Twelve miles southwest of Ketchikan on the western shore of Annette Island is the community of Metlakatla (pop. 1,500). Metlakatla (meaning “saltwater channel” in Tsimshian) is Alaska’s only Indian reservation, a status that was reaffirmed in 1971 when its residents refused to join other Native American groups under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
This quiet, conservative town—the only predominantly Tsimshian settlement in Alaska—has a strong religious heritage and the air of a pioneer village. Large frame houses occupy big corner lots, while vacant lots yield abundant berry crops.
There seems to be a church on every corner—eight in all, none of them Catholic. Metlakatla boasts a flourishing cannery, a cold-storage facility, a fish hatchery, a rock quarry, and a sawmill.
Most of Annette Island is wooded mountainous terrain reaching up to 3,500 feet, but the town of Metlakatla spreads out across a large, relatively flat portion of the island that contains many muskegs and lakes. Although Metlakatla is only a dozen miles from Ketchikan, it gets 118 inches of precipitation per year, 44 inches less than Ketchikan.
Camping is discouraged, and visitors who want to stay on Annette Island more than five days must obtain a special permit from the city. A local sponsor is required, and fishing is not allowed.
Getting to Metlakatla
The state ferry Lituya provides daily runs between Metlakatla and Ketchikan, stopping at the ferry terminal (907/465-3941 or 800/642-0066, www.alaska.gov/ferry) 1 mile east of town. The military finished a 14-mile dirt road across the northern end of the island in 2007. A new ferry dock will eventually be built at the end of the road, providing much faster service to Ketchikan.
ProMech Air (907/225-3845 or 800/860-3845, www.promechair.com) and Taquan Air (907/225-8800 or 800/770-8800, www.taquanair.com) have daily floatplane service between Ketchikan and Metlakatla for $95 round-trip.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition