Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden

School of Ancient Legends or Stories

The Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden (School of Ancient Legends or Stories), an Ahtna Dene (Athabascan) Tribal school located near Tsidek’etna’ (Grandmother’s Place Creek /Moose Creek) and the Ts’itonhtna’ (River from which Trail Comes Out – Matanuska River), is nestled between the communities of Nuutah (Between or Among Islands – Palmer) and Ts’es Tac’ilaexde (Where Fish Run Among Rocks – Sutton) in Southcentral Alaska. The Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden, the heart of Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax (Chickaloon Native Village), has served as a powerful catalyst for Ahtna language and cultural revitalization, and is supported by Chickaloon Village Traditional Council as well as other parents and donors.

Ahtna Dene Clan Grandmother, and matriarch, Katherine (Wickersham) Wade, the last known fluent speaker from birth of the Tribe’s Western Dialect of the Ahtna Dene language, founded the Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden in 1992.  She originally began operating a summer school out of her home after her work with prisoners at the nearby Palmer Correctional Center made her aware of the high rates of prisoner recidivism. This recidivism was largely in part due to the historic and intergenerational trauma and the disconnect prisoners experienced with their cultural identity. According to Katherine Wade, “they didn’t know who they were.”  She wanted to start working with children at a young age to ensure that her people would break this unhealthy cycle by embracing their traditional Ahtna language and cultural lifeways to really know who they are meant to be.

The Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden is the first Tribally owned and operated school in Alaska focused on teaching the Ahtna Dene (Athabascan) language and culture parallel with established western academic standards. The school’s Traditional Physical Response (TPR) curriculum was specifically developed for the Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden, as there was no existing Ahtna Dene curriculum available for educational purposes. To ensure all students receive an education which instills respect for all human dignity and diversity, the curriculum validates the culture and history for all ethnic groups and encourages students and parents to actively participate in the learning process. 

The Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden strives to ensure that the Ahtna language is preserved, spoken daily with increasing frequency, and that future Ahtna language teachers are encouraged and mentored. Up to 25 students per year in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade receive a culturally rich alternative to public education steeped in traditional Ahtna Dene values. Through the Ya Ne Dah Ah Dats’ehwdeldiixden, Clan Grandmother Katherine Wade’s legacy lives on creating a solid foundation of self and cultural identity for all children, thereby ensuring that the Ahtna language and culture will live on forever.