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Ahtna Kanas Summer 2021

COVID Heroes: Recognizing those who helped our Region

During the Annual Meeting, Ahtna recognized several organizations, the eight Ahtna tribes, and individuals who have made a positive impact in our region during the pandemic.

The Copper River Native Association, Mount Sanford Tribal Consortium, and the Copper River Basin Regional Housing Authority (CRBRHA) went above and beyond to care for the people of the Ahtna region. The Cantwell, Cheesh’na, Chitina, Kluti-Kaah, Gakona, Gulkana, Mentasta, and Tazlina Tribes also took immediate action to protect their villages and tribal members. Thank you for your dedication, commitment and courage. You and your staff have earned our deepest gratitude and admiration. You have made a difference in the lives of so many while helping to set an example of love, courage, unity and perseverance for future generations to follow. You are truly heroes.

The villages in the region were also asked to nominate individuals who went above and beyond and rose to confront this relentless challenge. Our list of COVID Heroes is by no means complete. So many people have contributed in immeasurable ways, and we cannot possibly include all the deserving and much-appreciated individuals who have made an incredible impact during these trying times. Thank you to all the unsung heroes out there. The recognitions below are in the words of village staff and members.

Gulkana Village is FULL of COVID Heroes.

Sandra Tsinnie is our “silent” COVID hero. She is the one who has kept the facilities in the village running since the pandemic hit. Last November, with over 20% of the village being sick, the maintenance staff had to be furloughed. It was a long winter and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong with our old buildings. With no maintenance person available, Sandra learned how to change a motor, she bought a snake and started clearing frozen lines, and she was out in the snow for days plowing our streets. I cannot say enough about her “can do” spirit and support.

Eveline Frank is our “behind the scenes” COVID hero. Eveline is our bookkeeper and literally spent hours and hours coordinating utility payments for local services. This outstanding effort provided each village member with funds to pay for their electricity, internet, fuel oil, and housing assistance. It is often easy to overlook staff that works “behind the scenes,” but Eveline was fundamental in keeping the village running this past year.

Frank Vermillion is our “superman” COVID hero. Frank is responsible, dedicated, vigilant, a perfectionist, and he never ever quits. Frank contracted COVID and was very, very sick. For over a month, Frank crawled out of his house, at all hours of the day and night, to keep our village supplied with water. Because of Frank, our villagers were provided with water to sanitize their homes and protect their families.

Rachel Morse was our “Door Dash Driver” and cook for weeks this summer. She set up a schedule of volunteers to cook meals for COVID patients and cooked and delivered many of those meals herself. During deliveries, she would check on patients from afar. Rachel also made grocery trips to Glennallen and delivered groceries right to COVID patients’ doors. Rachel is a COVID Hero because she did all of this out of love for the village. She met needs that were small, but significant to those in quarantine.

Angela Vermillion went above and beyond to make sure the village was prepared for a COVID outbreak. Within a day of the first positive case in the village, she had four quarantine places set up. She also set up the lockdown schedule for our village to help minimize the transmission. She thought outside of the box and had things purchased like water and vitamins that would help COVID patients recover. She worked long hours during the outbreak to ensure patients had what they needed and to help keep the rest of the village healthy. Angela is a COVID Hero because she was the steady person that remained calm and thought ahead to keep her staff and village members calm.

The Copper River Native Association’s Medical Staff went above and beyond to ensure that patients had their medical needs met. Many did daily phone calls and house visits after hours dressed in full PPE, regardless of the temperature outside. Their staff was calm and confident in their medical decisions. Without such dedicated staff, the village would have suffered great loss. Their dedication to serving the Region has not gone unnoticed and we are forever grateful for them.

Mentasta Village took swift action.

We would like to recognize all the Mentasta Village Council members for taking quick action when the pandemic hit. Thank you Nora David, Susie Martin, Emmanuel Baker, Robert John Jr, and Goodman Patrick. They closed the road to non-residents and directed the tribal staff to hire people and figure out the entry schedule and protocols as well as protocols on how to deal with COVID within the village. We would also like to acknowledge the two security guards, Abraham Albert and Nolan Debler, for their commitment and staying until the end of the job.

8-year-old Andrew Adams went through the snow carrying supplies for our house when we were in isolation, smiling as he knocked on the door and waved. He left supplies on the porch for us and had to walk back home through the snow. His caring nature just warmed my heart.

Tazlina Village members live the value of sharing.

Doug LeBlanc and Wayne Bell II successfully harvested a caribou to share with the village. Doug LeBlanc donated his Community Subsistence Harvest Permit for the caribou. The men went out in January and brought a caribou back to the village, distributing parts to Native Village of Tazlina tribal households.

