Potential new nonprofit working to reacquire Native land

Members of Auk’w Kwáan want sacred land back

An ancestrally important site to Alaska Natives may soon be returned to its original inhabitants.


Liana Wallace, a member of the Auk’w Kwáan tribe, said tribal leaders are trying to create a new nonprofit, Auk’w Kwáan Cultural Heritage and Land Council, to reacquire the site of a former Auk’w Kwáan village, now referred to as Indian Point or Auke Cape.

“We talked about some of the strategies we would like to take,” Wallace said of the nonprofit on Monday during a City and Borough of Juneau Lands and Resource Committee meeting. “We are currently working on land management and being a conservation group.”

Auk’w Kwáan Cultural Heritage and Land Council still has to be federally approved as a nonprofit. The idea is once it is approved, the ownership of the land can be transferred from the city (which owns two-thirds of it currently) and the U.S. Forest Service (which owns the other third) to the nonprofit.

Right now, the Auk’w Kwáan, which has approximately 500 members, cannot own the land because it is not an officially recognized tribe by the federal government. The Auk’w Kwáan, though, is a part of the tribal government Central Council of Tlingit Indian Tribes of Alaska, which represents thousands of Alaska Natives.

“It all depends on when all the paperwork gets processed,” Auk’w Kwáan member Fran Houston said, on when the nonprofit status will be finalized. “You can’t judge (how long it will take).”

Efforts to reclaim Indian Point, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016 due to its cultural significance as an Alaska Native village, have been ongoing between the Auk’w Kwáan and the city since 2017.

Auk’w Kwáan members Wallace, Houston, Ramon Isturis, Frank Miller and Rosa Miller met with Mayor Ken Koelsch and Parks and Recreation Director George Schaaf on June 7 in the mayor’s office.

Wallace said one of the tribe’s main concerns is the possible disturbance of Native burial lands on the site, which is located past Juneau’s ferry terminal but before Auke Recreation Area, separating Auke Nu Cove and Indian Cove. There are concerns that people are camping there for longer than allowed by city rules and disturbing the ground itself.

Schaaf said right now the CBJ-owned portions of the land follow the same guidelines as other CBJ-owned parks, which includes a 72-hour limit on camping. Schaff said Parks &Recreation will be looking into the matter.

“We have discussed posting signs that say you can’t cut trees in the area,” Schaaf added.

While the Auk’w Kwáan awaits its nonprofit’s status, they are gathering materials that could possibly show that the land was illegally given to the city. According to the CBJ website, the land was transferred over to the city from the State of Alaska in 1968.

“I think there was an error at the original time when the land was originally turned over,” Wallace said. “What we want to do is show that there was an error that was made. We have documentation, but before we can do that we have to have a certificate of some sort. So, we want to put in as many certificates that we could find. Applying for tribal recognition is one and applying to become a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) is another.”

Wallace said reacquiring the land is important because of its cultural importance.

“In reality, we are the original people and we have our original ties to the land that are the stories, the songs, the people that are buried there and our understanding of how it relates to our history,” Wallace said. “It is very sacred to us.”

Originally, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation — the nonprofit arm of Goldbelt Inc., Juneau’s urban Alaska Native Corporation — expressed willingness to accept ownership of Indian Point on behalf of the Auk’w Kwáan, should the city transfer ownership. Goldbelt Heritage was not represented at Monday’s meeting at City Hall, and Wallace said the group is not working with them. Randy Wanamaker, who wrote Goldbelt’s proposal to acquire Indian Point that was originally given to the Assembly last year, told the Empire Tuesday that Goldbelt is still in the discussion about the transfer.

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.


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