new residents who were ready to develop their new home. In this fight for statehood, some concerns were with the salmon industry over any hostile legislation of the state, Republicans were worried that Alaskans would send Democrats to Washington, and people questioned the small population and limited economic ability to support statehood. With the 1946 referendum, the vote for statehood was just three to two but after some intense lobbying in 1957-58, the Alaskan people vote was five to one and the conditions of admission were accepted. In 1959, almost 100 years after the purchase of Alaska from Russia, it had finally become the 49th state of America when President Eisenhower signed the official declaration on January 3rd.
Once Alaska had gained their statehood, Congress gave it the right to develop over a 100 million acres of federal land. The problem was that some of this land belonged to Native Alaskans which caused protest over this controversial issue. There was a land freeze until the claims had been settled which needed to advance quickly as the extraction and transportation of oil were important in the development of the infrastructure. Government officials, Alaskan Native groups, and businesses such as the representatives from the oil industry worked on the outcome of the land claims. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement was a major development which settled issues of Native Land claims, property rights, social, economic, political and cultural aspects of the Alaskan Natives. The ANCSA included 200 local villages, 12 Native-owned regional corporations, and a corporation made up of Alaska Natives who had left the state. Some benefits that Alaska Natives had received for renouncing their land over to the government was 45.5 million acres of land in other areas, payments totalling $962.5 million and the oil companies had to provide a guaranteed percentage of Alaskan Natives with jobs.
Exxon Valdez Disaster[edit | edit source]
On March 24, 1989, The Exxon Valdez struck the Bligh reef spilling ten million gallons of crude oil at approximately 12:04am. The ship was operating on autopilot and had received orders by the Coast Guard to travel through an inbound lane in order to avoid icebergs. The Commander of ship was not at the wheel of the ship during this time, and had left another crew member at the wheel. The Exxon Valdez disaster was the largest oil-tanker spill in U.S history which had turned the pure environment of Alaska’s Prince William Sound into a catastrophe.
Cleanup and Impact of the Exxon Valdez Disaster[edit | edit source]
The cleanup of this spill was extremely unorganized, as it was not started for more than ten hours after the collision. Booms and skimmers were predominantly used to clean the spill. Although, they ultimately were not effective cleaning only an estimated 10% of the oil. The spill caused political turmoil resulting in another reason why oil development in the National Wildlife Community Refuge should be stopped. The fishing industry was greatly affected as the hydrocarbon was contaminated in the spawning area for fish like herring and salmon. Other wildlife animals that were affected by the spill were otters and birds as oil destroys the insulating qualities in their fur and only a limited amount of them was able to be rescued due to the inaccessibility of their habitats. Fourteen years subsequent to the spill, a study from the University of North Carolina was published that stated much of the oil from the spill still remained in the waters, which was far longer than the government had expected.Although, a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014 concluded that after 25 years since the spill, species are beginning to recover and stabilize their population to pre-spill numbers.
Oil Pollution Act of 1990[edit | edit source]
In response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, President George. HW. Bush enacted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 on August 18. This ultimately redefined the roles regarding federal and state officials in spill emergencies. The President also strongly encouraged that the oil industry implement a Marine Spill Response Organization, due to Exxon Valdez oil spill.Numerous years prior to the Exxon Valdez oil spill the United States Congress considered enacting legislation to deal with a catastrophic oil spill, however there had not been one of the Exxon Valdez’s magnitude prompting immediacy for an agreement.
Prudhoe Oil Bay Discovery[edit | edit source]
In 1963, the Richard Oil Corporation began running seismic survey crews through Northern Alaska and just a year later, the Prudhoe structure was discovered. Exploring Alaska for oil was much more difficult than other parts of America due to the terrain, weather, and logistic problems. The Prudhoe Oil Bay was discovered on March 12, 1968, by the oil companies of Exxon, Atlantic Richfield who worked more with the Eastern territory and British Petroleum who was a major part operating in the West. At the time of this discovery, the Prudhoe Oil Bay was considered the largest in North America measuring 15 by 40 miles of land. The land freeze caused by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement delayed building for the pipeline as the oil companies did not know what portions of the land they could build on and had to wait until the claim had come to an agreement. Today the Prudhoe Oil Bay is part of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline which transports 11% of the nation’s domestic oil production across a vast 800 miles of tundra. The pipeline travels three mountain ranges, more than 500 rivers and has more than 550 crossing for Alaska’s wildlife.
The Impacts of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Discovery[edit | edit source]
The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 had wide-ranging impacts on the new state of Alaska. Prudhoe Bay, located in Alaska’s Northern region, isolated from the southwest and south-central regions by the Yukon River and the Alaska Mountain Range, had, prior to the oil discovery, remained largely unexplored. Indeed, it was predominantly native Eskimos who lived on the North Slope. Despite the oil discovery at Cook Inlet in 1957, Prudhoe Bay, comprised, as Robert Anderson, the chairman of the Arctic Richfield Company announced, ‘the largest petroleum accumulations known to the world today’. It was estimated that the site contained 12 billion barrels of oil. It was this discovery that brought Alaska, for the first time, into the limelight around the world, raising the new state's profile. The immediate problem was transportation: with the Arctic Ocean being icebound for most of the year, the Atlantic Richfield Company and the British Petroleum Oil Corporation announced on 10th of February 1969, that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) would be created- the largest and most ambitious construction plan covering 1285 kilometers.
The Political Impact of Transporting Oil from Prudhoe Bay[edit | edit source]
As mentioned above, the initial impact of the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay was the problem of transportation. The consequent building of the TAPS caused huge controversy, delaying construction until 1975. As a pipeline worker, Ron Rau stated, "the pipeline was like an iceberg", revealing the ideological differences between ‘Boomers’, those who had moved to Alaska to participate in its anticipated wealth, and the traditionalists, who strove to preserve America’s last ‘wilderness’. As Lois Crisler stated, the wilderness relied on two principles: ‘remoteness’, and the ‘presence of wild animals’. It was feared that the prospect of an oil rush would destroy both principles. The division became evident when, in 1970, five native villages sued the state, claiming ownership for a section of the land in which pipeline construction was intended. Additionally, the Wilderness Society, Environmentalists Defense Fund and Friends of the Earth, particularly concerned with the effects on the caribou, fishing and the preservation of the wilderness, sued for violation of the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act, leading to the blocking of construction in 1970. Environmentalist opposition intensified in 1971 with the Alaska Coalition supporting a five-year delay in development to allow for a detailed environmental plan. The Boomer belief was oppositional, production should take place immediately, and was in ‘the national interest’ due to the oil shortage by 1973. As a result, following the resolution of native claims through the Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, construction began in 1975.
The Economic Impact of Prudhoe Bay[edit | edit source]
Undeniably, the main impact of the discovery at Prudhoe Bay was the economic transformation of Alaska. Prior to this discovery, Alaska was considered to be, as Luther Carter states, a "pauper state", an economy that relied on renewable resources such as fish, timber, and the Cook Inlet oil development. It was the same economy which led the US government, during the statehood debate, to question whether Alaska would be able to support itself. From the outset, Prudhoe Bay brought economic successes. The initial oil lease bonus bids amounted to $12 million for drilling rights to the area, followed by a further $900 million in 1969. This would provide enough to cover government expenditures for four and a half years. Furthermore, in the period of 1965-1975, the gross domestic product of the state more than doubled. This had a huge effect on individual residents. In 1982 the government sent $1,000 dollars to every Alaska resident. These annual payments, initiated through the Dividend Program, were possible through the creation of the Permanent Fund, a savings account which required 25% of oil lease revenues to be placed. Since 1982, Alaskans have continued to receive dividend payments ranging between $331 to $900. Despite the fluctuation, these payments provided significant support for many Alaskans and helped to change the "pauper" state considerably. As well as, the increased individual and state wealth brought the modernisation of life for many. Later on, snowmobiles replaced snow-dogs, modern houses replaced the traditional lodges, shops emerged, all financed through oil money. in the end, it was oil money modernized the state of Alaska. Furthermore, Alaskans’ annual wage increased between 1965 and 1974 from 8,200 to 14,500.
However, this increase in wealth was not completely positive. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, prostitution rose significantly, with earnings being ‘almost as good as Vegas’. Many of those involved in prostitution were Eskimos, emphasizing that for many native women the only way to prosper from wage increases was to turn to prostitution.
A Boom and Bust Economy[edit | edit source]
Despite the outward form of stable economics, Alaska’s economy is arguably the opposite, one plagued by boom and bust periods, based on a complete dependence on oil prices. The initial ‘boom’ period was coincidental to the Arab-Israeli War and the consequent Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo, led to the value of oil, by the 1970s and the 1980s, to be ten to twelve times as much as prior to these events. Following the initial ‘boom’, 1968 to the early 1980s, the late 1980s saw a huge ‘bust’ due to the price of oil falling to $10.30 per barrel in 1986. Strikingly, a piece of dollar in the drop of oil prices accounted, in 1986, to $547.5 million less for Alaska. The main drawback is that Alaska’s economy is over-reliant on oil revenues, which comprised in 1986 85% of the government’s wealth. Despite those attempts to widen the basis of the economy, for example through barley farming, and the dairy industry, over-reliance has continued throughout the years, in part, due to the isolated location of Alaska and the climate- exports would be expensive depending on each location. The effects of this over-reliance are both hugely and severely impairing to Alaska. Most importantly in 1986, with the state budget squat of money, many Alaskans jobs were threatened with loss, 55 out of 900 workers had already been laid off and axed from the Atlantic Richfield Company, and 150 out of 16,000 in the state government and politics.
Of particular concern, is that oil, which is a non-renewable source that will eventually run out, continues to provide the basis of the Alaskan economy. Most importantly, unavoidable drops-in oil price becomes synonymous with the decline in production- the more oil drilled, the harder and more expensive it is to locate more. It is this, which has led many of these people to be concerned about the future of Alaska’s economy and assets, as a C.V. Chatterton stated that, ‘there’s not a chance that the present rate of production is going to continue beyond 1988’.
