Shareholder Katie Finnesand’s interest in working for Ahtna began almost 10 years ago when she was hired by a survey company performing a cadastral survey on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands in Ahtna’s traditional territory and on Ahtna 14(h)(1) sites. Under Section 14(h)(1) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), Alaska Native Regional Corporations were allowed to submit applications to obtain title to lands across the state containing Native historical places and cemetery sites. Katie had the honor of visiting many remote cultural properties—some sites had obvious remaining structures, such as graves, cabins, rafts, or house and cache pits. Others were not so obvious to her inexperienced eye, and she was inspired to learn more about the history of the Ahtna people in these areas. Katie wanted to find clues about each site’s geographic location near a river confluence, on a mountain or bordering a lake, for example, and figure out what made the location useful and occupiable. “This first exposure made me appreciate the land that we’ve inherited and was the catalyst in pursuing a career in land management,” Katie remarked.
Katie has progressed in her career to become an Ahtna land & resource specialist. This year brought new experience in project management for various ventures in the Ahtna Land Department as Katie continues with field work related to forest inventory, soils inventory and wildlife. Land and resources is a dynamic field and Katie enjoys the operations aspect of her job, planning and executing projects that require the department to mobilize in some fashion.
One of Katie’s most recent projects has been developing a set of public informational signs for the Chitina area. The purpose of the signage is to communicate land status and rules for the permitted use of corporation lands in that area. The northern Copper River Highway segment (locally known as the O’Brien Creek trail) reopened this year for the first time in over a decade, and there has already been a sharp increase in fishermen and recreationists along the route this season. The Chitina Joint Task Force, a dedicated group representing Chitina Traditional Indian Village Council, Chitina Native Corporation and Ahtna, Incorporated, is collaborating to implement an area management plan that will protect vulnerable cultural resources within or in proximity to the public right-of-way.
When asked what the “Our Land Sustains Us” part of Ahtna’s vision statement means to her, Katie responded, “I think of how it sustains us spiritually, socially, and physically. You draw a certain energy from being home that some aren’t aware of until they leave. The land provides physical sustenance which fuels our cultural and social connections.”
Several folks encouraged Katie to go back to school and of course she naturally gravitated toward natural resource management. Ahtna has supported her education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) through the Walter Charley Memorial Scholarship Program and allowed her to flex her work schedule to accommodate her academics. She has served in several seasonal roles including bear guard, carbon intern, seasonal Natural Resource Technician (NRT), and wildlife/forestry technician.
Katie’s advice to shareholder youth who are interested in the land and resources field is, “Get in there. There are temporary laborer or seasonal positions available at Ahtna to get your foot in the door to get experience. A few seasons of work experience or higher education can lead to a permanent position. I would recommend going to college after high school, which will make you more flexible of an employee for any agency and you can transition to a position you like easier. There’s a wide range of educational fields that support land and resources, such as ecology, natural resource management, biology, wildlife biology, fire science, GIS, IT, political science, finance, tribal management, business administration, etc., so don’t be afraid to dabble in different ones if you’re unsure of what direction you really want to go at first.”
About Katie Finnesand
Katie’s parents are Martin and Taña Finnesand. Her maternal grandparents are Margaret (Lloyd) Spence and the late Jim Spence of Wenatchee, WA, and her paternal grandparents are the late Neil and Hannah (Bell) Finnesand of Chitina, AK. Katie grew up in the Copper River Valley and now lives in Copper Center.