Alaska expands Medicaid, becomes next state to add ‘new money’ to Indian health system

OPINION: The Affordable Care Act continues to evolve and improve, but more important, as more states expand Medicaid, they add real dollars to the Indian health system.401(K)2013 / cc via flickr
OPINION: The Affordable Care Act continues to evolve and improve, but more important, as more states expand Medicaid, they add real dollars to the Indian health system.
401(K)2013 / cc via flickr

By Mark Trahant, Alaska Dispatch News

These days “new” money is hard to find. That’s the kind of money that’s added to a budget, money that allows programs to expand, try out new ideas, and look for ways to make life better. Most government budgets are doing the opposite: Shrinking. Calling on program managers and clients alike to do more with less.


That’s why the news from Alaska last week is so exciting: Alaska’s new governor announced the expansion of Medicaid and this will significantly boost money for the Alaska Native medical system. Indeed, the significance of this announcement to the Indian health system was clear when Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson made the announcement at the Alaska Native Medical Center on July 16. The governor took this action using executive authority because the Alaska Legislature had failed to even vote on legislation to accept Medicaid.

The governor says Medicaid expansion would reduce state spending by $6.6 million in the first year, and save over $100 million in state general funds in the first six years. “Every day that we fail to act, Alaska loses out on $400,000,” the governor said. “With a nearly $3 billion budget deficit, it would be foolish for us to pass up that kind of boost to Alaska’s economy.”


“We know Gov. Walker has worked tirelessly to expand Medicaid since he came into office on December first,” Davidson said at the news conference. It was one of the campaign promises made by the independent governor. “He included it in the budget. He introduced a bill both in the House and in the Senate side. It was a subject of both special sessions. And, it’s the right thing do do for Alaska.”


The expansion of Medicaid is one of key components of the Affordable Care Act. It’s critical a tool for the Indian Health System because it opens up a revenue channel for clinics and hospitals to bill Medicaid, a third-party insurance, for services. That boosts budgets at the local level, in a political climate where Congress is unlikely to spend more money on Indian health. How big a number? More than a million American Indians and Alaska Natives are now insured by Medicaid. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2013 that Indian health facilities collected $943 million in third-party payments.


“By far the largest third-party payer is Medicaid, which accounts for $683 million or 70 percent of total third-party revenues, and 13 percent of total IHS program funding for FY2013,” Kaiser reported. Nearly 150,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians receive health services across the state from tribal and nonprofit health organizations funded by the Indian Health Service. By law IHS-funded clinics must seek third-party billing from patients, such as Medicaid, the Veterans Administration or private, employer-based health insurance.

Medicaid is an odd program for Indian country. Most of us understand the IHS to be the government’s fulfillment of its treaty obligations. However the agency has never been fully funded. Medicaid, however, is an unlimited check. If a person is eligible, then the money is there. Yet states, not tribes nor the federal government, determine the rules for Medicaid. And many Republican states have been determined to fight the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” at every turn, and that means refusing to accept Medicaid expansion (the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could turn it down).


Alaska’s decision means the number of states rejecting Medicaid is continuing to shrink. Most recently, Montana agreed to expand Medicaid in April. The states with large American Indian and Alaska Native populations that have not expanded Medicaid include Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Maine, Wyoming, and Idaho. Utah is the next state considering an expansion.


The Affordable Care Act continues to evolve — and improve. But more important, steps that states are taking to expand Medicaid are adding real dollars to the Indian health system.


Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. He served two terms as the Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage. For updated posts, download the free Trahant Reports smartphone and tablet app.


The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)

Children in the Crosshairs: The Emerging Battle Over Alaska’s Native Children

Suzette Brewer, Indian Country Today


Richard had made up his mind. By the time he was 16, the Yup’ik boy had been bounced around in foster care for years when he made the life-altering decision to escape. His four younger siblings had already been adopted out of the tribe, scattered among three white families, their whereabouts unknown to him and his village. But he was determined to remain a part of his community, no matter what the cost.

“The last straw came when my foster parents started hinting around and asking me how I felt about changing my name,” he recalls. “That’s when I decided that I was done. I told them that my name is Richard Lincoln III. I am the third. I am the oldest boy in my family. I was named after my father and his father. I was not going to change my name for anyone or anything. That is who I am. I didn’t want to be adopted. I wanted to go home.”

And so he walked away from foster care. Upon returning to his village, a coastal Yup’ik community on the western edge of Nelson Island in the Bering Sea, he called his foster parents and told them that he was going to stay in Tununak. From that day on, Lincoln made it a mission to find his four brothers and bring them back home as well.

Richard’s escape from a child welfare system that continues to ensnare hundreds of thousands of Indian children across the United States, and that his foster parents consented to allow him to stay with his village, is nearly unheard of. Considering that Native children usually outnumber their non-Indian counterparts by a ratio of up to 9:1 in foster care in some parts of the United States, Lincoln is one of the lucky few who managed to make it back to his home community. In spite of federal laws meant to protect the tribes, Indian children continue to be swept into foster care in non-Indian homes in huge numbers. Many are adopted out of their tribes or languish in foster care, aging out of a system that generates millions in federal subsidies for the states.

The Event Horizon

Today, Richard Lincoln III is 27 years old, and is now the ICWA worker for the Tununak Village, a position he took over in 2012, though he had no experience with the byzantine federal law and its requirements. But he did have one thing in his favor: As a Native child who had been through the never-ending carousel of foster homes and makeshift families, often feeling out of place and homesick, he understood precisely what it was like from the child’s point of view.

On his first day on the job, The Native Village of Tununak v. The State of Alaska landed on his desk, a case in which an Inupiaq grandmother has been fighting for custody of her now 6-year-old granddaughter since the girl was 4 months old.

Last September, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled against the village and the grandmother, noting that, despite the clearly defined placement preferences outlined in the Indian Child Welfare Act, neither had stepped forward to formally adopt the child known in the proceedings as “Dawn.” In its decision, the court cited points made in last year’s United States Supreme Court decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (commonly known as the “Baby Veronica” case), as helping establish parameters behind its decision for denying Dawn’s maternal grandmother, Elise, the right to raise her granddaughter.

