Celebrating Katie John Of Mentasta: Historian, Advocate & Caring Grandmother

COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL Love of Family Drove Katie John To Great Achievements   Katie John was Mentasta Village's honorary Grandmot...

COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL

Love of Family Drove Katie John To Great Achievements  

Katie John was Mentasta Village's honorary Grandmother. Born in Slana in 1915, she had an adventurous childhood, traveling among her dad's many cabins scattered throughout the upper Ahtna region. This story was originally written in the Copper River Country Journal in November, 1995.

Katie John with granddaughter, Angie David, 1995. (Journal file photo)

"I got about 40 grandchildren," Katie told the Journal. "I got 80 great-great grandchildren. I used to have 14 kids. Altogether, I raised 23 kids; a lot of kids didn't have a home."  Because so many of her descendants attended school at Mentasta, the school was named Katie John School.

It was exciting, growing up in the northland. Katie Johns' family had 2 fish camps at Batzulnetas when she was a child. The salmon were big, silvery colored, rich and fresh, she recalled. When she grew up, Katie John couldn't fish there anymore. Regulations made her have to travel far away, to Chitina and O'Brien Creek to fish. For years, Katie John asked to be allowed to fish at her family's old camp. With the aid of lawyers, she won the fight. "Last year we did pretty good – a lot of fish. This year we didn't," she said. "I'm getting older, and getting slowed down."

Katie John was a major contributor to a landmark book, called "The Headwaters People's Country." It describes Lt. Henry Allen's 1885 arrival into the Copper River region, as told by Katie John's mother, who was a young child at the time.

"When I tell them how I've been living, they say it's too hard," Katie John said of her grandchildren. "I miss my old days. It's too easy now. You just jump in a car and go. I used to make camp and go hunting. Now I have heart trouble."

Katie John said that back when she was young, everybody worked harder. She said even the storekeeper in Slana, who was only 18 years old when he first arrived in the country in 1910, worked harder than people do now.

She said he had a little store, and freighted food and supplies – flour, sugar, rice, dry food, tea and coffee – from Valdez, using a dog team. In the winter, he made his rounds, hauling the food from village to the village in the upper Ahtna region. "Poor man. I was sick about him."

Because the trader arrived in 1910, that was an important date for the people of the Slana region. "That's how we knew all our years," Katie John said. 

After a full and generous life, Katie John, known throughout the region and all of Alaska as "Grandma Katie," passed away in her late 90's on May 31st, 2013 –"old and full of years."

It was right when the salmon were due to arrive.

 

This is an ongoing, original series of interviews and photographs from the Copper River Journal, celebrating Native Heritage Month, November 2020.

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