After years of fundraising efforts, the Native Village of Tazlina has raised $1.6 million to purchase around 419 acres of their traditional Tazlina homelands.
The fundraising started with a coffee can collection in Glennallen in 2017 that brought in an initial $21.50, and after many calls for support from the community, it grew to donations from over 300 individuals and organizations. Vital support came early on from The Tazlina Village Council, Ahtna incorporated, the Copper River Native Association, and the Indian Lands Tenure Foundation.
The acres are along the Copper River and were originally granted to the Archdiocese of Anchorage in 1956 to found a Jesuit boarding school. The site previously held the Copper Valley School, a college prep school from 1954 to 1971. The school burned in 1976 and the land became contaminated.
Former Chief Johnny Goodlataw led Tazlina Village members in a workshop in 2011 that eventually inspired the effort to return the traditional Ahtna hunting and fishing lands. Village leaders and members advocated to state leaders and worked hard to get word out about their mission.
In 2018 the Village entered into a contract with the Archdiocese of Anchorage to purchase the site.
The traditional lands will be used to build a new meeting hall with healthcare and broadband access, create space for subsistence food processing, a community garden, and walking trails for enjoyment and promotion of healthy lifestyles.
The Catholic Church was a partner in fundraising efforts, and made a purchase contract extension during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the limitations for fundraising.
One major funder is the Great Land Trust for a conservation easement on 161.76 acres along the Copper and Tazlina Rivers. The easement means no residential builds will take place, but there will be space for fish wheels. Notable contributions also include grants from the Rasmuson Foundation and Murdock Charitable Trust.
“People are super appreciative of the support that came from individuals. It’s not the bulk of the money, but that’s where more individual donors come from,” said Kristin Carpenter, a consultant to the Native Village of Tazlina who has been involved in the fundraising process. “There’s a handful of high-dollar contributors, but it would not have been possible without the groundswell and the support from individuals across the basin who are members of the Ahtna community.”
Tribal leaders said that securing traditional homelands means that current tribal members can enjoy, fish and hunt where generations of ancestors lived.
A National Park Service archeological survey in 2018 documented indigenous habitation sites on the land that dates back 300 to 700 years ago.
“It’s just such a fitting sequence for this land to return to tribal ownership, because they found these documented archaeological sites that date back to between 300 and 700 years old in places on this land,” said Carpenter. “It’s clear there was indigenous habitation for centuries, so it seems really fitting it’s returning to tribal ownership.”
The village of Tazlina is made up of 116 Ahtna Native Alaskans, and is located just south of Glennallen and north of Cordova.