The ensuing outrage among tribal advocates over Tununak and the resultant headlines have put the case—now more than likely headed for another appeal—at the forefront of the efforts of Indian nations to firmly establish adherence to ICWA in states that seemingly circumvent it with few signs of improving and suffering scant legal consequence. In response to Indian Country Today Media Network’s presentation of grandmother Elise’s account of her many struggles, Assistant Attorney General Jackie Shafer of the Alaska Department of Law delivered a lengthy rebuttal to Elise’s and the village representatives’ story. (Note: the original story has been edited to reflect the fact that the mother of Baby Dawn was not ‘sent’ to Anchorage, but lived there, gave birth to Dawn, and was not moved to a rehab facility—she did not attend any in-patient treatment. Also, the reason the court rejected the state’s appeal of Tununak I hinged on a “burden of proof” requirement, and was not related to any decision in the Adoptive Couple case as originally stated.)

RELATED: Children in the Crosshairs: Alaska Native Grandmother Fights ICWA Ruling

Though many points of the case are in dispute (if they were not, there would be not disagreement), in the interest of clarity and to offer our readers the state’s position as accurately as possible, we present here the unvarnished bulk of the rebuttal. To wit:

“Early on in the case, the mother informed OCS and the grandmother that she strongly did not want the child placed with the grandmother in the village.

The statement that Dawn was placed with the Smiths after her mother went to the rehab facility is true only in the limited sense that it ignores that Dawn was placed with several other placements before the Smiths. She was removed from her mother’s care in 2008 and the Smiths were her fourth placement since birth.

Even though Elise twice visited Anchorage in 2011, she never visited Dawn during those visits, nor did she write her any letters, send photos, or call. This was despite the adoptive parents’ efforts to keep in touch with Elise.

Elise participated in Dawn’s CINA case, had access to a lawyer through Alaska Legal Services, who represented her and the Tribe for free, Elise waited over three years to tell the court that she had an interest in taking custody of Dawn.

‘Early in the case, Elise says, OCS workers came to her village to inspect her home.’ That wasn’t an OCS worker, that was someone from AVCP—the organization that represented the tribe.

· ‘She had her home cleared of some fishing equipment and made a room ready for her granddaughter.’ That is inaccurate. Even at the placement hearing she said she had not completed these things. From the Court’s opinion: “In December 2009 a representative from the Village Council Presidents visited Elise’s home on OCS’s behalf and completed a Foster Home Visit Worksheet as part of the foster-care licensing process. The report noted a number of potential hazards in the home that needed to be addressed before placement could occur, including unsecured fuel, guns, medicine, and cleaning supplies, as well as plastic bags and “clutter” in Dawn’s potential bedroom. In February 2010 OCS discussed these concerns with Elise, and she said that she planned to address them. OCS asked Elise to arrange for a second home visit once these tasks had been completed.” At the placement trial, she testified that her home was still not ready.

‘On subsequent visits the OCS workers would find other requirements.’ This is inaccurate. No one ever went to her house again because she was supposed to notify OCS when she had fixed the problems identified by AVCP. She had not yet remedied those things by the time of the placement hearing, so that is probably why she did not notify AVCP/OCS to do another home inspection.

‘Elise found him [her son] another place to live.’ That is not true. From the Court’s opinion: “Elise also testified [at the placement hearing] that her son lived in her home again and helped out with chores, such as carrying water, shopping, cooking, and subsistence hunting. According to Elise, her son could not afford to return to Anchorage to complete the required alcohol treatment program, but he did not drink anymore and alcohol was not available in the village.” The adult son living with her had a bench warrant out for his arrest. This was one of the issues that AVCP notified Elise about regarding why her home was not currently a safe place to transfer a child.

‘At the time, Elise’s husband was dying of lung cancer.’ That’s not what she testified to—at the placement hearing she said he was in remission.

‘The adoption process was moving forward with no prior notification to the child’s grandmother or her tribe.’ That is not true at all. The Tribe had been a party to the case since the beginning and received notice of all the developments in the case, including OCS’ updates to the court about Dawn’s placement and pursuing an adoption home study.

‘By the time of the placement hearing in November 2011, however, Dawn’s fate had already been determined.’ This is incorrect. The placement hearing was a major turning point in the case and involved extensive testimony and presentation of evidence by both sides. The trial court devoted an entire day to the placement hearing and issued a 20-page substantive order describing all of the evidence at the hearing. Then that decision was appealed, and Dawn’s fate has been in limbo ever since.

‘I can’t afford the legal fees to fight this.’ Alaska Legal Services Corporation represented her for free.”

Elise, the tribe and their lawyers all firmly maintain that the state and its Office of Childrens’ Services (OCS) knew full well she intended to raise her granddaughter after her daughter’s parental rights were involuntarily terminated in 2011 and that she did everything humanly possible to make that happen including applying for a foster license, which she was not legally required to do. The state contends that by failing to file adoption papers, which neither she nor the tribe were ever told they were required to do, she had not met the requirements under the placement preferences because of the outcome in the Baby Veronica case.

Both Elise and the Association of Village Council Presidents strongly take issue with the court’s findings on Elise’s efforts to properly clean and secure her home, sharing the consensus that OCS and the state had made up their minds early on about Dawn’s fate that hindered Elise’s ability to gain custody of her granddaughter. (And, regarding another of the AG’s points above, it should also be noted that Elise’s husband, in fact, later died of lung cancer.)

“They knew all along that Elise wanted her granddaughter,” says Carol Brown, general counsel for the Association of Village Council Presidents, a consortium of Alaska Native Villages. “The attorney general, the social workers, prosecutors and guardian ad litems (GALs) are all on their own track and they’re very motivated to ‘win.’ The GALs, rather than doing what’s best for the child, will just defer to the legal counsel, and many don’t even bother going to the villages to assess the families. Oftentimes, these life-changing decisions are made from afar.

“I went to a hearing once where the guardian ad litem actually forgot the name of the child he was representing. So the reality is subverted. It’s not a ‘formal’ policy, but it’s definitely a reality on the ground.”

Cori Mills, the Public Outreach Coordinator for the Alaska Office of Children’s Services, denied allegations that their social workers are told off-the-record that the state “does not follow” ICWA as previously reported in ICTMN.

