Bob and Sharon suggested we drive over to the tribal village of Elklutna, home of the Danaina or Tanaina Athabascans. The historical park just off the Glenn Hwy offers an informative glimpse into the past and cultural development after western influences began in the 19th century. The two large structures on site are the Old Saint Nicholas and Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox churches. The Old church was moved to this site but serves as an architectural timepiece to the pioneer days of Alaska. Unlike most modern orthodox churches, the exterior is a spartan log structure with simple spire. The interior was nothing more than moss- chinked log covered in fabrics and a rough floor overlaid with rugs. The interior is small and now houses informational displays and religious artifacts.
Beside the rustic church stands the more modern church, owing to more common Orthodox architectural convention. Built in 1962 by the Village of Elklutna's congregation, this church was led by Athabascan Chief Mike Maxim Alex. His cabin stand across the road and his grave is in the cemetery.
The highlight of the site is a most unique graveyard with "spirit houses" built over the graves. Families of the recently departed construct dollhouse sized homes above the grave providing a place for the spirit to live before transitioning to the beyond. In a mix of Athabascan and Christianity, the three barred cross stands at the headstone. The colorful and creative designs are often adorned with mementos and pictures of the dead. Bob mentions that he has seen this tradition in Iran and other locations around the world as well. The land bridge 11'000 years ago certainly allowed for a greater flow of tradition and ideas than many could imagine.
As time passes, the spirit houses return to the earth. No continued maintenance is preformed on the homes. It is believed that by then, the spirit is ready to move on.
This was a fascinating cultural site and a highlight of the afternoon. From here we went up to Elklutna lake for ice cream and a look around the state park.