On January 7, 2021, Markle Pete was posthumously awarded the 2020 Governor’s Arts & Humanities Margaret Nick Cooke Award for Native Arts and Languages. The award goes to an individual for outstanding work advancing Alaska Native language and culture.
As reported in the January 14 issue of the Copper River Record, Chief Gary Harrison of Chickaloon accepted the award in Pete’s honor. In a heartfelt speech, Chief Harrison described how much Pete was loved and missed. He also acknowledged Pete’s contributions to cultural and language revitalization, his knowledge of several different Ahtna dialects, his presence at sovereignty and fishing meetings, and his sense of humor.
Harrison added, “Some of his stories may not have been traditional but they were generally funny.” He quoted Pete as saying, “It would take you 100 years to catch up with me, but you can do it.” Harrison ended his speech with a prayer for Markle Pete and his family.
The program from the award ceremony provides a history of Pete’s lasting contributions to language and cultural revitalization:
Markle Pete, a lifelong Alaskan and Ahtna Elder, was born in 1928 in Copper Center to Taha Pete and Mentasta Pete. Throughout his life he was instrumental in the perpetuation of the Ahtna Athabascan language. He touched the hearts and minds of many children and community members with his amazing sense of humor, patience, wisdom, and willingness to share his ancestral language and cultural values.
Pete traveled great distances to educate students at the Ya Ne Dah Ah School from 1998-2013, and also taught language lessons to tribal citizens at Chickaloon Native Village and in his home community of Tazlina. He was an ESL fluent Athabascan speaker with no formal education, but plenty of traditional life skills and stories to pass on.
In addition to teaching, Pete played a critical role in documenting and recording the Ahtna Athabascan language for educational purposes and to preserve the language into the future.
Pete worked with the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Yukon Native Language Center in Canada, and the Ahtna Heritage Foundation. He was an active participant in curriculum development and language documentation projects, and was always willing to give of his time for any projects or programs that promoted the preservation and regeneration of the Ahtna language.
Pete never asked to be paid for his teaching – he did it out of his love for the Athabascan people. When asked what he would like to impress upon young people, Pete answered, “Listen. Learn from your Elders. You never know when they will be gone and then you will miss out on getting answers you need for life.”
Pete encouraged young people to finish what they start, know where they come from, respect themselves, and always be prepared for the future.