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Distributed for University of Alaska Press

The Tanana Chiefs

Native Rights and Western Law

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 rights.

160 pages | 14 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2018

History: American History

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“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.”

Alaska History

“Is one of those priceless history books that asks readers to not simply learn about an event, but to reconsider their understanding of both the past and present as a result.”

Wellston Journal

"Alert researchers often unearth an event pivotal to history that has faded from public memory.  In this example of attentive research, Schneider and four colleagues reconstruct a July 1915, two-day meeting. The meeting brought together 14 civic leaders from Athabascan bands living in the Tanana River Valley in Interior Alaska to discuss their future with six representatives of the US federal government and the deacon from an Episcopal mission in rural Alaska. . . . This book is a compendium of perspectives from five contributors on the context, significance, and successes and failures of the 1915 TCC."


Table of Contents


1. From Fur to Gold
by William Schneider

2. From Native to White Man’s Country
by William Schneider

3. July 1915: Wickersham Meets the Tanana Chiefs
by Thomas Alton

4. Alaska Native Leader Will Mayo Shares His Perspective on the 1915 Tanana Chiefs Meeting
by Will Mayo

5. The Fester
by William Schneider

by William Schneider

Appendix 1: Introduction to the Transcript of the 1915 Tanana Chiefs Meeting in Fairbanks
by Thomas Alton

Appendix 2: The Original Transcript of the 1915 Tanana Chiefs Meeting in Fairbanks

Appendix 3: The Alaska Purchase and Alaska Natives

Appendix 4: Timeline of Important Laws and Events Impacting Tribal Governments in Alaska
by Kevin Illingworth


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