Good Friday Earthquake[edit | edit source]
Another disaster to hit the state of Alaska (unlike the Exxon Valdez disaster but still devastating) was the Good Friday Earthquake. On March 27, 1964, at 17:30 pm a destructive earthquake occurred in Anchorage Alaska. The damaging tremors that came with it lasted for about four minutes which was enough time to destroy many Southern Alaska towns including highways, bridges, buildings as well as unfortunately injure and take the lives of many. Avalanches and landslides also occurred breaking up rivers and flooding the coastline creating tsunamis which happened to be the most devastating part. The earthquake covered around one million square miles of dry land in total and measured 9.2 on the Richter scale. These devastating effects saw a total of one hundred and nineteen million dollars in losses; this made it the costliest and second deadliest earthquake and tsunami in U.S. history, not to mention the largest U.S. earthquake ever recorded and the second largest earthquake worldwide. For such a large earthquake, the loss of life was fortunately low totalling at around 130 deaths. The area most affected by the quake was luckily not densely populated, as well as the nice weather outside may have helped people avoid collapsing buildings. Since the tremors were moderately weak at first before growing stronger citizens had time to be warned. Whilst geographically, the earthquake devastated areas, the economy of Alaska was largely kept intact. This earthquake had the potential to be a hugely destructive force, geographically, economically and socially for Alaska and many predicted that the effects would be devastating.
The Earthquake can be profoundly linked to the effects it had or did not have on Alaska’s newfound statehood. When the earthquake hit, Alaska had just marked its 5th anniversary as a state, having achieved statehood in 1959, thus at this point in time, they were a very proud nation, however, the natural resource boom, such as the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 had not yet occurred for Alaska. Therefore America still saw Alaska as a weaker nation with something to prove. Thus the fact that the main business district and the most elite residential area was completely devastated by the quake meant that it had the potential to cause a huge economic disaster for Alaska. However, in reality, this was not the case, the earthquake actually seems to have boosted the Alaskan economy, sustaining it until the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, which caused a boom in their economy. This was arguably due to the form and nature of the property damage and the large amount of external aid that Alaska received. The large majority of the damage that was inflicted on public property by the earthquake and subsequent natural disasters was actually federally owned. Therefore, mostly all of it was restored by federal funds and reconstruction money was released rapidly. Similarly, damages to the private sector were funded by generous federal aid to private groups and businesses. Thus the economy did not seem to suffer nearly as bad as many people predicted it would, George W. Rogers suggests that ‘on the whole, there appears to have been an increase in employment and economic activity’ after the earthquake. Indeed, the effects of the earthquake in Seward meant a complete rebuilding of a small boat port; the new port was much larger which benefited the town hugely because before the smallness of the boat port had restricted the city’s economic development. For individuals and communities, the damage was, in some cases great, but on the whole, the economy was certainly boosted. The only issue that was caused by this federal funding and recovery aid was the fact that Alaska had only just gained statehood, something that was originally a way for the Alaskan economy to change from a federal government orientation to a ‘self-sustaining locally oriented economy’ as noted by George W. Rogers. This did then mean that Alaska was still relying on aid from the federal government. However, that did soon change with the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay and the federal aid meant that the recovery time for Alaska was rapid and efficient, thus not damaging the economy.
Scientifically and geographically, the Alaskan Good Friday Earthquake did have severe and far-reaching consequences, however. The earthquake caused significant damage to an area of around 50,000 square miles according to scholar George W. Rogers, he also suggests that the earthquake also caused massive aftershocks with 28 occurring within twenty-four hours and ten of them being above six on the Richter scale. The village of Seward was hit particularly badly in that it did not just receive one element of aftershock; it received all three, the earthquake itself, followed by seismic waves and landslides. The damage in the ports of Alaska was overwhelming, however, what is significant about this earthquake was that it did not take that many lives, plenty of smaller earthquakes than the good Friday earthquake have wiped out a much more substantial number of people. The reasons for this were mainly due to the day that the earthquake occurred on; being a holiday inhabitants were at home rather than at school, by the docks or working, thus the difference in damage to property compared to lives lost is huge. Not only did the damage spread in Alaska, but the aftershocks of the earthquake reached as far as Hawaii, Mexico, and Japan, the seismic waves that reached them were fairly small, with Japan only receiving a one-foot wave whilst Hawaii received a seven-foot wave. Therefore, fortunately, the damage was limited and inconsequential. However, in places such as Crescent City in California, twelve lives were lost due to the seismic waves that were rolling in. Thus, whilst the damage economically was actually fairly limited and in actuality helped to boost the economy, the geographical damage of the Good Friday earthquake was huge and extremely far-reaching.
Statehood and Alaskan Native Concerns[edit | edit source]
On January 3rd, 1959 Alaska finally became a state of the United States of America. It became the 49th state after President Eisenhower signed the declaration. This occurred after a long struggle and resistance from Washington due to a variety of reasons. Some of them being; the salmon industry concerned over unfavourable legislation by the new state Republicans worrying that Alaskans would send Democrats to Washington. Southern Democrats fearing two more senators favouring civil rights and the persistent question as to if Alaska’s small population and limited economic ability can support a government along with many other reasons. Alaska’s territorial status was desired to be adhered to due to the advantages it provided to military power during World War II. If kept a territory, access to the military base and further construction would be very accessible. However, after World War II Alaska gained many residents and increased their economic prosperity. The new citizens were eager to develop the land but their pursuits were halted until statehood could be achieved. Alaska’s detachment from the country was a definite barrier in the declaration of statehood. In 1946, a referendum for the support of statehood was only at three to two. After lobbying for support in 1958 the vote was five to one in favour of acceptance. Statehood was finally achieved after significant backing by prominent figures and its case being tied with Hawaii’s proposal. Citizens felt that they had transformed from second-tier citizens to full inclusion.
There was a celebratory bonfire which marked the achievement of finally becoming a state. This bonfire was enormous and was able to be seen from space; it made it into the Guinness World Book of Records. Going from being a territory to a state marked a huge occasion for the citizens of Alaska.
However, not everyone was thrilled with this newly achieved statehood. The people were divided regionally and even into pro-state regions. Some concerns were, especially in Southeast Alaska, that statehood would institutionalize a form of economic colonialism over the fishing industry. Along with Alaska not being able to support itself which could have lead to issues of land and resource development. Largely, however, the main political division was between 'urban' and 'rural' Alaskans or the Non-natives and Alaskan natives.
Alaska Native Claims Settlement[edit | edit source]
Despite the profound effect statehood would impose on Alaskan natives, they were not included in the political process. As a result, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement (ANCSA) came about in 1971. The ANCSA was not taken seriously until the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay meant constructing a pipeline through Native lands would be necessary for the oil to be retrieved. This put pressure on the aboriginal claims to be settled so that work on the pipeline could begin. The settlement, which was intended to resolve disputes over land and to spur economic development, was the largest indigenous land claims settlement in the history of the United States. The deal would transfer settlement lands to for-profit corporations owned by Alaska natives.
While this act offered self-sustenance by providing Alaskan Natives with opportunities for economic advancement, which could contribute to greater political capital to be used to support cultural and social agendas, there were a number of detriments. The act failed to address Native sovereignty and subsidence rights, a topic of serious concern during Alaska’s transition into a state. The settlement, in essence, was a strategic technique to pit corporate interests against traditional uses of land for cultural and subsistence purposes. This in turn would corporatize native interests and assimilate them into white culture. The deal itself was the first of its kind in the United States; instead of a treaty, a congressional act was exercised. This lead to concerns over the stability of the deal, as unlike a treaty, laws can be altered and nulled. Nonetheless, Alaskan Natives agreed to the terms, largely because they believed this was the best settlement they were going to receive. Though there was a native delegation on the settlement committee and Native organizations were consulted, no native representatives were involved in the Congress vote. Even though all but one organization voted for the settlement this was due to the political hostility towards their decision. Millions of dollars were made due to this act which benefitted the native community. The question of whether Alaskan Natives had land claims continued to be a key issue.
Many legal issues and court cases arose as to if there were any Alaskan Native land rights. In order to address this issue, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) came about in 1980. This act had a greater impact which continues to have effects today. The act granted Alaskan Natives, in particular, residents of rural Alaska, subsistence rights on federal public lands and required the same protection from the state on state and private lands. These are the major acts which came about to resolve of Native complaints and issues.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System[edit | edit source]
When oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the United States government needed a way to get the precious oil from northern Alaska into the US for distribution. From there, The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System was created. The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System or TAPS for short is a system of pipelines that connect the oil sands in Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez in the south of Alaska, an 800-mile distance. Construction on the pipeline started in April 1975 and concluded in June 1977. The first drops of oil flowed through on the 20th day of the month. TAPS, as it is referred to is also known as the Alyeska Pipeline or Trans-Alaska Pipeline, is a 48” in diameter pipe that has 11 pumping stations situated through the length of the pipe to keep the oil flowing.
Throughout the building of the pipeline, engineers had to work very hard to combat the arctic temperatures. They had to work with pipe makers overseas to build a 48” in diameter pipe that would be able to withstand freezing temperatures and warmer climates in Valdez. The pipe is layered to defeat the cold weathers. It has a steel outer jacket, a fiberglass insulating layer, then the 48” pipe and finally a rubber “scrapper pig”. The pipeline goes through many different regions of permafrost and cannot be above ground the entire way from Prudhoe to Valdez, therefore parts of the pipeline are situated underground. This allows for the pipeline to be protected from, and withstand permafrost. Plans to build the pipeline began in the late 60’s with a couple of options being drafted up. The first was the Trans-Alaskan pipeline we have today, which extends from northern to southern Alaska. The second was to be a Trans-Canada pipeline, which differed from the modern Trans-Canada Pipeline today that stretches from Alberta to New Brunswick Canada. This drafted pipeline would extend from Alaska through Canada and into the United States. This would eliminate the need for transporting the oil by water back to the US, but would also mean the United States would have to share ownership of the pipeline with Canada. In 1973, president Richard Nixon signed the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Authorization Act, kick-starting the building of the pipeline.
