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James E. Curry Land Claims Recordings Collection


Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description


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James E. Curry Land Claims Recordings Collection, 1947-1948 | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

By Zachary R. Jones, Archivist, Kelsey Potdevin, SHI Intern, and Alyssa Peterson, Graduate Student Intern

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Collection Overview

Title: James E. Curry Land Claims Recordings Collection, 1947-1948Add to your cart.

ID: MC/052

Primary Creator: Curry, James E. (1907-1972)

Extent: 1.0 Boxes

Date Acquired: 07/21/1982

Subjects: Tlingit Indians--History.

Languages: English, Tlingit

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection consists of eight recordings made between 1947 and 1948 to document Tlingit aboriginal land title to Southeast Alaskan lands and waters in the Kake, Alaska region, as part of the Tlingit land claims effort which eventually culminated in 1971 with the passage of the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act. These recordings were created by staff of Tlingit land claims lawyer James E. Curry, and mailed to Curry’s Washington DC office in March 1948. The recordings, originally captured on SoundScriber discs (an early and rare vinyl record format), were mailed to Curry by Rita Singer, a field agent of Curry’s who collected the testimony at Kake, Alaska. Approximately half of the recordings in this collection contain land claims testimony of Kake elders speaking about historic habitation and 14(h)1 sites. These recordings are primarily in English, though Tlingit placenames are given to document habitation. Other recordings in this collection contain a dialog between Rita Singer and Curry’s Washington DC office about ongoing activities in Southeast Alaska, mainly Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood actions towards land claims.

In 2011 these recordings were found within the Curry-Weissbrodt Papers collection at SHI, hidden within a folder. In 2012 the recordings were migrated from the original SoundScriber and are now available on CD for public use. Few recordings of the Tlingit exist prior to the late 1950s, so these recordings are important historically and for their period of creation.

Note: For those further interested in the activities of James E. Curry, see SHI’s Curry-Weissbrodt Papers Collection and Curry-Weissbrodt Photograph Collection.

Biographical Note

James E. Curry (1907-1972) was an attorney during the 1930s up to the 1950s active in the legal affairs of Alaskan Natives, particularly the Tlingit and Haida. He was born in Chicago, IL of Irish-American parents. He entered Loyola University as a scholarship student and received his law degree in 1930. After a short employment term in the legal division of an insurance company, he opened his own law office. At the same time he was secretary of the Chicago branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and an attorney for the Consumers’ Cooperatives. He married Alma M. Weinhofen, also of Chicago, and in the winter of 1936 came to Washington to accept employment in the Indian Service. His term as secretary was short, but his duties required him to travel widely. He gained first-hand knowledge of the problems of the Indian groups in many states. He also held government positions such as assistant chief legal advisor with the Consumers Council division of the Department of the Interior and counsel for the Reconstruction Administration in Puerto Rico. His Puerto Rican work consisted largely of representing public corporations that owned the various public utility systems there. After his return to the USA, his clients included the National Congress of American Indians and a large number of Indian tribes. His efforts on behalf of the Indian tribes resulted in a long-standing dispute with the government officials of the Interior Department and the eventual dwindling of his Indian business. From 1955 to the time of his death in 1972, he acted in an advisory and consultative capacity on the Indian claims cases he had carried for so many years.

Subject/Index Terms

Tlingit Indians--History.

Administrative Information

Repository: Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Acquisition Source: I. S. Weissbrodt

Acquisition Method: The materials in the collection were donated to SHI by I. S. Weissbrodt on July 21, 1982. Accession # 1982.001.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Box:

[Box 1: Recordings],

Box 1: RecordingsAdd to your cart.
Item 1: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – This recording was presumably made by a field employee for Curry or Weissbrodt based out of Juneau in 1948. She gives a summary of all of her recent meetings and interactions with local politicians, Native leaders and government workers to discuss the Native issues she is working with. The issues discussed in this track include IRA loans, territorial schools and legal title, funds for building a cannery, and sanitation in the territory. She often travels to surrounding communities for meetings; these towns include Hoonah, Kake, and Juneau. She mentions meeting with the President of ANB, Tom Jenson?, Don Forester, Mr. Warren, Rose Peratrovich, Mary Valentine, William Deering, and Ann Delong. She also breakfasts with a William ? in Kake.

