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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Copper Center in Valdez-Cordova Census Area, Alaska — Northwest
 

Ciisi nekeghalts´et

´fishwheel´

 
 
Ciisi nekeghalts´et Marker image. Click for full size.
Courtesy of Thomas P. Martin, June 2011
1. Ciisi nekeghalts´et Marker
Inscription.  Widely used today on the Yukon and Copper Rivers, the fishwheel was introduced in Alaska near the turn of the 20th century. It is thought to have been prominent in the Pacific Northwest, particularly the Columbia River, prior to making its way to Alaska. Ahtna Athabaskan elders date its arrival on the Copper River to 1910. Although invented by non-Natives, Ahtna people adapted the fishwheel to local conditions and became very skilled in its use. By the 1920s, it had largely replaced the much older fishing methods of dipnet and fish trap. Today, both Native and non-Native Alaskans operate fishwheels along the Copper River.

This particular fishwheel was built by Ahtna elder Johnny Goodlataw, assisted by younger helpers, at his culture camp in Tazlina village. He harvested spruce to build it, choosing fire-hardened spruce logs for the floats. Although modern tools and materials (such as metal screws) were employed in its construction, Johnny also showed the younger people some old-time methods such as tying the baskets with spruce roots. In this way, younger Ahtna generations are learning the art of fishwheel building using both traditional
Fishwheel (marker is behind it) image. Click for full size.
Courtesy of Thomas P. Martin, June 2011
2. Fishwheel (marker is behind it)
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and newer techniques.

(Illustration, clockwise from top):
• The fishwheel is powered by the force of the Copper River. The current pushes against the paddles, making the baskets revolve around a central axle.
• Baskets made of spruce wood scoop up the salmon as they swim upstream and empty them into the fish box.
• A peg and hole system allows this wheel to be raised and lowered depending on the water level.
• Floats made of logs provide the base for the wheel and a place to stand while gathering fish from the box.
• The box made of spruce collects the fish and holds them until someone comes to empty it.
• The angled bottom in the basket acts like a chute, allowing the salmon to slide into the holding box.

Caption: Ahtna elder Johnny Goodlataw working with youth at culture camp.
 
Erected by Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: AnimalsNative AmericansWaterways & Vessels. A significant historical year for this entry is 1910.
 
Location. 62° 1.221′ N, 145° 21.848′ W. Marker is near Copper Center in Valdez-Cordova Census Area, Alaska. Marker can be reached from Richardson Highway (at milepost 106.8). Marker is next to the Ahtna Cultural Center at the Wrangell-St.
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Elias National Park Visitor Center. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Glennallen AK 99588, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 1 other marker is within walking distance of this marker. Violent Silhouettes (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line).
 
Also see . . .  Fishwheel construction (YouTube). A silent clip of men building, launching and using a fishwheel on the Tanana River in the 1960s. From the Alaskan Film Archives at the Alaska & Polar Regions Department, University of Alaska Fairbanks. (Submitted on May 25, 2021, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.) 
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on May 25, 2021. It was originally submitted on May 25, 2021, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 50 times since then. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on May 25, 2021, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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Jun. 23, 2021