WASHINGTON -- The Tlingit Indians want a warship named the U.S.S. Angoon or the Kootznoowoo because the Navy shot up their Alaskan village back in 1882.
'This is not a frivolous request on our part,' said Royal DeAsis, treasurer of the Kootznoowoo Heritage Foundation of Angoon, a village of 485 people.
DeAsis held a news conference Thursday at the Capitol to publicize the request he and several other Tlingits' will make to the Navy.
The foundation also seeks to raise $2.5 million to restore the village's tribal houses and totem poles, destroyed 100 years ago.
DeAsis was accompanied by Charles Jim Sr., the president of the foundation, and by Sim's wife Jenny.
They told of how, on October 26, 1882, three U.S. Navy ships shelled the tiny village in Alaska's Admiralty Islands because of a misunderstanding caused by differences in language and culture.
The dispute, DeAsis said, began with the accidental death four days earlier of an Angoon shaman, or medicine man, who was killed when a harpoon gun exploded aboard a Northwest Trading Company whaling boat on which he was working.
In accordance with tribal custom, he said, the Tlingits ceased work and asked the company for 200 blankets as compensation for the death of their shaman.
DeAsis said the superintendent of the whaling company refused to pay and ordered the Indians back to work. When they refused, he sailed to Sitka to tell the Navy there was an Indian uprising at Angoon.
The three ship force under Commander E. C. Merriman then sailed to the Tlingit village, where the Merriman ordered the villagers to deliver 400 blankets by noon the next day -- October 26.
DeAsis said the villagers spoke 'very little' English at the time, and that Merriman had not brought along an interpreter.
He said the villagers were able to come up with only 81 blankets - and Merriman ordered the shelling of their homes and the burning of storehouses containing the villagers' winter food supply.
Six children were suffocated by smoke from the fires, DeAsis said, and an unknown number died in the following winter due to lack of food and shelter.
'This story is very painful to us,' he said.
'It is a grim reminder that misunderstanding and disrespect between cultures harbor the potential for human tragedy. That danger exists as surely today as a century ago.'
The people of Angoon never forgot the incident, but it was not until 1973 that they finally won an out-of-court settlement of $90,000 in a suit filed against the federal government.
The delegation is to meet with Navy officials to ask for 'a formal apology,' DeAsis said.
'We're also asking that a Navy ship be named in honor of Angoon or Kootznoowoo,' he said.
DeAsis explained that 'Kootznoowoo' is the Tlingit name for their island and means 'bear fort.'
And 'Angoon' means 'village at the end of the trail.'