By Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage and Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage
A public memorial service for Ahtna elder Katie John drew a crowd Wednesday in Anchorage. John inspired Alaska Natives, and at least one Alaska governor, with her unyielding stand on Alaska Native subsistence rights.
Yvonne Echohawk, a pastor and an adopted daughter of Katie John, officiated. Echohawk likened John to Biblical heroines. She said her mother never bowed to bitterness in her fight for Native rights.
”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. 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,” Echohawk said.
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Former state legislator Georgiana Lincoln read the eulogy, remembering John’s sense of humor, and thanked her for the “blessing to all of us” that followed John’s insistence in 1984 that her fish camp be opened for subsistence fishing.
”Our beloved leader, elder, loved one, Katie John, we mourn your passing. 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,” she said.
The legal wrangling that followed John’s lawsuit went on for a decade, until Alaska Governor Tony Knowles decided not to fight the case any longer. Knowles could not be present at today’s memorial, but he sent a letter, read by Echohawk, about meeting John at her fish camp face to face.
” I leaned more that day about rights and values than all the boxes of legal briefs and opinions of a 10-year old divisive lawsuit could ever say. I thank Katie John for being a teacher, I thank Katie John for being a protector of her family, I thank Katie John for being a great Alaskan, fighting for the rights of the people of the Great Land,” Knowles’ letter read.
John’s legacy lives on with her over 250 grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. She will be buried in her home village of Mentasta on Saturday.