“First Employee” of Ahtna, Incorporated, Roy Ewan Has New Year’s Message for Ahtna Youth

Published January 2018

Roy Ewan, Ahtna Executive Director, reviews Mentasta Lake’s Village selection with Fred John, Village Planning Coordinator, March 1973. “Dave Hickok Collection; Anchorage Museum, B2009.049.1”

Just as his elders instilled in him, Roy Ewan’s message for Ahtna youth is clear, working together will help you to accomplish your goals in the coming years. There are leaders who define generations by their dedication, loyalty and enduring service – and Roy S. Ewan’s role as an Elder, culture bearer and lands advocate continues. Roy set out to live a life of service that would benefit others; not only those in rural Alaska, but those who would benefit to this day from his involvement in one of Alaska’s most significant events.

In 1966, Walter Charley, Oscar Craig, Jack Larson, John Billum Jr., Roy Ewan, Harding Ewan and Markle Ewan Sr. attended the first meeting of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). At the meeting, AFN resolved to ask the Secretary of the Interior to impose a land freeze to stop state land selections until Native claims were resolved. The Secretary of the Interior imposed a land freeze at the end of the year halting state land selections and development of an oil pipeline that would carry North Slope crude oil across Ahtna territory to Valdez. The land freeze pushed Congress, the President, and the state to settle, and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed in December of 1971. “The land claims should be considered a very big thing; a very big thing,” Roy emphasized. By working with the people in rural villages throughout the state, Roy had a good idea of what he saw happening in Alaska. “I was involved in; I guess you could say the change. We did not want what was happening with other Native Americans in the lower 48 to happen with Alaska Natives. By working together we wanted to try something different, make it our own voice.”

Roy served on the Ahtna, Inc. Board for over 20 years. He is a former President/CEO of Ahtna and has also served on many Ahtna subsidiary boards and committees. While Roy was involved in the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, he continues to advocate for the Ahtna region. He was instrumental in advocating for co-management of Ahtna lands and the protection of Ahtna’s way of life.

The most defining moment in Roy Ewan’s life was “realizing we had to make a change in the life we were used to living to the life we live today. It was hard to give up hunting as we knew it, with all of the new, manmade regulations. Our people were not working at that time and were not trained to work. At that time there were no jobs to be had. It was a very difficult time for our people.”

Roy knew something had to change when he witnessed firsthand “some of our people serving time in jail because they were trying to feed their families. They had broken laws that were made using these new hunting regulations, but I tell you we would rather be jailed than to starve to death. They had no alternative because they were hungry.” Roy felt, “it just wasn’t right.” Roy’s hope for the future “is that our youth today need to work together to accomplish some of the things we as elders were not able to accomplish,” and feels that, “we need to gain political strength to be strong not only for Ahtna but for all Alaska Natives.”

2016 First Alaskans Institute trustees (Lt. Governor Mallott is on the far right) present Roy with the Alaska Native Leader award.

In November 2016, the First Alaskans Institute, a statewide Alaska Native nonprofit organization, presented Roy with the Alaska Native Leader Howard Rock Award for his quiet and humble leadership. This honor is given to a person who has shown quality of character and effort to be a leader by putting their community and people before themselves just as Roy continues to do.

Roy Ewan is a past board member of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Native Heritage Park, the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Resource Development Council. He is past co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, SNOW PAC and the Southcentral Subsistence Advisory Council. Roy is from Kluti-Kaah and his father is the late Estaco Ewan from the Taltsiine Tribe and his mother is the late Jessie Charley from the Udzisyu Clan. Roy moved to Gulkana after marrying is wife, Glenda. He and his wife have one daughter, Jackie Johnny.

“Roy continues to uplift the Alaska Native people through his integrity and perseverance as an Alaskan leader. Our paths have crossed through the years during the passage of ANCSA, his co-chair of AFN, and while he was President/CEO of Ahtna Incorporated. He has held a firm hold on our cultural and traditional way of life which is demonstrated in the advancement of the Ahtna and all of Alaska’s Native people. “

                                              -Lt. Governor Byron Mallott

Advice for the New Year that Roy shares with young people is “to learn from your past and take all the good things from the old ways – and there are a lot of good things from the past.” He also feels strongly about the importance of young people getting an education and as much training as possible. “Be aware of who you are – we are Ahtna people, we are all of the same tribe and pretty much the same background through our ancestors.” Working together is necessary Roy says, “to make us better people in trying to accomplish what we need to do not only as a corporation but as Ahtna people and more importantly don’t forget who you are.”