Governor Comes To Gulkana To Repatriate Village Burial Grounds & Lands

 Decades Later, Gulkana Gets Back Its Lands & Cemetery From The State After almost 50 years, Gulkana Village has reached a resolution wi...

 Decades Later, Gulkana Gets Back Its Lands & Cemetery From The State

After almost 50 years, Gulkana Village has reached a resolution with the state, returning former village lands and traditional burial grounds to the community. Representatives from the village and Ahtna joined the governor, Mike Dunleavy, at Gulkana on October 13th, for a deed signing and parking lot groundbreaking ceremony. 

Eileen ("Birdie") Ewan, Governor Mike Dunleavy, Michelle Anderson and Ken Johns. (Photo, Gulkana Village)

"Today's ceremony is a culmination of a lot of work that should never 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 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 was uninhabitable. 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) and its federal trustee deeded Gulkana's former village lands to the State of Alaska. Without the village's permission. For almost 50 years, Gulkana Village has worked with each administration in an effort to get the land returned. Over many decades, people trespassed through the village's sacred burial grounds -- to gain access to the river, desecrating grave sites.

"This has been an emotional journey," said Michelle Anderson, Ahtna's president and Gulkana tribal member, as she spoke to the Governor. "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.

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's right of way. Further, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) that was signed on June 10th, 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.

Gulkana residents, with Governor, at formal return of village lands. (Photo, Gulkana Village)

"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 ("Birdie") Ewan, Gulkana Village Council President.

The Gulkana Village Council is a federally recognized Native American tribe, administrated by Angela Vermillion of Gulkana. It operates as a non-profit business with a number of programs that help improve the lives of tribal members, including the Indian General Assistance Program, the Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program, Soaring Eagle Transit, Fire Fuels, Indian Reservation Roads, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.


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