At the turn of the twentieth century,
life was changing drastically in Alaska.
The gold rush brought an onslaught of
white settlers to the area, railroad companies
were pushing into the territory,
and telegraph lines opened up new
lines of communication. The Native
groups who had hunted and fished on
the land for more than a century realized
that if they did not speak up now,
they would lose their land forever.
This is the story of a historic meeting
between Native Athabascan leaders
and government officials, held in
Fairbanks, Alaska in 1915. It was one of
the first times that Native voices were
part of the official record. They sought
education and medical assistance, and
they wanted to know what they could
expect from the federal government.
They hoped for a balance between preserving
their way of life with seeking
new opportunities under the law. The
Tanana Chiefs chronicles the efforts
by Alaska Natives to gain recognition
for rights under Western law and the
struggles to negotiate government-to-government
relationships with the federal
government. It contains the first
full transcript of the historic meeting
as well as essays that connect that first
gathering with the continued efforts of
the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which
continues to meet and fight for Native
William Schneider, Alaska’s premier oral historian, whose dedication to the preservation of Alaska and Alaska Native culture is widely known and highly respected, makes a significant contribution with this volume on the Tanana Chiefs conference in Fairbanks in the summer of 1915.
William Schneider is professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he ran the Oral History Program and taught anthropology. His thirty-four year career in Alaska was devoted to documentation of the history and cultures of Alaska Natives. Contributors to this volume include Thomas Alton, a historian of the Progressive Era in Alaskan history; Will Mayo, past president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference and a national leader in Native American affairs; Kevin Illingworth, Associate Professor of Tribal Management at the Interior Alaska Campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and Natasha Singh, Legal Counsel for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which represents Native villagers in the Interior of Alaska.