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Governor Walker Signs Historic Agreement to Return Sacred Burial Sites to Ahtna

Michelle Anderson, President Ahtna, Inc., Eileen Ewan, Gulkana Village Council President and Governor Bill Walker

ANCHORAGE—Governor Bill Walker and Gulkana Village Council today formally agreed to a process whereby the State of Alaska will re-convey land that had been developed 75 years ago without permission of the Ahtna people.

In 1943, the Alaska Road Commission built a bridge across the Gulkana River, dividing the village of Gulkana and making uninhabitable portions of land the Ahtna had occupied for centuries. The bridge was built within feet of the village cemetery. In the last 75 years, people have trespassed through the sacred burial grounds to gain access to the river, desecrating grave sites.

“This is not just a land transaction, but a step towards righting a historical wrong. In 2016, I walked the land with Ahtna elders, who showed me where homes had been destroyed during bridge construction, and explained how cemetery sites had been vandalized over the years. I’m pleased we are able to finally begin the process of addressing a past injustice.”

Governor Bill Walker

According to the agreement, Ahtna, Inc. has offered to provide the public with valuable consideration – including alternative access to river – by which the Village of Gulkana and its Tribal members can acquire the land at fair market value.

“Our elders who have passed on have worked tirelessly for decades to get this land back, including the late Roy S. Ewan. Our elders told us to ‘Never give up.’  All of our grandparents have passed on except three who are remaining. The cemetery and former village lands have always been invaluable to our people. Governor Walker was the first governor that walked the cemetery with us.  We thank the Lord for hearing our prayers and are grateful for the return of our lands. We are very thankful for the Ahtna Board of Directors and staff who have worked diligently with us towards this endeavor. ”

Eileen L. Ewan, Gulkana Village Council President

For interviews with Gulkana Council, please contact Tribal Administrator Angela Vermillion at