Sitka: tides of history

Nestled on the rain forest-covered shore of Baranof Island, Sitka in is an ancestral home of Tlingit people, who trace their history in this place back to the beginning of human colonization of Southeast Alaska. According to oral lore, the ancestors of Sitka Tlingits came to Baranof Island from the north, looking for tall trees for their canoes. At the foot of Mount Edgecombe volcano, which they called Lu’x -“blinking light” – their shaman had to face the Mistress of the volcano, who was displeased with people cutting trees and disturbing her peace. After negotiations, they were allowed to stay, but the spirits of the place demanded respect. Tlingits consider the shores of Kruzoff Island sacred land, and the birth place of shamanism.

At the time that Russian and European explorers reached Southeast Alaska, Sitka was a prominent settlement and home of the Kiks.ádi clan. Tlingits had well-established concepts of land ownership and territorial boundaries, within which each clan exercised stewardship over its land and water. The arrival of Russian settlers violated traditional autonomy and led to conflicts. The first Russian settlement on Baranoff Island was established in 1799. By that time, Russian traders had outposts in the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak, Resurrection Bay and Yakutat. Sitka was the southern-most extent of the Russian colonial effort. In 1801 this effort was officially recognized by the Russian Crown by granting the Russian-American company a monopoly to manage “Russian possessions” in Alaska. In 1802, the issue of ownership over land and local resources resulted in a Tlingit attack on Russian fort. Most of the settlers were massacred, and those who survived fled to the forest and were later transferred to Kodiak on the British ship Unicorn. The Tlingit shaman Stoonook foretold that Russians would return. At his urging, the Kiks.ádi began preparing for the next stage of the conflict. The Neva was to play a crucial role at the next Tlingit encounter with Russians.

Go to the next section

Return to the main menu