Nearly a year after the death of Athabascan elder Katie John, known as perhaps Alaska's strongest advocate for subsistence hunting and fishing rights, her family is trying to protect her legacy with a walk more than 350 miles long.
For brothers Fred John Jr., 71, and Harry John, 65, each step is a struggle. But on Wednesday, as they walked, enjoying views of the Matanuska Glacier, they said the walk is becoming easier. Their finish line is less than 100 miles away.
"Even with the shin splints, the blisters and everything, it got easier and easier because of the support of the people," said Fred John.
Fred, Harry, and Harry's wife Diane began this journey on foot on May 1 at Dot Lake, near the Canadian border. The starting point is significant -- it's the home of Doris Charles and Gene Henry, who were plaintiffs in the fight over subsistence rights that became known as the Katie John case.
The walkers plan to arrive in Anchorage on May 31, to mark one year since their mother's death. A celebration is planned for 3 p.m. at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Their trek is called "Walk for Tsucde" which translates to "Walk for Grandma." They say that's how many people knew Katie John, but they want people to remember her legacy, one they fear is in danger. That is why they walk -- to bring attention to subsistence rights.
"We have lost a spiritual connection with the land and the people of it, and in a way I hope this walk revives our spiritual ways and the tradition that we have lost," said Harry John.
"We are concerned about our subsistence rights as Native people," said Fred John. "She fought for us, for the Native people of Alaska; and she did it with kindness and she did it with, you know, determination."
Along the way, some people have stepped away from their lives and walked with them for a while. Diane and her friend Pamela run the support side of the planned walk -- taking food, water and other necessities to Fred and Harry, and making sure the men are doing OK.
During the first two-thirds of the trip, the group pushed themselves, walking up to 20 miles a day. Now, they're walking about half that. And while it's a struggle, they say the cause is worth every step -- one their mother would be proud of.
"I know she's with us. She's walking with us right now," said Fred John. "I think she'd really approve of us."