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“Picture Man”:
Shoki Kayamori and the Photography of Colonial Encounter in Alaska, 1912–1941

This essay focuses on the life and photographs of Shoki Kayamori, a Japanese migrant worker who settled in Yakutat, Alaska, in the 1910s. For three decades he photographed the everyday activities of the town’s denizens, but when World War II escalated, Kayamori committed suicide as rumors circulated that he was a spy. Based on nearly 700 existing Kayamori photographs, this essay argues that Kayamori’s visual archive demonstrates multiple liminal intimacies. In his photographic work, Kayamori crossed racial and gendered boundaries to represent both indigeneity and racial heterogeneity within Alaska’s colonial encounter. Kayamori’s liminal status also allowed him to capture Tlingit strategies for resistance outside of the traditional-modern binary. The framework of liminal intimacy allows for yet another type of reading, between the boundaries of Asian-American studies and Native studies, in order to elucidate a disavowed militarization and surveillance that highlights colonialism and modernity as co-constitutive processes.


This story begins in the 1960s in Yakutat, Alaska, in the attic of a derelict church. Years after Presbyterian missionaries abandoned their post in this rural Native village, youth play in the church’s dusty rooms, sunlight leaking through wood-slatted walls and the yawning holes of missing windows. Yakutat locals make plans for demolition and as one couple cleans out the attic, they discover a number of glass-plate negatives tucked among other discarded and forgotten objects. The photographs are stacked in small crates or scattered across the floor, some cracked and broken. The outlines of the images are beginning to peel and bubble. The town attempts to enlist various archives and museums to store the photographs but is unsuccessful. In the late 1970s, the people of Yakutat raise half the funds to develop the photographs with the Alaska State Library. Though it is unclear how this collection of photos came to be stored in a church attic, it is immediately and collectively known among Yakutat residents that these images are the work of deceased photographer Shoki Kayamori.1

In the 1910s, Japanese immigrant Shoki Kayamori traveled to Yakutat, Alaska, to work the cannery season and stayed for the remainder of his life.2 For close to three decades, Kayamori photographed the quotidian activities of the village’s denizens, capturing a simultaneously Native and multiracial Yakutat in portraits and during community events. As World War II escalated, Kayamori committed [End Page 90] suicide amidst rumors that he was a spy, with his avocation of photography specifically cited by government officials as warranting suspicion and possible detention (Vogel 1940). Based on nearly seven hundred existing Kayamori photographs archived at both the Alaska State Library and Yakutat City Hall and interviews conducted with Yakutat residents and Alaska Native organizers on the meanings and usage of his photographs, Kayamori’s visual archive demonstrates an intimacy across racial and gendered boundaries with Yakutat’s Native community, representing both the indigeneity and racial heterogeneity within Alaska’s colonial encounter.

Framing Alaska as a colonial space, I build upon the work of Alaska Native studies scholars who assert that the US territorial period should be understood as colonial and/or neocolonial (Williams 2009a). In foregrounding the colonial, I am also engaging those working from Mary Louise Pratt’s seminal formulation of “contact zones,” in which empire brings “people geographically and historically separated . . . into contact with each other and establish[es] ongoing relations” (2008, 8). Kayamori’s visual treatment of Native subjects and his own lived history in Yakutat not only speak to such a form of contact but, further, highlight an alternative to the notion that episodes of encounter are formed along the singular axis of colonizer vs. colonized. Here, I take my cue from scholars who ask after the generative potential in examining Asian and Native colonial encounters (Lai and Smith 2010; Mawani 2009). As the corpus of Kayamori’s images reveals, Asian and Native experiences of colonialism are never discrete but, rather, are contingent and overlapping processes that produce multiply authored counter narratives premised upon diverse gazes.

My study builds upon previous scholarship on Alaskan photographers (commercial and amateur) such as Lloyd V. Winter and Percy E. Pond, William H. Case and Herbert Draper, and Elbridge Warren Merrill (Gmelch 1995, 2008; Wyatt 1989).3 At the same time, I am interested in the ways that Kayamori, as a racialized and gendered subject, a migrant who settled but was denied the citizenship of settlers, identified and represented his photographic subjects in different ways than European-American photographers. Lorenzo Veracini makes a distinction between settler and immigrant, noting that “settlers are founders of political orders and carry their sovereignty with them. . . . Migrants can be individually co-opted within settler colonial political regimes, and indeed they often are. They do not, however, enjoy inherent rights and are characterized by a defining lack of sovereign entitlement” (2010, 3). How did the foreclosure of citizenship, the inability to attain what Veracini names as “sovereign entitlement,” influence Kayamori’s life and work?

Kayamori’s identity as a local photographer, especially among Native residents, is shared by other Asian-American immigrants who lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest during the early twentieth century. Japanese immigrant Frank Matsura documented the Native, Asian, and white inhabitants of Washington’s Okanogan County from 1903 to 1913, and Chinese-Canadian C. D. Hoy similarly photographed Native residents and Chinese and white migrants and settlers [End Page 91] in the Cariboo region of interior British Columbia from 1911 to 1923. Recent scholarly attention to these photographers underscores their importance in challenging national narratives of Manifest Destiny as well as the concomitant myth of the “vanishing Indian,” particularly because of their localized intimacy with their subjects, whether Native, Asian, or white (Green 1992; Moosang 1999; Mimura 2010; Francis 2011). This cohort of Asian-American photographers, which includes Kayamori, could not conform to heteronormative and racially normative citizenship and subsequently demonstrate their disassociation from the settler state in documenting the different yet imbricated lives of racialized migrants and Indigenous inhabitants.

Kayamori’s photographic representations and status as local documenter signal his liminal position within both the Native community he inhabited and the emergent settler nation-state. Here, I use the framework of liminality offered by anthropologist Victor Turner, who reconfigures Arnold van Gennep’s theory of the rites of passage to demonstrate the radical possibilities of social marginality. In Turner’s reiteration, liminality (from limen, Latin for “threshold”) occurs after separating from a social status/role and before reintegrating back into the existing social structure. Being neither one thing or another, being “betwixt and between,” the liminal subject resides at the periphery, at the boundaries (1982, 95). Within Asian-American studies, the liminality of the Asian immigrant is located within the legal preclusion of citizenship, wherein racialized policies work in tandem with discourses of foreignness (Lowe 1996; Ngai 2004; Lee 2010). As historian Mae N. Ngai elaborates, “illegal aliens, alien citizens, colonial subjects, and foreign contract-workers” are “all liminal status categories that existed outside the normative teleology of immigration, that is, legal admission, permanent-resident status, and citizenship” (2004, 13). In Kayamori’s case, however, it is not just distance from white normative citizenship that establishes his marginality, but also his affiliation with Tlingit residents of Yakutat. In this way, his outsider status allows him to build community (what Turner calls communitas) across racial and gender boundaries, but also continues to re-establish his marginal position.