“OCS closely adheres to the Indian Child Welfare Act, throughout its policy manual and as a pillar of agency culture. Supervisors do not tell staff to disregard or that we do not ‘follow ICWA’,” said Mills, via email. “ICWA compliance has been and continues to be a top priority at OCS and an issue of daily conversation. OCS conducts significant trainings on the subject, and continue to support staff to explore race, ethnicity and culture in an effort to continually improve best practices when working with Alaska’s families.”

Many of the nearly dozen Native families contacted by ICTMN for this story who have been through the state’s child welfare system, including Elise’s, vociferously deny the state’s official position on the enforcement of ICWA, citing many of their futile efforts to reunify with their children. They believe Elise’s case is only unusual in the sense that she has stood up to a system that they feel is stacked against them.

“I don’t care what the state said, they’re lying,” said Elise, upon hearing the state’s response. “That’s what they do. They lie and intentionally keep moving these kids around to different homes and make it nearly impossible for the parents to reunite with their kids. My granddaughter lived in five different homes before she was 4. Five homes. How is that more stable than being with her own grandmother and her people?”

Previously, the tribe had agreed to allow Dawn’s placement in foster care with non-Indian foster parents in Anchorage so that she could be near her birth mother while she attended outpatient rehab. But after Dawn’s birth mother lost her parental rights, the Village of Tununak, as the party in the case, argued that there was no longer “good cause” to deviate from the placement preferences outlined in section 1915 of ICWA. By then, however, Dawn had been placed in her fifth foster home with Kim and Harry Smith in Anchorage, who according to insiders within social services, had been told by OCS they would be able to “keep” Dawn if they wished to adopt her.

From the beginning, the relationship between Elise and the Smiths was tense, particularly with Mrs. Smith. According to Elise and Tarzwell, it deteriorated even further after the couple filed adoption papers for Dawn four days before the placement hearing commenced in 2012 with no prior notice to the grandmother or the village. By that point, tribal officials said they began to realize the Office of Children’s Services had never intended to return Dawn to her family or village; they say, and Elise maintains, that there was no notice to the grandmother or the village when adoption papers were filed. Over the objections of Elise and the village, the girl was adopted by the Smiths in 2012. The tribe, represented pro bono by Sydney Tarzwell and James Davis Jr. of the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, appealed the adoption to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The case is a perfect illustration, say Indian child welfare experts, of the size of the gulf of the cultural divide between Natives and non-Natives, as rural, traditional communities run up against the legal doctrines and bureaucracy of official state government. It is indicative of the emerging battle over the rights of Indian children and their tribes under the Indian Child Welfare Act that was passed in 1978 to keep families and children together. Because of the widespread diaspora in the previous centuries, in which Indian children were often rounded up en masse and shipped off to colonial mission schools and later government boarding schools, tribes lost hundreds of thousands of children who never returned to their communities.

Within one generation, languages were broken, traditions and oral histories died, ceremonies became extinct. ICWA was passed to prevent another lost generation of children. Instead, experts and tribal leaders say it has just created more tension between states and tribes, who are usually at odds over the purpose and intent of ICWA and the legal standard of what constitutes “best interest” for tribal children.

“The state plays ‘hide the ball’ when faced with issues regarding Tribal jurisdiction,” said Brown. “[And there is] frustration with the constant barrage of litigation and narrowly-construed arguments to thwart Tribes’ efforts to self-govern, as demonstrated in this case.”

The Ripple Effect of Baby Veronica on ICWA

“The Alaska Supreme Court incorrectly interpreted the Baby Veronica decision and has turned ICWA on its head,” said Troy Eid, Chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission (ILOC), a nine-member bipartisan, volunteer panel that submitted its report, “A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer,” to the President and Congress in November 2013. In the report, Alaska is singled out among the 50 states with a stand-alone chapter outlining its poor treatment of tribes.

Eid, a former United States Attorney who is now in private practice in Denver, spent more than a month with his team visiting every section of the state whose system of governance he has characterized as “colonial” and outdated. The “Baby Dawn” case, he says, only reinforces his opinion of the state’s position on Native foster care.

“The foundational purpose of ICWA is to prevent states from improperly removing Native children from their parents, extended families, and tribes,” said Eid, whose firm represents the Association of Village Council Presidents, a consortium of Alaska Native tribes. “Nothing in ICWA—or for that matter, Baby Veronica—[says that] unless some eligible person, such as the grandmother here, has formally filed an adoption petition. This has the practical effect of gutting the statutory preferences, forcing Tribes and their citizens to file adoption petitions in order for those preferences to have any legal effect.”

This case, he maintains, returns Indian children to the pre-ICWA days when state laws presumed Native people to be unfit parents. By forcing grandparents and other family or tribal members to prove their worthiness runs headlong into the original intent and purpose of the federal law—“Even though Congress has said that the law is supposed to keep Native families together whenever possible, and not break them apart.”

Lost in Translation

Carol Brown, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa from Wisconsin, has served as general counsel for the AVCP since 2010. Like Richard Lincoln III and Sydney Tarzwell, the Baby Dawn case came to her attention almost as soon as she hit the door at AVCP.

“We’ve been monitoring this case from the beginning,” said Brown. “When I was growing up, the Lac du Flambeau was one of the first tribes to have our own court systems. [In] Alaska and they are, through no fault of their own, 30 years behind many tribes in the lower 48. We’re past the Termination Era, but it’s like the 1950s they way they treat Indians here.”

Brown says she has witnessed many of the same problems in Alaska that tend to plague tribes in the lower 48 states: Cultural, linguistic and behavioral misunderstandings that often lead to bitter resentments and disputes between the Native inhabitants and their non-Indian neighbors.

“For example, they put out these little sheets in the Yup’ik language for the courts to use in ICWA hearings,” said Brown. “But you have to understand that there are many Yup’ik dialects and what may mean one thing to one band, may have a totally different meaning five miles away. So you can’t rely on a sheet of paper with words on it—you have to have the right interpreter in the room with the proper context of what’s actually being said.”

Brown concurred with the ILOC’s written opinion that “…the problems in Alaska are so severe and the number of Alaska Native communities affected so large, that continuing to exempt the State from national policy change is wrong. It sets Alaska apart from the progress that has become possible in the rest of Indian Country.”

