Nuchalawoyya Revisted: The Event that Created the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Celebrates 50 Years
At left, a celebration of 50-year anniversary of Nuchalawoyya will be held on the Sternwheeler Tanana Chief at the end of the month, as Alfred Ketzler, right, talks about the original meeting in Tanana in 1962 while looking through old photographs with his son Craig Ketzler, left, Wednesday afternoon, June 13, 2012. Eric Engman/News-Miner
FAIRBANKS — The organizers of an event celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Nuchalawoyya — the historic meeting of Alaska Native leaders that led to the creation of Tanana Chiefs Conference and, eventually, to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act — have identified six surviving attendees of the event and are trying to find more.
Craig Ketzler and his sister, Stephanie Ketzler, are holding the event in honor of their father, Alfred Ketzler Sr., the man who organized the original meeting in Tanana in 1962. The anniversary celebration will be held on the Sternwheeler Tanana Chief on June 27.
“The six who we know are alive are Alfred Ketzler, Sr., Alfred Ketzler Jr., Louis James, Deloise Ketzler Bergraff, Robert Charlie and Clara Charlie,” Craig said, sitting with his dad and sister in the dining room of the boat — which he owns — with photos from the 1962 meeting spread out around them. “We’re looking for original attendees. If we can get enough chiefs, we’ve got some great photo opportunities.”
Thirty-two villages sent representatives to the 1962 meeting to discuss Native land and hunting rights, which were increasingly in jeopardy after Alaska achieved statehood and oil was discovered on the North Slope.
“The state was coming through and claiming everything, blanket filing, getting all of this land. All of the stuff along the highways and along the rivers — all of the prime land, so it was a big concern,” Alfred Sr. said. “What we did was we got maps around every village in the Interior, and we sent them petitions to sign saying, ‘stop all land selections, etc.’ I’m not sure how many I got back but I got a bundle of them. I got a thousand signatures, which back then was pretty good for 50 to 100 villages.”
After the signatures were collected it was up to Alfred Sr. to do something with them.
“Being the backwards kid from Nenana I didn’t know where to send it so I sent it to President Kennedy,” he said, laughing at the memory. “I got a letter from him saying ‘I have forwarded this to the Secretary of the Interior and this is in his purview.’ That’s where the original basis for the land freeze that he imposed came from.”
The family is quick to stress that the celebration on the riverboat is different from the official celebration TCC held at its annual convention in March.
“We’re celebrating our dad, and we want to honor everyone that was there, honor all the chiefs,” Stephanie said.
Alfred Sr. was the first president of TCC, a post which he held six times. He retired from TCC for good in 2012 and is the current president of the the Association on American Indian Affairs.
Admission for the celebration — which will feature a cruise down the Chena River while guests feast on traditional Native foods such as moosehead soup, salmon, halibut, berries and pilot bread — is $55 per person. People interested in attending or who know of any other original attendees still living can call Craig Ketzler at 907-452-8687.
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 907-459-7590.