Kayamori’s in-between status reflects a level of ambiguity and multivalence in his photographs, providing representations that intervene in both the static and timeless notion of the vanishing Indian and the progressive teleology of the assimilation project. I suggest that Kayamori’s marginality facilitates what postcolonial-studies scholar Homi Bhabha conceptualizes as “third space,” a hybrid and interstitial agency that defies binaries and homogeneity (1994). I am interested particularly in the ways that Kayamori, as a liminal subject and photographer, records and demonstrates Kevin Bruyneel’s political concept of a “third space of sovereignty,” an Indigenous form of expression and resistance “that resides neither simply inside nor outside the American political system but rather exists on these very boundaries, exposing both the practices and the contingencies of American colonial rule” (2007, xvii). If, as Bruyneel argues, the spatial and temporal logics of colonialism supposed Native sovereignty to exist [End Page 92] outside the nation, and if claims to sovereignty are reduced to archaic rather than modern times, Kayamori’s representations explode the inside-outside and traditional-modern binaries by showing Tlingit people engaged in everyday and multifaceted responses to colonial change, irreducible to essentialized notions of timeless cultural practice or assimilationist inevitability.

I conclude by suggesting that the framework of liminality allows for yet another type of reading between boundaries, the intellectual borders between Asian-American studies and Native American studies. Kayamori’s suicide in particular provides a haunting trace that intervenes in Alaskan history and especially in accounts of World War II as a progressive event that creates the modern condition for Alaska statehood (Haycox 2002, 257–72; Cloe 2008). A combined Asian-American and Native American studies reading of Kayamori’s suicide, alongside the internment of mixed Native-Japanese and Aleut peoples, elucidates a disavowed militarization and surveillance that reinforces the argument that, in Alaska, colonialism and modernity are always intertwined processes.


This story begins in 1912 when a young Japanese migrant worker leaves the port of Seattle aboard a northbound clipper ship. He travels through the Alexander Archipelago, the “panhandle” of Alaska, passing tall mountains that reach down to the water’s edge, their limestone cliffs carpeted with sphagnum moss and lichen, while dense forests of Sitka spruce and western hemlock stretch for the sky. Ravens chatter at the shoreline and eagles wheel in the sky above. Moving past misty islands and alongside glaciers, he arrives in Yakutat to work at a maroon-and-black cannery building perched on pilings at the head of a bay. There he works as a cooker, boiling tins of humpy and chum salmon. At the end of the summer his fellow sojourners—Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Black—return south on their seasonal migration. A few, like this worker, choose to stay, making their home in this Tlingit community.4

Shoki Kayamori was born in 1877 in the Japanese village of Denbo, part of what is present-day Fuji City in Shizuoka Prefecture (US Department of Homeland Security 1940). He arrived in the United States in 1903 and by 1910 was living in Seattle with other Japanese lodgers. Records list his occupation as a “Cleaner & Passer” at a dye works (US Bureau of the Census 1910, 24A). He was a member of a cohort of Asian-American laborers on the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, and Alaskan Southeast whose livelihoods were limited due to racially hostile working and living environments, expressed in both institutional and extralegal maneuvers. Legal and governmental restrictions included exclusion laws and alien land laws specifically aimed at preventing Asian immigrants from owning land or property, which furthered migrant working patterns. Vigilante actions included lynchings, beatings, and involuntary expulsions. This hostile climate was reflected in and furthered by a social matrix of anti-Asian journalism, local [End Page 93] legislating efforts, and white working-class animosity. Kayamori’s employment in an Alaskan cannery was part of the larger migrant-labor cycle in which Asian American men participated. Although the migrant workforce was majority Asian American, Black, Mexican, and Puerto Rican cannery workers were also contracted to work the season. In Alaska, resident Native women also worked in the canneries and Native men and white immigrant men trolled or seined for salmon.5

The Yakutat at which Kayamori arrived in the early 1910s was a Native village—the original inhabitants of the area were Eyak, but by the twentieth century Yakutat was predominantly Tlingit with a number of Eyak and Athabascan intermarriages. During the eighteenth century the area was visited by Russian, British, Spanish, French, and American explorers and the Russian American Company built a fort in Yakutat in 1796 (which was destroyed by Tlingit in 1806). After the transfer of Alaska from Russian to American empire in 1867 (a sale which occurred without Native input or acquiescence), the Alaskan colony was developed for resource-extractive industries such as mining and salmon canning. American missionaries soon followed economic interests into the territory. Native opposition to colonial intrusion was met with US military retaliation and Native communities continued to struggle with diseases brought by settlers, as well as racial segregation and disenfranchisement (Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1994, 35–38; Williams 2009b, 202–204). At the northern edge of Tlingit territory, Yakutat is located at the terminus of the archipelago that makes up Southeast Alaska, as the multitude of islands opens to the Gulf Coast. As such, it was past the point of the gold-rush and tourist routes in Southeast Alaska, and most non-Native inhabitants came in relation to the cannery, to pursue homesteading, or as part of missionary efforts. At the time of Kayamori’s arrival, residents in the Yakutat area numbered 271; this number included approximately one-third of the cannery workforce population (US Bureau of the Census 1913, 1129, 1133).

The fact that Kayamori made the decision to reside permanently in Yakutat underscores his status as a liminal subject, particularly his ambivalence as a US settler through his chosen intimacy with Native community. Kayamori was in his mid-thirties when he came to Yakutat and had lived in America for almost a decade. What motivated a Japanese migrant worker to settle in Alaska, ending his previous history of migrant work? Given the environment of anti-Asian hostility described above, perhaps the remote village of Yakutat appealed to a Japanese immigrant. In Yakutat, Kayamori would still be a minority, but not in a majority-white environment. Here, he lived in a majority-Native community. Kayamori’s permanent settlement contradicts the predominant framework in both Alaskan history and Asian-American studies that configures Asians in Alaska as migrant and seasonal workers, an overdetermination that elides Native and Asian intersections and relationships. While it is important to note that all non-Indigenous peoples participate in settler colonialism, we might also ask after the importance of looking to the desires of racialized migrants who choose to live in [End Page 94] Native surroundings. In the early 1900s in Alaska, multiracial communities that were overwhelmingly male formed as a result of the racial and gendered demands of colonial economic development. At the same time, Alaskan villages and towns remained predominantly Native. Kayamori’s choice of Yakutat reflects the simultaneous multiracial and Native nature of early-twentieth-century Alaska and, in turn, he represented this reality in his photography.

Kayamori began taking photos soon after relocating to Yakutat; one photograph in his collection has been identified as having been taken in the winter of 1913.6 Kayamori documented Yakutat’s denizens for the next three decades, recording townspeople and events in portraiture, action shots, and landscapes. The wide variety of his photographs reveal how integral he was to the local community; the events he photographed included weddings, funerals, school plays, Fourth of July footraces, Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood gatherings, clan house meetings, dances, basketball games, fish arriving at the cannery, and at least one memorial ceremony, koo.éex’, commonly known by non-Natives as a “potlatch.” “He was just part of the whole big family in town,” recalls Mary Ann Paquette, a Yakutat Tlingit resident born in 1924; “Whenever something was happening, he was there” (Thomas 1995). Paquette’s statement underscores the belonging that Kayamori likely sought and, to some extent, achieved.