Track 2 – The same speaker attends a Republican and Conservative luncheon where she is mistaken for a government employee. She meets with Walter Soboleff to discuss ANB. She meets with two women who are worried about the fate of F2037 and Native service in the territory. She describes Mr. Warren as sympathetic to the cause and Rhodes as having the old Fish and Game attitude.

Item 2: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – Statement of Jesse Kadake translated by Henry Davis. Jesse is listed as being a part of the tribe, 8201 US Coast and Geometric Survey. Jesse’s name is Dochumnak and he’s part of the Was’ineidí clan. In this recording he describes places claimed by his clan within the Kake and Kupreanof Island near the Hamilton Bay clan home sites. The claim the area known as Jayahene from Big John’s Bay to Summit Island, from Summit to Mason’s Creek and Rocky’s Pass as well as No Name Bay Seclusion Island Strait Island. The Natives are anxious to preserve area around an important Sockeye stream, Kusmuhene, the clan once had a camp at the mouth of the stream. In Big John’s Bay there are seven salmon streams where people used to smoke fish place was called, Gicla or grindstone. Jayahene has a smoke house still used to smoke and dry. The hunting is good here for deer, mallard, and geese. No one is allowed to go there, but recently in the last 30 years, white trappers have begun to use the area saying their lines were in first and the land belongs to the government, therefore they have prior rights.

He mentions a good area for crab, cockles, and seaweeds in an area where 30 years ago a logging firm worked. On Horseshoe Island known as Ukje meaning sea otter there was a fox farm run by Charles Stedman who took over the island after some cabins were given to him. The area is good for berries and sealing. When children get out of school they plant their vegetables there.

There was an old fortification, Kachchus, near Horseshoe about 100 years ago. One mile east of High Island was used for hunting about five miles back from the beach; they don’t need trails because they are so familiar with the area. One mile back from shore was good for martin and they used timber for building. They have trap lines for mink, land otter, beaver and martin. There are so many white trappers before the season who take the good areas. Many don’t think they are Alaska residents. Last spring they went to go look at the area and found white men setting their traps. Jesse says twice before he tried to order the white trappers off the island but they threatened to shoot him, only one the trappers obeyed him. Sealing is very good in this area and they troll shore for King Salmon. There is a lake, two miles along the north shore of bay Taykacha, where there are two salmon streams and there used to be smoke houses. Keshkamasen was the last man used to live there, three generations before Jesse’s time. They used beach to get clams, devil fish, and crabs. There are some berries. Some logging was good too. The white men came in and took the best logs that were easiest. There were two clan houses at south entrance to the bay. Mr. Kadake used to live in one of the clan houses to use this too. Kochita was the name for Seclusion Bay. Charlie Freel a white man used to live there.

Track 2 – No Name Bay or Tatza is now used by white trappers used to be called Tuchk. Here there is good trapping and hunting, herring spawn here, and the used to troll on north side of bay, there is also good halibut. They used to trap but now the whites trap first. Often there are several boats of outsiders. The clan also claims some cabins where they had gardens on the north side of bay. At Chalach a fox farmer burned down a cabin on the north side of the island and there are two more fox farmers there now. The Native people used to use the place especially for drying seaweed. Kadake used to go there with his mother to gather seaweed. They used it for trapping and deer hunting. The clan also claims Strait Island; it was used as a fox farming island once and for seal hunting. Some white men who live at Point Baker come there to trap.

