ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The last traditional chief of the Mentasta Tribe is dead. Fred John Sr. died Sunday in Fairbanks. He was believed to be 91.
''He was from a long line of traditional chiefs,'' son Fred John Jr. said Sunday afternoon. ''He spoke the Upper Ahtna language. He lived the subsistence way, his own way, no matter what the authorities said.
''He thought about his people and their future. He was involved in everyone's life. He was just that way. That's why he's the last.''
Most Alaskans might be more familiar with the name of John Sr.'s wife, Katie John, because of a landmark federal court decision in 1955 that adopted her name.
That ruling established the federal government's authority on most waters in Alaska to ensure subsistence rights for rural residents.
Gov. Tony Knowles had the state appeal the decision earlier this year. The appeal has angered some Alaska Natives, even though Knowles has said he supports Native subsistence rights and is appealing only to protect state rights.
The case is scheduled before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 20.
But for Athabaskans, especially in the Mentasta region, between Glennallen and Tok on the Glenn Highway, Fred John Sr., was their chief and role model.
John Sr. persuaded some families in nearby Nabesna to move closer to Mentasta, and the Mentasta school opened with eight students in 1957.
Nora David, one of the Johns' daughters, was one of the first students. ''Mom and Dad took a stand,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News.
The chief took another stand in the late 1960s. Before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was enacted in 1971, John Sr. got eligible local Natives to occupy the land around Mentasta Lake. The action ensured Mentasta members' control over the lake and surrounding lands when ANCSA lands were allotted.
''It was like the first Native land planning,'' John Jr. said.
Friends and family members of Fred John Sr. are planning a funeral potlatch at Mentasta.
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