Swedish missionary Albin Johnson arrived in Alaska
at the turn of the century, thousands of miles from
home and with just two weeks’ worth of English
classes under his belt. While he intended to work
among the Tlingit tribes of Yakutat, he found himself
in a wave of foreign arrivals as migrants poured
into Alaska, seeking economic opportunities and the
chance at a different life. While Johnson came with
pious intentions, others imposed western values and
vices and left disease and devastation in their wake.
Seventeen Years in Alaska is Johnson’s eyewitness
account of this tumultuous time. It is a captivating
narrative of an ancient people facing rapid
change and of the missionaries working to stem
a corrupting tide. His journals offer a candid look
at the beliefs and lives of missionaries, and they
ultimately reveal the profound effect that he and
other missionaries had on the Tlingit. Tracing nearly
two decades of spiritual hopes and earthbound
failures, Johnson’s memoir is a fascinating portrait
of a rapidly changing world in one of the most farflung
areas of the globe.
Johnson’s vivid memories and Ehrlander’s transparent translation makes the text highly readable. . . . Together, Ehrlander and Johnson leave readers with a more nuanced understanding of the role early missionaries played in the Far North.