Between the time the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Authorization Act was signed and the beginning of the pipeline construction, there would be access roads created in order to easily transport the materials needed to build the pipeline across Alaska. These roads helped workers get to the job sites over the rough uninhabited terrain and in the future, would allow for expansion into those regions. During the construction of the pipeline, these roads began to create what was known as ‘Boomtowns’. These towns were small towns like Fairbanks that turned into huge communities filled with workers employed by the pipeline. People moved to these towns in the thousands which caused prices for land to skyrocket. This influx of people also created a boom in the economy. People jumped on the new finding of oil as it would mean new high paying jobs from the new wealth that had been discovered.
There were many obstacles that the Alaskan government, US government, and builders faced when proposing and building the pipeline. Dealing with environmentalists/conservationists and Native Alaskans was at the forefront of complications. In a 1971 document filed by the Alaska district, conservationists accused the Interior Department of underestimating the longterm environmental damages that building the pipeline could have. Conservationists were against the construction of the pipeline because they felt that it would cause irreparable damage to the environment, could slow down or stop the movement of animals that migrated to warmer or colder climates and that any potential oil leak would get into the water systems affecting the ecosystems of animal life and vegetation. During initial testing of the transportation of oil, the US ship the Manhattan ran aground proving that there could be issues when transporting oil from Valdez. Before building the pipeline, the US government would have to settle a land dispute between the Native people that had begun after the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Eventually, this was settled in 1971 with the ‘Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act’, which allowed the Natives to have their land back and the ownership of their name.
In 1997, the National Museum of American History created an exhibit for the twentieth anniversary of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. The exhibit was held from October 1997 - April 1998. Alyeska (Trans-Alaskan Pipeline), donated old parts from previous repairs to the pipeline along with other pieces they had from construction, including oil cans, scrap metal, and a 21-foot cutaway section of the pipeline. This section of the pipeline was displayed to exhibit the different levels of protection, insulation, and engineering that went into creating the system. The exhibit was created to teach visitors about Alaska and its history since many Americans had no prior knowledge on Alaska beyond the fact that it was the 49th state.
Today, the pipeline is protected using different means of technology to prevent spills and accidents from happening. There is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Pipeline Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan and the Valdez Marine Terminal Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan. Both plans outline specific responses to leaks and spills. On top of that, there are monitors and workers that inspect the pipeline regularly.
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race[edit | edit source]
Origins[edit | edit source]
Dog Sled Racing, or 'Mushing' as its nicknamed, is very prevalent in Alaska. The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is widely considered the most popular and culturally significant dog sled competition in the world. The name 'Iditarod', meaning "clear water" originated from the Shegeluk Indians when naming the River of Iditarod.
The entirety of the race takes place in Alaska, spanning from Anchorage to Nome. Joe Redington was the creator of the 1100 mile dog sled race. After being raised in Oklahoma, Redington moved to Alaska in 1948 in hopes of fulfilling his dream of becoming a musher. In 1973, Redington and Dorothy Page organized a 50-mile sled race. In time, Redington would conceive the idea 'Iditarod Dog Sled Race' concept, which would then become a tradition in Alaska.
Rules and Stipulations[edit | edit source]
Teams may consist of 12 to 16 dogs, with Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes being the only breeds of dogs allowed to compete. This is because they are the only dog breeds that can handle the grueling conditions of the race. The dogs are required to wear booties to protect their paws, not from the cold but rather from the ice, snow, and rock.
The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race will only allow a maximum of one hundred teams in the competition. There is an entrance fee of $4,000 for each competing team. In 2017, the grand prize was $750,000, with the 2018 prize expected to drop down to $500,000. The winner does not receive the entirety of the prize. Instead, the full amount is divided among the top 30 competitors. From 2008 to the expected amount in 2018, the prize money has decreased by roughly 46%. Prize money being reduced is largely attributed to the expenses for the event exponentially growing year by year.
The last place finisher of the race gets awarded the 'Red Lantern', considered to be a "traditional symbol of persistence." The longest Red Lantern time, awarded to the last team to cross the finish line, was in 1973 when John Schultz finished in a little more than 32 days, more than 12 days after the winner. Much like the Olympic Games, a flame is lit until the competition is completed, a tradition which started in hopes of making traveling easier for the mushers. The light would later serve as a sign as to signify that all participants have crossed the finish line. Every first Sunday in March at 10 AM, the “Widow’s Lamp” is relit at the finish line in Nome.
Susan Butcher[edit | edit source]
One of the most recognizable mushers in the history of the competition; Susan Butcher was raised in Boston and would later move to Alaska to pursue her dream of being a musher. Butcher went on to win four consecutive races from 1986-1990 and had a dominant career spanning over a decade, placing in the top five in 12 out of the 16 Iditarod races she completed. Butcher passed away from leukaemia in 2005.
In 2008, Gov. Sarah Palin officially established the first Sunday of March each year, which coincides with the traditional starting date of the Iditarod, to be Susan Butcher Day. Susan Butcher was post-humously elected in 2007 as part of the inaugural class into the Alaskan Sports Hall of Fame.
Recent History[edit | edit source]
In recent years, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has been subject to controversy. Some of the event's largest sponsors such as Wells Fargo have recently dropped their sponsorship of the competition. Event organizers have blamed PETA for spreading false accusations about the mushers' treatment of dogs.
According to PETA, "151 dogs have died since the Iditarod began in 1973 and that the "death toll continues to climb." Furthermore, rumors swirl that Wells Fargo plans to convince another key sponsor, namely Coca-Cola, to drop their association with the race.
In September of 2017 a doping scandal emerged regarding famed Iditarod musher Dallas Seavey. Seavey had won four out of the last six races and became the youngest winner of the competition in 2005 at the age of eighteen. Four of Seavey's dogs tested positive for Tramadol, a form of painkiller. Seavey has since denied wrongdoing, and other top mushers in the competition have stated they did not believe Seavey to be guilty.
A study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine following the 2010 race expressed that roughly three-quarters of the competitors were suffering from acute diseases (diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, etc.). At the same time, 56% of the reported injuries were recorded as "minor." According to the study, the illness of participants was linked to the frigid weather conditions. Weather records had been broken that year when temperatures were freezing.
Since 1973 there have been 22 winners. Rick Swenson is the winningest musher in the Iditarod's history, winning the race 5 times. Five other mushers have won it 4 times. Race times are now generally twice as fast compared to when they started in 1973. Dallas Seavey is credited with the quickest winning time with a time of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, and 16 seconds in the 2016 race. The slowest winner was Carl Huntington in 1974 who won in 20 days, 15 hours, 2 minutes, and 7 seconds.
Alaska’s History of Resource Exploitation and Development[edit | edit source]
Long before statehood, Alaska’s first peoples sustained themselves even in the most severe natural environments on the region’s abundance of fish and wildlife. However, from the Russian fur traders from 1743-1799 in Russia-Alaska to the Klondike gold-rush of 1897 following Americas purchase of the territory, resource exploitation has run rampant in Alaska and driven its economy.
As congress debated granting statehood to Alaska throughout the 1950s one of the most pressing questions at hand was whether the new state could ever be financially self-sufficient. It was clear that with a small population, yet vast amounts of land, responsible development of resources would be critical to producing enough revenue to run a state. Constitutional Convention of 1955
At the Alaskan Constitutional Convention in 1955, policy regarding natural resources played a central role in the proceedings. With Alaska’s territorial delegate to congress at the time; Edward Lewis Bartlett, addressing such policies and warning delegates of the possibilities of resource exploitation:
“The first, and most obvious, danger is that of exploitation under the thin disguise of development. The taking of Alaska’s mineral resources without leaving some reasonable return for the support of Alaska governmental services and the use of all the people of Alaska will mean a betrayal in the administration of the people’s wealth. The second danger is that outside interests, deter-mined to stifle any development in Alaska which might compete with their activities elsewhere, will attempt to acquire great areas of Alaska’s public lands in order not to develop them until such time as, in their omnipotence and the pursuance of their own interests, they see fit. If large areas of Alaska’s patrimony are turned over to such corporations the people of Alaska may be even more the losers than if the lands had been exploited.” Following the Constitutional Convention of 1955, Alaska was the only state with an article in its constitution dedicated solely to natural resources. Article VIII of the document states “It is the policy of the state to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.”
Alaskan courts have since utilized a review process much like the environmental impact statement process used by the United States federal government, in which the courts must rule the development of any state-owned resource to be in the best interests of the state. Statehood Onward
Since receiving statehood in 1959 Alaska has been the largest state in the country, roughly one-fifth the size of the rest of the united states. Alaska’s large size, sparse population, and geographic location factor into the State’s abundance of natural resources. Alaska has more coastal waters than the rest of the United States combined, as well as large river and lake systems, multiple mountain ranges, expansive forests and tundra, and massive glaciers. As such, Alaska offers abundant oil, gas, mineral, coal, wildlife and fishery resources.
From an economic standpoint, development of these resources, whether it be for extraction or tourism, faces challenges due to Alaska’s harsh natural conditions, distance from markets, complicated land ownership, and relative lack of infrastructure. From a social perspective, the possible communal and economic benefits of resource development are measured against competing interests, such as subsistence based lifestyles and a view held by some that Alaska should remain as “pristine” as possible.
