Changing Native Mores

In the course of exercising their charge to enlighten the Native Alaskans, Russian priests often became intimately involved with the Natives' lives. In addition to attending baptisms, births, deaths, and marriages, and teaching children in the church schools, clergymen often would, with parental permission, "adopt" Native and Creole children, usually with the idea of training them for the priesthood or as translators. At times, apparently to avoid the ill effects of inbreeding, Native chiefs would appeal to the priests to bring in brides from islands or areas other than their own. More difficult was the job of modifying the behavior or mores of Natives, in keeping with Christian concepts. For example, suicide and slavery were discouraged with rational arguments rather than by dictate, which the hierarchy felt would be self-defeating. So too were the petty vices of drinking, smoking, and gambling. One antidote to these temptations was to involve converts in the life of the church and community. Indeed, a significant number of Creoles and Natives became priests, deacons, officials in the Russian American Company, and high-ranking military officers.

Still, the bulk of the Natives who had been converted were constantly tempted by the ever-present influence of shamans seeking to return them to the "old ways." In addition, the infrequent visits of parish priests, whose districts often spanned hundreds of miles, and the need to hunt and fish for survival inevitably weakened commitment to the Church. Nonetheless, the Russian priests succeeded admirably in Christianizing the Natives, as is witnessed by the deeply-rooted presence of Orthodoxy in Alaska.

Photograph copyprint. Alaska Indian Chiefs (left to right): (1) Chief Alexander of Tolovana; (2) Chief William of Tanana; (3) Chief Thomas of Nenana; (4) Chief Paul Williams, Tanana Interpreter; (5) Chief Evan of Coshockel; (6) Chief Charlie of Nimto; (7) Chief Alex. Williams of Tanana. Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division (49)

Manuscript decree. Decree of his Imperial Majesty [Nicholas I], the Autocrat of all Russia, from the Irkutsk Ecclesiastical Consistory to the priest and clergy of Unalaska, February 26, 1839, pp.46 (recto), 47 (verso). D330, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (50)

Manuscript decree. Decree of his Imperial Majesty [Alexander II], Autocrat of all Russia from the Novoarkhangelsk Ecclesiastical Consistory to the priest of Nushagak Sts. Peter and Paul Church Il'ia Petelin, December 5, 1844, pp.2,3. D202, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (51)

Holograph letter. To Your Reverence, Provost of the American Churches and Missions, and Rector of the Novoarkhangelsk [Sitka] Cathedral Seminary the Very Rev. and Cavalier Petr Stefanovich Litvintsov, from the Atka St. Nicholas Church, the Rev. Lavrentii Salamatov, Confidential Letter, September 8, 1855, pp.1, 2 (2 photocopy). D30, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (52)

Holograph note. [To the Bishop, from Reverend Tikhon Shalamov on the image of St. John the Baptist, carved by Aleuts], October 16, 1896. D248, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (54)

Holograph letter. To the Alaska Ecclesiastical Consistory, from the priest of the Killisnoo St. Andrew Church, Ioann Sobolev, October 21, 1899, p.1. D313, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (55)

Photocopy of membership pledge. From, [By-laws] Mutual Aid Society of St. Michael the Archangel, Sitka, Alaska, 1 January 1896, p. 7. C3, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (56)

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