Metlakatla Indian Community Mayor and Tribal Chairwoman Audrey Hudson at Celebration, a biennial festival of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures. June 2016, Juneau, Alaska.

Audrey Hudson: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Audrey Hudson, mayor, city manager, tribal chairwoman, and police commissioner of the Metlakatla Indian Community, Annette Islands Reserve, Alaska.

A more traditional introduction would be: My full name is Audrey Meri Louise Hudson. I am the daughter of Alice (Walker) Dundas, Tsimshian/Inupiaq of Metlakatla and White Mountain, Alaska. My maternal grandmother is Janet Louisa (Marsden) Hanson. My maternal great-grandmother is Louisa Feak Marsden. We are all of the Tsimshian Gish-but-wada Clan in Metlakatla, Alaska.

Can you share your Native name with us? 

My Tsimshian name is Galksiyaa da mangyepsa tgwa. It means She Who Walks through the High Glass. When the members of our community voted for me to be mayor of Metlakatla, I broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman ever to be elected to this position of leadership. This name was gifted to me by my close friends Gavin Hudson, David A. Boxley, David R. Boxley, and Kandi McGilton. My name is very precious, and every day I work to keep my name good and full of integrity.

Where is your tribal community located? 

The Metlakatla Indian Community, Annette Islands Reserve, is the southernmost community in Alaska. We are two hours via Alaska Airlines from Seattle, Washington, plus a ferry ride from Ketchikan, Alaska. Annette Islands Reserve consists of 132,000 acres of land and water base. Metlakatla Indian Community has exclusive commercial and subsistence fishing rights to the islands’ waterways extending from 3,000 feet at mean low tide. We are the only reserve in Alaska. In the 1970s, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was accepted by other tribes in Alaska. Metlakatla is the only tribe that opted out. Metlakatla will forever be grateful to our leadership of that time for making that wise decision. 

Where were your people originally from? 

The Tsimshian originated in the headwaters of the Skeena River, in what is now known as British Columbia, Canada. 

What are the criteria to become a member of the Metlakatla Indian Community?

Metlakatla’s enrollment is based on lineage, not blood quantum. If you are not of lineal descent from Metlakatla, but you are Alaska Native and would like to become a member, you must reside in Metlakatla for one year. The Community Council has the authority to set a non-lineage quota per year.

What is a significant point in Metlakatla history that you would like to share? 

The settlement of New Metlakatla was formally established by ceremony on Annette Island, Alaska, on August 7, 1887. So, every year on August 7, we have a large Founders Day Celebration. Many members of the community return home for this time of celebration, cultural dancing and feasting.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader? 

As mayor and tribal chairwoman of Metlakatla Indian Community, I preside over all Council meetings. As city manager, I supervise and manage all professional officers and the directors of federal, state, tribal and revenue programs. As police commissioner, I supervise the work of the Metlakatla Police Department and the representative of the police force to Council. The chief of police is a separate position that handles day-to-day situations.

How is your tribal government set up? 

Metlakatla Indian Community was founded as a federally recognized Indian tribe under the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act 25 USC, Section 426, with a Constitution and By-laws. The Metlakatla Indian Community of Annette Islands is the local governing body. A twelve-person Council governs the community. The mayor, secretary, and treasurer are elected by the general voting membership of the community. Each of these is elected for a two-year term. Council seats are staggered, resulting in the election of six Council seats each year and three executives every second year.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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