Wise Stewardship of AHTNA Lands
The Ahtna Athabascan people have lived in the Copper River basin since time immemorial. There are eight villages within the Ahtna region; each village is unique with all of the villages in the region connected by the values and traditions of the Ahtna people and culture. In this issue we are highlighting the village of Ggax Kuna’ (Gakona).
Gakona meaning “Rabbit River,” is located at the confluence of the Copper and Gakona rivers providing access to world-class King Salmon, Sockeye Salmon and Rainbow Trout fishing. In the 1930s archaeologists discovered the site of a village with many storage pits for storing salmon, not surprising due to a culture that remains deeply rooted in fishing and hunting a Customary and Traditional way of life.
The Native Village of Gakona (NVG) with a population of approximately 200 is a Federally Recognized Tribe located 15 miles northeast of Glennallen at mile 4.8 on the Tok Cutoff Road just east of the Richardson Highway. The Gakona Village Council is the governing body for the village. The mission of the NVG “is to exercise self-determination for the benefits of the tribe to increase services that will meet social, health and community development needs within the community” and has a Vision for the community to “live health-conscious lifestyles.”
In keeping with their Mission and Vision, the NVG has developed a Tribal Response Program (TRP) which is dedicated to identifying Brownfield sites as part of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfield Program. These are sites where buildings and/or land is unused due to the potential presence of some form of contamination along the Tok cutoff highway, with a cleanup and reuse plan for the land or the structure. This includes returning it to its natural state for subsistence activities. NVG’s Environmental Department works in conjunction with the local Ahtna, Inc. and local villages staff as they inventory and place signage in the areas that may be considered a danger to human, wildlife and environmental health and safety from Gakona Village to Mentasta Village. Contaminates may include but are not limited to; abandoned vehicles, trailers and snowmachines, car parts, household appliances, used tires, any form of petroleum products, barrels, and standing or dilapidated buildings.
This summer, Gakona Village celebrated their ten-year anniversary of the Youth Environmental Summit (YES). This event was developed by the Gakona Village Council and is a three-day hands-on learning event about environmental issues. Joining forces with over 20 different entities from across the state, Gakona Village has gained state and national recognition, including a nomination for “Honoring Nations” by The Harvard Project. Environmental staff were asked to present a session at the Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management on a model for how other communities might host their own summits.
Through exposing participants to the stewardship opportunities, the summit has brought inspiration to many young people. For example, Alexandria Hand, a long-time participant, based her college education goals on the inspiration she received from YES. Gakona Village exposes hundreds of children to proper stewardship practices using the same methods the Ahtna people have used since time immemorial.
Continuing the traditional stewardship of Ahtna lands, the NVG wants to “Keep the land free of solid waste and toxins for cleaner and healthier communities,” and believes “no contaminated site is too small or too big” for the Native Village of Gakona’s Tribal Response Program.
To report a real or perceived site, or for more information on the NVG Tribal Response Program or the Environmental Youth Summit visit www.nvgakona.com.
Gakona Village is also committed to their youth and hosts a summer environmental youth program as well as an after-school program. The children designed a vision pledge that is as follows:
I am Ahtna and I pledge to:
• Honor our lands, protect it by not littering. Pick up litter in our village and reuse and recycle when I can.
• Honor our trees, which give me shelter by not being destructive to them. Plant flowers and vegetable in my village.
• Honor our wildlife and berries, which feed us by spending time hunting and gathering.
• Honor our language, by learning one new Ahtna word a month and spending time with an Elder.
• Honor our waters, by not pouring oil, gas or throwing trash into them.
• Honor myself, by making good choices and staying healthy.
I will stand tall and proud and represent my people in a good way.
I do this because I am Ahtna and I am the future!