Community Origins

In 1887 a group of 826 Tsimshian people left their homes in British Columbia, Canada and traveled in ocean-going canoes to the waters of the U.S. and their new home in Alaska. The man who was responsible for bringing the Tsimshians to this new place was Mr. William Duncan, often referred to as "Father" Duncan. The title of "Father" was an honorary one given to him by a grateful and affectionate people. He was a lay missionary in the Church of England whose specific mission was to Christianize the specific group known as the Tsimshian in British Columbia. He was sent by the Church due to his great sense of spiritual dedication and closely-held beliefs. At that time it was a belief that aboriginal peoples needed to be indoctrinated into Western culture and the vehicle to accomplish this was whichever church was the most powerful and influential at the time.

Mr. Duncan refused to start teaching this people about the Christian Gospels until he had had the opportunity to become fluent in the language of the Tsimshians. Thereafter he stayed with the people and taught them how to exist in a world that was very different than the one to which they were accustomed. It was a difficult feat to move from relative primitivism to a more advanced society in such a short time, especially when there were contradictory and rather explosive forces that caused trauma to this people who sincerely wished to believe in their new religion.

Mr. Duncan, therefore, suggested that the people move to a place close by that would be ideal for his mission. He and his followers wished to remove themselves from the negative influence of detractors and Church authorities who insisted that he administer certain rituals and ceremonies to the Tsimshians that Mr. Duncan felt were highly inappropriate and untimely. The people moved from Fort Simpson to Metlakatla, B.C. This move marked the beginning of many remarkable accomplishments made by the progressive-minded Tsimshians who eventually founded the Metlakatla Indian Community that exists today.

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