The following is a transcript of the comments John shared in accepting AFN’s Citizen of the Year Award:
I am very honored to receive this award from the AFN board of Directors.
My father Fred Johnson was a commercial fisherman from Prince William Sound (PWS) and a World War II army combat veteran who left Cordova at the age of 18 to serve in the South Pacific. His two older brothers also wanted to join the army and see the world, but they were mad when they were sent to the nearby military base in Whittier.
My grandmother Mary Chimovitski was born in the Suqpiaq village of Nuchek on Hinchinbrook Island in PWS. This is the location of a Russian trading post called Fort Saint Constantine and Helen which was built in the late 1790s. We have also operated the Nuchek Spirit Camp for cultural and subsistence activities for the last 28 years. And NO, we are not giving Alaska back to Vladimir Putin!
My wife Elenore Carltikoff is from the Athabaskan village of Nondalton. Her father Nickoli told us when we got married to not worry about having hard times, because he raised 16 kids with a dog team of 20 dogs and a good rifle. My wife says she wants more than 20 dogs!
My wife’s parents did not know the meaning of the great depression, their subsistence lifestyle did not change much, money was always short. They predicted that someday there would be a great hardship for those living in the big cities who could not live off the land.
Success in what we do, does not happen by magic, but with the help of many others that share the same vision.
My wife’s five brothers also helped me by going on remote trips in the Chugach Region to locate and document our historic and prehistoric subsistence sites that were selected under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) some 50 years ago. They also helped in the numerous repatriation of our ancestors back to their place of origin from museums from around the world.
I am also happy that my good friend Gordon Pullar, who has passed away this year, is also being honored today for the Citizen of the year award. He was a great leader in repatriations prior to the passage of the Native American Graves Repatriation Act.
Gordon and I both strongly believed that all human remains needed to go back home and be treated with dignity, honor, and respect. Gordon was a humble and quiet man who saw the problems and found the solution to get the job done. We both saw the need to:
- Protect and build our culture with the great traditional knowledge and land that our ancestors have left us. Our history and subsistence of way of life is more important than any dollar in a bank.
- We also saw the need for Alaska Natives as a whole to come up with a unified regional plan to bring the rest of our ancestor’s home from museums that are labeled as “Cultural Unidentifiable from Alaska”. These ancient ancestors need our help to make it home. If we do nothing, then don’t expect others to do it for you.
- Not everyone gets the opportunity to make positive changes that have a lasting effect. If you see an opportunity, then you must grab that golden ring and build your foundation with truth and justice that no one can tear down. Your future depends on many things, but mostly on you.
The preservation of our heritage with the ownership of historic lands are important to our growth and survival. These historic sites are not just something from the past but are the keys to our future. Most of the elders that help identify these heritage sites have passed on, but their efforts will have a lasting and significant impact on the generations to follow. It has been a long journey, but it is worth every step that we make.
Chugach shareholders, descendants and family members proudly joined John on stage for is acceptance speech and for a group photo.
Chugach Chairman Sheri Buretta submitted the following letter to the AFN award committee to ask that John be considered for this prestigious award:
I would like to nominate John F.C. Johnson, our Vice President of Cultural Resources, for the 2022 Citizen Award, recognizing his contributions, strong commitment, dedication and service to the Alaska Native Community and Rural Alaska. John’s work on behalf of the Chugach people for the last five decades, and the work he has done for Indigenous Peoples throughout Alaska, the United States, and Canada has undoubtedly improved the lives of our people for generations to come.
John Johnson is a Sugpiag Native who can trace his lineage back to the last chief of Nuchek. This village was once the cultural center of Prince William Sound (PWS) and the Chugach people, and thanks to John’s guiding hand, this site has once again risen to its former prominence with the establishment of Nuuciq Spirit Camp (NSC).
The camp took its first fledgling steps as a small gathering of Sugpiaq Natives, led by John, who initially slept in tents on the sacred ground that was once home to their ancestors. Now more than two-and-a-half decades later, the camp has grown to accommodate a large dining hall and more than 50 permanent living quarters, with John orchestrating the construction of nearly every dwelling and, more often than not, cutting the wood and swinging the hammer that made each structure possible.
