The City and Borough of Juneau has the special opportunity to join with the Alaska Native community, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, and the Auk Kwaan people to return the Auke Village site at Indian Point to the Alaska Native people of Juneau. For thousands of years the north shore of Auke Bay was the homeland of the Auk Kwaan people.
Indian Point, the point of land between Auke Bay and the Auke Rec picnic area, is in the middle of what was the traditional village site. As mining, fishing and territorial government provided employment near downtown Juneau, many village residents relocated for employment, yet continued their residential and subsistence activities at the village site. As a result of relocating for employment, the Forest Service claimed the north shore of Auke Bay, including the village site, without compensating the Auk Kwaan people. Nonetheless, because Indian Point is considered sacred, descendants of the original village inhabitants have been maintaining the historic grave site for decades. In August 2016, Indian Point was placed on the National Historic Register.
The City and Borough of Juneau owns three lots on Indian Point. This property occupies approximately 2/3 of the point. Approximately half of this property was received in 1968 from the State of Alaska. Then 20 years ago, 28 acres of Forest Service land at Indian Point was proposed for development as a NOAA Marine Fisheries Center. The Native community expressed concerns about the proposal, prompting the City and Borough of Juneau, the federal government and a private property owner to enter a three-way land trade to preserve the site. As a result the Ted Stevens Fisheries Center was built on Lena Point and additional land was transferred to the city, resulting in the CBJ currently owning 52 acres in the middle of the Auk Kwann’s homeland. It is also important to note that in August 2016, Indian Point was placed on the National Historic Register as a historic place worthy of protection under the National Historic Preservation Act.
The CBJ’s 2016 approved Land Management Plan requires that the city land at Indian Point to be managed “in a manner sensitive to the cultural heritage of Auk Kwaan people.” What better way to manage for cultural sensitivity than putting this land back in the hands of the Auk Kwann themselves?
Although the Auk Kwaan are a traditional family group they are not legally able to take ownership of this property. However, the nonprofit Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, established for the specific purpose of revitalizing Tlingit culture and history can assume legal ownership and fortunately, the foundation is financially stable and committed to promoting Indian Point as a Resilient and Historic Landscape. In a letter to Mayor Ken Koelsch, the foundation outlined its goals related to Indian Point, including scientific research and cultural revitalization, for educational programs for youth and for providing access (including wheelchair access) so that all can visit and participate in cultural activities.
“Woochen” means “together we can” in Tlingit. This is the word that we, as former Assembly members, choose to describe this historic opportunity and culturally significant proposal to return City land at Indian point to the Auk Kwaan. Considering the history, it is clear that the city returning the land to the historic tribe of Auke Bay — with no legal obligation to do so — is the right thing to do. This June, the Forest Service restored the Big Dipper totem pole, and with the guidance of Juneau’s Tlingit community re-raised it to honor this homeland site. The citizens of Juneau could follow this dedication with the powerful act of returning portions of this homeland area to its original inhabitants. Doing so will be enrich not only for those of Tlingit heritage, but for all residents of Juneau. Please let your Assembly Members know that you support this land transfer.
If you have questions, feel free to call Randy Wanamaker at 723-2228 or Kate Troll at 364-5253.
• Kate Troll and Randy Wanamaker are former Assembly members who served together.