Amid the dance performances and festivities at this year’s Native Village of Eklutna Dena’ina Potlatch and Pow-wow, a historic moment took place as Wells Fargo donated 143 acres of land near the Native Village of Eklutna to The Conservation Fund for permanent land and habitat preservation.
“This donation is being made to honor the Dena’ina people by returning land that has immeasurable cultural and spiritual value,” Joe Everhart, Wells Fargo Alaska regional president, said in a press release.
The property, located about 25 miles northeast of Anchorage, has cultural and historical significance to the Dena’ina Athabascan people. It is home to traditional nichilq’a (semi-subterranean dwellings) and storage caches that represent the few remaining Dena’ina structures still standing. Local people also frequent the land for traditional subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing and berry-picking.
Originally part of a 160-acre homestead, the property has been held by Wells Fargo or affiliated banks since 1924. Since that time, Wells Fargo had discussed developing the land, but ultimately decided that the cultural significance of the property was more important than its economic value.
The Conservation Fund, an environmental nonprofit with a history of working with Alaska Native people, will set up an easement for the property, then transfer it to an Eklutna, Inc.-affiliated nonprofit.
The donation of the land took place during a ceremony at the June 8 potlatch, which also kicked off the National Congress of American Indians midyear conference in Anchorage.
“When we got the word from Joe, we were thrilled and filled with such emotion that it took several days for the news to sink in,” said Curtis McQueen, CEO of Eklutna, Inc. “We are grateful for the vision and respect shown by Wells Fargo toward the Dena’ina people.”