Historic gravesite handed back to the people of Gulkana

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Governor Mike Dunleavy signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Wednesday which he says begins the process of correcting an injustice that has persisted for far too long.

Governor Dunleavy signed the MOA with the Gulkana Village Council and Ahtna Inc. to return to village's traditional cemetery to the people of Gulkana after being in possession of the state for nearly 80 years.

"Thanks to the hard work of all of you here today, the traditional grounds of the Gulkana people will be reoccupied,” said Governor Dunleavy in a press release. “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 due to the construction of the Richardson Highway, according to a press release. Several years later, the federal government assigned the land to the State, where they planned a realignment of the highway.

“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 in the release. “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.”

The State of Alaska will work with Gulkana Village and Ahtna to preserve and protect the gravesite.

“I applaud all who worked on this agreement,” said Commissioner John MacKinnon, Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities in the press release. “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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