Kayamori’s photographs document the racial diversity of Alaskan villages and towns during this time period, brought on by the colonial expansion of resource extraction industries such as canning, logging, and mining. In the photo of Lon Wun Gee’s Café (fig. 1), the Chinese proprietor stands behind the counter while four Native men sit on stools at the bar. The young George Bremner’s swinging legs appear as a blur in the photograph. The subjects in Kayamori’s photos have been identified by Yakutat residents as Tlingit, white, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino, while those unidentified might be also be Latino or Black.7 Kayamori provides representations of the racially diverse and predominantly male communities that emerged within Alaska’s colonial development alongside Native communities in transition. It is in looking at the juxtaposition of Kayamori’s work in total, however, in the immense volume of his daily photography, that reveals the mutual constitution of racialized migrant male and Native communities. This daily practice exposes the myriad contingencies between the colonial projects of land dispossession, enforced assimilation, economic exploitation, and exclusion legislation and the affinities and affiliations between those racialized and gendered by such logics.

Kayamori’s ability to capture the myriad lives of those in Yakutat stem from the fact that he resided there as a local and permanent member of the community—he lived and worked alongside his photographic subjects. Kayamori was known for having many different livelihoods throughout his life, including cannery cooker, store clerk, and dog trainer. His intimacy with the predominantly Native community of Yakutat included hunting and gathering practices as well as the colonial cash economy. Don Bremner, a Yakutat Tlingit (of the Beaver House in the G alyá x Kaagwaantaan clan) is the son of one of Kayamori’s closest [End Page 95] friends. He asserts that Kayamori’s employment mirrored that of the Native community, consisting of the occasional odd job but sustained from living off the land. Bremner recounts his father, John Bremner Sr., telling him that Kayamori had a camp on the Ankau River near a coho salmon stream and trapping sites.8 I want to carefully avoid romanticizing Kayamori’s participation in traditional Tlingit economies as subsistence, cognizant that Native subsistence in Alaska is understood as more than simply survival and “forms a web of connections between the people, the land, the sea, the wildlife, and the spirit” of which Kayamori may or may not have been a part (Voluck 1999). At the same time, I wish to locate Kayamori’s intimacy with Tlingit worldviews of food, survival, and economy. Unlike European Americans who went “native,” Kayamori’s affiliation was not initiated as part of a larger system of colonial economic relations (such as fur trapping), economies often brokered through marriage or sexual partnership with Native women.

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Figure 1.

Lon Wun Gee’s Café. Photograph by Shoki Kayamori. Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection, P55-007.

Kayamori is repeatedly described as a bachelor and those who remember him say he never dated. As Asian-American studies scholars have critiqued the oversimplification of configuring Asian migrant communities as “bachelor societies” (Ting 1995; Eng 2001), Kayamori’s example offers a generative reading of bachelorhood that facilitates an alternative framework of intimacies in a colonial context. Here, I am working from Lisa Lowe’s multivalent notion of intimacies generated by colonial proximities that are not limited to sexual or marital encounters (2006). Take, for example, Kayamori’s photo of Mary [End Page 96]

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Figure 2.

Portrait of Mary Thomas. Photograph by Shoki Kayamori. Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection, P55-270.

Thomas (fig. 2). She stands in front of a Sitka spruce tree near Kayamori’s house, which emphasizes the photographer’s local status as he took the majority of his portraits on the porch of his small cannery cabin or, like this photo of Thomas, to the side of his house in the trees. Wearing a dress and stockings, the young Tlingit woman’s hands are tucked comfortably into her pockets. Whether on her initiative or Kayamori’s, she perches playfully on a large rock, her enthusiasm displayed in her smile directed to the camera. In my view, this portrait of Mary [End Page 97] Thomas suggests an intimacy with Kayamori across race and gender boundaries and one that was not predicated on romantic relations.

Kayamori’s portraits stand in contrast to commercial Alaska-based photographers who relied on the profitability of racial and gendered stereotypes to sell their images. For example, Case and Draper photographed semi-nude images of Tlingit women, most likely for local miners. Three models appear topless in their photographs: “Stene-Tu,” “Kaw-Claa,” and “Sha-e-dah-kla.” As Sharon Bohn Gmelch has analyzed, these photographs, along with captions depicting the women alternately as “maiden,” “clutch,” “Amazon,” and “princess,” relied on and perpetuated stereotypes of Tlingit women as racially exotic and sexually willing (2008, 69–84). Notably, these women also posed in Case and Draper’s photographs wearing Chilkat blankets and in dancing regalia, highlighting the “economies of Otherness” which undergird both ethnography and pornography (Hansen, Needham, and Nichols 1991, 204). In contrast, Kayamori’s photo of Mary Thomas lacks the spectacle of otherness, instead focusing on the everyday appearance of a young Tlingit woman. Even Winter and Pond, Juneau photographers whose photos ranged far beyond the stereotypical images of Case and Draper, rarely show Tlingit women smiling in their photos.9 Of course, there may have been many reasons for their stern countenances, including the wishes of those photographed. Although serious portraits were the convention in the early twentieth century, the juxtaposition is informative to highlight the unconventional nature of Mary Thomas’s portrait. The importance of Kayamori’s photo of Mary Thomas and others like it is that they demonstrate familiarity, the sheer rapport Kayamori had with his photographic subjects.

While historically recognized commercial photographers may have been based in Alaska, they also profited (in finances and reputation) from selling their photographs to presses within and outside of Alaska. Kayamori’s photographs of the community were viewed by the community. Thus, his work importantly highlights Native viewership of Native images. The Native consumption and reception of photography is evident in the portrait of Jack and Emma Ellis (fig. 3), in which photographic prints are displayed on the wall behind them. Anthropologist Sharon Bohn Gmelch asserts that Tlingit consumption of photographic images of themselves and family members reveals an important and agential response that Tlingit people formed to this emergent technology. To emphasize her argument, Gmelch points specifically to two of Kayamori’s portraits in people’s private homes that show previous photographs taken in the background, including the photo of Jack and Emma Ellis (2008, 169–71).

That Native viewers were the intended audience of Kayamori’s photos is also revealed in the appearance of Kayamori’s photographs in museum exhibits and oral history collections, where prints of his work are donated from Native families’ personal collections (Thunderbird House Exhibit; Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1994, 389). When I interviewed Tlingit elder Lorraine Adams, she arrived with several framed photographs of family members taken by Kayamori.10 Similarly, Don Bremner described a wedding photo of his parents taken by Kayamori [End Page 98] and, when showed the print taken from the glass-plate negative, remarked that the photo he remembered growing up had been cropped by Kayamori to highlight his parents.11 Given the rich history of Tlingit visual culture (Boas 1897; Holm 1965; Jonaitis 1986), Native consumption and even connoisseurship of Kayamori’s photographs suggests a possible understanding of his images as artistic representations to convey identity, history, and status, even as missionaries and anthropologists alike were predicting the end to such artistic achievements.12

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Figure 3.

Jack and Emma Ellis. Photograph by Shoki Kayamori. Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection, P55-599.

Accounting for Native viewership imbues Kayamori’s work with a doubled meaning of the gaze, as both the gaze of the photographer and that of the Native viewer. Returning to Mary Thomas’s portrait (fig. 2), we may read her friendly smile as both a sign of familiarity with Kayamori as photographer and also as one of self-awareness and self-representation. She is posing not just for Kayamori but also for the intended viewer—herself, her family, and her peers. The doubled gaze also signals Kayamori’s liminality as this configuration renders him simultaneously as insider and outsider: his proximity to and intimacy with his Native subjects facilitates their viewership, yet in this formulation Native consumption articulates a sense of collective ownership that excludes Kayamori from the defined community, or at least renders him to the margin. As we see below, this insider/outsider status both repeats itself in Kayamori’s images of [End Page 99] Tlingit responses to colonialism and also haunts the circumstances involving Kayamori’s death and the accounting of that event.