Alaska’s Natural Resource Industries[edit | edit source]
Alaska’s abundance of natural resources has driven and shaped its economy throughout the course of statehood. Today, Alaska is considered a world leader in terms of resource production and management, boasting world-class industries in mining, fishing, and most notably: oil.
Oil[edit | edit source]
The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 is credited with shaping and boosting the Alaskan economy more so than any other single event. Eighteen months after the discovery of oil the state of Alaska held a lease sale for roughly half a million acres along the oil and gas rich area. Receiving bids from many of the largest oil corporations in the world, the sale would go on to generate over $900 million in revenue in a single day; dwarfing the entire state budget for 1968 of approximately $100 million and revolutionizing the state’s economy virtually overnight.
In 2009, the oil and gas from Cook Inlet and the north slope of Alaska, where Prudhoe Bay is located, made up more than 15% of the United States total production. Despite Alaska’s overall size of oil reserves estimated by some to be the largest in the country, Texas is still the leading producer nationwide, with North Dakota, California, and Alaska finishing second, third, and fourth respectively as of 2014. According to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, the state has collected approximately $157 billion (adjusted for inflation) from oil since 1959. As of 2008 the oil and gas industry of Alaska accounted for nearly 10% of employment state-wide, with more than 40,000 jobs generated.
Mining[edit | edit source]
For over a decade, the mining industry in Alaska- including exploration, production, and development- has had a total value of over $1 billion. Coal, sand, and gravel production, as well as hard-rock mining operations of all sizes are essential to the industry, with gold, silver, coal, lead, and zinc making up some of the state’s most important exports. Alaska’s mineral production is ranked sixth in the U.S., behind only Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, and Minnesota. Despite this, the Red Dog mine located in Alaska’s northwest is the largest producer of zinc worldwide. The Fort Knox and Pogo mines are also considered to be powerhouses in terms of production and are central to employment and taxation in their respective regions.
Fisheries and Seafood[edit | edit source]
Alaska’s fisheries and seafood industry produces billions of dollars’ worth of output on an annual basis; with Alaskan seafood exports valued at $3.2 billion, roughly 55% of total U.S. seafood exports, in 2014 alone. Exporting to over one hundred countries worldwide, the domestic United States market is the largest single market for Alaska, but foreign trade plays a large role, accounting for around two-thirds of production value totals. Alaska boasts both the largest groundfish fishery in the world, as well as the world’s largest run of salmon at Bristol Bay. From a social standpoint, the fishing industry of Alaska is vital in many of the states coastal communities regarding employment and economics. Fishing is synonymous with Alaskan Indigenous peoples and other individuals alike, with fish making up a significant amount of many Alaskans diets, particularly subsistence based ones.
Tourism[edit | edit source]
Alaska’s tourism industry, albeit inherently different from industries regarding the extraction of resources, still largely hinges on the natural resources of the state. Alaskan tourism depends on the landscapes of Alaska remaining as beautiful and accessible as they can be. The state offers a variety of National parks and preservation areas, including the famous Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks. Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, boasts the highest mountain peak in North America. Denali, among the other mountain ranges, forests, lakes, rivers, and glaciers of the state, attract thrill seekers, explorers, and other travelers largely due to the unique qualities of the land Alaska offers; being the northernmost and arguably most rugged, yet peaceful state America has to offer. In the summer of 2006 Alaska counted over 1.6 million visitors, with the state-wide tourism industry employing roughly 40,000 people.
Interesting Facts[edit | edit source]
Alaska has more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes, which are more over Minnesota. There are over 100 volcanoes and volcanic fields which have been active within the last two million years. Alaska has three different coastlines; the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. Lake Iliana, the largest lake in Alaska and third largest in the United States, covers roughly 2,600 km². Alaska also has more volcanoes than any other state. Yukon River is the largest river in Alaska, which is stretching 2,060 kilometres.
An interesting law is that it is illegal to whisper in someone's ear while they are moose hunting.
Alaska in US Popular Culture (1867-present)
Alaska in the United States Popular Culture (1867-present)[edit | edit source]
Prudhoe Bay Oil Field[edit | edit source]
Following the Alaskan Statehood in 1959, the Prudhoe Bay Oil field was discovered on the North Slope of Alaska on March 12, 1968. Through ownership of this oilfield, the Alaskan government could supplement the state economy by claiming payments and taxes from the trade of oil. A trans-Alaska pipeline project was undertaken by the state government for the oil trade to different regions of Alaska. However, the physical geography of the trail and land ownership issues were problematic for the authority to render the project. The issue of land ownership had to be resolved in order to implement the project in that region. The Alaskan lands were granted to multiple agencies in the United States; leaving the Alaskan natives with minimal rights to the land. In a quest to claim the rights to their ancestral lands, Alaskan natives raised this issue perpetually. Eventually, the state government decided to settle the land claims to affix the trans-Alaska pipeline on the trail.
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA)[edit | edit source]
On December 18, 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement act was officially enacted into law by the Congress of the United States, under the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Declaration of this act into the judicial system led to huge alterations of land claimants and monetary payments between the native Alaskans and the government. Congress decided to compensate the native Alaskans for the land seized from them for almost a century. This compensation included an authorization of 400 million acres of land and approximately $965 million dollars. This moment was marked by contentment for native Alaskans as they concurred with the amendments to the bill. In terms of managing the land and monetary funds, ANCSA implemented 12 regional corporations and almost 200 village corporations to account for monetary funds and land.
12 Regional Corporations[edit | edit source]
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC)[edit | edit source]
Representing eight villages, an abundant land of 5 million acres is issued to Arctic Slope Regional Corporation including, one of the world's largest bitumen and coal deposits. An increasing population of 11,000 shareholders has been cited. The main functions of this corporation are oil and gas services, petroleum refining, financial management and communications.
Ahtna Corporation[edit | edit source]
Ahtna corporation owns nearly 1.5 million acres in the Copper River Basin. There is a total of 1500 shareholders in this corporation. The primary focus of the corporation is the diversification and growth, by land, human, and mineral resource management. Most of the work is under the 14 subsidiaries which handle, construction, nature remediation, food service contractors, and janitorial and administrative services.
The Aleut Corporation[edit | edit source]
Aleut Corporation has issued a settlement of $19.5 million with 71,000 of surface lands and 1.6 million of subsurface estate. A vast sum of 3200 shareholders are enrolled in this corporation. As of now, Aleut corporation monitors and sells sand, gravel, and rocks under its subsurface estate. The main focus of the corporation is federal operations, maintenance contracting, investments in oil and gas, and sales operations.
Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC)[edit | edit source]
Covering Alaska's Seward Peninsula and eastern regions of Norton Sound is the Bering Straits Native Corporation. A total of 6,300 shareholders are enrolled with nearly 2 million acres of subsurface land owned. Their operations include mining, construction, sales, and tourism.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC)[edit | edit source]
Covering regions of southwest Alaska, Bristol Bay Native Corporation has a total of 9,000 shareholders consisting of Eskimo, Indian, and Aleut shareholders. The corporation is a supporter of Responsible Resource Development. Comprising of 30 operating subsidiaries, the corporation mainly focuses on petroleum, government, oilfield, and construction services.
Calista Corporation[edit | edit source]
The Calista Corporation claimed rights to 6.5 million acres of subsurface land, 300,000 acres of surface estate and grossing over $80 million of initial capital by the federal government. The corporation specializes in construction, military, mining, and communications.
Chugach Alaska Corporation[edit | edit source]
Almost 2,200 shareholders are enrolled in this corporation from Aleut, Indian, and Eskimo heritage. Specializing in various fields, this corporation works on, construction, technology, education, and oil and gas services.
Cook Inlet Region Incorporation (CIRI)[edit | edit source]
The Cook Inlet Region Incorporation comprises of nearly 7,300 Alaskan shareholders. CIRI has a subsurface land area of 1.3 million acres for its functionality. CIRI focuses on energy development, construction, communication, tourism, and hospitality services. The incorporation included a family of non-profit organizations specializing in health care, education, and housing.
Doyon Limited[edit | edit source]
The largest landowner corporation in Alaska is Doyon Limited. The corporation covers an area of 12.5 million acres of land. The corporation has over 20,000 shareholders. Furthermore, it's largest subsidiary is Doyon Drilling, which produces about 35% of their total revenue. The corporation focuses on oil field services, utilities, IT, construction, and tourism.
Koniag Incorporation[edit | edit source]
Koniag corporation claimed a settlement of $24 million by the ANCSA. The settlement included 800 acres of land and 900,000 acres of subsurface area. Currently, they have an enrollment of 3,850 Alutiiq shareholders in their equity sharing program. The corporation specializes in maintenance, technology, manufacturing, and consulting services.
NANA Regional Corporation[edit | edit source]
The NANA Regional Corporation is recognized as one of the largest corporations in Alaska, surpassing a billion dollars in revenue. The NANA enrolls about 12,000 Inupiat shareholders. This corporation manages surface and subsurface lands of a combined total of 2.2 million acres. The main services they provide are in the areas of construction, communications, hotel development, real estate and logistics services.
Sealaska Corporation[edit | edit source]
Holding on 21,000 tribal shareholders is the Sealaska Corporation. Being a diverse corporation, Sealaska Corporation specializes in financial, construction, technology, fabrication, and forest products.
National Parks[edit | edit source]
Alaska is home to some of the largest parks and preserves in the United States, which is the result of many years of work to pass a bill devoted to conservation legislation. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) was passed by President Carter, in 1980. It was significant because it provided varying degrees of protection to over one hundred million acres of Alaskan land. When signing the ANILCA, President Carter stated, “We are setting aside for conservation an area of land larger than the state of California.” The ANILCA remains “one of the largest designations of conservation and wilderness in US history.”
