This Week's Story

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Chief Fred Ewan: a servant-leader in pioneer and modern days

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Put your people before yourself.

As a boy Chief Fred Ewan lived off the land with his family. Stores, electricity, plumbing, roads, cars, and the American government were no part of his early life. At age 99 he went moose hunting. August 2016 he turned 100. Smart phones are now often in the hands of people around him.

His story is more than a page of a history book. He is the last living chief of four native Ahtna and Christian chiefs. All served in Copper River Valley of Alaska. All faced forces that could not be stopped.

Around the world today, not only in Alaska, people are being bombarded with changes in technology and beliefs. The present and past collide and sometimes disappear.

Here’s a bit of Chief Ewan’s story told as through his eyes.

Cracked ice covered the Copper River. I needed to get across. I started jumping from one chunk to another. Water gurgled below, but I was fast and careful. I’d ice-hopped the river many times.

When I reached home, Father and I started chopping wood. We

needed four cords of wood cut by the week end. I was happy to be home away from that school where I couldn’t understand the way the teacher taught. Father had come one day and taken me home. I still wanted to learn to read and write. I did later, mostly by myself.

Father taught me life and he was wise. From him I learned respect and how to live off the land. I could travel for hundreds of miles on foot, snowshoes, and dogsled.

I remember when Father helped me to make a bear spear. Bear may attack a person, especially if they are startled or a mama’s cubs are threatened. Bear growl, roar, grunt, and woof. They even hum to their cubs.

I have good memories of early days. Nobody bothered us. I could walk for days in woods that no man or government claimed. My people cared for themselves. We hunted, fished, trapped, tanned hides, gathered berries, and traded furs. All of my people trapped fox, lynx, otter, minx, beaver, and muskrat--many animals. We survived the cold winters, even when temperatures reached 70 degrees below zero.

Now I am one of the Elders. My hearing is bad, but I see. I love my grandchildren. Sometimes we have good celebrations. The young people don’t work with their parents and live from the land as we used to do. I have a road grader behind my house from when I helped build roads. I used to have a caterpillar for road work.

I have been chosen to be Ahtna Traditional Chief Fred Ewan. The three previous chiefs and I were friends. Each one served until he passed on. Ben Neeley was 99, Harry Johns, Sr. was 94, and Jim McKinley was 91. We all had become Christians and were also Christian pastors among our people. Ben said to Michelle Anderson, president of Ahtna, Inc., “Always put your people before yourself. Take care of your people.” That is what we all believed.

Sometimes I am asked, “How did you become a Christian?” I don’t know exactly. We did have a Christian missionary, Vince Joy, who came to my house. I was skinning bear and he wanted a meeting in my house. I did not want to disappoint my wife and so I let him have the meeting. I don’t know what he preached about, but I do remember one verse he said. A few years later the Lord spoke to me when I was with my dog team. “Today is your day.” I went to the Native Bible Conference and left my heavy burden there.

This is Barbara Steiner. I hope I can visit again with Chief Ewan.

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