"Kanakas" settlers of the San Juan Islands

How Hudson Bay Company influenced resettlement of the San Juan Island by Native Hawaiians

These islands have always been a cultural crossroads. Native Hawaiian Islanders, known as Kanakas were important early settlers in the San Juans.

During the first half of the 1800s, the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) expanded their fur-trading empire establishing forts, farms, and warehouses in the Pacific Northwest. At this time the HBC shipping routes extended throughout the British empire, and passed through the Hawaiian Islands. Eager for labor to help man its northwest holdings, the HBC began to recruit Hawaiians, known as Kanakas, to work at its posts.

Some of the first Hawaiian Islanders would have arrived on the San Juan Islands as part of Belle Vue Sheep Farm as shepherds. Kanaka laborers were an essential part of British colonial settlements in the San Juans. When a U.S. territorial sheriff attempted to seize sheep from the Belle Vue farm, reports indicate that at least 20 Kanakas along with an HBC officer tried to stand their ground protecting their flock in what later would be called the “Sheep War.”

Kanakas were loyal to the British and after the territorial dispute was resolved, many moved to British Columbia. However, their mark on the land and the history remains. Friday Harbor is named after Joe Poalie “Friday,” who was born in Hawaii around 1830. As a teenager, Friday moved to San Juan Island where he married, had children, and worked as a Shepherd on the Belle Vue sheep farm. William Naukana is another Kanaka who left his imprint on resettlement of the San Juan Islands. He gave a portion of his land to build the St. Paul’s Catholic Church at Fulford Harbor, which also served as the local schoolhouse. Naukana is also known to have been an interpreter for the British with the local indigenous peoples.

Life for immigrating Kanaka laborers and settlers would have been difficult. Kanaka men migrated by themselves into an environment away from their home culture and people. When these men had children and married, their wives were local Indian women indigenous to the San Juan Islands. Within a few generations, many descendants of these Kanaka settlers were unaware of their Hawaiian Island ancestry,. Yet traditions live on, and today some ancestors of these settlers celebrate the Hawaiian Luau and remember their ancestors who came to a strange land so long ago.



Oral Interview with Laura Roland about William Naukanawav / 7.42 MB Download