In the beginning a glacier covered Yakutat Bay. The Kwáashk’i K wáan were Copper River people living at Chitina. Their Raven chief killed a giant moose and used the moose horn to make a large ornate dish, which he displayed when he hosted koo.éex’, customary ceremonies. After the Raven chief dies, fighting ensues over the dish. One group at Chitina gets the dish; the other group leaves, heading out onto the glacier.

The people walk for a long time; they meet starvation on the glacier. When they see a wolverine in the distance, they walk toward it. Once they get closer, their wolverine turns into an island, bristling with trees. They walk still. Soon after, the people see a rabbit sitting in the snow and follow it. For two days and nights they walk to the rabbit and then see the rabbit is the top of a mountain, fluffy fur all white snow. This mountain is known in Tlingit as Yaas’eita Shaa, the mountain behind Icy Bay. Later, after the Russians come, the peak is also known as Mount Saint Elias.

The people dance down the mountain, first to Icy Bay and then to Yakutat, in the beginning. In the beginning, a glacier covers Yakutat Bay. Yakutat is not a Tlingit name, but Eyak for “lagoon” or “a lagoon is forming here.” As the glacier melts, the people settle in Yakutat.13

Yakutat figures prominently in histories of Alaska and anthropologic studies of its Native people. Mount Saint Elias, the second highest peak in North America, rises in the distance from the village, and it was this snow-covered mountain that Vitus Bering of the Imperial Russian Navy first spotted in 1741, leading to his being credited with “discovering” the land now known as Alaska. The mountain is an important named place in the origins of Yakutat Tlingit, particularly the Kwáashk’i K wáan clan. Yakutat Bay was also a stopping point for the 1899 Harriman Expedition to Alaska. The two-month-long survey of the Alaskan coast was the largest and most publicized expedition of its time. Financed by railroad magnate Edward Henry Harriman, the passengers and crew numbered 126 and included scientists and artists, who collected a hundred trunks of specimens and produced more than five thousand drawings and photographs that were later catalogued and compiled in a thirteen-volume edition. The expedition included naturalist John Muir and photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis.

The photography of Edward Sheriff Curtis provides an illuminating comparison with the images captured by Kayamori. Curtis was the most prolific photographer of North American Indigenous peoples, and remains one of the most controversial. Curtis opened his studio in 1890 and over the next several decades photographed more than eighty tribes in the United States and Canada and published the monumental twenty-volume series The North American Indian (1907–1930). He formed an impressive archive of more than forty thousand [End Page 100] negatives with a lasting importance to museum curators, (art) historians, and Indigenous people seeking images of family ancestors. At the same time, Curtis constructed and naturalized notions of a “vanishing race” of Indian peoples doomed to extinction. Influenced by the Pictorialist arts movement, Curtis’s photos were characterized by soft-focus, shadowed lighting and sentimental staging to evince highly evocative and romanticized images. Curtis aspired to represent what he perceived as precontact and premodern activities, even if it meant supplying wigs and costumes to his subjects (Gidley 1994, 182). Curtis participated in the Harriman Expedition in his early years of photographing Native North Americans and, as historian Paige Raibmon reminds us, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest were where Curtis, “whose photographs became the visual epitome of vanishing Indian ideology, began his career” (2005, 5).

As much as he promulgated the trope of the vanishing Indian, Curtis was not the sole architect of the stereotype; the mythic image enjoyed popularity with Alaskan officials prior to the Harriman expedition, particularly among missionaries. Missionary activity in Alaska was led by the Superintendent of Presbyterian Missions in Alaska and US General Agent for Education in Alaska, Sheldon Jackson, and hinged on the progression from “savage” to “civilized.” In her study of colonial photography of the Pacific Northwest, Carol J. Williams asserts that portraits of converts “exemplified the pedagogical use of the camera and photography by missionaries who tried to prove the efficacy of their contributions toward Indian conversion and acculturation. The category of ‘good,’ or in the missionary case, ‘reformed,’ Indian was consistently invoked as the ideal model (in contrast to the bad or resistant Indian)” (2003, 28–29). Located in the impossible binary of traditional vs. modern, such assimilation goals, as Raibmon concludes, “denied the possibility of a middle ground” (2005, 158).

As a liminal subject it is precisely such a middle ground, suggesting what Kevin Bruyneel has conceptualized as a “third space of sovereignty,” that Kayamori documents within the colonial encounter. Take, for instance, his photo of a tooth-brushing lesson outside of the Mission School, later the Covenant Church (fig. 4). The scene shows the mission nurse demonstrating proper tooth-brushing techniques while her class of Native students (and one white teacher’s aide) emulate her example. The scene takes place outside, presumably because the students must spit upon the ground. We view the scene from the nurse’s back, while the gaze is directed at the students and their responses. While some of the students engage in the collective brushing, others appear wary about the activity. One young man in front eyes the nurse with a frown and holds the brush up to his closed mouth. A small girl to the side holds no brush, her hands clasped in front of her dress as she fixes the nurse with a serious stare. In my view, the pedagogical project of introducing hygiene to the “uncivilized” Native is no longer the theme of this event; instead, Kayamori captures the chaos and indeterminancy of the moment. Instead of Curtis’s soft-focus sentimentality, Kayamori records this moment in a frank and open style. We have no written or supplementary documentation of this event, but through my reading of Kayamori’s photograph, [End Page 101] I suggest that Kayamori illustrates multiple reactions to colonial dictates, a range of accommodation and resistance.

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Figure 4.

Tooth-brushing lesson outside the Mission school. Photograph by Shoki Kayamori. Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection, P55-395.

It is not only Kayamori’s intimacy with the community but also his specific social location as a racialized subject that allows for counter narratives to colonialism’s civilizing project to emerge. Kayamori’s photograph stands in stark contrast to the many images of the Sitka Industrial Training School, a part of the Presbyterian mission schools in Alaska. Taken by missionaries, staff, and commercial photographers, photos of the Sitka Industrial Training School normalized the civilizing discourse of the school itself: boys were dressed as soldiers, girls wore virginal white dresses, genders were segregated, students stood in orderly rows, and in general photographs were static and posed. These photos functioned to witness the “miraculous change that Tlingit children were undergoing” and were published in school newspapers and sent throughout the United States to raise funds among national donors for the school’s continued work (Gmelch 2008, 86). Photographers of the Sitka Industrial Training School promulgated the colonial assimilation policies of the missionaries and furthered naturalized discourses of colonial and industrial progress dependent on racist notions of Native peoples as undeveloped, uncouth, and backward.

That Kayamori’s photograph does not reiterate these concepts suggests that his racialized subjectivity as an Asian immigrant meant that he held little [End Page 102] investment in the colonialist premise of white superiority and supremacy. Or, perhaps, his racialized subjectivity provided an affinity with his Native neighbors, in which he allied with their anticolonial leanings. Above all, it is Kayamori’s marginalization from settler-colonial logics that underpins this image as his photo stands as antipode to the representations of the Sitka Industrial Training School. Instead of static and posed, this photo and others like it show the nurse’s colonial instruction for what it is: an encounter.14 While missionary photographers relied on a before-and-after transformation, Kayamori documents the transition with all its possible ambiguities and tensions. He represents Native students as dynamic participants rather than as miraculously converted and, in doing so, reveals that missionary narratives of assimilation were never absolute or inevitable. In the tooth-brushing lesson, instead of order and progression, the natural landscape dominates. Patches of snow and scraggly trees surround the scene and everywhere an unruly contestation threatens to erupt. Not without a sense of humor, Kayamori’s photograph informs the viewer that whether or not these students succeed in good tooth-brushing habits bears little upon their perceived assimilative status.

