Matriach of nation passes away

25 03 2009

Katherine Wade, matriarch of Chickaloon tribe, dies
A LEADER: She helped found the first tribal school in Alaska.

By RINDI WHITE
rwhite@adn.comBy RINDI WHITE
rwhite@adn.com

(03/24/09 17:08:21)

WASILLA — Katherine Wade, the matriarch, or clan grandmother, of the Chickaloon tribe north of Palmer, died Sunday. She was 86.

The tribe includes about 250 to 300 Ahtna Athabascans, said Chief Gary Harrison.

According to her family, Wade was born at Old Man Lake near Chickaloon in the upper Matanuska Valley. She and her late husband, “Tiny,” raised their family on 40 acres of land near Moose Creek. She ran the Moose Creek Drive-In from 1956 to 1976 and cooked at various restaurants in the Palmer area. Stories of her life were preserved in her book, “Chickaloon Spirit,” published in 2003.

katherinewadeWade helped found the first tribal school in Alaska, Ya Ne Dah Ah, in 1995. It launched in a portable-sized building without running water, but students moved in 2005 into a new 2,400-square-foot building with flush toilets and a kitchen. The school was honored by Harvard University as one of eight outstanding tribal programs in the nation in 2002.

Wade saw the school as a way to pass on Athabascan ways and language that the community was in danger of losing, language teacher Kari Shaginoff said. Students learned to read and write, but also to weave baskets and to drum and sing.

“She told stories and taught values,” Shaginoff said. “Like being good to each other, being good to family and taking care of family.”

School education director Gabe Carmen said while Wade lived next door to the school, she participated almost daily in teaching, whether in the classroom or by simply sharing stories with the children when they stopped by to visit her during their lunch break.

“She really was just ‘Grandma’ to them,” Carmen said.

Carmen said the school was closed Monday to remember Wade.

Harrison said Wade helped link Chickaloon tribal members to their history through stories and to their relatives in Tazlina and Nelchina, also Ahtna Athabascans.

She also provided support when tribal leaders began a sovereignty movement and encouraged Harrison to learn how to be a political activist.

“Under her guidance, when we younger people talked sovereignty, she backed us,” Harrison said.

Shaginoff said Wade was the last fluent Ahtna Athabascan speaker in the Valley. Thanks to the language curriculum she developed, however, Shaginoff and another teacher now speak the language well enough to teach it at the school.

At Wade’s suggestion, the school recently began a new focus on outdoor survival skills, including botany and traditional plant uses. Students last year completed their first backpacking trip to test those skills, he said.

Wade was repeatedly recognized for her commitment to her community. According to her family, she received the “Living Cultural Treasures” award in Portland, Ore., in 2000 and was named shareholder of the year for Cook Inlet Regional Inc., or CIRI, in 2002. She also received the 2007 Governor’s Award for Native Arts and Languages for helping create the school and preserve her clan’s culture.

Wade had been struggling with an ongoing illness and was staying at the Northern Comfort Assisted Living Home in Wasilla when she died.

A gathering and visitation is scheduled for 2:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Kehl’s Mortuary in Palmer. Burial will follow in Chickaloon. A potlatch is scheduled Sunday at the Ya Ne Dah Ah School in Sutton. The family is accepting donations to help pay for funeral costs, with proceeds designated for the Elders’ Lunch program at Chickaloon Village.

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