Just south of Glennallen, Alaska, where the Tazlina River flows into the Copper River, there once stood a large Ahtna village called Tezdien Cae’e, which translates to “mouth of the swift-current river.” Here archaeologists have excavated home sites that may be as old as 700 years. Members of our tribe, the Native Village of Tazlina, are descendants of those who once lived in these houses.
Today we have a historic opportunity to reclaim these lands and ensure that future generations of tribal citizens are able to carry forward our heritage. To do this, we are raising $1.8 million to purchase 462 acres at the site of Tezdlen Cae’e. If we do not succeed, the land could be sold to an outside developer, locking us out of our homeland and threatening our way of life.
In 1954, the U.S. Congress conveyed the land on which Tezdlen Cae’e once stood to the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Alaska for $1.25 per acre, or a total of $577.50. Here the archdiocese built Alaska’s first integrated Native/nonNative boarding school, the Copper Valley School, which operated from 1956-1971. In 1976, the building was destroyed by a fire, Laden with asbestos and other pollutants, its charred ruins remained a health hazard for decades before they were finally cleaned up.
We are fortunate to have a positive relationship with the archdiocese. They have allowed us to continue operating several fish wheels (the main method we use to catch salmon) on the land. Fish from these wheels are shared widely, feeding dozens of families throughout the Copper Basin and beyond. Their loss would have a significant impact on Tazlina locals – as our Tribal Council President, Gloria Stickwan, told Alaska Public Media, “we don’t have any other place to fish to use a fish wheel, because … we just don’t go to someone’s fishing site and start fishing there.”
Although subsistence fishing continues to be a critical part of our culture and livelihood, it is not the only purpose we envision for these lands, which sit at the heart of Tazlina’s traditional territory. We aspire to reclaim this site as a hub to revitalize and continue our culture and traditions. We envision establishing a tribal college and cultural center, conducting fisheries research, constructing a new green energy tribal meeting and church hall, and building a community garden.
Hative Village of Tazlina has signed a compact with the Catholic archdiocese, giving us until fall 2022 to purchase these lands for $1.8 million, We are working to raise funds from private foundations, a land trust, and individuals. The archdiocese is also trying to help, and will lower its asking price by $150,000 if we raise that amount in matching funds by June 1. To learn more about how you can support our efforts, please visit us at tazlinahomelandrecovery.org
Since time immemorial, Ahtna people have lived on and stewarded the lands and waters of the Copper Basin. Buying back the land at Tezdlen Cae’e will help us to retain a central piece of our heritage and identity. Our efforts parallel those of the growing number of indigenous groups around the world who are seeking to reclaim their ancestral lands as part of the #LandBack movement. As Tazlina Vice President Lacayah Engebretson put it, “it’s kind of an odd concept to be in a position to buy back. We’re essentially trying to purchase our place of belonging that people are already tied to and already have that home feeling of.” We invite you to join us in this historic campaign to recover our homelands.