Like missionaries, anthropologists were also informed by the idea of the vanishing Indian, but instead of trying to assimilate Native peoples they sought to study and preserve what they perceived as premodern. Anthropology stakes a specific claim to Alaska and its Native inhabitants and anthropologist Frederica de Laguna is most important to Yakutat. After World War II, de Laguna set out to conduct an archaeological, historical, and ethnographic study of Tlingit culture. Working north to south, her first stop in scouting possible sites was Yakutat. She ended up staying six weeks, returning for the summer of 1952 and the spring of 1954 and forming lasting relationships with her informants. Two decades later she published Under Mount Saint Elias: The History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit (1972) as part of the Smithsonian Contributions of Anthropology series. A three-volume, 1,395-page text, it remains a seminal work that provides an invaluable resource for and about Yakutat Tlingit specifically and Tlingit culture generally. De Laguna’s study also provides us with Shoki Kayamori’s first published photographs, courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Harry K. Bremner’s personal collection. It is also the first printed attribution given to Shoki Kayamori’s work: “Photograph by Fhoki [sic] Kayamori, a Japanese photographer who lived in Yakutat from 1912–1941” (1972, 1000).

De Laguna was a student of Franz Boas, the founder of modern American anthropology, who studied Aboriginal people in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest extensively. As a proponent of salvage anthropology, Boas attached his findings to the problematic notion that Native culture was static and separate from colonial influences. Salvage anthropologists erased Native participation in wage labor, such as canneries, and Native use of technology, such as sewing machines (Briggs and Bauman 1999). While anthropology differed from missionary education, the two practices depended upon on a particularly flawed presumption: that Indian peoples cannot be traditional and modern simultaneously. As such, [End Page 103] anthropological discourses suppressed the capacious representations of Tlingit people and their activities, including political actions that illustrated a third-space sovereignty.

Kayamori, in contrast, represented the Native community of Yakutat in more complex ways, demonstrating a counter narrative to salvage anthropology. Take, for example, his photo of a 1921 dance at Billy Jackson’s house (fig. 5). This photo shows dancers in motion wearing regalia. Undesirable to a salvage ethnography that erased perceived aspects of modernity, this event takes place inside a European-American style dwelling. A ceiling lamp hangs over the dancers and wallpaper lines the walls. Audience members are dressed in Western hats and wool coats.12 These juxtapositions also counter Curtis’s representations of Indians in a “pure” and frozen past—the prolific photographer was known to manipulate images, erasing objects such as clocks, parasols, suspenders, and wagons (Lyman 1982, 85–86, 106). In contrast to Curtis’s anachronistic project, Kayamori depicts Native subjects in real time and space. This photo also challenges the presumed gaze of the ethnographic viewer, that is, of the non-Native modern subject viewing the soon-to-be vanishing Indian. Although Boas was known to be critical of what he perceived to be Curtis’s unscientific portrayals of Native peoples, they both shared a practice of erasing Native participation in modernity.

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Figure 5.

Dance at Billy Jackson’s house. Photograph by Shoki Kayamori. Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection, P55-348.

[End Page 104]

As figure 5 demonstrates, Kayamori not only captures the dance but the audience in attendance, which fills the bottom half of the frame. Compared with the visible performers, the audience is at once local yet ambiguous. Noting the black hair of the majority of audience members, we might assume the audience to be Tlingit. Given the international residency of Yakutat, as discussed above, we might also ask after the possibility of Asian-born migrants or settlers in attendance. In either case, as opposed to an abstract and ahistorical representation destined for an outside colonialist audience, this activity marks a specific and contextual event. The dance at Billy Jackson’s house was part of a fundraiser to build an Alaskan Native Brotherhood Hall according to husband and wife Bert Adams, Sr. and Lorraine Adams.16 Bert Adams, Sr. is a Tlingit elder of the Boulder House in the L’ukna x .ádi (Coho Salmon) clan, a noted author and artist who writes under the pen names of Kadashan and Naats’keek (his Tlingit names); Lorraine Adams is a Tlingit elder of the Frog House in the L’ukna x .ádi clan and a master Tlingit speaker and educator. They are longtime members of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood.

As Kayamori’s photo of the dance illustrates, Tlingit people engaged in a number of activities and strategies that incorporated different levels of what could be conceived as traditional and modern, but which were all Native. One example of how Tlingit people responded to colonial pressure was the formation of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) in 1912, followed by the companion organization Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) in 1913. Founded by the first generation of Alaska Natives in southeast Alaska (majority Tlingit, but also Haida and Tsimshian) who were educated in the mission schools, the initial agenda of the ANB and ANS stressed citizenship rights, education, and the abolition of Native customs. The dance at Billy Jackson’s house, however, cautions against simply viewing the ANB/ANS as an assimilationist organization, instead revealing a “‘neither-nor’ [neither assimilated nor Other] location as a third space of sovereignty to express indigenous political identity, agency, and autonomy in resistance to the impositions of American colonial rule” (Bruyneel 2007, 65). Renouncing Native customs, therefore, operated as a tactical articulation (especially to the larger non-Native community), while internal organizing remained tied to certain forms of cultural practice.

Kayamori’s photo (fig. 5) points to a larger conception of community-based self-determination that contradicted a universal or absolute disavowal of Native culture. He documents the flexible and contingent nature of Tlingit political resistance in his photo at Billy Jackson’s residence. Even with the Alaska Native Brotherhood’s progressive and assimilationist stance against Native customs, dancers in regalia raise funds to build a hall for the organization. Here, Tlingit cultural practice materially supports the ANB and ANS and, conversely, the ANB/ANS are shown to support certain forms of cultural practice. The example of the dance at Billy Jackson’s house is echoed when a Presbyterian missionary complains that a Tsimshian founder and leader of the ANB hunts and fishes on the Sabbath and also “play[s] at the Native dances” (W. B. Adams, quoted in Mitchell [End Page 105] 1997, 196). Though this religious official views the ANB leader’s participation in “Native dances” as an apparent contradiction to ANB goals, ANB members expressed a third space of sovereignty that allowed for and organized through a modern Native identity.17

Shoki Kayamori documented this third space of sovereignty, serving as the unofficial photographer of the ANB/ANS in Yakutat. He covered numerous events at the ANB Hall and the 1931 ANB convention with attendees from throughout southeast Alaska. Jack and Emma Ellis (fig. 3) are most likely dressed for this convention, with Jack wearing his ANB sash. Don Bremner asserts that Kayamori did not just photograph the ANB, he was also a member:

How could anybody think that he was just here to visit? No, he lived his life here. This was his place. This was his life. Hundreds of photographs proved it. He was . . . part of the town and the Alaska Native Brotherhood.18

While histories of the ANB do not acknowledge Kayamori as a possible (and non-Native) member, Bremner is adamant that he was told this was the case by this father and uncle, both active leaders in the ANB. How might it radically configure the relationship between American Indian studies and Asian-American studies to view Kayamori not only as a photographer with an intimate alliance to his Native community, but as a member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, one of the earliest Indigenous political-rights organizations in American history?