Every summer, Chugach Natives and Eyak, Athabaskan and Tlingit Indians from all over our region come together for NSC to learn all aspects of the Native cultural that has been handed down to our people for more than 5,000 years. Attendees learn Sugt’stun, the language spoken by the Sugpiaq. Eyak language classes also take place. They take part in and learn subsistence hunting and gathering skills. Many are involved in the construction of traditional Native kayaks, an art that has been revived over the decades that NSC has been established. All take part in numerous craft projects and immerse themselves in the Chugach Indian culture that grows stronger and stronger with each camp gathering.
On June 23, 2022, Chugach will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Beyond NSC, John has worked for the corporation, in one capacity or another, or served on the Chugach Board of Directors for more than 47 of those 50 years. He began working for Chugach as a logger on projects that cleared the way for the Trans Alaska Pipeline. He then went on to work for many of our subsidiaries that laid the foundation for Chugach’s 50 years of success. During six years on the Chugach Board, he worked with others to build upon that success. As our Vice President of Cultural Resources, he has restored the cultural center of our people, and his continued efforts have secured culturally significant lands through federal conveyances that were selected during the passing of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Throughout his storied career, John has been particularly adept at identifying and working through the process of having cultural 14(h)(1) sites conveyed to Chugach. In fact, he has earned the nickname “Indiana Johnson” as a result of his adventures around our region to identify and document cultural sites. To date, Chugach has had 92 14(h)(1) sites conveyed and twelve more sites are pending and will be conveyed very soon. John’s research and tireless efforts to locate and work with the federal agencies to have these sites conveyed is an example of his dedication to lands ownership and stewardship of these heritage sites to protect and preserve in perpetuity for generations to come.
John’s passion for protection and preservation of culture extends to the invaluable work to research and ensure artifacts are repatriated to their traditional homelands on behalf of tribes across Alaska and the nation. He served on the Smithsonian’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Review Committee in Washington, D.C. for six years where he assisted with the evaluation and implementation of NAGPRA between tribes nationwide and museums. As pursuant to NAGPRA, John traveled to museums in Russia, England, Germany, Denmark, and Spain to evaluate collections, and during these visits and after consultation with museum representatives, he secured the return of funerary objects and Native remains appropriated during the colonial era of our nation’s history.
Similar to his efforts to build and establish NSC, John served as one of the original founding Board of Directors for the Alaska Native Heritage Center and helped to create what has become the largest cultural gathering site in Alaska. He has served as a committee member for the Alaska Historical Records Commission. He served as the President of Keepers of the Treasure, which was a statewide organization that assists in repatriation efforts. He served as the Co-Chairman for Vitus Bering’s 250th anniversary discovery of Alaska, and was the first to raise the American flag in Kamchatka during the Russian ceremony of this historic occasion. He has also served on the board for the PWS Tourism Committee and the PWS Regional Citizen Advisory Committee which oversees and helps to ensure the safe transportation of oil through the Sugpiaq’s ancestral waters of PWS.
Closer to home, John has also served as the Chairman of the Chugach Heritage Foundation, which has made NSC and cultural events like our annual Russian New Year celebration possible, and has funded more than 1,200 scholarships for Chugach shareholders and descendants and allowed them to pursue their higher education and vocational goals.
It is not an exaggeration to say that without Mr. Johnson, Chugach would not be where we are today. The Chugach people and the entire Alaska Native community have benefitted, beyond measure, from his tireless efforts, his wisdom and knowledge, and his dedication. John has brought a wealth of experience, passion, and commitment to every role he has served in to preserve and advance the Indigenous cultures in Alaska and beyond.
It would be impossible to speak to a career that has spanned nearly five decades in a single letter, so I would welcome any opportunity to speak about John F.C. Johnson – beloved Elder, Native statesman and valued member of our Chugach family – and talk to his long list of qualifications and how his contributions have improved the lives of Alaska Native people.
Chairman of the Board
A video of John receiving the AFN Citizen Award can be found on Chugach’s Facebook page: