Newtok Tribal Governance Dispute Settled By Federal Panel

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.

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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.

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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.