This story begins in 1941 as US entry into World War II looms and hostility toward Americans of Japanese descent spikes. In the sleepy fishing village of Yakutat, rumors and behind-the-back whispers circulate; speculations surface concerning the local unofficial photographer, known to residents as Kayamori, popularly called by children “Picture Man.” Having lived in Yakutat for almost three decades, Kayamori’s hair is now graying and he makes his living as the cannery’s night watchman. Once sought after to document the cannery’s latest technological invention as well as the newest family member, Kayamori is now a pariah, alongside accusations: outsider, traitor, spy. His prominence as a noncommercial photographer is exactly what arouses suspicion.

This story begins with an FBI file. It begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It begins with a beating by army soldiers. It begins with a suicide.   Begins with a death certificate.     one word.     one sentence.     one question.     “drug?”It begins with an unmarked grave that no one living can remember.19 [End Page 106]

World War II and the concomitant militarization in Alaska proved a key moment in the economic and political development of the territory within the larger structure of the US nation-state. Due to fears of Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands, coupled with Alaska’s strategic location between the United States and Asia, Congress made the decision to remilitarize Alaska in 1940. During the course of the war, the US War Department sent approximately three hundred thousand military personnel to the territory (Chandonnet 2008, ix). As part of this militarization, the US Army Corps of Engineers arrived in Yakutat to build an airfield that would serve as a refueling and service base to the Aleutian Islands and points north (Anchorage and Fairbanks). An entire base was built to accommodate the airfield, including a fueling dock, rifle range, numerous roads, and living quarters. The beachfront was fortified with cannons and tanks, perched just inside the tree line (Demmert 1994, Anderstrom et al. 1996).

Far outnumbering the local population, which in the early 1940s still hovered around 200, the influx of thousands of soldiers changed the village in many ways. Yakutat became not only the locale for the largest airfield in Alaska at the time but also an R&R spot for off-duty soldiers. In this way, the militarization of Alaska not only installed a system of infrastructure but also pulled Alaskan residents into American popular culture and its attendant discourses. The ANB Hall began to show US government newsreels on the war and sponsored food sales and dances to which soldiers were invited. Once the base was built, socializing between soldiers and Yakutat residents increased in scope. The USO sponsored movies and other forms of entertainment and soldiers traded with children, giving them candy. Youngsters also translated for their parents, who provided items such as moccasins for purchase (Nellie Lorde and Lena Farkus, quoted in Dennis and Yamamoto 1996, 20–21). This socializing was highly gendered as one elder remembers that it was the single women in Yakutat who were invited to weekend dances on the base, accompanied by their mothers as chaperones. Troop carriers transported them (Mary Ann Paquette, quoted in Demmert 1994, 41). Outside of the social aspects, the war was viewed as bringing economic opportunities to the community, mostly in the form of construction jobs.

Not everyone, however, remembers this era fondly. Native elder Lena Farkus, who was a young child during World War II, attributes increased alcohol access and consumption to the soldiers and their social activities (Dennis and Yamamoto 1996, 21). The military was also criticized for disposing of chemicals and waste in the community and for the void in employment left in the wake of its postwar departure. Land dispossession also occurred during the military’s tenure. Sig Edwards’s land was taken by the army to build a dock with promises of return, but the army subsequently sold the fueling dock to Standard Oil (Dennis and Yamamoto 1996, 22). The most common complaint, however, was of surveillance. Residents were not allowed to leave Yakutat without permission and taking photographs was forbidden. Activities in the area surrounding the village, such as berry picking and seaweed harvesting, were met with distrust (Demmert 1994; Dennis and Yamamoto 1996). [End Page 107]

This was a period that witnessed the emergence and increase in anti-Japanese sentiment throughout Alaska, and the atmosphere of suspicion was deeply felt by Yakutat resident Shoki Kayamori. Similar to other Japanese Americans on the West Coast, first-generation Issei (migrants from Japan) were accused of sabotage while second-generation Nisei were generally suspect (Inouye 2008). In a village as heavily militarized as Yakutat, inundated with soldiers and the material and social infrastructure of the armed forces, apprehension was particularly directed against Kayamori. In late 1940, Kayamori’s name was included on an FBI list of those who should be investigated and a year later FBI records officially classified him as a suspect to be detained in a national emergency (Vogel 1940; Miles 1941). The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, soldiers stationed at Yakutat beat up the stooped and graying sixty-four-year-old Kayamori. Mary Ann Paquette, a teenager then, says the army “hushed it up [but] everybody in town knew what happened” (Thomas 1995, 53). Two days later, a community meeting was held to discuss the US declaration of war. Elaine Abraham (Tlingit elder and Board Chair of the Alaska Native Science Commission), who was a young girl at the time, remembers that Kayamori was noticeably absent:

And somebody said, “Where’s Mr. Kayamori?” He was the only one that wasn’t there. It was already evening. It was about seven o’clock in the evening, and you know, it’s dark, very dark. Several of the young men took lanterns up to his house, and they found that he had committed suicide. He did not leave a note.

(Inouye 2008, 260)

Kayamori had apparently donned a suit, written a will, and died in his armchair; the military doctor who wrote his death certificate suspected that he had ingested a drug (Thomas 1995; Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics).

Since his suicide, some residents have wondered whether Kayamori could have been a spy during the time he was living in Yakutat. Many more locals vehemently bristle at the accusation. Federal agents questioned Yakutat’s minister and postmaster about Kayamori’s correspondence after his death; years later his son asserted that espionage claims were the result of “stupid hysteria. He was a tremendous individual. . . . I bet my bottom dollar that Kayamori was no spy” (Wayne Axelson, quoted in Thomas 1995, 52). Don Bremner emphatically rejects any notion that Kayamori was disloyal and, further, positions Kayamori as an insider based on his photographic production:

So, how many photos would it take to convince the world that he was part of our community, part of our lives? Would it be, say, ten nice ones? Or ten general ones? What about six hundred to prove that he was part of our life? Think of the time that it takes for the kind of photographs he took of this land, of the wildlife, and the people, that almost the bulk of the photos are of people. So, how could anybody think that, well, he was just there to visit. No, he lived his life here. This was his place. This was his life. Hundreds of photographs prove it.20

Bremner’s assertion contrasts sharply with the FBI targeting of Kayamori because of his photographic activities. In describing the reasons he is to be [End Page 108] investigated, the Juneau field office notes that Kayamori is a “Japanese citizen . . . [who] has worked in Yakutat fish canneries for a long period of time. Is reported to be an enthusiastic photographer and to have panoramic views of the Alaskan coast line” (Vogel 1940). Juxtaposing Don Bremner’s and the FBI’s comments reveals radically different configurations of land and labor. For the FBI, Kayamori’s identification with the Japanese nation-state predominates; his labor as a cannery worker further signals his (im)migrant worker status. Moreover, the only labor that is recognized is cannery work; his photography is regarded only as proof of suspicious activity. And land in this formulation is simply geopolitical. In contrast, Bremner elucidates Kayamori’s photography as time-consuming labor and, importantly, the labor that should be recognized in understanding Kayamori’s connection to place. Here, land is populated with people and animals and has a purpose unto itself. Victor Turner reminds us that while liminality affords creative possibilities, it is also an unstable process. Larger structures of power cannot be disregarded. This moment is instructive, however, in showing two social systems: that of the larger settler colony and that of the Native community. Kayamori’s photographic oeuvre marks him as simultaneously outside and suspect to the American nation-state at the same time as it constructs him as an insider to Yakutat.