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Debate[edit | edit source]
Debates over federal land policies have been taking place for centuries, with conservationists going against business interests, and national interests going against local interests. The introduction of the ANILCA followed this trend, and while conservationists are supportive of the undeveloped land being protected for future generations, others believe that this protection limits the opportunities for economic development in Alaska. The Alaska Statehood Act of 1958, in combination with the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA), provided 148 million acres of Alaska land to ensure the “development of Alaska's commerce, and its energy resources and transportation systems would be planned for in an orderly fashion”. To have the conservationist satisfied, the ANSCA also provided the opportunity to designate within a specific timeline; eighty million acres for conservation. After almost nine years and many failed attempts, President Carter passed the ANILCA in 1980, increasing Alaska's national park system by over forty-three million acres and “providing national park protection to ten new areas and three existing ones”. The ANILCA also caused controversy between the state and the national government, as it provided rural residents of Alaska with a preferential right to fish and game in times of scarcity. This contradicts the Alaska State Constitution which states that fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use, with no exclusive rights. Despite initial resistance, support for the ANILCA has increased largely due to the growth in tourism. According to the recently released report by Alaska Tourism Industry Association, “a new record was set in the summer of 2016 with over 1.8 million out of state visitors, who spent a total of 1.97 billion dollars in the state.”
Alaska’s Eight National Parks[edit | edit source]
Denali National Park[edit | edit source]
Denali National Park is where Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America at 20,310 feet tall, can be found. The park was originally established in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park, however with the passing of the ANILCA, the park was “incorporated with Denali to establish Denali National Park and Preserve” and is now over six million acres. Given it is one of the few parks accessible by road, it is a popular Alaskan national park. In 1976 the park was designated as an international biosphere reserve, focusing on ecosystem conservation and wise use of national resources.
Gates of the Arctic National Park[edit | edit source]
Gates of the Arctic National Park is the northernmost national park in the United States and the second largest at 8.4 million acres. The park name came from wilderness advocate Robert Marshall, who visited the area in the 1930s where he saw steep mountains and “named two adjacent peaks the "Gates of the Arctic."”
Glacier Bay National Park[edit | edit source]
Glacier Bay National Park is 3.3 million acres which includes Glacier Bay, which is one of the largest protected biospheres preserves in the world. The landscape that was to become Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was ice-capped when European explorers first reached this corner of the world.
Katmai National Park[edit | edit source]
In 1912, the eruption of Novarupta was the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. When the National Geographic Society began investigating the eruption zone it lobbied to have the area proclaimed to be a National Monument in 1918. With ANILCA, Katmai National Monument was expanded to become Katmai National Park and Preserve. Notably, Timothy Treadwell, a key Alaskan figure, frequently stated that Katmai National Park was his favourite.
Kenai Fjords National Park[edit | edit source]
Kenai Fjords National Park is the smallest national park in Alaska covering 607,000 acres. Glaciers, waves, and mountains have shaped the park and created habitats for numerous sea animals. The Harding Icefield dominates the park, covering 700 square miles and is nearly a mile high and hundreds of feet deep.
Kobuk Valley National Park[edit | edit source]
Kobuk Valley National Park is in the Alaskan Arctic and is 1.8 million acres. As Alaska’s most undeveloped national park, it sees fewer tourists than any other park in Alaska. It is most known for its 25 square miles of massive sand dunes, which can reach as high as 100 feet, a relic of the glaciers that ground their way through the land.
Lake Clark National Park[edit | edit source]
Lake Clark National Park is four million acres and is home to the Athabascan people known as Dena’ina, who have lived there for thousands of years. Lake Clark National Park has low attendance and is known as “one of Alaska’s greatest secrets.”
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park[edit | edit source]
With the passing of the ANILCA, the Wrangell Mountains became part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The park is located in south-central Alaska and is 13.2 million acres making it the largest national park and preserve in the United States.
Timothy Treadwell[edit | edit source]
Childhood & Upbringing[edit | edit source]
Timothy Treadwell, also known as “Grizzly Man”, was an advocate for the environmental protection of grizzly bears. He is widely considered a controversial figure in Alaskan popular culture. During his lifetime, Treadwell contributed to the stereotype of Alaska being a home for survivalist males and he did much for the protection of wildlife. He was born on April 29, 1957, in Long Island New York to Val and Carol Dexter. He attended Connetquot High School in Long Island where he was considered an average student, receiving modest grades and participating in extracurricular sports. Following high school, Treadwell was offered and accepted a diving scholarship to Bradley University in Illinois, which would be the beginning to the events that shaped the grizzly man.
Drug & Alcohol Addiction[edit | edit source]
Timothy Treadwell’s drug and alcohol addiction originated during his time at Bradley University in Illinois. Timothy began drinking heavily at campus parties and fraternities, and at the age of nineteen, he nearly died due to overdosing on speedballs, which is a mix of cocaine and heroin. In dealing with his drug addiction, Timothy found comfort in nature and wildlife. Treadwell is quoted as stating: “The bears become so inspirational that I gave up the drinking. It was a miracle, an absolute miracle. And the miracle was animals”.
Early Passion[edit | edit source]
Treadwell’s early passion for wildlife was fostered by his desire to escape what he described as, “the average and boring middle-class lifestyle”. His passion for wildlife began at Bradley University, where he notably jumped off a third-floor dorm balcony, imitating a bear jumping into a river. After studying for two years at Bradley University, Treadwell relocated to Southern California where he met a retired Vietnam Veteran named Terry, who convinced him to journey to Alaska to watch bears, further inspiring Treadwell. He decided that he would go on this trip and it so happens that during this trip, Treadwell was able to fully discovered his passion for bears and camping, changing him into what today is known as the grizzly man.
Annual Expeditions[edit | edit source]
Following college, Treadwell spent the winter months working as a bartender, and during the summer months, he traveled to Alaska for what became an annual expedition. Treadwell traveled to numerous national parks across Alaska, spending the entire summer months living in the wilderness amongst the bears, Treadwell was quoted as stating that Katmai National Park was his favourite. He often encountered grizzly bears and foxes that frequented Alaskan lands. On his annual expeditions, Treadwell attempted to study and develop unique relationships with grizzly bears. He famously attempted to converse with bears by mimicking their body language, crawling on all fours, and even growling. During these expeditions Treadwell recorded his encounters and interactions with the wildlife and was able to film over 100 hours of footage.
Death[edit | edit source]
Treadwell was confirmed to have deceased on October 6, 2003, at the age of forty-six. In the summer of 2003, Treadwell visited Katmai National park with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. Treadwell had scheduled to leave at the end of August but extended his trip by two weeks. By extending his trip, Treadwell risked being attacked by a bear, given it was the time of the season when bears are most aggressive. While exploring Kodiak Island at Katmai National Park, Treadwell and Huguenard decided to set up their campsite near a salmon stream and bear trail. Larry Van Daele, a bear biologist, concluded, “A person could not have designed a more dangerous location to set up a camp”. Treadwell’s last known communication outside the park was on October 5, 2003. The following day, air taxi pilot, Willy Fulton, arrived to pick the couple up from the park but was unable to locate them. Shortly thereafter, the remains of Treadwell and Huguenard were found a short distance from their campsite by park rangers. Treadwell and Huguenard were confirmed to have died from a bear attack. At the site of the attack, a video recorder was recovered which, had been recording during the attack, however it was blank footage. The tape did however record audio of the attack, which brutally illustrates the way in which the couple were unfortunately killed. Treadwell had documented some odd behaviour in a bear, which scientists believe was the animal that killed the couple.
Media[edit | edit source]
During his Alaskan expeditions, Timothy Treadwell recorded over one hundred hours of video footage. In 2005, Lions Gate Films released a documentary titled Grizzly Man. The documentary was directed by Werner Herzog and highlights some of the more intriguing footage from Treadwell's recordings. The documentary shows the amazing footage which Treadwell was able to take while also focusing on the life of Treadwell himself. There are many novels about Treadwell’s life including Death in the Grizzly Maze, The Grizzly Maze, Grizzly Man, and his own novel, Among Grizzlies. In 2001 Treadwell was a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, where he discussed his trips to Alaskan.
Organizations & Social Cause[edit | edit source]
Treadwell was the founder of the organization Grizzly People, which seeks to preserve bears and their habitats. The organization funded his annual expeditions and received donations from notable celebrities and brands including Leonardo DiCaprio, and Patagonia.
Alaskan Influence & Public Perception[edit | edit source]
Timothy Treadwell is often compared to the stereotype of Alaska being a refuge for a male survivalist. Support for Treadwell among Alaskans is mixed. The majority of Treadwell’s support comes from naturalists, who appreciated his ability to survive in the wild. He is respected for traveling with minimal equipment, including his refusal to carry bear spray. While some Alaskans idolize him, others viewed him as a threat to the stereotypical Alaskan lifestyle. Treadwell was known to confront members of the national park service and Alaskan hunters, over national park regulations and Alaskan gun laws. Many Alaskans saw his death as inevitable and that his risk taking actions were eventually going to catch up to him. Throughout his time in the wild it was believed that Treadwell began to become estranged from society and was slowly developing some mental issues from lack of human contact. Today, his actions are frequently debated among Alaskans, with his memorabilia continually sold in auctions.
Tourism in Alaska[edit | edit source]
The state of Alaska is best known for its tourist attractions by becoming a hotspot for visitors all year long. Tourists who are willing to brave the winter weather are finding that there are various activities to be a part of in the Last Frontier during this less-traveled season. The number of tourists traveling to Alaska has increased drastically in the past decade. Vanessa Orr, a freelance journalist, highlights in her article, "Hot spots in the cold of winter: there's always something to do in the great land" and also said that approximately 260,000 out-of-state visitors were expected to travel to Alaska between October of 2005 and April of 2006, and thousands of more in-state residents are expected to travel between cities for special events. As well, Alaska has been attracting international visitors, targeting people from places that do not have as much snow. Orr also explained in her article that Japanese tourists make the majority of the market, with between eight thousand to ten thousand visitors in 2005. This had an economic impact of approximately $1 million.
