ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Former officials in an Alaska Native village are refusing to relinquish their old office and tribal records, despite a federal appeals panel's finding that they're no longer in charge.
Andy Patrick is a member of the old tribal council in the Yup'ik Eskimo community of Newtok that is no longer recognized as legitimate. Patrick said Wednesday he'd like to see village elders polled to determine who should be in charge.
Last week, the new leadership asked a federal judge to have Alaska State Troopers enforce a Nov. 4 court ruling that ordered former leaders to stop representing themselves as the governing body in the community of about 380. If the court approves the request, Patrick said, troopers could also meet with members of the old and new council, as well as elders and others in the community.
"We are waiting for the troopers," Patrick said. "Let them come."
In August, a federal appeals panel also sided with the new tribal council. The Interior Board of Indian Appeals had stepped in to review a 2013 ruling by the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognizing the new faction for bureau funding purposes.
The flood-prone village is among Alaska's most eroded communities. But the power dispute stalled millions of dollars in government funds for efforts to physically move the village to higher ground 9 miles from the current site, 480 miles west of Anchorage.
Newtok's relocation coordinator Romy Cadiente, who is part of the new regime, said the old council's refusal to acknowledge the dispute's resolution is "not helping" the huge task of relocating.
"It's sad that we have to still go through this process when it's already been decided," Cadiente said. "It's time to move on."
The new tribal council is seeking the legal help from troopers because it would be contrary to Yup'ik values to engage in such "self-help" as forcibly obtaining the office and records themselves, according to their attorney, Michael Walleri, who described the Yup'ik culture as very pacific. The new leadership also is following another aspect of Yup'ik culture in the patience it has shown toward the former leaders, Walleri said.
"This will be handled in a manner consistent with those Yup'ik values," he said. "That may frustrate a lot of people, but what is the purpose of saving the village if you surrender who you are?"
In its 2013 ruling, the BIA said required elections were purportedly not held for more than seven years, so the old council had been operated on expired terms. The old council denied the allegations and appealed the BIA decision.
The new council members were first elected in October 2012. The following month, members of the old council held another election.
The resulting dispute reached a boiling point the following year when the new council got more votes during a community meeting attended by both sides. That victory carried significant weight in the BIA's rare intervention.
In its August decision, the Indian appeals board rejected arguments made on appeal by the old council that it had been holding elections and that the October 2012 vote was invalid.
Adding to the complication of the dispute, past audits by the state concluded that the old faction mismanaged the administration of relocation grants, such as changing the architectural design of the evacuation center after it took over the project from the state in 2011. The former tribal officials have denied any mismanagement.
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