On this particular point, the State of Alaska seems to agree.

“The State recognizes that the message of the report is sound, and that the State can and should be doing more to address the problems outlined in the Indian Law and Order Commission Report,” said assistant attorney general Jackie Schafer. “We are actively working on local solutions.”

Schafer pointed out that some of the solutions included negotiating “Civil Diversion Agreements” (CDA) with “several” Alaska tribes, but did not specify what, if any plans, were being made for the hundreds of other villages. Under these agreements, said Schafer, tribes would handle violations of certain state law misdemeanors and offenses in tribal court, including alcohol offenses, minor consuming or in possession offenses, as well as local option possession offenses in communities that have voted to ban alcohol, among others. But, apparently, none of the CDA’s would address specific tribal concerns with regard to the promulgation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

In response to questions regarding the importance of self-determination and local governance that are crucial to the cohesion of tribal life, Schafer said the state is making efforts to collaborate with its tribal communities.

“Absolutely. This is one of the main reasons that the state is seeking to enter into the Civil Diversion Agreements with Alaskan tribes,” said Schafer. “One of the highest priorities of the State is to work as partners with tribes and Alaska Native communities to address the numerous challenges facing rural Alaska. The State, tribes, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) corporations, and nonprofit entities are all diligently working to improve life in Alaska’s tribal communities.”

Returning Home to the Nest

When Richard Lincoln made the decision to stay in Tununak rather than return to his foster parents, he also made another, more personal decision: To find his brothers and bring them home.

“It took until we were all adults,” said Lincoln, who searched databases, made phone calls and wrote letters, searching for four people—all of whom now had different last names. “But we all wanted to go home. All five of us.”


Richard Lincoln III is seen here with his grandparents and three children. (Richard Lincoln III)
Richard Lincoln III is seen here with his grandparents and three children. (Richard Lincoln III)

Over the years, he managed to locate three of his brothers and bring them back to their ancestral village that sits on the Bering Sea.

“I made sure all my brothers came home—except one,” he said. “There is one still out there and I don’t even know if he’s alive. But I hope that one day we find him or he finds us. Because he is our brother. He is one of us. We want him to know we’re here, we’re home, and we’re waiting for him.”

For Lincoln, and many other Alaska Natives, the case of Baby Dawn has ignited a long simmering anger over the state’s recalcitrant attitudes toward what constitutes “best interests” for their children. But he continues his work as Tununak’s ICWA coordinator, because his tribe is small—with only about 400 members—and by now he has gained valuable experience that is crucial to the long-term survival of his people.

“This case has brought back some hard memories,” said Lincoln. “And it’s a situation that’s prevalent and it’s been this way for years—our children being adopted out to white families. But I won’t be surprised in 15 or 20 years if this little girl shows up in our village. And when she does, we will be here for her. Waiting.”



Native Alaska Village of Point Lay Hailed for Stewardship of 35,000 Walruses

Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMMLThis is what 35,000 walruses look like when they do not have sea ice to rest on in the open water.

This is what 35,000 walruses look like when they do not have sea ice to rest on in the open water.


Indian Country Today



With 35,000 walruses camped out on the edge of town, the 250-population Native village of Point Lay, Alaska has been thrust onto the world stage.

And, true to their custom, the residents have stepped up—not to bask in their potential 15 minutes of fame, but to embrace their traditional role as environmental stewards.

“These locals, these people, without a lot of funding or anything, have taken on this stewardship and protection of the haulout,” said Joel Garlich-Miller, a walrus specialist for the Marine Mammals Management department of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a telephone interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “They’re front-line conservationists.”

The walruses began arriving in mid-September, as they had been for the past few years. You can hear them from the village, residents said in a 2012 community workshop held with Garlich-Miller, community elders and an array of scientists. It is common for walruses to “haul out,” as it’s called, and take a break from feeding in the open sea, usually by pulling themselves onto ice floes. But with the summer ice extent dwindling drastically in the Arctic, a growing number have had to settle for land.

RELATED: Video: Watch Thousands of Walruses Forced Onto Alaskan Shores by Climate Change

This has been happening off and on for years, but of late it has become much more pronounced. On September 30, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conducted their annual flyover to observe Alaska’s marine wildlife from the air. Catching sight of the mass of walruses clustered onto a sliver of northwestern Alaska coast, they snapped some spectacular photos and posted them on the web, noting that a lack of sea ice had forced walruses onto land.

With all the attention being paid to climate change over the past couple of weeks, between the People’s Climate March of September 21 and the United Nations Climate Summit two days later, the world’s attention was riveted. The sea ice had reached its lowest extent for the year a couple of weeks earlier, on September 17, the sixth-lowest minimum on record, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“The massive concentration of walruses onshore—when they should be scattered broadly in ice-covered waters—is just one example of the impacts of climate change on the distribution of marine species in the Arctic,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of the WWF’s Arctic program, in a statement on September 18. “The sharp decline of Arctic sea ice over the last decade means major changes for wildlife and communities alike. Today’s news about the sea ice minimum is yet another reminder of the urgent need to ratchet down global greenhouse gas emissions—the main human factor driving massive climate change.”

The walrus, Garlich-Miller explained, is “typically considered an ice-dependent species.” They are not suited to an open-water lifestyle and must periodically haul out to rest.

“Traditionally during the summer months, broken sea ice has persisted through the Chukchi Sea during the entire summer, and walruses have typically remained offshore,” he said in a conference call with reporters on October 1.


Photo: Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML
Photo: Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML


But in recent years, Garlich-Muller said, the Chukchi Sea has become entirely ice-free by the end of summer. The number of walruses seen on shore has been growing. Nowadays, he said, tens of thousands of walruses haul out regularly in Russia as well. Numerous researchers have been monitoring this since its exacerbation, but the phenomenon of land haulouts is nothing new. What is new is the extent of their use of land, researchers said.

“Walrus have always hauled out on land, in small numbers in Alaska, and in much larger groups (tens of thousands) in Russia,” said anthropologist and Arctic researcher Henry Huntington to ICTMN in an e-mail. “The large haulout at Point Lay started in 2007, and has occurred most years since then, except when sea ice has persisted in the Chukchi Sea. So this is a relatively new phenomenon, and is almost certainly related to the loss of summer sea ice (meaning the ice is too far from shallow waters where walrus can feed, so they instead move to land in late summer/early fall when the ice is at is smallest extent).”

