A federal appeals panel has sided with the new leaders in a tribal power dispute that has complicated efforts to relocate a badly eroded village in western Alaska.
Tom John, a tribal administrator with the new council, called Newtok Village Council, says he learned of the decision via email this morning and it’s a relief.
“Yesterday, August 6th [they] finally made their decision who is [the] legitimate Newtok tribal government. I’m very elated to here, finally – I’ve been concerned, worried, couldn’t sleep. Hopefully I’ll have a good night sleep tonight.”
The Interior Board of Indian Appeals stepped in to review a 2013 ruling by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that said the sitting tribal council no longer represented the Yup’ik community of Newtok for bureau funding purposes.
The old council appealed the decision, which gave local power to a new group that claimed to be the rightfully elected council. The appeals board says in its Thursday decision that the old faction “failed to submit any evidence in support its own claim of continuing authority.”
The power dispute stalled millions of dollars in government funds for the flood-prone village’s efforts to move to higher ground. John says now the hard work begins.
“Pretty soon we will have a Newtok planning group meeting at Anchorage with different agencies, with state agencies, federal, FEMA and all the agencies that we’ve been meeting [with] in previous years. I think we’ll have more positive attitude getting funds to make this relocation happen.”
Andy Patrick, who leads the Newtok Traditional Council was contacted for this story but he refused to comment.