Alaska was able to increase the number of tourist visitors in their state because of a new market interest for winter sports activities. Author Peg Stomierowski, outlines this shift in her article "Winter getaways: banish cabin fever blues and play in the state". In the article she quotes Nance Larsen, vice president of communication and marketing programs for the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, who explains bidding for and bringing such large-scale events such as the U.S. Alpine Championships and Junior Nordic Olympic Trials, has been found to boost winter tourism as it tends to draw contingencies of athletes, coaches, and families to competitions. As a result, Alaska has become a symbol for winter sport and adventure travel through activities such as alpine skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The harsh weather patterns in Alaska generates increased tourism due to the winter cultural events that the state annually hosts. A recent study by the Travel Industry Association of America indicated that nearly 93 million Americans attended at least one cultural, arts, heritage, historic activity or generic event while traveling in the past year. This has worked in Alaska’s favour because their biggest events held every year are deeply rooted in the states history. Two of the most famous historical and cultural events in Alaska are the Fur Rendezvous Festival and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Fur Rendezvous Festival[edit | edit source]
The Fur Rendezvous festival was traditionally a 10-day winter celebration, however, has now been extended to a 17-day winter festival, which takes place on February 20 to March 7. This is one of the largest winter festivals in North America. Locals termed the festival "Fur Rondy," and it supports and celebrates the beginning of the end of winter. The Fur Rendezvous began as a winter sports tournament focused mainly on hockey and basketball, but it has developed into something much bigger culturally. Today, the winter festival features many popular activities, such as the Fur Rondy Grand Parade, snowshoe softball, ice bowling, Fur Rondy Melodrama, snow sculpture competitions, and the Miners and Trappers Ball.
The Rendezvous carnival started in 1935. The purpose of the carnival was to bring people together in the winter. Since the fur trade was the second-leading industry in Alaska at the time, it became an important part of the festival. It provided a golden opportunity for trappers and buyers to meet in Anchorage to ply their trade and cut out the middleman. Trapping contests were held, and prizes were awarded for the longest fox, the best fox, and the finest ermine pelts. Thus, the festival gained its name “Fur Rendezvous” because it was a meeting place for people to buy and sell fur.
Today, Fur Rondy allows for various aspects of Native culture and art to become apparent to the general population. The Charlotte Jensen Native Arts Market, held each year during Rondy, draws Alaska Native artists and craftsmen from all over the state, including places as remote as St. Lawrence Island, Mekoryuk, and Shishmaref. In the Diamond Center, tables are covered with intricate and inventive pieces including Alaska Native beadwork, carvings, and clothing. An article posted in the journal Indian Life said, "Fur Rendezvous puts Alaska Native Art, music and culture at center stage." It explains how visitors can find treasures crafted from a multitude of materials, including hand-carved walrus-ivory sculptures, sealskin hats, beaded moose-hide purses and colourful cotton kuspuks which is a traditional Alaska Native garment. The Fur Rendezvous festival not only celebrates the winter season, but also its Native history.
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race[edit | edit source]
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race takes place annually on March 6 during the Fur Rendezvous festival. The Journal Child Life posted an article called "Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race“ and stated that the race brings out visitors and locals alike to catch a glimpse of veteran and rookie mushers, their dog handlers and, of course, the stars of the event, the dogs. This world-famous sporting event is one of the most difficult races in the world.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an important tribute to Alaskan history. Iditarod was once a bustling city of 10,000 people. In 1898, gold was discovered in the Yukon, and Iditarod grew and flourished. The Iditarod Trail became an important pathway. Dog sled teams hauled mail and gold back and forth from Anchorage, Alaska. Once the gold ran out, the trail grew over, and Iditarod turned into an empty town. In 1925, there was a diphtheria epidemic that threatened to wipe out the Nome Alaska Native population. The only supply of the cure (antitoxin serum) was in Anchorage, which was 1,100 miles away. The fastest form of transportation was by dog sled and volunteer mushers carried the serum to Nome in record time, ending the epidemic. The mushers and their dogs became national heroes. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is in memory of men and women who risked their lives to save the others in their tribe.
Over time, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race also became a public event to get through tough winters. In 1973, the Nome tribe went through another epidemic, cabin fever. Tom Riordon outlines in his article, "Iditarod: Boredom Buster Turned Global Event." that cabin fever was so bad that there was an attempted suicide every four days with successful suicides every 11 days. As a result, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was born to brighten up spirits. To this day, Alaska highlights this tradition in its promotion for winter tourism in the United States.
Iditarod Trail[edit | edit source]
History of the Iditarod Trail[edit | edit source]
Trails among the interior of Alaska have been used throughout its history to access many isolated towns and mines. In 1908, gold was struck near the small town of Iditarod, from which the trail would someday get its name. By 1910, the Alaskan Road Commission had cleared the pathways and officially dubbed the trail the "Seward to Nome mail trail". The trail functioned for over a decade as a passageway and carrier route for gold and other commodities, as well as a new way to access goods in distant towns within the constantly growing territory. Since it was isolated, the most effective means of transportation along the Iditarod trail was sled dogs. This changed in 1924 when the use of bush pilots in the import and export of goods and mail made the trail less popular means of transport and with the closing of most of the mines by 1930, it left the trail mostly deserted. It was not until the increase in popularity of Sled Dog races in the 1960's that the trail was brought back to its former glory.
In popular culture, many people know about the Iditarod trail because of the famous story of Balto the dog. Balto is well known for being the dog that lead the last 50 miles of the 1925 Serum run that was needed to bring a necessary antidote to the people of Nome. In the winter of 1924-25, a severe breakout of diphtheria spread among the people residing in the northern town of Nome. The town had just recently requested more vaccines to replace their expired ones, but the shipment was not received until after the shipping routes had closed. The only viable option to get the antidote to Nome was through the thousand miles of the Iditarod trail. When diphtheria was finally diagnosed in the town the resident doctor sent out a telegram to both impose a quarantine as well as request assistance in acquiring the necessary serum. Without this antidote, it is understood that most of the 10,000 residents of Nome and the surrounding towns would not survive. The shipment was passed from one dog sled team to another along the Iditarod trial until it finally reached Nome in time to save most of the population. The Iditarod Sled Dog race is held every year not only to maintain the sport of Sled Dog races but also to commemorate all the lives that were saved because of the trail and the mushers that braved the harsh winter to save thousands.
The Beginning of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race[edit | edit source]
The first sled dog race along the Iditarod trail was held in 1967, and was hosted by Joe Reddington Sr and Dorothy Paige in the hopes of renewing the interest in sled dog racing. The original race was only 9 miles of the trail, but when the official Iditarod Sled Dog race began in 1973, the race had grown and was now an incredible 1,150 miles with over 70 teams competing. The two routes, north, and south, have at least 23 checkpoints where the competitors can stop and rest from 2 minutes to 24 hours. These stops, including one in the town of Iditarod itself, brings the racers a first-hand look at the more isolated groups of people living in Alaska. This sense of adventure and personal betterment leads many to Alaska in sensation seeking tourism. Traveling has become a sort of "Modern Pilgrimage", as it was first described by MacCanel in 1976, and there is no better sense of man versus nature in our current world than in the cold wilderness of Alaska.
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race Today[edit | edit source]
The current race along the Iditarod trail occurs every March, but the planning behind it can take a whole year. The race itself costs $4 Million USD per year to operate and most of that money comes from sponsorship, there are many sponsors of the event, but Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Ram is a crowd favourite because of their donations toward the twice-yearly raffles. On top of any advertisement or monetary endorsements the dealership makes, they also give away two Dodge Ram trucks to the Dog Sled race raffle, where tickets to enter cost $100 each. The race has continued to grow and evolve over time, as technology has advanced, the ability to gain satellite access to remote areas has become easier. Telecom provider GCI has been a big sponsor of the Iditarod Race by giving away $3000 worth of golden nuggets to the first competitor to reach the town of Iditarod. This is just one more example of how this race tries to maintain its ties to the culture and history of Alaska. There are some sponsors from all parts of Alaska joining in on the state's largest sporting event in the hopes of creating a name for themselves, but some others are attempting to benefit the people of the state rather than just themselves. Donlin Gold is a mine located close to the town of Iditarod, that has many roots in the history and development of the area. Every year Donlin Gold is the competitions biggest supporter, helping out with staffing the checkpoints, sponsoring some of the mushers, and also making the effort to help sponsor school trips and school run food drives. This race is often used to help encourage the student's willingness to learn about subjects such as math and science through the context of the Sled Dog race and the world that revolves around it. The exploration of the north is often romanticized in literature and the desire to escape a monotonous life is not uncommon for many people in the western world. The Iditarod Sled Dog race combines adventure and sightseeing with the excitement of braving the wilderness of a territory that is portrayed as dangerous and unknown. Being a part of 'the last frontier' rhetoric, Alaska has not lost its reputation for being unexplored and dangerous. These ideas make marketing for the Iditarod race easy to understand. Winning the race is a goal for some, but completing the race is an accomplishment for anyone.
Movies[edit | edit source]
The scenic wilderness of Alaska has attracted numerous filmmakers and viewers throughout the years. Thus leading to there being an abundance of movies exploring the unknown mysteries of the 'wild west' of the north. Common themes of these movies include the fight against nature, animals popular in the North, for example, wolves and bears, and the Gold Rush. All these themes, commonly idealized, especially when speaking of the gold rush. Many of the films in the 1920s portrayed the idealized life of a miner as someone who worked all day, made a good fortune and then went to the saloon in the evening to drink with the women there. The Native Americans have also played a large role in shaping Alaskan films. All of these films have given their viewers an intense view of Alaska and its beautiful landscape.
