The Port of Metlakatla is located at Port Chester on the western shores of Annette Island in southeastern Alaska, just over 70 kilometers (44 miles) northwest of the US border with Canada. The Port of Metlakatla is about 87 nautical miles (119 kilometers or 74 miles by air) northwest of Prince Rupert Port in Canada and just 14 nautical miles (23 kilometers or 15 miles by air) from Alaska's Port of Ketchikan.
Most of the inhabitants of the Port of Metlakatla are indigenous Tsimshian people who came to the island from British Columbia. It is also home to other Alaska Natives including Tlingit, Aleut, Yup'ik, and Haida. The Port of Metlakatla economy depends mostly on fishing and fish processing. Annette Island and the Port of Metlakatla are part of the only federal Indian reservation in Alaska. Every year, the community-built hatchery releases millions of salmon of five different species. The hatchery, local services, and the Tribal Court are all operated by the Metlakatla Indian Community. The US Census reported a population of 1375 souls, more than 80% of which were First Peoples.
Traveling in canoes, over 800 Tsimshian people followed William Duncan from their home in British Columbia to Annette Island and the future Port of Metlakatla in 1887. Duncan was a lay missionary from the Church of England who had been tasked with converting the Tsimshian to Christianity.
Duncan would not teach the Christian Gospels to the people until he could speak their language. Recognizing the difficulty of transitioning from traditional beliefs and the pressures of the rapidly changing world, Duncan led the people to Annette Island where they could more easily practice their new religion and build a new life in what would become the Port of Metlakatla.
The first step in their move was to "Old Metlakatla" in British Columbia. However, conflict between Mr. Duncan and the Church became insurmountable, and he turned to the United States for help. President Grover Cleveland was sympathetic to the rights of indigenous peoples, and he allowed Duncan and the Tsimshian to choose islands in southeastern Alaska for their new home.
A group of men traveled by canoe through US waters and found the beautiful Annette Island. On August 7, 1887, Duncan and the Tsimshians declared the discovery of "New Metlakatla." That day is still celebrated as Founders' Day in the Port of Metlakatla community. Just two years after they arrived, the first public building was dedicated, and the community continued to grow.
In 1891, the US Congress recognized the Port of Metlakatla community and created the Annette Islands Reserve as a federal Indian reservation, the only reservation in Alaska. With abundant natural resources and talented people, the Port of Metlakatla has prospered.
William Duncan continued to lead the community until his death in 1918. After he passed away, the town government assumed management of the community, and the Port of Metlakatla was incorporated under the name "Metlakatla Indian Community." A 12-member tribal council governs the community and is responsible, with the mayor, secretary, and treasurer, for the people's welfare.
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