CHICKALOON, Alaska – Alaska recently suffered the loss of a clan mother and elder with the passing of Katherine Wade, March 23. She worked as a cook and restaurant owner, but more importantly, was a tradition and language bearer for the Chickaloon Tribe.
Her interest in preserving tradition led her to be one of the founders of Chickaloon Villlage’s Ya Ne Dah Ah School, the first tribal school in Alaska. Her efforts in language preservation, as one of the last fluent speakers of her tribal language, can be seen in the mission of the school which lists: “To teach the Ahtna Athabascan language to Chickaloon tribal members and children,” as its first objective.
The school was established in 1995, and in 2002 received the High Honors Award from Harvard University. According to a teacher quoted in the Anchorage Daily News, Wade remained an active presence at the school until shortly before her death. She had been living next door and came by almost daily or visited with students who came to see her during their lunch breaks.
During her lifetime, Wade received the Living Cultural Treasures Award in Portland, Ore. in 2000 and was acknowledged in Alaska with the Governor’s Award for Native Arts and Languages in Alaska in 2007.
Wade’s autobiography “Chickaloon Spirit: the Life and Times of Katherine Wickersham Wade” was published in 2003. For her writing, Wade was presented with an award by the Alaska Native Knowledge Network at the Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature celebration in 2005.
In describing the book, the ANKN said, “We learn about the adventures and misadventures this remarkable woman had in Chickaloon, Sutton, Palmer, Wasilla and Anchorage. We learn what it was like to be a half-breed-not-enough Indian to be fully accepted by some of her interior Indian Ahtna relatives, and not quite white enough for some folks who came to the Valley. Through Katie’s narrative we become more fully aware of the shock of racist encounters, combined with a sense of awe of her sense of humor and resilience in face of it all.”
At her birth, Wade was delivered by her grandmother and aunts at home at Old Man Lake near Chickaloon. She passed away at the age of 86 surrounded by many of her loved ones. Her obituary lists the numerous family members who have survived her, including her children, Lawrence, Patricia, Larraine and Douglas; grandchildren Lisa, Gregory, Tony, Angie, Ryan and Alex Wade, Justice McPherson, Dimitrios and Alexander Macheras, and Daniel Fry; and great-grandchildren Kaylan Wade, and Tara and Ayla Agnew. Wade also had several siblings; her brothers Albert and Harold Harrison and Norman Oleson, and sisters Shirley Sorenson and Mabel Harrison.
The family is accepting donations to assist with funeral costs through Kehl’s Funeral Home, 209 S. Alaska Street, Palmer, AK 99645. Excess proceeds will go to the Elders’ Lunch Program c/o Chickaloon Village, PO Box 1105, Chickaloon, AK 99674.