SHI TO SPONSOR LECTURE ON HISTORIC STATE PRACTICE OF BANISHING “MENTALLY ILL” ALASKANS TO ASYLUM
Free event to be offered in-person, virtually
Oct. 6, 2022
In their talk, Morningside Hospital: The Lost Alaskans, retired Alaska judge Niesje Steinkruger and amateur Oregon historian Eric Cordingley will discuss how, for 50 years, the state of Alaska sent “mentally ill” people to a private asylum called Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
Many of the detainees were Alaska Natives.
Initiating this process, a jury trial in Alaska would decide if a person were “really and truly insane” and if the trial resulted in a guilty verdict, a Federal Marshal would transport the “prisoner” south by dogsled, stage, boat or train. These Alaskans were gold miners, bankers, traders, basket weavers, fishermen, young mothers and children, the team wrote.
For the last 10 years, volunteers have been gathering the “prisoners’” names, identifying their villages and towns and finding the graves of those who died at Morningside Hospital. They have searched through the Department of the Interior quarterly reports at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Territorial Court records in Alaska, death certificates in Salem, Oregon, and the cemetery records in Portland looking for marked and unmarked burial sites.
“The goal has been to collect the names of the people who were sent to this asylum and find the resting places of more than a thousand who died there,” the researchers wrote. “Many of the people shipped out to Morningside Hospital were Alaska Natives who were never returned to their families nor their villages. We have been seeking to find the names of these Alaskans and detail their stories. These are the ‘lost Alaskans.’
Niesje Steinkruger is a retired Alaska Superior Court judge from Fairbanks. With the help of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, she and other volunteers spent a decade working in the Alaska State Archives, the Federal District Court Archives and the Nome Court Vault searching “sanity cases” to find the court orders that sent Alaskans to Morningside Hospital.
Eric Cordingley is an amateur historian living in Portland, Oregon. He has worked with Metro Pioneer Cemeteries documenting interments where records are missing. He has volunteered with the Lost Alaskans Project for 10 years, collecting and collating information, and is very honored to play a small part in its success.
The lecture is scheduled for 12 pm, Thursday, Oct. 6, in Shuká Hít within SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building, 105 S. Seward St. in Juneau. The lecture will be livestreamed and posted on SHI’s YouTube channel.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.
CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caption: Photos courtesy of Niesje Steinkruger and Eric Cordingley. Note: News outlets are welcome to use this photo for coverage of this story. For a higher-res image, contact email@example.com.