The concern now, Garlich-Muller said, is the walruses’ safety. A few problems arise when they’re on land that tend not to plague them on the ice. For one thing, there are more predators lurking. For another, the walruses are in much more crowded conditions, which can facilitate the spread of disease. Moreover, disturbing them causes the potential for stampedes, which could injure or kill the animals, especially the calves. Their vulnerability, Garlich-Muller said, is proportional to the size of the herd.

What disturbs them? Gunfire, aircraft, predators such as polar and grizzly bears, and human activity. Minimizing disturbance has become a major focus of the USFWS office in Alaska over the past few years, Garlich-Miller told reporters.

This is where Point Lay comes in.

“Some of the best and most successful conservation efforts that we’ve seen to date have occurred at the local level,” Garlich-Miller told reporters on October 1. “The community of Point Lay in particular has shown a great stewardship ethic at the haulout. They’ve sort of taken it under their wing. They’ve worked with the local flights in and out of their community to reroute aircraft landing and takeoff routes. The community, when walruses are present they work with their tribal members not to motor by the haulout with boats. They’ve changed their hunting patterns—although they are a subsistence-hunting community and legally entitled to hunt walruses, they’ve refrained from hunting at these large haulouts, where disturbance events can lead to lots of unnecessary mortality.”

Point Lay officials fended off reporters’ requests for visits and interviews. They were too busy protecting the herd.

“The Native VIllage of Point Lay IRA Council respectfully declines any interviews at this present time,” the village’s offices said in an e-mail to Indian Country Today Media Network. “We, as a tribe, did not wish for this event to be so widely publicized. Our community is a small, close knit, subsistence only community.”

Regardless, they remain the unsung heroes of the walrus haulout.



The National Indian Education Association Returns to Alaska



The National Indian Education Association will be returning to Alaska for their 45th Annual Convention and Tradeshow. The four-day Convention will take place at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in downtown Anchorage from 15-18 October 2014.

The 2,000 teachers, school administrators, tribal leaders, and higher education faculty expected to attend NIEA 2014 will have daily agendas packed with more than 100 workshops focusing on advancing educational programs for Native students. 

NIEA President Pamela Agoyo noted that, “Being home to 229 federally recognized tribes, Alaska is rich in Native history and educational leadership at the tribal level, which makes it the ideal location to host our 2014 annual conference.”

Native education stakeholders incorporated NIEA in 1970. The membership-driven organization has since been dedicated to the mission of advancing quality education for all American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian peoples. The Association’s 2,500 members work each day to strengthen Native educational opportunities while also preserving the unique cultures and languages of Native Americans.

For more information about NIEA 2014 or to inquire about attending the convention as a member, sponsor, or tradeshow exhibitor, please visit their website at

EPA To Protect Salmon Fishery By Blocking Massive Alaska Mine

A 2012 file photo of Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle bustling as ships get ready to head to Alaska for the summer fishing season. Hundreds of Northwesterners hold commercial fishing permits for Bristol Bay. | credit: Ashley Ahearn
A 2012 file photo of Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle bustling as ships get ready to head to Alaska for the summer fishing season. Hundreds of Northwesterners hold commercial fishing permits for Bristol Bay. | credit: Ashley Ahearn


by: Associated Press


JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it is proposing restrictions that would essentially block development of a planned massive gold-and-copper mine near the headwaters of a world premier salmon fishery in Alaska.

The announcement came as the EPA was being sued by Pebble Limited Partnership, the group behind the proposed Pebble Mine, and the state of Alaska for allegedly exceeding its authority.

The state and Pebble Partnership, which was created to design, permit and run the mine, argue the EPA should not be able to veto the project before a mine plan is finalized and evaluated through the permitting process. Pebble has asked that a judge block the EPA from taking any additional steps, but no ruling has been made.

EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said the science is clear “that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems. Bristol Bay’s exceptional fisheries deserve exceptional protection.”

The EPA said as part of its analysis it used plans filed by the mine’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2011. That information indicated the Pebble deposit is likely to involve excavation of the largest open pit ever built in North America, reaching a depth that rivals that of the Grand Canyon at nearly a mile, the EPA said in its report.

The agency looked at three mine scenarios, one based on the worldwide median size deposit that contains copper-, gold- and molybdenum-bearing minerals, which was the smallest scenario analyzed, and two that it said were based on statements made by Northern Dynasty, of mine sizes of 2 billion tons and 6.5 billion tons.

The restrictions proposed by EPA are in line with the estimated impacts of the smallest scenario, including loss of at least 5 miles of streams with documented salmon or loss of 1,100 or more acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds that connect to salmon-bearing streams or tributaries of those streams.

The EPA said if the proposed restrictions were finalized, mining of the Pebble deposit would still be possible, but only if the environmental impacts were smaller than those laid out.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who has said Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place, said he’s seen noting in the EPA document that would prevent Pebble from applying for a permit.

“Instead, it sets the ground rules for responsible development that the Pebble Partnership, or any other business, must abide by in order to mine the Pebble deposit in this critical habitat,” he said.

The EPA called its analysis conservative, focused on the use of certain waters in the region for disposal of materials associated with mining the Pebble deposit. The agency said it did not include impacts associated with build-out and operation of a mine, like roads, pipelines and housing for workers, or potential effects of accidents or mine failures.

The EPA also said the proposal is specific to the Pebble deposit, and does not affect other deposits or claims.

In 2011, the EPA, petitioned by Alaska Native tribes and others to protect Bristol Bay, initiated a review that culminated in the finding earlier this year that large-scaling mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on the fish. The agency later invoked a rarely-used process through which it could ultimately restrict or prohibit development of the proposed Pebble Mine to protect the fishery.

The announcement Friday is the next step in that process. EPA plans to take public comment beginning Monday through Sept. 19 and to hold public meetings in Alaska next month. After that, McLerran would have to decide whether to withdraw the proposed action or send it to EPA headquarters for consideration.

Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, said while his group needed to analyze EPA’s proposal, it was outraged that the agency took this next step with litigation pending and EPA’s inspector general reviewing whether EPA followed laws, regulations and policies in developing its watershed assessment.

