Courtesy Alaska State Library Photograph Collection
Attendees at an Alaska Native Brotherhood convention in Sitka, Alaska, 1914. William L. Paul Sr. and his brother Louis Paul are considered foundational members of the ANB.

The Toilet Paper Defense: The Story of William Paul and Charlie Jones

Frank Hopper

William L. Paul Sr., the pioneering Tlingit civil rights leader, was born on May 7, 1885. His landmark legal assault on the U.S. government beginning in the 1920s laid the groundwork for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which returned 44 million acres of land and nearly a billion dollars to Alaska Natives. But instead of reviewing his life, I’d like to examine just one episode, William’s 1923 defense of the Tlingit leader Charlie Jones, who was charged with illegal voting.

The Sophisticated Tlingit Lawyer

William Paul came from the small town of Wrangell, Alaska, the son of a half-Tlingit mother and a half-Tlingit father. He attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania and later received a baccalaureate degree from Whitworth College in Tacoma. He knew Latin and Greek and was said to have a beautiful tenor voice. After studying law through LaSalle University, he became the first Native to pass the Alaska Bar.

Studio portrait of William L. Paul Sr., Grand President, Alaska Native Brotherhood. (Alaska State Library/Historical Collections)

In 1920 he returned to Wrangell, determined to make enough money fishing to finance a move to New York, where he planned to train for the Metropolitan Opera. But, like a Tlingit George Bailey, he would never go.


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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
The U.S. needs a new set of heroes! We need heroes who actually helped people instead of hypocrite heroes like George Washington who fought to establish a country based on freedom and justice, yet sought to wipe out the Iroquois nation, or Abraham Lincoln who is touted as a civil rights President yet also presided over the racist-motivated, largest mass execution ever held in the U.S.

Frank Hopper
Frank Hopper
Submitted by Frank Hopper on
As the author of this piece, I'd just like to pass along some richly deserved thanks to those who helped me with their input and support. To Diane Purvis, Alaska Historian, who gave me many sources and kindly critiqued every draft. To Ben Paul, grandson of William Paul, Sr., who taught me William Paul is a difficult subject whose legacy is still filled with many lessons to be discovered. To Ray Austin, Clarice Johnson, Lois Wilson and Vince Reinhart for their helpful feedback. Thanks to you all. I'd also like to address a concern that's been raised regarding the citation of my sources. This article has many, which I list below in a bibliography. I submitted the article with this bibliography, but it wasn't included with in the published version. Finally, it's been noted that parts of my article are similar in wording to previously published scholarly works. I'm embarrassed to say that one section of my article does contain wording similar to descriptions appearing in Fred Paul's book, "Then Fight for It!: The Largest Peaceful Redistribution of Wealth in the History of Mankind and the Creation of the North Slope Borough." I should have directly quoted and cited this source. I deeply apologize for this error. The original wording in Fred's book was so charming it stuck in my head and unconsciously influenced my composition of one, brief, section. The remaining sections and lead are original. I'd like to thank those who voiced their concerns about my article. I hope this error in decorum doesn't detract from the importance of the story. Sincerely, Frank Hopper The Toilet Paper Defense Bibliography Daley, Patrick, and Beverly A. James. "How Raven Gave Voice to a Talking Newspaper: The Case of the Alaska Fisherman." Cultural Politics and the Mass Media: Alaska Native Voices. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2004. 40-81. Print. Drucker, Philip. The Native Brotherhoods: Modern Intertribal Organizations on the Northwest Coast. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1958. Print. Haycox, Stephen. "William Lewis Paul / Shgúndi [Shquindy]." Ed. Richard Dauenhauer and Nora M. Dauenhauer. Haa Kusteeyí = Our Culture: Tlingit Life Stories. Seattle (Wash.): U of Washington, 1994. 503-24. Print. "Indian Citizenship Tested: Status Finally Established—Right to Vote Now Undisputed." Alaska Fisherman [Wrangell] January 1924 Metcalfe, Peter. The Sword and the Shield: The Defense of Alaska Aboriginal Claims by the Alaska Native Brotherhood. Juneau, AK: Tlingit Readers, 2010. Electronic. Ostrowitz, Judith. "Expedience and Classicism at the Chief Shakes Community House." Privileging the Past: Reconstructing History in Northwest Coast Art. Seattle: U of Washington, 1999. 19-48. Print. Paul, Fred. Then Fight for It!: The Largest Peaceful Redistribution of Wealth in the History of Mankind and the Creation of the North Slope Borough. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford Pub., 2003. Electronic.