Meet Native America: Audrey Hudson, Mayor, City Manager, Tribal Chairwoman, and Police Commissioner of the Metlakatla Indian Community
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 people today. —Dennis Zotigh
Metlakatla Indian Community Mayor and Tribal Chairwoman Audrey Hudson at Celebration, a biennial festival of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures. June 2016, Juneau, Alaska.
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.
How often does your government meet?
Our Tribal Council meets the first Tuesday of every month. Any member of the community may request a Special Council Meeting if he or she is able to obtain five Council signatures. Council has committees that meet regularly and handle particular issues and projects pertaining to finance; health, education, and welfare; community realty; law and order; planning; and natural resources.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
When I was a child, my inspirations were my aunts Margaret J. Williams, Anna Walker, and Mary L. Mandan, and my great aunt Margaret M. Marsden. My aunty Mae was the first woman ever to hold the position of executive secretary within our government. During this time, my great aunt Lena Dundas was a magistrate judge. In those particular years, I would listen in on conversations between Aunty Mae and Aunty Lena as they would discuss politics and I was intrigued by the various political angles and points of view.
My grandmother Janet L. (Marsden) Hanson is an inspiration. She told me to pray and look to the Lord for daily guidance. Her words to me were, “Your life is what you make it. Always make good choices.”
Is your language still spoken on your homelands?
Metlakatla, Alaska, has approximately five fluent Sm′algyax speakers remaining. All of our fluent speakers are over the age of 60. So there is an urgency to revitalize our language. We have worked in partnership with Annette Island School District in obtaining a federal grant with the goal of cultivating a new generation of children who are fluent in both English and Sm′algyax. The project is in its first year and is showing great promise.
What economic enterprises does your tribal community own?
Metlakatla Indian Community owns and operates a small Casino and Bingo Hall that features 90 class II electronic gaming machines. We own a fish-packing plant—Silver Bay Seafoods–Metlakatla, LLC—which buys salmon, halibut, sea cucumber, and geoduck from our local fishermen. We have always prided ourselves on the excellent quality of salmon caught in our waters. We have a tourism program that is growing every year.
What annual events does the Metlakatla community sponsor?
Every year, Metlakatla hosts the 7th of August Founders Day Celebration. The celebration this year will consist of a community-wide church service at the David Leask, Sr., Memorial Town Hall and go into a parade, followed immediately by the field events at the Russell Hayward Memorial Park. In the early evening there will be a semiformal dinner for adults over the age of 16, during which we will tell the history of our people. To end the night there will be a fireworks show. Founders Day is always a wonderful time in Metlakatla.
What other attractions are available for visitors on your land and waters?
Annette Island has an array of sightseeing opportunities. Whether you decide to climb Purple Mountain, walk to Sand Dollar Beach, hike Yellow Hill, or drive Walden Point Road and appreciate the view on our Official State Scenic Byway, we can assure you that at the completion of your visit, your heart and your stomach will be full.
How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
Most recently, my administration has worked very hard to reinvigorate a good working relationship with various heads of departments within the federal government. Some of the relationships that we value are with the Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Division of Energy and Mineral Development. Metlakatla has come upon many issues that deal with the effects of climate change. Whether it may be increasing municipal water source levels or assistance with the hydroelectric plant, we are beginning to experience the benefits of strong professional relationships with the United States government and the State of Alaska.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?’’
I was recently asked to speak at the middle school promotion and at the Metlakatla High School graduation ceremonies. The one thing that I portray to them is very simple: Your life choices are your choices. You will decide to push forward and succeed. You will be the one to determine where you will be sitting in ten years. Hard work always reaps benefits. Make good choices and always, always, always be true to yourself.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to acknowledge and thank my family for their support. My husband, Conrad Hudson Sr.; our son, Conrad Hudson Jr.; daughter, Lakin; and son-in-law, Warren Brendible. Recently we have been blessed with our first grandson, Kaspen Everett Brendible.
On November 5, 2013, I was elected by the members of the Metlakatla Indian Community to be the Mayor and Tribal Chairwoman of Metlakatla, Alaska, Annette Islands Reserve. Up to that date, in all of Metlakatla’s 127-year history, there had never been a female mayor. I am the first.
I have been in this office for two-and-a-half years, and I can proudly say that I have worked very hard for the people of my tribe.
My hopes are for a community where the children will flourish, where the government is stable, and where power struggles are a thing of the past.
I dream of a community that functions as a safe haven where we can all work together towards our common goals. We are heading in that direction, and all in all, I love my job!
I thank God for examples of strong, modern women, and for the many opportunities he has brought before me. I thank him for the vision of a brighter future for my people.
And I thank you, for the opportunity to reach out to your readers with this interview.
Photos courtesy of the Metlakatla Indian Community; used with permission.
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From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.