“We will continue to fight this unprecedented action by the Agency, and are confident we will prevail,” he said in a statement.

Expert in Native voting rights trial says Alaska has long history of discrimination

By RICHARD MAUER Anchorage Daily News June 30, 2014


An expert testifying in the federal voting rights trial in Anchorage said Monday it’s possible to trace Alaska’s current failure to provide full language assistance to Native language speakers to territorial days when Alaska Natives were denied citizenship unless they renounced their own culture.

“This represents the continuing organizational culture, looking at the law as something they’re forced to do, instead of looking at the policy goal of being sure that everyone has the opportunity to participate,” said University of Utah political science professor Daniel McCool. “It’s part of a pattern I see over a long period of time, a consistent culture — they’re going to fight this. When forced to do something, they’re going to do it, but only when they’ve been ordered to.”

McCool testified as an expert on behalf of four tribal villages in Southwest Alaska and the Interior and two village elders with limited English skills. They’re suing Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and three officials in the Alaska Division of Elections which he oversees, saying the officials are not providing a full suite of election materials in their Native languages. They say amendments to the Voting Rights Act in 1975 require language assistance.

The state says it’s doing what the law requires, providing sample ballots and oral translations for some Native languages. The state has gone out of its way to consult with tribal councils, its witnesses have said.

Treadwell and the other officials are being defended by the Alaska Attorney General’s office. Before the trial began, the state lawyers attempted to prevent McCool from testifying, saying he wasn’t really an expert. They said he wasn’t familiar with Alaska and only spent four weeks or so researching how the state has treated Native voters over the years.

McCool said he may not be an expert on Alaska, but he knows how to study the issues. He said he reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents, books, legal decisions, state and federal data and other material.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason, a former state judge who’s hearing the case without a jury, disagreed with the state’s attorneys. She allowed McCool to take the stand and admitted the report he prepared for the Native plaintiffs.

McCool’s testimony came at the close of the Natives’ case, the sixth day of trial. The trial is expected to conclude this week.

McCool said that with some exceptions pushed by a few political leaders, Alaska’s history is rife with discrimination against Native voters. In 1915, the Territorial Legislature passed a law that said that for Alaska Natives to become citizens, “they had to give up their culture, their language, and live like white people,” McCool said. “They’re the only group in American history told to give up their identity in order to vote.”

In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting Native Americans full rights as citizens. The response in Juneau? The following year, the Territorial Legislature passed a literacy test that kept most Natives from voting, McCool said.

“There was a fear that if they all became citizens, they would all start voting in dramatic numbers,” McCool said. One local newspaper ran an ad warning, “We don’t want these ignorant savages to take over,” he said.

McCool said one effective opponent of racism against Alaska Natives was the territorial governor Ernest Gruening, sent to Alaska in 1939 by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh was poised to object to McCool’s testimony if he strayed beyond what he was allowed to say. She took to her feet while McCool was testifying about Gruening’s autobiography, when two pages of a book were projected on a screen in the courtroom.

“Objection,” Paton-Walsh said. Reading from the folio on the book’s pages, Paton-Walsh said McCool was actually reading from the book “At War” by author Mary Bettles.

After a moment of confusion, McCool clarified: The folio didn’t say Mary Bettles, it said “Many Battles,” the name of Gruening’s book. The chapter heading in the other folio was “At War.”

A moment later, Gleason declared a break. When she returned from chambers and trial resumed, she said of herself and her clerk, “We both enjoyed ‘Mary Bettles.’ ”

McCool noted that Gleason herself played a role in Native rights issues when she was a state Superior Court judge and ruled in the case Moore v. State. She held that the state had failed to live up to its duty in the Alaska Constitution to provide public education in rural Alaska in 2007. Two years later, when the state Department of Education asked her to declare it was in compliance with the law and end her supervision of its remedial action, she refused, using language similar to that in McCool’s description of the Division of Elections. She said the state was applying an “incremental, minimalist initial approach” that didn’t pass constitutional muster.

Education matters, McCool said, and poor schools in the Bush are closely connected to limited English proficiency among Alaska Natives.

McCool said Alaska didn’t abandon its literacy test until the U.S. Voting Rights Act required it to.

Under cross examination by Paton-Walsh, he acknowledged that the literacy test wasn’t as tough and discriminatory as ones in the South directed against African-Americans, but it had an intimidating effect.

McCool said he understood that the Division of Elections says it doesn’t have the resources to provide full language assistance for all Native speakers, but he said that’s only an excuse.

“These attitudes and behaviors don’t look to me like the behaviors of an agency that’s absolutely devoted to providing equal opportunity to all voters, even if it’s difficult,” McCool said. “The attitude is let’s do what the law requires and absolutely no more.”

Reach Richard Mauer at or (907) 257-4345.

NOAA to consider taking humpback whales off endangered list

Humpback_whale_noaaBy YERETH ROSEN

June 25, 2014 Alaska Dispatch

Alaska’s humpback whales came a step closer to moving off the endangered species list this week when an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a positive initial finding on the merits of the state’s petition to delist a population of the marine mammals.

On Wednesday, NOAA Fisheries announced a positive finding, which means the agency “has determined that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted,” said a release on the finding.

The State of Alaska petitioned the agency in February to delist the central north Pacific population of humpbacks, which travels between Hawaii and Alaska. An estimate at that time put the entire north Pacific population at 21,800, up from about 1,000 in 1966, the year commercial whaling ended. The central north Pacific stock — the population segment targeted by the state’s petition — is believed to number at least 5,833, NOAA said Wednesday.

Another organization, the Hawai’i Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, is also seeking delisting, but for the entire north Pacific population. NOAA issued a positive 90-day finding on that petition last August.

The positive findings on the Alaska and Hawaii group’s petitions mean NOAA will conduct status reviews of the central north Pacific and entire north Pacific populations. Those reviews generally take a year.

NOAA is already engaged in a status review of the global population of humpback whales, a project started in 2009 and not prompted by any petition, said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the agency.

NOAA plans to combine the new north Pacific population reviews into the global study, Speegle said. “Within that status review, we will look at the different stocks,” she said.