Was’ineidí includes place off Point Barry and friends from Petersburg and Klawock come to get sweet seaweed. The whites pretend they’re out for trout but they’re taking the sockeye. Kusnuok was the permanent home of the group and it was on a little lake like place, it was burned down by a white man about 50 years ago who first took the provisions and then burned it. Logging companies started about two years ago. Good hemlock and spruce, back in the hills is good for deer hunting, trapping for martin is good about mile up from beach, black bear up in the mountains.

Item 3: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – Statement of Chester James born May 20, 1894 and belongs to the Sukteeneidí clan. This recording is a translation by Henry Davis. James discusses land claims including the whole of Port Camden area to east entrance of Point Camden to a Point in Kadake’s Bay called Small Bay of Red Alders, the bay is about 3 miles west of Kadake’s Bay, named after Jim Kadake used to be called Qalthchumhim, which in Tlingit means Stinking Waters. The area is used for a year-round camp, there are smokehouses in use. Berries are picked in Kadake’s bay area. Berries were preserved in seal oil in the olden times. When missionaries came, the people moved. The people used to garden. Bears were hunted and killed for food only. White people from Juneau and Kake have depleted animal populations once used for subsistence. Timber was also cut by whites. White loggers clear cut the bay in 1916, the natives ordered them out, but the whites said they paid for the stumpage. He described the many uses the people had for trees. Beaver were once plentiful, blames white men for blasting beaver houses. When James ordered white men to leave the area, they said the land did not belong to the Indians and that the whites were there first. Evidence of old Native traps is still visible. Describes what they’re made of.

Charles S. Newton, 66 years old, belongs to Tsaagweidí Clan and Kake people whose tribal number is 8214. This is near Saginaw Bay and Kuiu Island area that belongs to this clan. Their area overlaps with another clan in claiming Security Bay. Newton recounts how boundaries were decided an affair that happened way back before his father’s time. The interview asks him about the salmon streams. Interviewer asks him what was available in that area.

Track 2 – Interviewer asks him about making halibut hooks. They discuss different fishing methods and locations of fishing camps made from yellow cedar. They discuss discusses trapping areas who can use them. They discuss trolling and fishing practices and who was allowed to do it. They also discuss areas where camps were and how they may have been taken over. They discuss trapping for certain animals. She asks him about a Robertson who took over the area and wouldn’t let Newton’s boys trap there. The boys argued that they had rights to trap there. Robertson got mad. Newton’s clansmen couldn’t speak English and the whites took advantage of them. They depend on trapping and now they can’t, but they also do other things. He describes an Old Fortification along Frederick Sound and gardens that were once kept.

Item 4: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – Field rep gives detailed report from Seattle. Discussion includes damaged equipment for the logging company. Mentioned Mr. Paul and IRA projects for future and includes insurance and bonding companies. After flying to Juneau, she called Elizabeth Peratrovich immediately upon arrival, they visit at the hotel would like to hear more from Bruce Bronson. Frank Johnson also mentioned in this meeting. She received call from Lester Roberts, saw Don Foster. The speaker met with Roy Peratrovich who filled her in with local background and problems. Peratrovich wanted to work with the office though he was already an employee of Indian service. She met with Frank Johnson and Lester Roberts, and Zuboff the grand president of ANB. This group of men was planning to make trip to all the towns and offered to let her come along. She met with Bill Paul Jr. to discuss War Department licenses that weren’t being obtained for each fish trap sites. There is a small discussion of decision in Miller case and Alaska Fishermen’s Cooperative. Roden Bar Association weekly luncheon invited her. She went to museum at federal building to see if any of the exhibits were useful her business. She met again with Johnson, Roberts and Zuboff one evening. She mentions the Kake IRA loan. There was lots of snow in late March making it difficult for her to go to Kake. She discussed concerns about some of the teachers in Kake. The speaker discussed problems with the schools. Henry Davis is chairman of claims committee, while in Kake there is talk of going to take pictures of the places used by Natives around Kake. They planned to take the testimony of Seth Williams.

