March 27 is Chenega day, and every year we celebrate the history of the Chenega people. Their story is one of persistence, perseverance, dedication, and endurance in the face of unimaginable hardship.
For centuries, a village on Chenega Island, located in the Prince William Sound, was home to the Chenega people. For some 10,000 years, they fished the waters and harvested the abundance of their land.
On March 27, 1964, the Village of Chenega was hit with a tsunami that followed a 9.2 magnitude earthquake, which tragically killed a third of the people and destroyed their village. The surviving people left their native land to live in nearby communities. Twenty years later, former villagers came together to establish a new village where they would finally be able to grow and prosper.
In 1989, five years after relocating to their new village and exactly 25 years after the 1964 tsunami, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound. It spilled millions of gallons of oil into the ocean. The tides carried the black oil to the beaches of the newly established village, wiping out their sole means of livelihood–commercial fishing. Damage to the environment and wildlife crippled their way of life. The Chenega people were once again faced with an unimaginable hardship.
The spill was eventually cleaned, and the land restored. After the spill, Chenega Corporation–established in 1974–chose to participate in the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council Habitat Restoration Program, which protected large blocks of land harmed by the spill. The Chenega people are able to once again fish the waters of the Prince William Sound and live off of the abundance their land provides.
The Chenega people have shown again and again that with hard work and perseverance, we can not only overcome hardships but thrive and grow after travesties.
This is something we must keep in mind during this challenging time in our country. We must work together to do what is best for the health and well being of everyone. Once the smoke clears, we will come out of this stronger, just like the Chenega people have done time and time again.