The Native Village of Tazlina CARES Program employees coordinated and carried out tasks to support tribal members and households throughout the last year. Thank you to:

  • Georgia Jackson, NVT CARES Coordinator
  • Donna Renard, Assistant CARES Program
  • Lucas Catledge, Assistant CARES Program
  • Jacob Phillips, Ahtna HOPE Program
  • Timothy Pete, Custodian and Sanitizing

The Native Village of Tazlina Village Council prioritized a budget for CARES Relief Funds received from various resources. The Council’s priority was to ensure that each tribal member household had active telecommunications services in place. That included installation of landlines and internet service, so that households would be able to call for emergency services, conduct personal business from home, or work out of their homes when required. It also provided a way for tribal members to stay connected with family and friends through video conferencing while social distancing was mandated. Staying connected provided an avenue to support mental health and wellness during this time.

Although the Native Village of Tazlina’s office had to close due to COVID-19, these employees were able to continue to coordinate and implement supplemental services for Native Village of Tazlina tribal members. These services included bulk ordering for monthly food distribution to tribal households, and working with local electric and fuel companies to provide assistance with utilities.

The Native Village of Tazlina tribal members appreciate all the staff that have effectively carried out the Council’s plans to make life more manageable during a crucial health epidemic. All efforts made by these employees are commendable, and valuable to the health and wellness of our tribal members. They worked outside their normal work hours, and on weekends to provide services for our tribal members.

Chitina Village made sure their village members were prepared with supplies.

The Native Village of Chitina provided masks to community members in their post office boxes and at the store. They gave out hand sanitizer to the whole community of Chitina and tribal members in Anchorage, Glennallen and Wasilla and put together cleaning supplies and food boxes for tribal members in Chitina who needed them. They also gave personal protective equipment to the Chitina EMS to make sure they were safe when they responded to patients.

Michael Moody and the Chitina EMS made sure they were properly suited up with personal protective equipment so they could safely respond without risk of spreading COVID-19. They took every precaution they could to keep the community members they responded to from getting sick.

Elizabeth Kelly is the manager of the Taral Enterprises store and early on she made cloth masks for the Native Village of Chitina to distribute. She took steps to make the store safer for shoppers such as only allowing one person in at a time. She shopped for people with the help of her employee Samantha Leonard so that customers could do curbside pickup and made deliveries when needed.

Tana Finnesand also made cloth masks for the community that we passed out in order to help keep everyone safe. The community as a whole contributed by following the guidelines and wearing their masks.

Gakona Village recognizes the important role Tribal Administrators play.

All the village Tribal Administrators in the Ahtna Region went above and beyond to protect their tribal and community members. They also had to learn about and distribute the available COVID funding on a very quick schedule.

Cheesh’na Tribal Council upheld their mission of improving the health and welfare of their village.

Agnes Denny did an excellent job of working with the community to get the COVID funds distributed. She was able to get essential items (such as toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer) out to tribal members, even when they were in short supply. Using COVID funds, she obtained a connex office to use as a site for COVID testing and later vaccinations.

Agnes was the community leader when it came to obtaining supplies and making sure food was distributed out to members. Freezers were brought for Elders and delivered and filled with moose meat and other foods. Throughout the pandemic, Agnes always made sure our tribal members were covered locally in Anchorage, Glennallen and statewide with groceries. She worked to fix up and have power put into homes used for quarantine. She made all of this happen in a short window of time. Agnes did this because she lives here, and tribal members are her relatives. That is what you do, take care of your family.

Cheesh’na’s health team at our village clinic has provided excellent information and response to COVID needs. In just one day they processed 35 COVID tests for a construction crew and locals. They executed the process professionally and efficiently and had folks on their way in less than 10 minutes. They set up a traffic pattern outside the clinic to allow for social distancing and made sure they were in compliance with the COVID policies put in place by Cheesh’na and MSTC.

Cantwell staff logged long hours and miles to care for residents.

Toni Suko, our CRNA Health Aide for Cantwell, did a splendid job of transforming the clinic for COVID testing. She visited Elders’ homes for regular checkups to prevent them from needing to come into the clinic and possibly contracting COVID. In the beginning, there were many times that she didn’t head home until after 10 p.m. and returned at 8 a.m. the following day. Toni lives in Healy which means on top of putting in long hours she commutes 80 miles round trip for work. She is our hero.

Kluti-Kaah took necessary steps to protect their village members.

We would like to thank Bill and Brandy Hand for delivering supplies that were very much needed and Bill’s great effort securing COVID funding. We thank the many people working at the security gates and doing such a great job at keeping our village safe, the crews that built the warmup huts at the gates and, last but not least, Security Gate Manager Shirley Ann Smelcer who stepped up to do a tough job.

Other gate attendants included:

  • Ava GreyBear
  • Walter Kakaruk
  • Holland Nuipok
  • Lucy Pete
  • Lenard Ewan
  • Darren Billum
  • Clarice McConkey
  • Nelly Ewan
  • David Nicholas
  • Haille Winishut
  • Jacob Phillips
  • Arlene Davidson
  • Rodney Stevens
  • Josette Johns
  • Melinda Carlile
  • Mark Johns
  • Page Pete
  • John Goodwin Sr.
  • Harry Salinas-John

Gate attendant building carpenters and laborers included:

  • Raymond Craig
  • Christopher Hobson
  • David Bell
  • Daniel Pete
  • Edger Miller
  • Stephen Davidson

We thank each and every one that helped keep our Villages safe.