The 78-acre sacred X’unáxi (Indian Point) in Juneau was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, making it the first traditional cultural property in Southeast Alaska to be placed on the register.
In a press release, Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl said that the Auk Tribe, the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), as well as SHI, Sealaska, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida, the Douglas Indian Association and other members of the Alaska Native community have been fending off proposed development of the area also known as Auke Cape for decades.
“Indian Point is as important to Native people as Plymouth Rock, Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin and the Statue of Liberty are to Westerners. For nearly 60 years Native people have fought to protect Indian Point, and at long last the federal government has recognized that this area is sacred and is worthy of protection,” Worl said in the release.
“After all these years, we are extremely happy that the government has finally recognized that this site is a sacred site to us and its sacredness must be protected,” Auk Clan Leader Rosa Miller said in the release.
The area is the original habitation site of the Auk Kwáan. The Yaxtetaan clan moved from Young Bay, ultimately landing at X’unáxi (Indian Point) about 500 years ago, according to the SHI press release.
“They erected the first Dipper House at Indian Cove/Indian Point and lived prosperously for some time; eventually the village moved to the adjoining bay about a mile to the north where the name Aanchgaltsóow (Town that Moved) was applied to the new settlement. The historic site was a lookout, refuge and meeting place and is the site of significant events in Auk history, including battles and encounters with other groups in which key Yaxtetaan leaders earned their titles and through which the clan established its status as owners of Auke Bay and the surrounding territory,” reads the release. “In one story that has been passed down, the Auk leader (Kuwudakaa) challenges and ultimately defeats his Yakutat rival in a display of wealth—thus earning the name Yeeskanaalx (Newly Rich Man). This event has been memorialized in a name or title, a song and a story that are considered to be clan at.oówu (heritage property).”
X’unáxi was a burial site and a valued subsistence site for fishing and gathering activities, and was most notable for its run of herring, which was a highly valued resource. Archaeological evidence and oral testimony show use of the site from 800 years ago through the 1970s. Use continues today, but at reduces levels since the herring run has given out.
Contention over Indian Point began in 1959, when the National Park Service wanted to use the western portion of it for its administrative headquarters. In 1968, the state transferred the southern half of Indian Point to the City of Juneau, which proposed subdividing the property for residential housing. The Native community mobilized again in protest. It was the first issue Worl fought for after the Alaska Native Sisterhood koogeina (sash) that belonged to her mother, Bessie Quinto, was transferred to her in the 1960s after Quinto’s death.
The city passed an ordinance in 1969 reclassifying the area as “recreation land to be used in its natural state [that] shall be kept open and clear.”
Another battle arose again in 1992 when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service wanted to build a large facility at Indian Point. They even offered the Native community $1 million to drop their opposition. Miller led the Auk against the destruction of the site, and the fight finally ended in 1998 when a different site was chosen.
It was around that time that Dr. Tom Thornton, on behalf of NOAA, completed a report titled “Traditional Cultural Property Investigation for Auke Cap, Alaska,” which found Indian Point was eligible for the National Register. Sealaska first applied in 2004, and it was finally approved by the National Park Service in July 2016.
“It calls attention to the cultural and historical significance of the site. It provides a mechanism for SHI and other organizations, including the Auk clans, city and federally-recognized tribes to coordinate efforts to preserve its integrity as a cultural site, to support an appropriate approach to manage the area, and to protect it from adverse effects of development,” said Worl.