Humpback whales exist in oceans all over the world, Speegle said. Within the north Pacific population, she said, there are three stocks — the central stock that is the subject of the Alaska petition, the western stock in Asia and the stock that swims off California, Oregon, Washington and Mexico.

If any delisting occurs, that could affect regulations that protect the whales, Speegle said.

“We would go back to the regulations to determine what may be necessary or what needs to be changed,” she said. But regulation changes depend on the outcome of the status review, a range of possibilities that includes a possible change to a listing of “threatened” from the current endangered listing, she said.

Polar bear pulled Arctic Bay man from tent, says MLA

Quttiktuq MLA Isaac Shooyook spoke in the Nunavut legislative assembly Friday about a polar bear attack on his grandson this week. (Courtesy Isaac Shooyook)
Quttiktuq MLA Isaac Shooyook spoke in the Nunavut legislative assembly Friday about a polar bear attack on his grandson this week. (Courtesy Isaac Shooyook)

CBC News May 23, 2014

The victims of a polar bear attack near Arctic Bay, Nunavut, are still receiving medical treatment.

Isaac Shooyook, MLA for Quttiktuq, spoke about the attack in the Nunavut legislature Friday morning.

Two people were attacked during a hunting trip nearly 100 kilometres outside of Arctic Bay.

Shooyook says the bear pulled his grandson out of a tent by the head in the middle of the night.

“When he started screaming, the bear turned to the other man,” he said in Inuktitut. “My grandson then grabbed the gun and the bear threw the other man.”

Another group of hunters drove the two men back to the community. Shooyook says neither of the victims have broken bones, but they were scratched and bitten.

The two were flown to Iqaluit for treatment Thursday night.

In Alaska Village, Banishment Helps Keep Peace

FILE - In this May 7, 2014, file photo, residents make their way along First Street in the village of Tanana, Alaska. Without a jail or even armed law enforcement, the isolated Alaska village where two state troopers were shot and killed is turning to a traditional form of justice: banishment. The Tanana Village Council, the Athabascan Indian tribal authority in the village of 250, is taking steps to expel two men whose actions contributed to the homicides and who have threatened other community members, council Chairman Curtis Sommer said. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman, File)
FILE – In this May 7, 2014, file photo, residents make their way along First Street in the village of Tanana, Alaska. Without a jail or even armed law enforcement, the isolated Alaska village where two state troopers were shot and killed is turning to a traditional form of justice: banishment. The Tanana Village Council, the Athabascan Indian tribal authority in the village of 250, is taking steps to expel two men whose actions contributed to the homicides and who have threatened other community members, council Chairman Curtis Sommer said. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman, File)

By Dan Joling, The Associated Press

Without a jail or even armed law enforcement, the isolated Alaska village where two state troopers were shot and killed is turning to a traditional form of justice: banishment.

The Tanana Village Council, the Athabascan Indian tribal authority in the village of 250, is taking steps to expel two men whose actions contributed to the homicides and who have threatened other community members, council Chairman Curtis Sommer said.

“This is the only way we have to remove individuals who are — how do we say it? — who are dangerous to members of the community,” Sommer said.

The action is infrequent in Alaska, and when it is used, some question whether a tribal entity has the right to limit access to a community otherwise governed by state law. Those who are banished rarely contest the action publicly, and it isn’t clear if banished residents go on to cause problems in other communities because no one tracks them.

“We like to think that we have the right to travel wherever we want,” said Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross, who former Gov. Sarah Palin nominated for Alaska attorney general in 2009. “On the other hand, a small village should have the right to decide who they want to live in that village, specifically if that person is a troublemaker. I can see both sides of it.”

If it’s not lawful, it should be, said Heather Kendall-Miller, senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund in Anchorage. Tribal councils always have attempted to protect the peace.

“It seems to me like a reasonable approach to avoid violent situations, especially when you have no law enforcement providers within a community,” she said. “Try to pre-empt a bad situation before it happens.”

Tanana is on the Yukon River, a traditional transportation artery in Alaska’s vast interior. More than a century after changing from trading site to permanent community, Tanana has a school, clinic and store but no mental health treatment facilities and no connection to the highway system.

The state can’t afford to pay for law enforcement in small villages like this but they also refuse to let tribes have full authority over law enforcement, beyond an unarmed public safety officer, Kendall-Miller said. State troopers are flown in to deal with violence, but they can sometimes take days to arrive.

The latest trouble in Tanana began when Arvin Kangas, 58, drove into town without a license and pointed a gun at the unarmed village public safety officer, investigators said. He called Alaska State Troopers, and one day later, on May 1, Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich flew to Tanana. As they tried to arrest Kangas, his son, Nathanial “Satch” Kangas, 20, shot and killed the officers, investigators said.

The village council later voted to banish Arvin Kangas and a second man who has assaulted tribal employees, Sommer said. The matter, after legal review, will be presented to the tribal court for a final decision at an undetermined date.

Banishment is not limited to Athabascan communities. Last August, a man identified as a drug supplier stepped off a flight to Sand Point, a city with strong Aleut and Scandinavian roots at the beginning of the Aleutian Chain. A semi-circle of residents informed the man he was not welcome. They bought him a return ticket and he never left the airport terminal, said Tina Anderson, who witnessed the exchange. The fishing community has a high rate of drug abuse.

“We’re tired of it, and we’re concerned about the future of the community,” she said.

Akiak, a Yupik Eskimo village in southwest Alaska, voted in April 2013 to ban a man suspected of bootlegging and dealing drugs.

Sommer concedes banishment is a “slippery slope.”

“It’s got to be very significant circumstances that would warrant this, either violent assaults or murder,” he said. “At what point do we draw the line on this? I do not know. I do know it’s not going to be used frivolously just to get back at someone.”

The village council will ask the state to enforce banishments. The Alaska Department of Law said it would carefully evaluate a banishment order. Kendall-Miller has seen unofficial support in the past.

“We have seen state police officers that have attempted to accommodate the tribal council’s blue ticket orders by helping to prevent individuals from coming back,” Kendall-Miller said. “It has been an informal arrangement that was done out of necessity.”

“If they do not enforce it, we will enforce it ourselves. We will get a group of men together and go to that person and tell him to leave and to not come back.”

