The Copper River Native Association (commonly known as “CRNA”) is a nonprofit service organization that serves the people of the Ahtna Region.
This region, encompassing 18.5 million acres, comparable to the State of Ohio in size, is the homeland of the Ahtna Indians, a subgroup of the great Athabascan Indian family.
The Ahtna region includes the Copper River Basin and six predominately Native villages within its boundaries. They are: Gulkana, Gakona, Chistochina, Chitina, Kluti-Kaah (Copper Center) and Tazlina.
The Ahtna region extends beyond the Copper River Basin. The village of Mentasta (located in the mountains on the road to Canada) and the village of Cantwell (just south of the Denali National Park on the Parks Highway) are included in the CRNA service area.
CRNA is the major provider of health care and social services for the 3,500 Alaska Native members of Ahtna Incorporated, one of the 13 for-profit corporations created by the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act of 1971.
Most Ahtna members live outside the region, in cities contiguous to the CRNA Region including Anchorage, Cordova and Valdez. The social structures are best described as a “family of families” living primarily a traditional, subsistence lifestyle. The region has an economically distressed economy marked by high unemployment.
The nearest urban areas for shopping, major medical care and other services are between 250 and 300 road miles from the villages. The climate is characterized by warm summers and extremely cold winters where temperatures can dip below -60 degrees Fahrenheit, often posing dangerous travel conditions. Demand for housing is high and employment is limited. The Tribal Councils and the Department of Transportation are the main employers. English is the dominate language. The common subsistence foods are salmon, moose, and caribou. Dogsledding, snow machining and softball are the popular leisure time activities.
CRNA was established in 1964, when local members of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood voted to form a group called “Ahtna”, “T’aena Nene”, or “Copper River Indians”. The purpose of the group was “…to provide better education for children, solve water, land, and subsistence problems, find jobs, and secure human rights”.
CRNA was formally incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1972. In 1973, there were only four programs: senior citizen transportation, the Johnson/ O’Malley bicultural / bilingual program, alcohol treatment and education, and an early childhood development program. By FY 2006, CRNA was receiving over $5 million in public and private grants to fund 18 programs and services such as village health clinics, a dental clinic, substance abuse counseling, vocational / technical education; and clean water, safe housing and other environmental health programs.
The Copper River Native Association receives funds from a number of federal, state and private agencies. It is the funding source that determines who is eligible to receive a certain type of service. In compliance with the legal demands of each of its funding sources, CRNA is required to follow the sources’ restrictions for administering each program.
The Copper River Native Association works closely with regional agencies including:
- The Copper River Emergency Medical Services Council (local non-profit)
- The state agencies including the local magistrate’s office, the Alaska State Troopers, and the Itinerant Public Health Nurse.
- Federal agencies including the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and the Bureau of Land Management.
- Private agencies including SEND International, a non-denominational religious mission that operates the Cross Roads Medical Center.
- CRNA is a non-profit organization with a Board of Directors, a stable and well-documented accounting system, regular and extensive audits, and established personnel polices. Funding agencies recognize CRNA as an organization reliable for providing social services to the regional community.
The CRNA Board ensures that the interests of all local villages are considered in policymaking. The Board is an example of direct implementation of P.L. 93-638, the Indian Self-Determination Act. A nine-member board selected by a Federally Recognized Tribe and/or members administers CRNA. The president, vice president, and secretary/treasurer are elected at the Regional Annual Meeting. These officers can represent any village served by CRNA. The Board meets every other month, six times a year.
The President/CEO is selected by and reports directly to the Board. The President/CEO or the department managers supervise the staff.
In other parts of Alaska, municipalities, boroughs, or other local governments provide many of the types of services offered exclusively by CRNA. The Copper River Basin has the distinction as one of the few remaining locales in the United States without local government. This region is part of Alaska’s “unorganized borough”. There are no local laws, regulations, zoning restrictions, codes or taxes other than those imposed by the state and federal government. The only forms of government within the region are local Village councils and the elected school board.
“CRNA is a Tobacco Free Organization”