Restoration

Alaska Federation of Natives endorses restoration of the Eklutna River

Last week, the Alaska Federation of Natives the largest statewide organization or indigenous people in Alaska, endorsed efforts to restore the Eklutna River. 

Traditionally known as Idlughetnu (Id-lug-het-nu), the Eklutna River and its wild salmon runs supported the Dena’ina (Eklutna peoples) for thousands of years. But, since the early 1900s, hydroelectric production on the river has severely limited the habitat for wild Eklutna River salmon.

The significant blows contributing to the downfall of Eklutna salmon runs began in 1929 with the construction of the lower Eklutna Dam, blocking the passage of migrating salmon to the upper river and Eklutna Lake in order to provide electricity for the growing city of Anchorage. The second blow to Eklutna salmon came in 1955 with the completion of a second hydroelectric project, the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, which diverted all the water bound for the river to the waiting turbines at the Eklutna Power Plant, turning off the flow of water, drying up miles of the riverbed and rendering the lower Eklutna Dam useless. 

Those hydroelectric activities began before Dena’ina people were granted United States citizenship. At the time they were still pursuing land claims, and the hydro infrastucture removed access to wild salmon critical to the members of Native Village of Eklutna. Their subsistence and cultural traditions were largely lost.  

In 2018 the lower Eklutna dam was successfully removed thanks to the leadership of Eklutna Inc. Now salmon can access the eight miles of habitat below the upper Eklutna dam, which was previously inaccessible. But they still need one thing: water. Watch the recently released film Return to Us to learn more about this monumental undertaking

On Dec. 8, 2020, the AFN board voted to approve Resolution 20-17, expressing their support for the ongoing effort to restore the Eklutna River and calling for the release of water from the upper Eklutna Dam in support of wild salmon and Eklutna Dena’ina.  Read Resolution 20-17 from AFN here

The Alaska Federation of Natives, Native Village of Eklutna, and the Conservation Fund, which played a significant role in the removal of the abandoned lower Eklutna Dam, issued a joint statement last week spotlighting the resolution and the perspective of tribal leaders and elected officials.  

“We are grateful to the Alaska Federation of Natives for their support,” said Aaron Leggett, chief of the Native Village of Eklutna, “and to the many Alaskans and Americans from across the country who have followed this story.”

“When you talk to elders and learn the historic connection between Eklutna River and the Dena’ina people, you begin to understand how important this project is. The Dena’ina people of Eklutna have never stopped fighting to have their river restored, and this dogged determination, reminiscent of the salmon they fight for, has brought them one step closer. It was an honor to support their efforts.” 

Diane Kaplan, president and CEO, The Rasmuson Foundation

The Native Village of Eklutna is the only traditional village within the municipality of Anchorage. “We have supported the growth of Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska,” said Leggett, “but now it’s our turn. Salmon are part of our culture, they make us who we are. But without a free-flowing Eklutna River, the salmon struggle and we struggle.”  

“The Eklutna River and the salmon it provides are vital to the Native Village of Eklutna. For generations, members of the village have been committed stewards of this precious resource,” said Congressman Don Young. “I have been involved in this process for quite some time and was one of the strongest proponents of removing the Lower Eklutna River Dam to allow salmon to move upstream once again.” 

Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation, a financial supporter of the dam removal project, said “When you talk to elders and learn the historic connection between Eklutna River and the Dena’ina people, you begin to understand how important this project is. The Dena’ina people of Eklutna have never stopped fighting to have their river restored, and this dogged determination, reminiscent of the salmon they fight for, has brought them one step closer. It was an honor to support their efforts.” 

Read the press release from Alaska Federation of Natives, Native Village of Eklutna and The Conservation Fund. 

With the lower Eklutna dam removed, and mitigation to make up for the Eklutna Hydropower Project’s impact to fish and wildlife currently underway, now is the time to restore the flow of the Eklutna River. 

Add your name in support of returning water to the Eklutna River in support of salmon and the residents Native Village of Eklutna. 

To learn more about the Eklutna River Restoration Coalition’s effort to restore the Eklutna River please visit EklutnaRiver.org

Eklutna Lake in 1944, prior to the completion of the Eklutna Hydropower Project.

By Eric Booton. 

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