Taking my cue from Caroline Chung Simpson (2002), who argues that Japanese-American World War II forced relocation and imprisonment and their attendant disenfranchisement comprise an “absent presence” in US social life that deeply shaped subsequent Cold War culture, I suggest that Shoki Kayamori and his photographs exist as spectral presences to signal traces disavowed in the progressive narratives of World War II militarism that propel Alaska into its modern and realized statehood. For, as Avery Gordon reminds us, haunting is “something akin to what it feels like to be the object of a social totality vexed by the phantoms of modernity’s violence” (2007, 19). Kayamori haunts the archive: his photographs demonstrate Native responses to colonialism and participation in modernity long before World War II militarization, positioning World War II not simply as a liberatory project but also as part of a larger continuation of Alaskan colonization, which has always relied upon and been made legible through militarism.

Similarly, a spectral reading of Kayamori’s death disrupts discourses that figure militarism’s modernity and US cultural absorption in Alaska as total or complete. Accounting for Kayamori’s suicide makes legible Native fears and anxieties around the relocation and incarceration associated with World War II. While recalling Kayamori specifically and the interaction of Natives and Asians in Yakutat generally, Tlingit elder Lorraine Adams revealed that her grandfather was Japanese and that the community hid the Japanese ancestry of her mother, herself, and her siblings during World War II, fearing for their safety.21 Internment policy in Alaska called for the evacuation of all males over the age of sixteen with mixed Alaska Native and Japanese parentage; Native wives of Japanese men endured social ostracism and financial hardship after their husbands (and [End Page 109] sons) were imprisoned outside Alaska (Inouye 2008, 262). Centering the history of World War II relocation and incarceration in Alaska also highlights Aleut internment. During the war, nearly 900 Aleut people from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands were moved to overcrowded and substandard “camps,” usually abandoned canneries, throughout Southeast Alaska, experiencing high illness and mortality rates (Kohlhoff 1995; Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians 1997, 317–59).

Accounting for both Native and Asian-Alaskan elisions in the larger World War II archive, Kayamori’s death can be read alongside the history of Aleut internment. While his death haunts dominant narratives in Alaskan history, likewise Aleut internment remains in the shadow of Japanese American internment, including accounts of redress. These paired apparitions point to colonial violences disavowed in post–World War II American narratives of modern progress; in Alaska that colonialism has always been expressed as military occupation, elucidating the historical antecedents of Army and Navy rule of Alaska in the absence of civil government, including the bombardment of Native villages Kake and Wrangell in 1869 and Angoon in 1882. Unlike the US government’s apology for internment issued in 1988 at Tlingit Remembrance Day on the hundred-year commemoration of the bombing of Angoon, the time in the program reserved for the US Navy’s apology was met with silence (Furlow 2009, 150). The interconnected hauntings of Kayamori’s suicide, mixed Native-Japanese internment, and Aleut internment in Alaska highlight the need for Asian American studies and Native American studies to develop a decolonial epistemology that can account for the colonial violences lodged within modernity and the differential yet contingent responses of Asian and Native peoples within such systems. Kayamori’s photography speaks to such possibilities.


There exists only one known photograph of Shoki Kayamori (fig. 6). Unidentified in the first labeling of his found archive, Yakutat elders were adamant in naming Kayamori as the man posed outside a hunting tent holding two hunting dogs on a short leash, a rifle grasped in his other hand. Kayamori was buried across the bay from Yakutat on Khantaak Island, with only US soldiers in attendance. The military subsequently paved over the burial site to build a naval ramp and neglected to move his grave (John Bremner Sr., quoted in Thomas 1995, 53). In recent years local residents have attempted to locate the site, but the abundant growth of Southeast Alaska’s temperate rainforest has rendered their efforts unsuccessful.22 Kayamori’s photographic archive, including a single representation of the photographer, remains his monument.

As a racialized migrant who remained in Yakutat, Kayamori captures Yakutat as both a historic Tlingit place that remains majority Native and as a multiracial node in the US colonial economy. Because Kayamori could not attain settler citizenship, his liminal position facilitates intimacies across race and gender with [End Page 110]

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Figure 6.

Kayamori with hunting dogs. Photograph by Shoki Kayamori. Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection, P55-140.

his photographic subjects. In this way, Kayamori’s photographs provide generative and multiply authored representations of the colonial encounter in Alaska, one of the most important being the articulation of a “third space of sovereignty”: Native forms of resistance that are neither inside or outside the system, and which also [End Page 111] disrupt binary notions of traditional versus modern. As those in Yakutat reclaim the haunted history of Kayamori and the visual culture he helped to facilitate and sustain, so too must the fields of American Indian studies and Asian-American studies account for the epistemic erasure located within the colonial history of Alaska. Doing so exposes colonialism and modernity as mutually constitutive processes that enact a range of violences while also inspiring a multiplicity of creative resistances.

Juliana Hu Pegues

Juliana Hu Pegues is a Consortium for Faculty Diversity postdoctoral fellow in the Department of American Studies at Macalester College and earned her Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Minnesota. She has published essays in MELUS and Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies and is currently working on a book manuscript that examines intersections between Asian and Native peoples in Alaska in order to critically understand the racialized formation of settler colonialism.


This project would not be possible without the generous assistance of residents of Yakutat, Alaska: Don Bremner, Lorraine Adams, Bert Adams Sr., George Ramos, Raymond Sensmeier, Caroline Powell, Byron Mallott, Fran Latham, and Tina Ryman. Research for this article was made possible by the University of Minnesota Graduate Fellowship Office’s Thesis Research Grant. Thank you to the following for their comments and feedback: Yuichiro Onishi, the faculty and students of the University of Minnesota American Indian Studies Workshop, and my co-panelists and participants at the 2012 Association for Asian American Studies conference, where I presented an earlier draft. My sincere appreciation to Rico Worl and Zachary Jones of the Sealaska Heritage Institute and to James Simard and the staff at the Alaska State Library, whose Kayamori Collection is the source of the images included here. I am indebted to the extensive research of Margaret Thomas and Morgan Howard, particularly Margaret Thomas’s donation of research documents to the Alaska State Library’s Kayamori Collection.

1. I propose various entry points into Shoki Kayamori’s life and photography as a way to stress the multivalency of his work and influence as well as to make legible different intersections that may not be evident within the structure and logics of dominant narratives of Alaskan history. In this way, I am attempting to respect the imperative that Emma Pérez (1999) has named the “decolonial imaginary” and the attending argument that it is not enough to examine the elisions that colonial histories produce but it is equally important to account for disavowed stories and perspectives. I also provide multiple origins for telling Kayamori’s story to signal the ways in which Kayamori’s photos, as a found archive, necessarily resist order and linear progression. Sources for this segment include an article by journalist Margaret Thomas (1995, 53–54) and the testimony of Yakutat resident Caroline Powell (telephone conversation with author, June 1, 2011). In this passage and throughout the article, I deliberately refer to Yakutat as both a “village” and a “town” in order to signal its small population, rural isolation, and historical Native presence, as well as its involvement in national and global commerce, including a nationally and internationally diverse workforce. In addition, I am mirroring many residents’ self-reference to Yakutat as “town.”

