Chief Peter John was born in 1900 in the village of Rampart which lies along the Yukon River about 160 miles North East of Fairbanks. His parents had to go by foot from the Minto area to the General Store for supplies. In that time people used to walk for days and lived very nomadic lifestyles according to their needs and living off the land. His mother’s name was Annie and his Father’s name was John. Back then many people just went by one name and most were reference to individuals in the bible. Chief Peter John’s mother passed away when he was just two years old. After that he lived with his father until he was an adult and had learned how to take care of himself. Chief Peter John lived an honest, traditional, subsistence life style for his entire life.
The Traditional Chief attended a total of five years at Saint Mark’s Mission in Nenana where he had completed the second grade. From there he went home to Minto and taught himself the English Language from a dictionary. He continued to learn the English language through reading magazines and more importantly through reading the Bible. As a young man he learned many of his traditional skills through observation of other people. Through that keen observation he was able to construct his fist dog sled, canoe and snowshoes.
As a hunter, Chief Peter John contributes much of his success to the fact that he was never scared of an animal. He knew that getting as close as possible to the animal allowed for the best possible rate of success, that and the fact that he was a dead on shot with a .22 caliber rifle. He also learned to call to the animals by mimicking the sounds that they make in the wild. Chief Peter John knew that the animals have a good sense of hearing and that one mistake in a call would send the animal fleeing.
When he was 25 years old he married his wife Else Albert at Saint Mark’s Mission in Nenana. Immediately after the marriage they were committed to making a living on their own. Because of the harsh weather conditions of the interior there was no time to go on honeymoons or vacations, they had to return to their life as survivalists. Together they had four children, nine grandchildren and many great grandchildren.
Chief Peter John was also one of the pioneers in the documentation of the Minto native language dictionary. One of his firm beliefs was in his own language. He believed that it is symbiotic to the culture in that they need each other to survive in their traditional ways. For this reason he only spoke in his native language at home amongst his family.
He played a vital roll in many of the original land claims meetings. His advice was called upon multiple times to speak among politicians such as Senator E.L. “Bob” Bartlett, Ernest Gruening, Ralph Rivers and Governor William Egan. One of his biggest points was that whatever happens, the most important thing is to look after the land and to take care of it. At the meetings he said that he believes that it’s the Federal Government’s responsibility to take care of this.
Of Chief Peter John’s other biggest beliefs was to raise children the right way from the time they are born. As a traditional leader and individual it was very important for Chief Peter John to teach his children the way of the Athabascan People and of the western world. He was aware that the survival of his culture and people depended on it. He knew that we as a people will never go back to the traditional ways of our ancestors and will have to adapt to the newer times.
For all of the knowledge and experience that Chief Peter John encompassed in his life he was named the Traditional Chief of our region in 1992. It was the position that he held until his passing in August, 2003 at a 102 years of age. As a symbol of appreciation from the leaders and citizens of our region the Tanana Chiefs Conference building was renamed in honor of Chief Peter John during a ceremony on August 11, 2002.