Knikatnu Inc. is an Alaskan Native Corporation created under ANCSA to bring corporate benefit to the people of Knik. Today, the lives of the people of Knik has incorporated many modern day comforts, but as Alaska Natives, they still practice subsistence as part of that lifestyle. They are represented officially by members of their community that sit on the tribal governing body known as Knik Tribal Council and the village corporation. Knikatnu is working with Alaska Carbon Exchange to lease the development rights of land conveyed to them under ANCSA to create ANC Carbon Credits to combat Climate Change.
The people of Knik are a Dena'ina Athabascan Native community living in modern day Matanuska-Susitna Valley (Mat-Su Valley) located in the Upper Cook Inlet in south central Alaska. Dena'ina means “The People”. Originally, it was not a single settlement, but a group of villages or seasonal camps. Knik is a Dena'ina name meaning "fire" to relate to a campfire, and the meaning originally applied to several villages at the head of Cook Inlet. The primary village was listed as "Kinik" in the 1880 U.S. Census, but a Russian missionary named Hegumen Nikolai recorded five seasonal Knik village camps that he preached in. The Dena'ina of this area lived fairly nomadic lives, moving from hunting camp to fishing camp as the seasons changed. I will affirm this with the fact that my great grandmother on my father's side, Doris Brown, came from Knik, moved to Kenai, and then brought my grandmother and her siblings to Tyonek, where I am from. My grandfather on my mother's side also came from this area and moved to Tyonek during the flu/smallpox epidemic, but he was originally from the village of Susitna Station next to Knik. I continued the tradition throughout my life by moving from Tyonek to Kenai to Soldotna to the Mat-Su Valley, and now in Anchorage.
Gold discovered on the Kenai Peninsula In 1895 and in Interior Alaska in 1908 brought thousands of miners to the Upper Cook Inlet area. The villages of Tyonek and Knik became major supply points for these miners to disembark to the interior of Alaska. The first census listed 46 Athabascan residents in 1880. By 1916, there were 500 non-Native people. As the Native people started looking to make it in the new western context, prospectors were able to rely heavily on the Knik Dena'ina as guides, as there were no maps of the Cook Inlet, Matanuska and Knik Rivers, or surrounding area in the late 1890's. The Dena'ina also sold furs, sleds, moose meat at 5¢ a pound, salmon at 25¢ each, moccasins, fur robes and beach coal. They were hired to harvest logs, whip saw lumber, cut fire wood, tend gardens, pack freight to the mines, handle boat freight, and transport passengers from Knik to Tyonek via sail boat and bidarka (kayak). The Dena'ina were also trusted mail runners. Before a Post Office was established at Knik, in 1904, winter mail was hand carried from Sunrise, a 12 day round trip on foot. Even before the U.S. postal service, Dena'ina had runners to relay important messages from village to village. Knik Natives lived a subsistence lifestyle full of work and beautiful sites of Tikat'nu (Cook Inlet). They fell mostly birch trees to build their homes; cut firewood and harvested beach coal from Point Campbell and Tyonek for heat; ate moose, bear, salmon, sheep, trout, ducks, geese, rabbit, beaver and ptarmigan. They fed their dogs dried fish, fed their horse wild hay, and got their water from Knik Lake.
That same year, the Federal Government opened a trail that used the existing Native thoroughfares from Seward to Nome called the Iditarod Trail for mail delivery. The trail was heavily traveled by men traveling to prospect for gold, and since Knik was the last supply post on the trail before it pushed into the Interior, the trail brought money and employment to the area. Now a day, the trail is used for what many consider the last great race of the world known as the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
By 1912, Knik had a Post Office, three hotels, a bakery, four stores, pool hall, two saloons, a Turkish bath, church, two cafe's, candy shop, barbershop, doctor, blacksmith, tin shop, boat shop, assay office, dog kennels, laundry and a jail. Gold was not the only export from Knik. The Dena'ina harvested furs, made hundreds of pairs of snow shoes and picked barrels of cranberries which were shipped from Knik to Seattle via Knik store merchants to provide for their families and tribal community. Knik was booming. Many notable Dena'ina from around the Inlet also traded in Knik: Chief Stephan, Chief Nicolai, Chief Nakeeta, Chief Pete of Tyonek, Goosmar, Affinassa, Alex, Simeon, Esi, Theodore, Vasilla, Ephim, Evan and many others.
In January of 1916, the railroad tracks were completed from Anchorage to Wasilla, signaling the end of Knik's western economy boom, as the tracks would bypass Knik to reach the Interior of Alaska. Since then, and after the creation of ANCSA, the people of Knik have put their community's social economic fate in the frame work of a corporate entity now known as Knikatnu. This entity holds ownership of the lands of the Dena'ina of Knik, and administers the corporate resources for the benefit of the Knik Natives. Today, the company represents their Alaskan Native identity within the western context of American business.
In 2008 the Alaska Railroad Corporation decided that the railroad would pass through Knik lands to reach Port Mackenzie, to bring the railroad to tidal waters, and again Knik is faced with an influx of change. Located just south of the Knik area, it brings opportunity and challenges for the small Native community as the Mat-Su Borough (in Alaska, we have boroughs instead of counties) looks to bring economic diversification and state revenue for Alaska's oil-driven economy. Knik is again preparing for a boom in their community, but this time within the context of an ANCSA corporation to assist in protecting the tribe. For the corporation, this means economic opportunity. For the village, this means more pressure on the community.
The Matanuska-Susitna Valley area has always seen growth as the Pacific Rim's access to interior Alaska and the natural resources it holds. In the 21st century it is considered one of America's fastest growing areas with 50% growth from 2000-2009, and in Alaska it has been the fastest growing region for almost 20 years. During that same period, the Knik community grew 102%. The population boom centralizes from the once small town of Wasilla to the north of Knik, where the railroad laid its tracks in 1916.
So with the people coming from the north, and the economic development from the railroad and port to the south and through Knikatnu lands, the Knik tribal members that sit on Knikatnu's board and executives working within the corporation are tasked with turning to face the tide of change, and finding opportunity that protects the tribe and brings real benefit (not just dividends) to them. Alaska Carbon Exchange has been identified as a tool in the new settings of this village that also happens to sits at the top of the middle of the Pacific Rim. We at ACE hope to bring real protection to the land of my people, and always promote and protect the traditional uses of our land.