Governor Dunleavy signs historic agreement returning sacred burial ground to Gulkana Village
Gulkana Village Council Press Release
Gulkana, Alaska – After almost 50 years, the Gulkana Village Council has reached a resolution with the State of Alaska on the return of their former village lands and traditional burial grounds. Representatives from Gulkana Village Council and Ahtna, Incorporated joined Governor Mike Dunleavy in Gulkana, Alaska on October 13th for a deed signing and parking lot groundbreaking ceremony. “Today’s ceremony is a culmination of a lot of work that never should have happened, because this was always your land. I’m sorry it took so long. I want to thank previous administrations and others that worked on this. In a world that seems to be becoming more divided, this is an example of where we came together to solve problems,” said Governor Dunleavy.
The lands were developed nearly 80 years ago without permission of the Ahtna people. In 1943, the Alaska Road Commission bisected what was a thriving village on the Gulkana River in order to realign the highway and build a new bridge which came within feet of the village cemetery. Land that the Ahtna people had occupied for centuries was uninhabitable, and families had no choice but to pick up the belongings they could carry and resettle across the Gulkana River.
In 1971, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) federal trustee deeded Gulkana’s former village lands to the State of Alaska, once again without the village’s permission. For almost 50 years, Gulkana has worked with each administration in an effort to have the land that was taken returned to the village. Over many decades, people have trespassed through the village’s sacred burial grounds to gain access to the river, thereby desecrating grave sites.
“This has been an emotional journey. You and those who came with you are a part of our history now. You’re helping us to close a very painful chapter in the lives of the families that are in this room,” said Ahtna, Incorporated President and Gulkana Tribal member Michelle Anderson when addressing the Governor.
The historic agreement returns the traditional gravesite and Lot 8 to Gulkana Village, vacates the Old Richardson Highway easement, and provides an easement at the boat launch site as well as river access and parking within the State right of way. Further, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) that was signed on June 10, 2020 in Anchorage commits the State of Alaska to work with Gulkana Village to protect the gravesite and provide appropriate signage at the public boat launch and parking areas.
“We would like to thank Governor Dunleavy for traveling to the village to be with us today to take care of this long overdue land issue. We have been waiting for this day for the last 40 plus years. Today we are thankful to be signing this deed to get the land back. Some of the Elders and loved ones that pushed us to get this land back are no longer here with us today. We knew it was their drive that kept us going, to keep fighting to get back what was rightfully ours to begin with,” said Eileen L. Ewan, Gulkana Village Council President.
About Gulkana Village Council
Gulkana Village Council (GVC) is a federally recognized tribe and operates as a non-profit business with many programs to help improve the lives of the tribal members such as the Indian General Assistance Program (IGAP), Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP), Soaring Eagle Transit, Fire Fuels, Indian Reservation Roads (IRR) and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). To learn more visit www.gulkanacouncil.org.
For more information regarding this release, please contact:
Angela Vermillion, Tribal Administrator
Gulkana Village Council