Service held for well-known Athabascan elder Katie John

Fred John, son of Athabascan elder Katie John, speaks at a visitation service for his late mother at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, in Anchorage, Alaska, on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. The Katie John court decision strengthened the subsistence rights of Alaska Native peoples. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen) LOCAL TV OUT (KTUU-TV, KTVA-TV) LOCAL PRINT OUT (THE ANCHORAGE PRESS, THE ALASKA DISPATCH)

ANCHORAGE — A public memorial was held in Anchorage for late Athabascan elder Katie John, known for her long legal fight for subsistence rights for Alaska Natives.


John died May 31 at age 97.

Yvonne Echohawk led the Wednesday service at the Anchorage Baptist Church. Echohawk, a pastor and an adopted daughter of John, said her mother never bowed to bitterness in her fight for Native rights, KSKA ( reported.

“Miss Katie John walked up before lawyers, and judges and TV cameras and people, and she said ‘give me my land, give me my water, give me my fish, I want justice for my people.’ And she didn’t rest until she had it,” Echohawk said. “A woman of God, called of God, knew what she had to do and did it. She knew she had a destiny. She knew she had a purpose. And she did it and she did it well.”

The eulogy was read by former state lawmaker Georgiana Lincoln, who remembered John’s sense of humor and her advocacy for subsistence rights.

“Our beloved leader, elder, loved one, Katie John, we mourn your passing,” Lincoln said. “But we smile your contagious smile, knowing you are at last with those loved ones who waited for you, to dance longer, laugh louder, and play harder. Job well done.”

John was lead plaintiff in a 1990 lawsuit that resulted in stronger Native subsistence fishing rights in Alaska.

The case was filed after the state refused to allow John and another elder, Doris Charles, access to a long-abandoned fish camp in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

John was fighting to keep her family’s fish camp at the juncture of Tanada Creek and Copper River.

The legal fight took a decade before John prevailed. The case followed a federal takeover of subsistence hunting on federal lands and established that the federal government has authority on most waters in Alaska to ensure a subsistence priority for rural residents.

The federal takeover came after the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the state constitution guarantees all residents equal access to Alaska fish and game. That ruling put the state at odds with the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which required a rural preference for subsistence.

John will be buried Saturday in her home village of Mentasta.


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