Ada Feak: An Oral History


If you live in or have visited Metlakatla before, you more than likely know my mom, Ada Feak (whether that be seeing her at the Market, Mini Mart, Shadow Mountain, her work, etc). She grew up in a Native household here, in Metlakatla where her parents were Presbyterian Christains. She attended the schools here, which were probably the only schools on the island. Growing up my mom wasn’t allowed to do much with her friends. Although my mom didn’t have plans after high school, her favorite subject was “Commercial Foods” and one of her interests was typing. She had a couple of different jobs throughout her life (where she was sometimes discriminated against for being Alaskan Native). My mom and my dad had met in Ketchikan, where she was in town to do shopping. My mom has three “biological” children, and eventually “adopted” my dad’s kids, and continues to “claim” them. There are two things that have changed my mom’s life; losing my dad and being diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. My mom believes that things have changed a lot since when she was young. 

My maternal grandfather, Edward Eli Feak, was born on May 23, 1937. My maternal grandmother, Rhoda Mae Starrish, was born on September 25, 1935. They married each other on July 3, 1957. My maternal grandfather is Tsmsyen of Metlakatla, Alaska. My maternal grandmother is Tlingit of Saxman, Alaska. My maternal great grandfather, Edward Charles Feak (also known as Beep Eddie), was born on September 23, 1903 in Canada. “He was a carver (Tsmsyen?). He enjoyed playing cribbage. He smelled of a pipe and butterscotch candies.” My maternal great grandmother, Sarah Maria (Douglas) Feak, was born on November 8, 1914. She passed a year before my grandparents, but was remembered to crochet or knit. My maternal grandparents and great grandparents have lived here for as long as my mom can remember. My maternal grandfather was a longshoreman, while my maternal grandmother worked at the cannery. My maternal grandparents both passed away in a plane crash on August 4, 1973. After their passing, my mom (and some of her siblings) moved in with her paternal aunt. My mom can’t remember much of her childhood, but she has two sisters and two brothers. They had lived in a three bedroom house (all seven!), all the boys shared a room (with a bunk bed), all the girls shared a room (a bunk bed and a twin size bed), and then my grandparents had their room. 

My mom can’t remember much from her childhood. She can remember some things such as that money was tight, they ate seafood often, clothes were homemade and/or handed down, shoes were bought for school and church, and play shoes were hand-me-downs or second hand. She remembers having to learn how to do laundry and cook (she was taught to cook by her aunt and her commercial foods and home ec classes throughout high school). Her parents passed away when she was seven, and she had moved in with her aunt and uncle. Being the youngest sibling and not graduated, she helped her aunt take care of her two children. The family didn’t do many activities together after my grandparents passed away, but continued to go to church on Sundays. Traditional foods they ate back then that we eat now are; kippered, hawaiian strips, seaweed, salmon eggs and rice, and halibut and rice. Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, they would have turkey or ham (we eat these now). On birthdays, they only had cake and ice cream (which now, we have a full dinner). On the 4th of July, my mom’s aunt would fry chicken and make potato and macaroni salads. 

While growing up in Metlakatla, the kids in the neighborhood would play kick ball, tag and/or go to the beaches to swim. Most of the parents in the neighborhood worked at the cannery, mill or had longshoreman jobs. Like today, there were only two stores, except Mini Mart wasn’t built yet; the Gilmartin and Leask Market. They could also go to Ketchikan if they want/needed to. Although Ketchikan is bigger than Metlakatla, it wasn’t the biggest town/city my mom had visited, it was Prince Rupert. 

For the schools, there were different buildings (kind of like how it is today). Kindergarten-5th grade was in one part of the building, with 6th-8th in the other part along with a library.  The highschool was made up of 9th-12th grade students. For lunch, all the students had to go to the high school gym. My mom can only remember her high school years. During those four years, she was enrolled in band, commercial foods and home ec. Her favorite teachers taught commercial foods and band. Her favorite class was commercial foods. Her least favorite classes were science and biology (I can relate). My mom didn’t have plans for after high school. But she went to Job Corps at Sedro Woolley, Washington. She got a job two weeks after finishing up with the Forest Service in 1988. Two of her siblings (her oldest sister and one of her brothers) went to college, only for a year. Her 2nd older sister married and had kids. Her oldest brother worked at the cannery, where after college, her oldest brother started to work at too. After her older sister came back from college, she had a few kids, worked at the police station and ended up moving to Ketchikan. 

