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News > JBER, Eklutna people create historical food cache display
JBER, Eklutna people create historical food cache display

Posted 10/25/2012   Updated 10/25/2012 Email story   Print story


by Curt Biberdorf
Corps of Engineers Pulbic Affairs Office

10/25/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- For centuries, the land today known as Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was inhabited by Dena'ina, one of the Athabascan-language speaking nations spanning from western Alaska to Canada.

Part of the cultural history of this people is now honored with the new Dena'ina cache and signage display located on a field near the intersection of Post Road and Arctic Warrior Drive.

The cache display, which replaced two deteriorated totem poles, represents a structure once commonly used by Alaska Natives to store dried fish and meat, was dedicated Oct. 5 during an event including local tribe leaders and family members.

"My hope is that our celebration today is not really a destination but the beginning of a journey that will bring a greater sense of awareness to the people who live and work on the installation of the wonderful accomplishments and proud heritage of the native people in this region," said Col. Brian Duffy, 673rd Air Base Wing and JBER commander.
Among their achievements are being integral in establishing military bases across the state by providing land, and bringing military intelligence as spotters and scouts in a cooperative relationship that was critical during the Cold War, he said.

After retiring the totem poles, the base still wanted to recognize the importance of Alaska Natives and their culture in Alaska's military history but with an object more representative of their local heritage, Duffy said.

First envisioned in 2007, the project was created and constructed by members of the Native Village of Eklutna - the closest federally-recognized tribe to JBER - with funding from the Air Force and contracting provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Alaska District.

"The Alaska District was more than happy to be involved in this project," said Army Col. Christopher Lestochi, Alaska District commander.

The district respects tribal interests in natural and cultural resources and is committed to the relationship between the Corps and federally-recognized tribes. "I believe a project like this highlights that relationship and perhaps more importantly gave us the opportunity to play a small part in the creation of this interpretive display," he said.

Eklutna tribal members participated in every step of construction from cutting down trees on JBER property to make the structures to moving the finished products into the display field.

For the finishing touch, the Air Force paved roadside space for three vehicles and a path between the sign and cache for improved visitor access.

The area covering JBER was a central location used by many native people as a launching place to harvest game, fowl, fish, berries and roots. It was a place to meet other tribes.

Although the site is a great loss, the Knik Tribal Council is proud the Eklutna people were recognized as the original residents, said Michael Tucker, Native Village of Knik vice president.

"With the military, we are always treated respectful," said Maria Coleman, Native Village of Eklutna vice president and cultural manager. "It's an important milestone to have our story written by us."

"I'm so proud of how (the project) turned out," Coleman said. "I'm so thankful for everyone sharing because this is so important to our children and grandchildren. This is a wonderful fulfillment of sharing our history, culture and intimate ties to the land."

A cache is a storage house built on stilts usually five to nine feet tall. It is constructed using smooth poles tied with spruce roots or notched to wedge the poles together.
Mud, clay and moss were often used to fill in the spaces. Overhanging floors and poles - sometimes coated with bear or beaver fat - deterred animals.

Large families moved into camps all along Knik Arm and Cook Inlet to fish using spears and traps, taking as many as they needed to last the whole winter, said Alberta Stephan, Native Village of Eklutna elder.

"The natives all had caches like you see here," Stephan said. "It was built up high to keep rodents and squirrels away."

People reached the house by using a ladder made from a log with closely spaced limbs broken off forming steps. However, because of safety concerns from JBER, a ladder is not a part of the display.

Over time, native people lost access to land due to colonization, epidemics, expansion of U.S. government facilities, and changes in policies and regulations.

After remarks at the Arctic Warrior Events Center, the group moved to the display, where Stephan dedicated the cache with a blessing.

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