June 10, 2020 (Anchorage, AK) – Today Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Gulkana Village Council and Ahtna Inc., returning the village of Gulkana’s traditional gravesite to the people of Gulkana after nearly eighty years. This monumental agreement follows decades of efforts to return the cemetery to the Gulkana Village.
Governor Dunleavy signs the historic Gulkana Village agreement alongside Eileen L. Ewan, president, Gulkana Village Council, and Michelle Anderson, president, Ahtna Inc., in an outdoor ceremony at Ahtna’s Anchorage Office.
“The documents we sign today begin the process of correcting this injustice – one that has persisted for far too long. Thanks to the hard work of all of you here today, the traditional grounds of the Gulkana people will be reoccupied,” said Governor Dunleavy. “And while it took far too long to get here – it’s my hope that today marks a positive new chapter for the people of Gulkana. I thank you for giving me a chance to work with you, and look forward to implementing our agreement as quickly as possible.”
In 1943, the Gulkana Village and historic cemetery was bifurcated by the construction of the Old Richardson Highway. Decades later, the federal government deeded these lands to the State for a planned realignment of the Richardson Highway. Ahtna and Gulkana Village have worked to restore these lands and prevent further desecration of the burial grounds.
“Our elders have worked tirelessly for decades to get this land back and many have since passed on before being able to witness this resolution,” said Eileen L. Ewan, Gulkana Village Council President. “Our elders told us to ‘Never give up.’ The cemetery and former village lands have always been invaluable to our people. We thank the Lord for hearing our prayers and are grateful for the return of our lands. It will bring healing to our people and restore an important connection to the history of the village. We are very thankful for the Ahtna Board of Directors and staff who have worked diligently with us towards this endeavor.”
Today’s 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 MOA commits the State of Alaska to work with Gulkana Village and Ahtna to protect the gravesite and provide appropriate signage at the public boat launch and parking areas.
“I applaud all who worked on this agreement,” said Commissioner John MacKinnon, Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities. “Ahtna, Gulkana Village and the State of Alaska came together to develop an agreement that will ensure access for the public to the Gulkana River, while resolving this decades old land dispute.
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