1920-1997[edit | edit source]
The silent film, The Gold Rush, made in 1925, featured the famous actor Charlie Chaplin. The movie was based in the late 1800s and is said to mirror a group of pioneers called the Donner Party, who attempted to trek all the way to California, where each man in the movie is searching out their own fortune. The movie brings a comedic side to the harsh landscape of Alaska and the frontier like living conditions. This film captures a common theme of the gold rush and the culture behind it, that is in many Alaskan based films. The movie is seen as one of Chaplin's finest and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
Runaway Train was released in 1985. The action thriller is about two escaped prisoners in the rough Alaskan wilderness and ends up stuck on a driverless train tearing across the Alaskan backwoods. The movie starred Jon Voight as Oscar "Manny" Manheim a merciless bank robber and Eric Roberts as Buck McGeehy a younger prisoner who is willing to help Manny escape. After an altercation with another inmate, Manny decides that he must leave earlier than planned and the two break out in the harsh Alaskan winter. Both actors Vioght and Roberts were nominated for academy awards for their performances, with Vioght taking home the award.
The Disney company has made a few popular movies based in Alaska such as the movie White Fang, which is based on the book written by Jack London. The movie began screening in 1991 and made just under thirty-five million in the box-office. The film shows Alaska's unforgiving frozen wasteland and a bond between the young man Jack Conroy (played by Ethan Hawke) and the part wolf, part dog, called White Fang. Jack traveled to Alaska to be part of the gold rush as many people did at that time. White Fang, who is a young pup, has to learn how to navigate the frozen wilderness alone. A Native American tribe helps brings Jack and White Fang together and they learn to trust each other and form a deep bond between man and animal. The Native American from Alaska can also be seen in this movie depicted through the Native tribe that also assists in giving guidance to the pair.
Since the movie was so successful Disney made the second movie in 1994, White Fang Two: Myth of the White Wolf. This time the movie portrayed a young prospector named Henry Casey (played by Scott Bairstow) living in Alaska with Jack Conroy's beloved wolfdog, White Fang. Henry is taking care of Jack's claim of land while Jack is in San Francisco. Adventure ensues through the thick Alaskan forests when the pair cross paths with the Native American tribe in need of help from the 'White Wolf'. Similar to the first movie, the Native American Chief provides spiritual guidance to Henry and sets him on the right path, which is a common theme in similar films. The Native American culture shown in these movies has had a large part in shaping the outside world's view of them and their life in Alaska. Another common theme of this movie as well as others is that the movies explore the Alaskan gold rush and its effect on man's greed. The second theme shows both large scale of mining and the sifting for gold.
After the massive environmental oil spill of the Exxon Valdez in 1989, On Deadly Ground was released in 1994 using this environmental catastrophe to create an environmental action movie. The movie stars Steven Seagal as Forrest Taft an environmentalist and oil rig fire expert who uncovers a dangerous money saving plot by oil company Aegis Oil, which could result in a massive environmental catastrophe. Taft must battle the oil companies mercenaries and stop Aegis Oil from devastating the Alaskan wild. Michael Caine also stars in this film as the corrupt oil company owner. Though the movie found little critical success the film is extremely unique and the storyline is exclusive to Alaska.
One of the most popular animated films in the late 1990s was Balto, which came to theaters in 1995. It is the tale of a great sled dog from one of Alaska's most portrayed towns in film, Nome, and his race against time and nature. This young wolfdog sets out to help the town's sick by assisting a dog sled team in bringing back the vaccine for the diphtheria epidemic after the team gets lost. This movie is loosely based off of the real sled dog named Balto, who ran the 1925 serum run, however, he was not a hybrid in the true events. The movie was so widely popular that Pixar made two additional movies; Balto II: Wolf Quest in 2000 as well as Balto III: Wings of Change in 2004. This film followed many of the common themes that we see in films about Alaska. Just as White Fang and White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf, we see a connection with nature through spirits and spiritual guides. There are also common animals from the north being portrayed, the main one being the wolfdog.
Two years after the release of Balto, the movie The Edge came to theaters in 1997. Two men have to fight for their lives against Alaska's harsh wilderness and against all odds after their plane crashes. An educated billionaire, played by Anthony Hopkins, and a photographer, played by Alec Baldwin, must work together and put their differences aside in order to beat mother nature's harshest obstacles and make it out alive. The unlikely crew even comes face to face with one of Alaska's most deadly predators, the grizzly bear, who consistently tests their will to survive. Since then more movies, and even some tv shows based on Alaska have been produced.
The Gold Rush[edit | edit source]
The Gold Rushes that took place in Alaska received a lot of media attention and were often the centre of attention for television. Several movies and television shows were based on this notion. Klondike was an American television show set during the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush in Skagway, Alaska. The show showcased actors Ralph Taeger and James Coburn. The show was ultimately canceled because it did not have enough viewership.
The Spoilers is a novel written by Rex Beach that is based on real events of the Nome, Alaska Gold Rush. It was the best-selling novel in 1906 and was adopted into a play, and later a film that was released in 1942. John Wayne, whose Hollywood career began in the 1920s, became a major cultural figure in the twentieth century and continues to be an American icon today. In The Spoilers movie, John Wayne played Roy Glenister, a young man returning to Nome Alaska from overseas in Europe. After getting on his friend's bad side, his character ends up getting into some trouble with the local gold miners and their fortunes. This movie portrays the idea of the 'Wild West' of the North perfectly. John Wayne's character, as in most of his movies, fights to get the girl and the gold. By having this movie placed in the 1900s during the Nome gold rush it gives an idealized image of the conditions in Alaska and the gold rush at the time. John Wayne also starred in the hit movie “North to Alaska” where he played the role of Sam McCord. The plot is based on the gold rush of the 1890s. Wayne’s character Sam and his partner George strike gold and must protect it. Sam brings a prostitute back to their shack instead of George’s wife, who had married somebody else. Country singer Johnny Horton, best known for his historical narratives, sings the movie title’s hit song. “North to Alaska” which hit number one on US billboards on January 9, 1961. Unfortunately, Johnny Horton was killed in a car accident just before the premiere of the movie. The song was played everywhere, including Alaska’s own KYAK radio station. Mike Pereira, Former Vice President of officiating for the National Football League, recalled hearing the song in Alaska. He said it was very catchy and captured the romantic ideal of independence and the quest for gold. Moreover, Horton received four gold guitar awards from Columbia Records in the 1950s. Each award honours 250,000 sales from his hit singles, including “North to Alaska”. North to Alaska (Johnny Horton)
Impacts of the Gold Rush[edit | edit source]
Gold Rush In Alaska In 1897, people were literally and figuratively rushing to the northwest territories of Alaska and the Yukon, in the hopes that they would strike gold . When they got there what welcomed them was harsh climates with even harsher living conditions that consisted of limited food sources and little means of health care . These rough circumstances would lead to a very distinct character of the mining people, that being rough, tough and highly risk taking. They did not know it but those who immigrated in search for gold would forever change the lands they settled, the lives of those who were already living there, and those who would be living there generations after.
Alcoholism[edit | edit source]
When asked to picture the gold rush, majority of people have an image in their mind of a bunch of crazy old men with long beards panning bucket after bucket of dirty in order to find nuggets of gold. Who at the end of the day retire to saloons filled with criminals, drunks and vigilantes. The one thing people do not considered is the determinantal affects that saloons and the irresponsible habits of miners had on the Native American people. Besides, forcing Indian people further off their land, reducing the amount of resources they had, and destroying local forestry, settlers had a negative impact through the introduction of alcohol. As the twentieth century came near, prospectors, along with large quantities of liquor and abusive drinking habits settled in Alaska. It is said that during this time ships carrying freights would more likely to supply settlers with alcohol then they would food.
Natives were largely exposed to alcohol through trade, but learned unhealthy drinking habits, like binge drinking, from saloons . This can now clearly be seen in modern day Alaska, who ranks sixth of all the American states in binge drinking, which is having five drinks or more on at least one occasion in the last month and eighth in heavy drinking, having two or more drinks daily for the past thirty days . Alaska's alcohol mortality rate, at 21 per 100,000 population, is three times the U.S. rate, where Alaska Natives is nearly ten times the U.S. rate . The misuse of alcohol is also a common denominator for a wide range of chronic social ills, including sexual assault, child abuse and suicide. Alaska's suicide rate is about twice as high as the U.S rate; the suicide rate among non-Native Alaskans is 53 percent above the U.S. rate, while the Natives is 3.6 times the U.S. rate .
Not until the 1980's when research and studies were conducted did people realize how bad the alcohol problem was in Alaska, which is when the native villagers and Alaskan people decided it was time to make a change to better the people. Although there would be some struggle in doing so, by the early 21st century around seventeen Alaska villages banned the sale of alcohol, seventy-five banned sale and importation of alcohol, and thirty-three banned possession all together . All of this initiatives have proven to reduce alcohol abuse, and more improvements are still being made today, but the problem still persists.
Cultural impact[edit | edit source]
To this day the gold rush is still alive in Alaskan society, and can be seen in many different ways. Although Alaska is not in the same place as it was in the 1800’s the frontier still holds on to some of the same values and beliefs held during those times. This can been seen in the choice of sports to play such as white water rafting, hunting, and dog sled races, all of which are very rugged and competitive sports . The modern people still hold the same competitive spirt of those who were trying to find more gold then their miner counterpart. The gold rush created entrepreneurs through the opening of saloons which most of the time made more money than those who panned. This can still clear be seen today, and has even been turned into a theory, called the Klondike theory, which states those born in places where the gold rush was rampant have a competitive and creative drive greater than elsewhere . For example, Bill Gates, the world’s richest man was born in raised in Seattle a place that thrived during the gold rush. The gold rush also opened the door for people to create new businesses which have survived till this day, such as Nordstrom . Beliefs held by settlers at that time can still be seen. There is still a general disliking for higher authority such as governments, native people are still not regarded as they should be, and there is abuse of women. All of these have traits have lessened since 1860 but the presence of them can be followed throughout Alaskan history from then till now.
