According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 2.3 square miles (6.1 km²), of which, 2.3 square miles (6.0 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.85%) is water.
Metlakatla is from Maxłakxaała, a Tsimshian word meaning "Salt Water Passage." Metlakatla was named after another village of the same name ("Old Metlakatla") in British Columbia, which is on Metlakatla Pass, near Prince Rupert. The name may not be as appropriate for the Alaskan Metlakatla ("New Metlakatla"), as the weather there can be quite stormy.
In a more ancient time it was a Tlinget Hunting Ground known as "Taquan". The Tsimshians were granted permission to own the land by Chief Johnson of the Tlinget Tribe.
Metlakatla was selected by an appointed search committee, for its calm bay, gently sloped beaches, and nearby waterfall.
There were 469 households out of which 38.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.0% were married couples living together, 15.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.9% were non-families. 23.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.93 and the average family size was 3.50.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 33.1% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 28.7% from 25 to 44, 21.6% from 45 to 64, and 7.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 108.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 115.0 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $43,516, and the median income for a family was $49,671. Males had a median income of $36,696 versus $22,292 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $16,140. About 7.7% of families and 8.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.7% of those under age 18 and 6.3% of those age 65 or over.
During World War II a large airfield was built on Annette Island. After the war it became a United States Coast Guard search and rescue base. Until recently, it was the largest airfield in Alaska. This airfield served the area commercially until the 1970s when the new Ketchikan Airport was built at Gravina Island in the Inside Passage.
Travelers into Metlakatla usually reach it the Alaska Marine Highway ferry or by traveling to Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island and crossing the Revillagigedo Channel that separates Annette and Revillagigedo Islands by boat or seaplane.
Since 1998 a joint task force under the command and control of Alaska Command and led by the Missouri Army National Guard has worked at constructing a 15 mile road from one side of Annette Island to the other. Members of the Active and Reserve Components of the Army, Navy, United States Air Force, and the Marines have rotated through the island working to build the road. The project is the result of a 50-year old treaty promising the Metlakatla Indian Community a road connecting their ocean-side city to Alaska's inside passage, to allow year-round ferry service to Ketchikan.