Louis A. Thompson (1936-2014), President and CEO of Kavilco

Louis A Thompson

Incorporated for 42 years, was born and raised in Kasaan, Alaska. He was given two Haida names: Xie´n Skinai, which comes from Daxién Skinai, “owner of a large bay,” and La´na Kíngel, “the chief that looks at his village.” Louie, as he was known to his family and friends, was born in 1936 to Agnes Rose Young and Louis Thompson. As Louie told it, the marriage was arranged. His father was a Norwegian who came to Kasaan to work in the canneries when he was 21 years old. There he befriended Louie’s grandfather, Felix Anthony Young. During the course of their friendship, Louis spoke for Felix’s first-born daughter. He ended up waiting 21 years to marry Agnes. Louis was 42 at the time of the marriage, Agnes was 21. Unfortunately, the marriage only lasted for five years.

Felix Young, Agnes’ father, was one of six children born on August 7, 1885 to Carrie (Kuhlwáats´) Baronovich and Paul Young in Karta Bay. Carrie came from a family of nine to 14 children born to Charles Vincent Baronovich and Mary Skáwaal. Mary was the adopted daughter of Chief Skáwaal who had no children of his own. Her Haida name was Úljuuhl. Louie did not know his great-grandfather’s Haida name, only that he was born in Old Kasaan and took the name “Young” from S. Hall Young who came to Alaska as a Presbyterian missionary and explorer, and organized the first Protestant church in Alaska.

Felix married Lydia Wallace on September 21, 1913 in Craig, Alaska. Agnes Rose was born July 9, 1914, the oldest of four daughters (Ruth, Dorothy and Edith). Sadly, Lydia died in childbirth with Edith.

Louie remembered Kasaan when… there was a two-line salmon cannery fed by 18 floating fish traps, a large general store, post office, town hall with a gymnasium and stage with two dressing rooms, and a Presbyterian Church with a full time minister. There was a one-room school with teacher’s quarters above and when Louie was in the 8th grade there were 27 children in the entire school. About 80 people resided in Kasaan at that time. There were no connecting roads to the rest of Prince of Wales Island until 1986. Mail and freight service arrived once a week, weather permitting. There was no electricity until 1979, and television finally became available via generators through the Thorne Bay Association on Kasaan Mountain. Louie laughed as he admitted, “We had to use rabbit ears and we watched a lot of Canadian hockey.”

During its heyday, Kasaan was the focal point for seven mines. Louie reminisced, “My dad worked at Salt Chuck and the men would walk to Hadley to the dance hall, which was about four miles one way, for entertainment on the weekends.”

Louie stated that there are fewer houses than ever today. Only five original buildings are still standing and the population has declined due to few employment opportunities. Kasaan is still remote by today’s standards.

Louie went to high school and junior college at Sheldon Jackson in Sitka, Alaska, then became a commercial fisherman. He logged, trapped, owned his own boat and served in the army, which was the first time he left Alaska. He recalled, “I left November 3, 1958 for Fort Ord in California. I went to transportation school in Virginia and then served the remainder of my two-year enlistment back in Whittier, Alaska. Isn’t that ironic?”

When Kavilco was established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1972, Louie was present as one of Kasaan’s representatives. When Kavilco’s Articles of Incorporation were signed in 1973, Louie signed his name along with Willard L. Jones, Robert I. Olsen, Rosemarie Young Trambitas and Robert R. Young. He served as interim Board President in 1972 and was elected President of Kavilco in 1973. He was hired as Field Operations Manager in 1975. He oversaw ITT Rayonier’s purchase of approximately 100 million board feet of timber in 1980; Kavilco’s commitment to improve conditions in Kasaan in the 1980s; he negotiated a lease with Alaska Power & Telephone to build a tower on top of Kasaan Mountain to bring wireless technology to Kasaan.

Kavilco remained especially concerned with the issues that impacted the protection of its Haida culture and heritage. Louie was present during the extensive survey of the Old Kasaan site in 1981, and its potential for restoration. Through his efforts, the most cherished symbol of Kasaan’s history, Chief Son-I-Hat’s Whale House and Totem Park was designated a National Historic Place in 2002, opening the door to grants and funding. He helped to write the National Park Service grant that Kavilco received towards the Whale House restoration.

Born and raised and living parttime in Kasaan always brought back a lot of memories for Louie and he loved to share them. Louie consented to these recordings in 2007 and recalled names, genealogies, places, and the colorful residents of Kasaan in its heyday. Few people can recall the history of this little town like Louie Thompson.

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