Alaska has started to embrace this history, they have opened national parks where people can take the same mountainous paths that used to be used to mine, parks such as Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park . People have tried many times to claim this land but the nation realizes it historical importance and it remains protected. Tourists who go to Alaska can now take part in many adventurous activities and cultural events some of which are based off the gold rush, for example, in 1998, the nation celebrated the centennial of the gold rush . Even though they are is a small tourist market in Alaska due to cooler temperature, the state is still trying to develop cultural attracts for visitors to enjoy. Mining culture is still alive today and can be found in cartoon after cartoon, even in reality TV such as gold rush, edge of Alaska and Klondike, all of which are based on modern day mining in Alaska.
The 20th Century[edit | edit source]
Movies were made to best suit the media's interest in order to gain attention and make a profit. In the 20th century, there were more thriller and horror movies made as there was increased interest. The movie Insomnia is a highly dramatic thriller film that was released in 2002 by the Warner Brothers. The movie takes place in an Alaskan town and starred popular actors at the time including Robin Williams and Al Pacino. The movie examines the psychological battle between Pacino, an LAPD officer battling insomnia and Williams playing a sensitive, strained loner with a quick temper. In the film, he consistently uses a coolly compressed demeanor to express suppressed evil. A reviewer stated that Williams failed to show the necessary emotional and psychic turbulence of the character, and consequently held the picture back. The film utilized the unique perpetual daylight in the Alaskan summers to further Al Pacino’s battle with insomnia. The movie brought in approximately sixty-seven million dollars at the box office. Insomnia was a remake of the Norwegian film and was directed by Christopher Nolan, one of the highest grossing directors in history and this movie showcases his distinctive talent perfectly.
One of the more critically acclaimed movies set in Alaska is Into the Wild, which was released in 2007. The film illustrates the travels of Christopher McCandless, played by Emile Hirsch, and his time spent living his dream of living alone in the vast wilderness of Alaska. The movie gained critical acclaim through break taking photography of the uncharted Alaskan wildness and its ability to bring to life the truly remarkable story. The Sean Penn directed film was based on the John Krakauer book and received a nomination for two Academy Awards.
A more recent movie that was filmed in Alaska was “The Proposal” that came out in 2009. The movie features Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, two famous actors in this century. The movie brought in close to 164 million dollars at the box office, and was given several awards, including “People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedic Movie”. Around the same time as this, the best-selling author Nora Roberts’ novel “Northern Lights” was made into a movie in 2009 and featured award winner Leann Rimes, Eddie Cibrian, and Golden Globe and Emmy award nominee Rosanna Arquette. The novel’s setting is in Alaska where a policeman relocates in hopes of starting a new life and falls in love. The novel is considered a consumer favorite and has approximately three hundred million copies in print.
In 2013, The Grey was released, which was an action-adventure movie set in Alaska. The movie shows the struggles of a group of oil rig workers trying to stay alive after their plane crashes in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. With little supplies and unbearable weather, the group must try and get to safety all the while being stalked by a pack of man-eating grey wolves. The movie stars Liam Neeson, as he fights to lead the group to civilization and keep the hungry wolves at bay.
Recently, the desire to film in Alaska has amplified. It has become increasingly popular for non-fiction television shows that capture the world’s scenic beauty, Alaskan personalities, and drama behind survival stories. Alaska pulls in viewers through one's interest in natural history and Alaska's extremes. Often, television shows illustrate the way of life in Alaska and this can be quite intriguing to viewers who do not live there because there are drastic differences in their worlds. They are fascinated by these differences which make for good television, who know little of the state. For example, “The Deadliest Catch” is filmed in Alaska and shows the real-life events of capturing mass amounts of fish and the risks that come with it. Furthermore, “NAPA’s North to Alaska”, starring National Football League player Larry Csonka, is entering its fifteenth season and was one of the first reality shows to capitalize on the fact that people do not get bored of Alaska and the romance and excitement that goes along with it. In 2009 National Geographic aired Alaskan State Troopers, which follows the day-to-day life of Alaskan State troopers and the dangers and difficulties they face. The show is able to use the incredible landscapes of Alaska and extreme weather conditions to display the unique situations that the troopers face. Alaskan State Troopers also displays the darker side of life in Alaskan and some of the struggles which people deal with. Also, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” is a reality television show that captures the life of the former Governor of Alaska. Palin was the governor from 2006 until 2009. She also has a documentary about her life called “The Undefeated”, as well as several books. Controversially, Alaska’s residents hold a different view of Alaska than the one portrayed through Palin’s reality television show. Alaskan’s believe that half of Palin’s adventures are guided trips aimed at mass market tourists. They also are disappointed that it does not show her doing everyday activities such as gutting caribou and setting a gill net on her own.
Sarah Palin[edit | edit source]
Governor of Alaska[edit | edit source]
Sarah Palin is an American politician and author. She took office as the ninth Governor of Alaska on December 4th, 2006, serving from 2006 until her eventual resignation in 2009. Palin became Alaska’s first female governor, and the youngest governor in Alaskan history at the age of 42. As a governor, Palin vowed her top priority would be to revitalize the state's economy through workforce, transportation, and infrastructure developments. In her State, of the State Address on January 15, 2008, Palin preached economic development stating “we can and must continue to develop our economy because we cannot and must not rely so heavily on federal government earmarks. Instead, let us power up and produce for Alaska and America.” Governor Palin was also well known for implementing large cuts to the capital budget during her time in office, and for reducing state spending where possible.
As part of Palin’s campaign to develop a strong economy, she signed Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) which included a net tax on oil profits, and provide incentives for oil companies to develop operations in Alaska. ACES provided protection for producers when oil prices were low on the market, all the while protecting the interests of the people of Alaska as well. The passing of ACES led to economic success in the state with a record number of oil industry jobs being created. Transparency and ethics reform was also central to Palin’s governorship and belief in open and honest government. Governor Palin fought and signed for sweeping bipartisan ethics legislation, improved disclosure laws, and improved executive and legislative branch ethics laws as part of House Bill 109.
Palin’s popularity differed dramatically over her years as governor. Her approval rating ranged from as high as 93% in May of 2007 to as low as 54% in May of 2009. Following Palin’s vice president selection by running-mate and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, she received increased media attention and scrutiny from across America. A study written by James E. Campbell has stated that the choice of Palin initially energized the conservative base at the Republican convention, noting however, that Palin’s campaign interviews which followed afterward were widely regarded as a series of disasters by the public, and by the national media. This same study also suggests that the selection of the Alaskan governor to the presidential campaign contributed to McCain’s gradual plunge in the polls over time, as well as to Palin’s plunging of approval rating as well.
Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska on July 26, 2009, resulting in a vast array of criticism from the media, and from her political opponents.
2008 Vice-Presidential Campaign[edit | edit source]
Upon Sarah Palin’s vice presidential selection by Republican running-mate John McCain on August 29, 2008, for the 2008 United States Presidential election, Sarah Palin received increased media attention as a rather “unknown figure” in American politics. Compared to Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin received significantly more coverage in the media, and as a controversial figure, she received more scrutiny and criticism as well. A large percentage of Americans outside of Alaska was unfamiliar with Palin and her beliefs and politics, however, studies have shown that the coverage of Palin in the media largely did not shed light on the area, and instead mostly focused on her personality and trivial topics. The popular magazine, Newsweek, devoted more than half (58.2%) of its coverage on Palin to discussions of her childhood, family, physical appearance, and personality. In contrast, only 11.9% of coverage was focused on her qualifications for office, legislative experience, and understanding of the two major political issues occurring during the national political campaign -- the war in Iraq, and the nation’s economic crisis.
Critics of Palin, both Republican and Democrat, were quick to point out her lack of experience with domestic and foreign politics during campaigning. The Republican Party, however, cited her experience, success, and popularity as Governor of Alaska as sufficient experience and justification for their nomination of Palin to hold the office of vice president.
Public Image and Personality[edit | edit source]
Sarah Palin’s popularity allowed her to represent Alaskan politics on a national scale, bringing attention to the state and its political climate, a subject many Americans were previously ignorant of.
Palin’s personality and strong religious beliefs received heavy criticism and attention from the national media. she was very open about her Christian life in public, her pro-life stance on the subject of abortion was a widely discussed topic during the 2008 presidential election. Palin’s beliefs proved controversial and drew in criticism from organizations such as the National Organization For Women (NOW) stating that “not every woman supports women’s rights.” Palin’s religious beliefs proved controversial multiple times throughout the campaign. In an October 2008, interview with CBN’s David Brody, Palin stated that she would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the United States, breaking with running mate McCain’s position on the issue.
Palin’s popularity as a public figure also led to the creation of parodies and satire based upon her character. During the 2008 presidential election, the sketch comedy television show Saturday Night Live aired several sketches parodying Sarah Palin, mainly poking fun at her mannerisms and political beliefs. However, the mocking portrayals of Palin on Saturday Night Live also turned some of her religious beliefs into a liability for the Republican Party. Palin was portrayed by actress and SNL writer Tina Fey. The sketches were well received by critics and were widely popular and Fey reprised her role as the then Governor of Alaska several times during the 2008 Presidential election, and has continued to portray Palin as recently as January 2016.
Palin published her personal and political memoir Going Rogue: An American Life on November 17th, 2009, which became a New York Times #1 bestseller for six weeks after release, however, the book itself received mixed reviews. Furthermore, Palin has been known to use many memorable quotes throughout her lifetime. She has been quoted as stating: "We say keep your change, we'll keep our God, our guns, our constitution", "Folks, this government isn't too big to fail, it's too big to succeed", "I love those hockey moms. You know what they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is? Lipstick".
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