“The NN Cannery History Project will present to the public an introspective, unique, and colorful depiction of cannery peoples’ lifeways and history—to do as John Steinbeck once wrote: “To open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves.”
Katherine Ringsmuth | NN Cannery Project Director
The NN Cannery History Project is a collaboration between Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, Tundra Vision: Public History Consultants, and Trident Seafoods to collect, share, and preserve the stories of the diverse, and often invisible, cannery workers whose activities are reflected by and embedded in the industrial landscape contained within the 129-year- old NN Cannery at South Naknek, Alaska.
Whether they came from China, the Philippines, or simply upriver, cannery people found dignity through their laborious interactions and forged a deep connection to the surrounding environment. Their diverse traditions left a mark on Alaska history and culture. Their work mattered.
Our aim is to collect, preserve and promote the stories of cannery people; to include those stories in the development of educational programming, historic preservation projects and museum exhibits; and to ensure that the collected information will be made accessible to the public so that the lives of cannery people everywhere will be better understood and valued.
Uncovering the Stories of Alaska’s Invisible Cannery People
Despite their skill and labor, cannery workers existed in the shadows, only to be marginalized, exotified or ignored by writers, curators, even park rangers in the popular narratives of Alaska’s most important salmon fishery. Collectively, they constitute Alaska’s “invisible cannery people,” a population that is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural but poorly understood. The <NN> Cannery History Project aspires to explain how cannery workers were discriminated against, segregated, and oppressed while simultaneously looking at how these workers and their ability to can salmon shaped our nation’s history. Through the interpretation of the cannery’s built history, the nomination will move these processors from the margins.
With the help of our partners and assistance from people like you, the <NN> Cannery History Project will provide cannery communities a platform to share their stories, thus bringing historical meaning to their work. Dialogues framed by history and culture will help reconcile the confused identities canneries left in their wake. By exploring these topics through community conversations, public education programming, and National Register documentation, we hope to obtain empathy, understanding and respect for the underrepresented cannery community and their work and to help the current community preserve the architectural, cultural and technological knowledge representative of cannery lifeways, even if the cannery itself eventually disappears.
From the Chinese butchers, the Native Laundry lady, the Filipino cook, to the Native villagers inflicted with the flu—these forgotten voices will remind the public that no one group or individual associated with the <NN> Cannery experienced life there in the same way. And that is an important lesson—not only for how we explain the past, but how we relate to and perceive each other today.