By Gloria Stickwan
For The Cordova Times
Tazlina Village, as in many Alaska Native Villages since time immemorial, depends on salmon returning up the Copper River each spring to their spawning grounds. This blessing from the creator has made the difference between hard times or survival for centuries. This land where we work in our summer fish camps has documented house pit sites and fish camps dating back 300 to 700 years (NPS, 2019).
This culturally-significant, resource rich land was sold in 1954 by the U.S. Congress, at the nominal price of $10, to the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Anchorage for establishing the Copper Valley School. The boarding school served as a regional education hub for two decades, educating many of today’s Alaska Native, business and community leaders. But the school was closed in 1971 and a fire destroyed the facility in 1976.
The Native Village of Tazlina now has a historic opportunity to purchase this land, to bring the story of its ancestral homelands back full circle. Its vision for the land includes honoring the tradition of education on the land by establishing a tribal college. During a 2011 visioning session, tribal members also prioritized a fish research center, a new meeting hall and church, and open spaces for recreation and a community garden. Along the shoreline of the Copper River, the Village will add a conservation easement to the land to ensure in perpetuity that family and community fish wheels can continue to harvest salmon for the Ahtna people.
Donna Renard, member of the Tazlina village, remembers “it wasn’t just fishing at fish camp, we learned our life lessons down there. That ground is where generations of my family walked, so everywhere I walk at fishcamp I’m walking in their footprints.”
How will the Village of Tazlina make this important purchase? With lots of help! We have identified sources of funding to help purchase these 462 acres, but we need to raise $250,000 to help leverage nearly $1,500,000. In the spirit of giving at this time of year, please consider making a charitable contribution to support the Village. A gift of appreciated stock or other property can also be made.
Making a claim for these Tazlina Native homelands wasn’t an option under ANCSA because the land is privately owned, but this is a rare, and critical, opportunity to repatriate traditional lands to a Native tribe for the benefit of Ahtna people and culture in interior Alaska.
Please visit our GoFundMe page or (look us up at tazlina.org) to see the status of our campaign — we have made progress!
Our story isn’t unique, but this opportunity is. We can be more self-reliant if we can develop a tribal college for interior Alaska. Native lands have been sold by deed for land grant colleges, for homesteaders, for boarding schools, and this is a chance for us to buy the land back, to preserve our culture.
Gloria Stickwan has been a member of the Tazlina Village Council for many years, and has led the Council as its President since 2012. She works as the C&T Environmental Coordinator for Ahtna, Inc.