Tribes and First Nations Unite to Halt B.C. Mine That Threatens Salmon Habitat

Tongass Conservation SocietyThe headwaters of the Unuk River, where a company called KSM wants to build a humongous open-pit mine for cold, copper and other metals.
Tongass Conservation Society
The headwaters of the Unuk River, where a company called KSM wants to build a humongous open-pit mine for cold, copper and other metals.


Paula Dobbyn, ICTMN


It has become an all-too-familiar story: Pristine waters. Salmon habitat. Sacred significance. Mining.

The Unuk River watershed, straddling the border between British Columbia and Alaska, is on track to become ground zero in a struggle to stop the world’s largest open-pit mine, Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM). The fight against it is uniting First Nations and Alaska Natives as they battle to preserve stewardship of the pristine region. And it is just one of five massive projects proposed for the region.

If KSM secures the financing and the regulatory go-ahead, the giant mine would turn 6,500 acres of pristine land into an industrial zone that would generate more than 10 billion pounds of copper and 38 million ounces of gold, according to a project summary. As with any large mine, it would employ a hefty workforce—in this case mostly Canadians—and create taxes and royalty payments for Canada. But it would also produce a slew of waste. And that’s what critics say downstream Alaska communities stand to take on: none of the economic benefits but much of the environmental risk.

With its remote headwaters in British Columbia, the Unuk River is one of the world’s most prolific salmon waters. An international river, the Unuk flows into neighboring Southeast Alaska and its temperate rainforest, the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, a place of towering coastal mountains, tidewater glaciers and fog-shrouded islands. The Unuk empties into Misty Fjords National Monument, an attraction for cruise ship passengers viewing glaciers, bears and whales that dot Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Unuk, known as Joonáx̱ in Tlingit, supports large runs of king salmon, a cultural icon prized by commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen alike.

“The consequences for salmon runs on both sides of the border could be devastating, yet Alaskans would see none of the economic benefit,” wrote National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Michael Fay in a 2011 letter to British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, signed by nearly 40 other scientists.

Seabridge Gold, the mine developer, expects KSM to generate more than two billion tons of acidic waste rock called tailings, a byproduct of the mining process than can be lethal to fish. The tailings would be held behind two huge dams—each taller than the Hoover dam—built in the headwaters of the Nass River, one of British Columbia’s most important salmon rivers.

Because KSM is located in sensitive fish habitat, it has raised the ire of Southeast Alaska tribes, fishermen and some Canadian First Nations. They joined forces in early April, forming a cross-border working group to develop a unified strategy to protect their interests.

It’s not just KSM that worries them. KSM is one of more than a dozen mines planned for northern B.C., including five located in salmon-bearing watersheds that arise in Canada and drain into Alaska. The British Columbia government is encouraging the mines’ development, offering tax breaks and relaxed environmental rules. Also spurring development is the construction of a new power line extending electricity into the northwest corner of the province, bordering Alaska. The transboundary projects include Red Chris, Schaft Creek, Galore Creek and Tulsequah Chief. The international rivers they could affect are the Taku, Stikine and Unuk, some of Southeast Alaska’s top salmon rivers.

“These projects could not be in a worse location. Salmon is our traditional food. If anything happens to them, we would be in a world of hurt,” said Ketchikan fisherman and tribal leader Rob Sanderson Jr.

Fishing, seafood processing and tourism are key economic drivers in Southeast Alaska. The seafood industry produced $641 million worth of fish in 2011, which created 17,500 jobs and $468 million in wages. A million visitors tour the area every year, spending about copy billion.

Tribes have passed numerous resolutions of concern about how KSM and the other transboundary mines could potentially contaminate the region, including their traditional fishing grounds. Recently a delegation of tribal leaders and fishermen flew to Washington, D.C.  to lobby for State Department intervention. They delivered a letter signed by 40 businesses, groups and individuals asking for help.

Alaska’s congressional delegation got the message. Shortly after the Alaskans flew home, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, along with Congressman Don Young, contacted the office of Secretary of State John Kerry by letter asking him to get involved to protect Alaska’s interests. Because the mines are located in Canada, Alaska tribes feel they have less influence over the outcome than if they were on U.S. soil.

“It’s happening in a foreign country. We don’t have a lot of control over it,” said Sanderson. “They don’t even have to consult with Alaska tribes.”

The U.S. Environmental Protect Agency has raised issues regarding the KSM project, mirroring the tribes’ concerns. The U.S Interior Department has urged Seabridge Gold to consult with Alaska tribes regarding fishing and clean water.

Recently Seabridge sent its vice president for environmental affairs to Alaska to participate in a tribal meeting on Prince of Wales Island near Ketchikan regarding KSM. Seabridge’s Brent Murphy told the Juneau Empire that “the overwhelming design philosophy for the KSM project is the protection of downstream environments and that is ensuring protection also for Alaskans.”

On its website, Seabridge notes that KSM has undergone extensive review by environmental and technical experts over the past five years to see that salmon and other wild resources are protected.

But Seabridge’s assurances have done little to allay skepticism on the U.S. side. Since the meeting on Prince of Wales in late March, the newly elected president of Alaska’s largest tribe, the Juneau-based Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, has elevated the matter.

“This is a direct threat to the lifestyle and culture of our tribes’ 29,000-plus members,” said Richard Peterson, tribal president.

At Peterson’s urging, the Central Council adopted a resolution giving Southeast Alaska’s 19 federally recognized tribes the green light to work with First Nations to try to slow the development of the transboundary mines.

“We need a collective call to arms,” said Peterson.

Not all B.C. First Nations oppose the KSM mine or the other transboundary projects. The Gitxsan and Nisga’a Nations support the mine’s development. But others, including the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, who live downstream from where the KSM waste facility would be located, are opposed.

“Nass River fish are critical for the food security of the Gitanyow,” said Kevin Koch, a fish and wildlife biologist with Gitanyow Fisheries Authority. “KSM poses a major threat to the Gitanyow way of life.”

Koch noted that the Gitanyow have constitutionally protected aboriginal rights to fish in the Nass. Seabridge maintains that any ill effects from mine waste on Nass River salmon would be minimal.

Peterson is unconvinced.

“I think John Kerry should be sitting in my office talking to me right now,” he said. “We need face-to-face consultation on this. We’re a sovereign nation.”