Clarence Jackson, a Tlingit Indian of the Eagle tribe in the tiny village of Kake, Alaska, has a sense of history that goes as deep as his ancestors’ memories. He has a videotape of his grandfather, speaking in Tlingit, telling of a Great Flood and the migration of the people throughout the ice ages.
“That was more than 10,000 years ago, and he tells it like it was yesterday!” Clarence says.
A more “recent” story that stands in sharp relief for Clarence is his family’s memory of the arrival of The Salvation Army in Skagway, Alaska, in the person of Evangeline Booth in 1898.
The daughter of Army Founder William Booth, Evangeline was commander of the forces in Canada when she ventured into Alaska. At that time, many Tlingits were carrying 200–pound packs up steep mountains for the gold–rush miners.
As she preached the Gospel, Evangeline sparked something powerful among the people. Clarence describes what it was like.
“If you pour gas on the ocean and it spreads out and you light it, there will be a huge fire. That’s the way The Salvation Army hit the people.”
Missionaries had come to the villages before this, he said, “But they were always trying to change people.”
Clarence says, “In The Salvation Army, they never mentioned if you were an Indian. You were a soldier [member]; you were never treated badly.”
The Salvation Army spread like an ocean wildfire, starting new churches in many villages. In Kake, Clarence’s great–grandparents went to church all day on a Sunday. They told him about times when everyone would load up the fishing boats to go to Hoonah or Klawock for large Army meetings called Congresses.
Kake had a thriving Salvation Army with a church building three times the size of the one that is there today, and its brass band was known as the best in Alaska. President William Harding, just before his untimely death in 1923, called for the Kake Band to lead a parade in Juneau, Alaska’s capital.
Clarence, a believer himself, is a great supporter of The Salvation Army in Kake, where he has lived all his life. Though he has traveled far and wide, including to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress for his people, Clarence always comes home.
“Where you’re born, you love,” he says.