Our Culture

We are the Taa’tl’aa Denaé (Headwater People). 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.

Katie’s Prayer

May God, who created our world,

send His Spirit to be in you.

May He protect you from evil.

May His blessing be upon the land.

May the land be good where we walk.

May the animals have enough to eat for winter.

May the water be good.

May the goodness of God dwell in you.

Katie Sanford – Chistochina Fish Camp, 1957

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

“Athabascan culture and tradition has always held the environment as an important priority. Our lives have been tied, traditionally, to the land. There are rules for treating the land and the ecosystems. These rules have been passed down from generation to generation – as far back as Tribal memory serves; “Take only what is needed. Do not waste. Treat animals with respect.” We know that if these traditions and others are followed then the land will continue to provide for us, the water will be good, and the Village will experience good fortune.”                        (quote from “Teaching Our Many Grandchildren” curriculum guide)

Our land supplies many plants used for food and medicine. It also provides the wood we use to make our homes, fish wheels, and sleds, and the bark and roots to make baskets, baby carriers, and many useful items. Gathering and using plants is an important part of the heritage of this land.”

Gene Henry – Telling Camp Stories

Storytelling and riddles enliven the cold, dark days of winter. Riddles and stories are part of our traditional education and help to develop mental patience, observation, and cleverness. Stories tell about the triumph of good over evil, life lessons and our traditional values. They are an important way that we teach our language to our children.

Some stories teach ways to treat the land: Take only what is needed. Do not waste. Treat animals and the land with respect. These traditions help us to know the proper way to behave, and to maintain harmony with our surroundings”.