GILA’s location is on the site of a former Athabascan fish camp dating back to records from an 1880 Census map, formerly known as “Natulaten” or in today’s Koyukon Athabascan language, “Notaalee Denh.”  In 1918, the City of Galena was established as a supply hub for mining opportunities along the Yukon River. A small local school was formed in the mid-1920’s when Galena’s population was just 30 people. The majority of Galena residents were Athabascan Indians who had relocated from nearby villages to join the community. 


In 1941, the federal government set aside 5,282 acres as a part of an airport construction program. During World War II (from August 1942 until September 1945), Galena supported the US Army as a military post, officially turning over operation on July 1, 1943. After the war, the Army gave the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) resumed control over the facilities and airfield. 


The initial inspiration behind converting the former military base facilities into a boarding school came from the local Galena community—alongside powerful support from Sidney C. Huntington, an Athabascan elder, widely respected across the state of Alaska. Mr. Huntington and other local founding members saw the closure of the Galena Air Base as a unique opportunity. They spearheaded the school project with plans to utilize the facilities for a new purpose: to provide improved educational options for students living in rural Alaska. 


The boarding school opened in 1997 as “Project Education Charter School” with 40 students. When the school updated its mission and its charter status, vocational training and enrichment became the focus of learning along with a new name, Project Education Residential School, or PERS. 


Project Education Residential School later changed its name to the Galena Interior Learning Academy in the early 2000’s. A variety of highly technical vocational training courses and cultural offerings has attracted high school students from many communities throughout the state, from Southeast to the North Slope. Over the years, GILA has been honored to watch as many of our graduates have returned to their villages, towns, and cities across Alaska to put their skills to work back home. 


Galena Air Base officially became the property of the City of Galena with a ceremonious exchange of ownership in September 2008. Colonel Johnson of the 611th Air Support Group spoke highly of Mr. Huntington and the local community founders during the ceremony, sharing these words: “There have been some very visionary people that have embraced this concept of using the former military facilities for a school and turning these students into very productive partners in our communities.” 


On May 10, 2015, the Galena community celebrated Sidney C. Huntington’s 100th birthday. His contributions to both the Galena Interior Learning Academy and Sidney C. Huntington schools were recognized with grand festivities. Stories of his life and his tremendous impact on education were an inspiration felt by all. A favorite quote of Mr. Huntington’s is also one of the foundational values we honor within Galena City Schools, “Make life worth living: work hard, keep up a good spirit, and have a good attitude towards others. This will take you a long way in life.” 


Galena Interior Learning Academy is celebrating its 25th anniversary over the 2022/23 school year. As Alaska’s longest-operating and largest residential vocational school, GILA has become a leading school of choice for Alaskan high school students seeking a unique academic experience with focus on social, emotional and cultural learning, as well as specialized CTE (career and technical education) courses to prepare for college and career opportunities. Students can choose to gain industry-standard certifications for many popular career fields: drone aviation, applied mechanics, construction trades, health science, media and information technology. Today, in efforts to preserve Galena’s traditional Athabascan culture, GILA continues to honor its history, embracing the diversity and cultural backgrounds of students from across many rural Alaskan communities. 

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