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  6.  | Kenaitze Indian Tribe Opens Education Campus

Kenaitze Indian Tribe Opens Education Campus

Sep 12, 2022 | Alaska Native, Architecture, Construction, Education, News

Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht, the new education campus in Kenai for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe

Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht, the new education campus in Kenai for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.


The Kenaitze Indian Tribe recently celebrated the grand opening of its new educational campus in Kenai, designed with cultural values in mind.

Learning Place

“The tribe’s vision is ‘To assure Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina thrive forever,’ and I can’t think of a more important way of doing that than sharing language, culture, and traditional knowledge,” says Bernadine Atchison, chair of the Kenaitze tribal council.

The campus is called Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht, which means Kenai River People’s Learning Place in the Dena’ina Athabascan language. The center combines core educational components and programs in one state-of-the-art, central facility as a tribally owned, culturally appropriate education campus.

Spanning 67,259 square feet, the education center includes two wings connected by a central indoor plaza. The education wing has classrooms and meeting spaces to accommodate the tribe’s preschool, its K-12 Yaghanen youth language and culture program, a community education and career training area, and the Dena’ina Language Institute.

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The second wing features a multipurpose room with a second-floor running track. The gathering space can house up to 300 people in banquet-style seating, or it can host tribal events, meetings, or sports. There is also a cultural room for tribal demonstrations.

Cultural Values Central to Design

The Anchorage office of integrated design firm Stantec performed all the surveying, environmental assessment, engineering, architecture, and interior decoration for the Kenaitze education campus.


The Anchorage office of Stantec provided architecture and interior design, as well as the surveying and civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering for the project. Stantec also completed an environmental assessment of the site. 

“Collaborating with the Tribe and seeing the project develop from ideas and paper into its realization is inspirational,” says Giovanna Gambardella, Stantec’s Architectural Services Manager and Senior Architect based in Anchorage. 

Every aspect of the design responds to local, cultural, and tribal values:

  • Reclaimed wood is repurposed from the community’s historic cannery, which emphasizes the Tribe’s long standing fishing traditions.
  • A 16-foot diameter tribal seal is embedded in the lobby floor, while a 20-foot diameter rendering of the Tribe’s Traditional Values Wheel is embedded in the multipurpose room floor.
  • The building exterior features a custom copper color aluminum panel pattern that simulates salmon skin, a resource central to the Tribe’s identity, and the curved design references a circular sense of community.
  • Landscape and playground areas were designed to teach children about the natural environment.

The design emphasizes a palette of natural materials throughout the light-filled space. Stantec paid particular attention to selecting a balanced combination of accents and natural finishes and textures, avoiding a strong color scheme that can be overstimulating in an educational setting.

“The education center is an investment in the community and the tribe’s future,” Gambardella says. “It was an honor to work with the tribe, to weave cultural and historical elements into the design, yet provide a durable and easy-to-maintain facility. We are thrilled to see children, parents, educators, families, and elders enjoying the new center.”

Blazy Construction was the general contractor.

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe has more than 1,800 members who live across the Kenai Peninsula and beyond. It employs about 350 full-time and part-time employees.

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