The village of Metlakatla—the name translates roughly as “saltwater passage”—is on Annette Island, a dozen miles by sea from busy Ketchikan but a world away culturally. A visit to this quiet community offers the chance to learn about life in a small Inside Passage Native community
In most Southeast Native villages, the people are of Tlingit or Haida heritage, but most residents of Metlakatla are Tsimshian. They moved to the island from British Columbia in 1887 with William Duncan, an Anglican missionary from England. The town grew rapidly and soon contained dozens of buildings, including a cannery, a sawmill, and a church that could seat 1,000 people. Congress declared Annette Island a federal Indian reservation in 1891, and it remains the only reservation in Alaska today. Every year on August 7, locals celebrate Metlakatla’s founding with a parade, foot races, food stands, and fireworks.
During World War II the U.S. Army built a major air base 7 miles from Metlakatla that included observation towers to spy on Japanese subs, as well as airplane hangars, gun emplacements, and housing for 10,000 soldiers. After the war it served as Ketchikan’s airport for many years, but today the long runways are virtually abandoned save for a few private flights.