Published on October 30, 2010 by John
Athabascan Indians have reportedly occupied this region for the last 5,000 to 7,000 years. Archaeological sites are located to the south and east of Chitina. Chitina was historically a large Native village whose population was slowly decimated by the influx of people, disease, and conflicts. Rich copper deposits were discovered at the turn of the century along the northern flanks of the Chitina River Valley, bringing a rush of prospectors and homesteaders to the area. The Copper River & Northwestern Railway enabled Chitina to develop into a thriving community by 1914. It had a general store, clothing store, meat market, stables, tinsmith, five hotels, rooming houses, pool hall, bars, restaurants, dance halls, and movie theater. Almost all of Chitina was owned by Otto Adrian Nelson, a surveying engineer for the Kennecott Mines. He supplied electric power to all structures with a unique hydroelectric system. After the mines closed in 1938, support activities moved to the Glennallen area, and Chitina became a virtual ghost town with only the Natives and a few non-Natives staying on. In 1963, the Nelson estate was purchased by “Mudhole” Smith, a pioneer bush pilot, who sold off the townsite and buildings.
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A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community — the Native Village of Chitina. The population of the community consists of 48.8% Alaska Native or part Native. Students are home-schooled or attend school at Kenny Lake, 28 miles away. Most Athabascan residents are involved in subsistence activities year-round. During the summer, subsistence dipnetting for salmon on the Copper River brings a large number of Alaskans from Anchorage and other areas of the state. Gardening, berry picking, herb gathering, and other “wildcrafting” are popular pursuits, as are various arts and crafts. Winter activities include trapping, snow machining, dog mushing, skiing and skijoring, and ice fishing. During the 2000 U.S. Census, total housing units numbered 54, and vacant housing units numbered 2. U.S. Census data for Year 2000 showed 39 residents as employed. The unemployment rate at that time was 32.69 percent, although 62.5 percent of all adults were not in the work force. The median household income was $26,000, per capita income was $10,835, and 12.69 percent of residents were living below the poverty level.