Track 2 – A female interviewer with an elder speaker from Sukteeneidí clan. He indicates areas used by his clan and where the fish are. They discuss what remnants might be found there. They discuss the movement of where people lived and the evolution of traps. He indicates that there was once plentiful game and few outsiders to harvest animals. When outsiders move in the speaker said he would tell them that he was taking something that was his if he was taking too much or scaring animals away. The interviewer asks him if the incoming outsiders felt any remorse. They discuss herring harvest, discuss timber use, halibut fishing, berries, jam making.

Item 5: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – Rita Singer is speaking about a town meeting, in which the issues of cutting timber, fish traps, and homesteading were brought up.  People felt that the timber on Kupreanof Island that they are allowed to cut is not as good as that on Kuiu Island, and they are upset for not being allowed to cut there. Also, it appears that there is a general discontent with fish traps, yet it seems that there is encouragement for communities to use fish traps. Singer mentions a notice from ANB noting why fish traps are beneficial. Singer also discusses how she has been trying to explain the use of homesteads to the community members, and her encouragement for the people to set up homesteads.

Track 2 – Henry Davis is translating the testimony of Paddy Skeek, an 80 year old Tlingit man belonging to the Kaach.ádi clan. According to Skeek, the land from Pt. White to 5 miles west of Portage Bay called Wát Tei Taheen [?] (translated as “Stone at mouth of the creek”) is claimed by the Kaach.ádi clan. Also claimed by the Kaach.ádi clan are Turnabout Island, Pybus Bay, and Small Pybus Bay. The clan’s name originated from Small Pybus Bay.

Also from Skeek’s testimony, several locations are given that were good for subsistence hunting and gathering. Pt. McCartney was a winter camp site, with fertile flats along the southwest side used for gardening. A salmon stream 15 miles west of Portage Bay was used as a fall camp site for getting herring oil. About 5 miles northeast of Cape Bendall was a good trolling site where a camp would be set up and used from the last part of May through October. Several place names of streams are given [locations undetermined, possibly around Cape Bendall], including Cháatl héeni (“Halibut water”) and Woosh kát wát il.át (“Mouth of streams which crossed”).

Item 6: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – Unknown woman is reading the correspondence between one individual and various people. Concerns about treaties and contracts are discussed. The recording is dated May 13, 1948.

Track 2 – Unknown woman is reading incoming letters to Amos Lampson [?], chairman of the Omaha Tribal Council. Concerns about various contracts are discussed.

Item 7: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – Rita Singer is giving a memorandum to Ms. Sofinski [?] and Mr. Cowen. Singer speaks about the need to observe the Native reaction to Statehood questions. Singer speaks about the Native peoples having little rights to the land and no way of protecting the rights they do have. Singer also discusses getting involved in territorial politics. The recording is dated April 23, 1948.

Track 2 – Rita Singer continues her memorandum. Singer speaks about having to attend the May 4th hearing for Mr. Warren. Singer speaks about the importance of the Alaska Native Brotherhood is to the communities. Singer also speaks about the trust she has gained from the peoples she works with in the communities. The recording is dated April 23, 1948.

Item 8: RecordingAdd to your cart.

Track 1 – Correspondence from Rita Singer addressed to Francis [last name not given]. Singer has received the instructions and material from Francis. Singer speaks about various Lands claim meetings and hearings she has attended or will attend. The recording is dated April 25, 1948.

Track 2 – Continuation of Rita Singer’s correspondence to Francis. Singer speaks about the people of Kake wanting a loan. Singer discusses the details associated with procuring the loan for the community. The recording is dated April 28, 1948.

Item 9: RecordingAdd to your cart.
Track 1: Testimony of Kake elder Fred Friday, translated by Henry Davis, about Kake Tlingit use of land and placenames; Track 2: Continuation of Rita Singer’s correspondence, April 24, [1948], then words by Thomas Jackson about USFS timber sales on lands claimed by the Tlingit of Kake.

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