The people of Angoon walked in remembrance of the 1882 U.S. Navy bombing of their city on Wednesday, the 129th anniversary of the event.
Angoon Mayor Albert Howard said the “Celebration of Life Walk” was supported by the city but organized by clan leaders and elders in the Alaskan Native American village who felt it was important to commemorate the incident.
According to a June 11 column in the Juneau Empire by Jack Marshall, in 1882, Edgar Merriman, commander of the USS Adams, ordered the city of Angoon to be shelled and burned after two Native chiefs did not pay a fine of 400 blankets for destroying their canoes.
The chiefs had destroyed the canoes because while the Northwest Trading Company was whaling in the Kottzenoo Lagoon, a bomb, shot from the whale boat at a whale, accidentally exploded and killed a Native shaman, one of the crew. The almost all-Native crew overpowered the two white men in the boat and took them prisoner; captured the boat, nets, whaling gear, and steam launch of the company and demanded payment of 200 blankets for the dead man.
It was a Native custom that if a Native was killed or injured, his surviving relatives could demand from the parties who were responsible a certain payment or tribute consisting generally of blankets.
The bombing resulted in little or no immediate loss of life, but because it was just before winter set in, the entire food storage for the village was destroyed and many did not survive the winter.
The Navy acknowledged its involvement in the affair in 1982 (almost 100 years later), saying, “The destruction of Angoon should never have happened, and it was an unfortunate event in our history.”
This is the first year the Celebration of Life was held and it was kept close-knit this year with only townspeople walking, Howard said. But he hopes next year it will be a bigger event and that surrounding communities will attend.