Tribal History

At the end of his life, one of the last Ahtna Chiefs — Charley Sanford — said,
“I am a trail.”

In keeping with tradition, he asked that material wealth be burned in his honor, for he knew that the only thing of true value that he could pass to future generations was a trail, a song, and a story...

Tribal History

We are the Taa’tl’aa Denaé (Headwater People) of Chistochina and Mentasta, Alaska. Our culture is rooted in thousands of years of tradition, family, and cooperation. Our lives are lived according to unwritten Indian laws and values learned as children.

Our Villages are inhabited by Ahtna people who were nomadic hunter gatherers. Our ancestors were the last Alaskan Native group to see permanent settlement in their territory, established in the winter of 1898-99 during the Klondike Gold Rush into the Copper River Valley.

The Upper Ahtna Villages of Mentasta and Chistochina continued their seasonal patterns of subsistence travel until 1957, when the first Village schools were instituted.

Today the Upper Ahtna population is 235, and there are less than 10 Elders who experienced the seasonal hunting and fishing lifestyle, learning the traditional lessons of survival and services to family.

In today’s changing world, our Elders are the last remaining links to these traditions —to who we once were. Elders have a perspective on life that is closely tied to the land, and Athabascan people have always looked to them for advice and guidance. Elders respect the traditional ways of conservation, and they are a valuable resource themselves. The Village has always relied on their knowledge of the land and its resources. With all of the changes occurring in the villages, this relationship between the people and the land may be lost.

MSTC’s goal to document and preserve the heritage of the Upper Headwater People embraces the connection between culture and identity. We recognize our responsibility to our tribe to ensure the protection, preservation, presentation and transmission of cultural heritage to future generations. MSTC believes that authentic protection of natural and cultural heritage benefits all humanity.


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