My mom has had a few jobs since her teenage years. During the summer of her teenage years, she worked for the MIC youth program. Another summer job she had was at the cannery. During the school year, she worked at the sweet shoppe. My mom had given her aunt some of her money that she had made. My mom worked for the Forest Service from 1988-1997, and again from 1998-2007. She has also worked in different areas of MIC; Forestry, Social Services, Tourism Bus Driver, Council Chambers Receptionist (continues to do so sometimes) and her current full-time job, Tribal Court Clerk. For the Forest Service she was the receptionist, clerk for Personnel, then became Personnel assistant, payroll clerk and then ended the job as Supervisory Administrative Assistant in the Timber Department. For Forestry, she was Administrative Assistant. For Social Services she was a clerk. Summer months she worked for Tourism as the bus driver. For the Council Chambers, she was the receptionist. And now she works as the Tribal Court Clerk. She was allowed to take time off when needed as she was a single parent and working multiple jobs to help our family.

Up until her senior year in high school, she wasn’t really allowed to hangout with friends. Which is around the age where she started dating. My mom had met my dad while she was in Ketchikan. They moved in together mainly because Phil (my dad) had proposed and Ada (my mom) accepted. To my mom, the most difficult thing in their relationship was moving after my sister was born due to his alcohol use and that he did not help raise their kids. Which is when he followed her up there (two months after she had moved), and she told him in order for their relationship to work out, he has to get a job and support their family. They were never able to get married, as he passed away in 2006 from an aneurysm. Two years after he passed (2008), my mom decided to move to Metlakatla. 

At the birth of my siblings and I our father’s (my brother has a different dad then my sister and I) were not present. My brother is my oldest sibling out of us three, and at his birth, my mom’s sister Lucy, and aunt Mary were at her side. For mine and my sister’s birth, my dad was at work, and was called and left a message. He didn’t arrive at the hospital until after my sister had been born, so my mom cut her umbilical cord.  My brothers played basketball and softball, which my mom and dad attended to watch.  My mom found that raising us became difficult when my dad lost his job when the mill closed. My mom taught my siblings and I how to do our own laundry and to cook instead of ordering or going out for food. My mom raised us to be helpful, respectful and to give to others without having to be asked. She also raised us that if we did sports or extracurricular activities, we could not attend them if we didn’t go to school, if we hadn’t done homework or if we were failing. 

I think my mom’s most favorite thing to do is to bake, cook and help others with fundraisers. My mom is always asked to bake bread, donuts, cookies, pies, cakes, etc. and she usually makes them, as long as she isn’t sick or out of town. She used to make fried ice cream when I was in middle school as a treat for good behavior and/or grades. 

Being diagnosed with Stage 4 Thyroid Cancer in 2012, our family (along with much of the town) helped out. My mom was gone a lot throughout middle school and currently. At first, my sister and I would go over to our Aunt Christinas, or sometimes they would come to our place (which eventually ruined that option). But after a couple of years, my sister and I stayed at our place by ourselves while our mom was out of town. Family and some people living in town dropped off dinner for us two. To this day, my mom has ongoing effects from the cancer and radiation. Which sometimes lands her in the emergency room. 

My mom sees that Metlakatla (and most things in general) are changing. Some of it being that most things are more electronic. My mom also notices that kids aren’t really being shown what to do to support themselves outside and inside of Metlakatla. Also, here in Metlakatla, if you forget something, like for school, you can easily go home, grab it, and go back (or get it dropped off) within 15 minutes, but anywhere else, it can take up to an hour to run home and back to school. My mom wants me to learn how to budget, for bills, rent, food, a car, gas, repairs and medical. Outside of Metlakatla, if you don’t pay a bill, like your electricity, nothing in your house will function. If you don’t own a car, you will be responsible for transportation, like carpool, biking, cab/taxi or bus. 

My mom was raised more strict than most, and has raised me the same way (she didn’t have much free time or time with friends). She grew up going to church(after parents passed, lost contact with church) and native gatherings. One thing my mom and I have in common, is that we both grew up here in Metlakatla. While growing up here, she went to the public schools (I don’t think there was a Church school or homeschooling). My mom had met my dad while visiting Ketchikan during a necessity trip to get groceries. She had different jobs throughout her life.