2. While Kayamori has been identified as “Fhoki Kayamori” in various archives and scholarship, Fhoki is not a Japanese name. Journalist Margaret Thomas has confirmed with Kayamori’s family that his given name was Seiki, of which Shoki is an alternate pronunciation of the same Japanese characters. I refer to Kayamori as Shoki because I believe that was his preference.

3. Anthropologist Sergei Kan, who has published extensively on Tlingit culture and history, has recently published a book on Russian-American Vincent Sobeleff’s photography in [End Page 112] southeastern Alaska (2013). Regrettably, I was not able to incorporate Kan’s scholarship into this essay.

4. Sources for this segment include descriptions of the cannery workers’ journey by Donald Guimary (2006) and Yakutat fisherman Oscar Frank Sr.’s memory that Kayamori worked as a cooker at the cannery (Thomas 1995, 50–51). The multiracial demographics of migrant cannery workers are discussed in Guimary and also reflected in archival records (Alaska Packer Association Records).

5. This is a general description of cannery work throughout southeast Alaska, with variations in local settings. For instance, in Yakutat, Native women were known for setnet fishing (Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1994, 605).

6. Wedding photograph of Sheldon and Annie James (Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection, P55-514). The date of December 1913 is attributed to Yakutat resident Raymond Sensmeier.

7. I offer this assessment to highlight the multiracial aspect of Alaska documented in Kayamori’s photos, realizing the problematic nature of identifying markers of ethnicity and race, which are always fraught with limitations and guesswork, including those of this author. In the photo of Lon Wun Gee’s café, the proprietor and men have been directly identified in the photo. Lon Wee Gee was Chinese, and those sitting at the counter (left to right), Dick Albert, George Bremner, Sam Henniger, and Richard Reese were Alaska Natives from Yakutat. According to the 1930 census, Henniger was a mixed-race Tlingit (US Bureau of the Census 1930, 1B).

8. Don Bremner, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, May 31, 2011.

9. I base my assertion on a survey of Winter and Pond photos in Victoria Wyatt’s book (1989) and photos available on-line though the Alaska Digital Archives. In my comparison of Kayamori’s and Winter and Pond’s photographs I am indebted to Wyatt’s scholarship, although our readings of them differ. I also suggest that Kayamori’s representations reveal a rapport that exceeded Winter and Pond’s own familiarity with the Tlingit community. A conclusive comparison of representations is difficult because Winter and Pond began taking photographs in Alaska two decades before Kayamori, and portraiture in the earlier period was conventionally posed with serious expressions. However, Winter and Pond operated a photographic studio until 1943 and I have yet to find portraits within their archive that express the familiarity and playfulness that Kayamori’s photographs demonstrate.

10. Lorraine D. Adams and Bert Adams Sr, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, June 2, 2011.

11. Don Bremner, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, May 31, 2011.

12. I would like to thank Angelica Lawson for pointing out the connection between Kayamori’s photographs and Tlingit visual culture.

13. The sources for this segment are oral histories provided in Frederica de Laguna’s Under Mount Saint Alias: The History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit, as told by Harry K. Bremner (1972, 231–32), Maggie Harry (235–36), Sarah Williams (237), and Katy Dixon Isaac and Violet Sensmeier (238–39). The Tlingit word for customary ceremonies, koo.éex’, is provided rather than the English term “potlatch” which has no origins in the Tlingit language or culture.

14. Other photographs that illustrate instruction at the school or clinic similarly show students in action, rather than the end “product” of assimilation. In these photos, Native children demonstrate a range of actions, from curiosity with the instruction, [End Page 113] looking at the camera, disinterestedly looking away, and, in one case, mugging for the camera. Photos P55-001, P55-22, P55-100, P55-193, P55-463, P55-524, Alaska State Library, Kayamori Collection.

15. It should be noted that other resident Alaskan photographers with close connections to Native communities, such as Winter and Pond, E.W. Merrill, and Vincent Soboleff, also photographed Native dancers in regalia, and their subjects often wore a combination of Western dress (Wyatt 1989, 35–36). Kayamori’s photograph remains unique, however, in capturing an actual dance indoors.

16. Lorraine D. Adams and Bert Adams Sr, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, June 2, 2011.

17. My reading of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood through Kayamori’s photography suggests a re-evaluation of the general consensus that the ANB/ANS, particularly in its early years, sought Native rights through a Christian assimilationist approach (Drucker 1958, 41–44; Mitchell 1997, 193; Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1994, 83–96). Such an assimilationist stance was not simply the influence of missionaries, however; it also reflected the ambiguous legal status of Alaska Natives, and the centrality of a civilizing discourse in that status. In the 1867 Treaty of Cession between Russia and the United States, a distinction was made between the “uncivilized tribes” and other “inhabitants of the ceded territory,” and only the second group obtained rights to be admitted as citizens of the United States (Case and Voluck 2002, 6). Legal rights of citizenship, therefore, hinged upon demonstration and performance of civility and, until the Citizenship Act of 1924, citizenship was granted through adoption of white social norms (dress, language, employment, habitation, religious practice) alongside a renouncement of Aboriginal culture (46). This created an inherent contradiction, based on the impossible binary of traditional vs. modern. Rather than seeing the progressive and assimilationist stance as universally informing the vision of the ANB, I propose viewing it as a specific strategy to gain rights within Alaska’s contradictory and racialized legal codes.

18. Don Bremner, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, May 31, 2011.

19. Sources for this section include Margaret Thomas’ articles (1991, 1995); Ronald Inouye’s article on World War II effects of Alaskan residents of Japanese descent (2008); and Shoki Kayamori’s death certificate (Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics).

20. Don Bremner, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, May 31, 2011.

21. Lorraine D. Adams and Bert Adams Sr, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, June 2, 2011.

22. Don Bremner, interview with the author, Yakutat, Alaska, May 31, 2011.

Works Cited

Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. 1942. Shoki Kayamori Death Certificate. Territory of Alaska.
Alaska Packer Association Records. Manuscript Collection 9. Alaska State Library, Juneau, Alaska.
Anderstrom, Eric, et al. 1994. Invasion! World War II Comes to Yakutat. Yakutat, AK: Sawmill Cove.
Bhabha, Homi. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. [End Page 114]
Boas, Franz. 1897. “The Decorative Art of the Indians of the North Pacific Coast.” Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 9: 123–76.
Briggs, Charles L., and Richard Bauman. 1999. “’The Foundation of All Future Researches’: Franz Boas, George Hunt, Native American Texts and the Construction of Modernity.” American Quarterly 51.3: 479–528.
Bruyneel, Kevin. 2007. The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of US-Indigenous Relations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Case, David S., and David A. Voluck. 2002. Alaska Natives and American Laws. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.
Chandonnet, Fern. 2008. “Introduction.” In Alaska at War, 1941–1945: The Forgotten War Remembered, edited by Fern Chandonnet, ix–xiv. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.
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