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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Stevens vows to examine funding
'PHANTOM TRIBES': Alaska senator wants to know if recipients of federal funds really exist.

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: October 23, 2003)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Stevens said he has recorded a videotaped speech for the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in which he describes the wound of a recent allegation that he made a racist remark as "a stain on my soul."

But he isn't backing off his belief that some Alaska tribes are getting federal money they don't deserve. He told Alaska reporters on Wednesday that he is preparing to look into allegations that government departments are issuing grants to "phantom tribes."

"All I'm interested in right now is to get the money where it's needed," he said in an interview in his office in the Capitol.

Stevens said he has heard for years that some of the Alaska tribes the federal government recognizes are "nonexistent entities" — empty villages, or villages inhabited by just one or two families.

Still, because they are federally recognized tribes, they can get certain government payments just for applying.

A few years ago, he changed federal law to say that a tribe must have at least 25 people to qualify for one program, the Tribal Priority Allocation.

"Now I'm told that a number of these villages, as tribes, have adopted people, Native and non-Native, that live somewhere else" to bring the tribe up to the threshold, he said. He also said he'd heard of tribes that spent federal housing money to build houses outside of the villages they were supposed to serve. He provided no names and no specifics.

The federal government recognizes some 230 tribes in Alaska. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that, unlike their counterparts in the Lower 48, Alaska tribes don't have the power to govern a specific reservation or territory. They do exercise authority over their members, but the extent of that authority is in dispute.

Stevens said that the timing of his remarks Wednesday was not aimed at the AFN convention, which begins in Anchorage today and is the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives.

"I'm not trying to overexcite this AFN group," Stevens said.

Stevens antagonized tribal sovereignty advocates three weeks ago in an interview with Alaska reporters explaining why he was trying to cut off certain government grants to tribes and send the money to the state government or regional Native groups instead.

In that interview, he said that tribal sovereignty, coupled with a growing Native population, endangered statehood. One tribal advocate described his language as racist. Many other Native leaders defended him, saying he was a champion of Native communities, education, culture and well being.

Stevens said his inquiry into funding for "phantom villages" was motivated by three letters of support he received this month, after news stories appeared about his allegedly racist remark. He showed two of the letters to reporters Wednesday, after first blacking out the identity of the senders.

One was from a tribal council official.

"I support your position on regionalization of tribal funding (for) housing and tribal courts," the letter said. "You are doing a good job and we have benefited greatly while you have been our senator in Washington, D.C."

The letter went on to say that "phantom tribes" were exploiting loopholes in federal law to get money they shouldn't. The letter-writer named four in the Bristol Bay region: Ugashik, Ekuk, Ivanof Bay and Kanatak.

The other letter — actually a portion of an e-mail message — was less specific. It was from someone who had recently visited Port Graham, on the Kenai Peninsula. The writer of the message said Port Graham leaders also support his effort to send federal law enforcement money to the state program for rural police rather than to individual tribes.

Eric Johnson, a tribal rights attorney working for the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, said a tribe is sometimes described as "phantom" when it has to evacuate its village site for some reason, like flooding, erosion, disease or fire. The residents move to neighboring villages, or to Bethel or Anchorage.

"People in these tribes still continue to exist as tribal communities," he said, "and they continue to have a tribal identity."

Often the residents return to the area in the summer to practice subsistence.

He cited the example of Napaimiut, in the middle Kuskokwim.

"They're actively trying to re-establish their old village site," he said. "They're trying to go home."

Terry Hoefferle, chief operating officer for the Bristol Bay Native Association, said residents in his region, particularly young families with children, have been hard hit by disastrous fishing seasons and have had to move.

"If somebody is moving out of Ekuk or Ivanof Bay, it's not because they want to do that," he said.

No matter where they are, though, the people still exist and they need services, he said.

His association receives federal funds on behalf of the four Bristol Bay tribes cited in the letter to Stevens, he said.

No one has lived in Kanalak "for some time," but it is still a recognized tribe and eligible for funding under some programs. He said his organization distributes money to Kanalak, which it uses for higher education scholarships, employment and vocational training, among other services.

Bristol Bay Native Association agrees with Stevens that consolidating tribal funding through regional groups can work. He said, though, that he worries about overreacting based on a few examples.

"I don't want to see a fly killed with a sledge hammer here," he said.

Heather Kendall Miller, an attorney in the Anchorage office of the Native American Rights Fund, had a similar view. If there are "phantom tribes" receiving money they shouldn't, it is more the exception than the rule and it shouldn't drive federal policy, she said.

"Something of this nature really requires doing some more fact finding," she said.

Stevens said he plans to ask the federal departments that have funded Alaska tribes for data "to determine whether some of those monies have been sent to nonexistent entities."

Federal grants, he said, should go to the communities that need them.

"But the money is going to the villages that have the grantsmanship," he said.

Some families, he suggested, are getting money intended to help tribes plan and organize.

"One family doesn't need planning money to decide who is going to be chief and how they are going to handle relationships with the federal and state government," he said. "That's the trouble. See, (the way) they operate now, they can call themselves a government."


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Stevens defends stance on tribes
By SAM BISHOP News-Miner Washington Bureau

Thursday, October 23, 2003 -- WASHINGTON—Sen. Ted Stevens said he will ask federal agencies to give him a list of Alaska Native tribes to which they send money so he can look more closely at whether they are eligible for the grants.

Stevens announced his plans on the eve of the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage, where his recent challenges to tribal funding and authority promise to be a hot topic.

The senator won't attend the convention this year, but has sent a video statement. He doesn't mention his request for information from federal agencies on the tape, he said, but he will address the recent uproar over his comments about tribes.

On Oct. 2, while speaking to reporters in Washington, he said the federal government couldn't afford to pay for courts and police in each of the roughly 230 villages that are recognized as tribes by the Department of Interior. In a pending federal spending bill, he has inserted language that would divert federal funding for tribal courts and police to the state instead for village public safety officers and magistrates.

Stevens on Wednesday showed reporters a letter to demonstrate that some Natives support his efforts to find a more efficient method of delivering tribal services. The Oct. 13 letter came from a tribal administrator from the Bristol Bay region.

The author's name and the tribe's title had been removed from the letter. Stevens didn't allow reporters to keep it because he doesn't release constituent correspondence.

The Bristol Bay administrator said the tribal groups for Ugashik, Ekuk, Ivanof Bay and Kanatak in his region represented "phantom villages."

"Since the Bristol Bay region has four phantom villages, how many more are there in other regions of Alaska?" the letter asked. "At what cost and where is the money going?"

"I've been hearing about phantom villages for a long time," Stevens said Wednesday. "I have had the allegation before, but no one has been willing to put it in writing for me."

The Kanatak council president, Terrence Shanigan, said Wednesday that his 130 members no longer live at the village site on the Alaska Peninsula, but that doesn't make the tribe a phantom.

Shanigan said about 60 percent of his tribal members, including himself, live in the Anchorage and Wasilla area. Another 30 percent live outside Alaska. The remaining members live in the Bristol Bay region, though not at Kanatak, which was covered with ash in the 1912 Katmai explosion, later revived as an oil exploration and mail hub and finally abandoned in 1955.

Some improperly question the tribe's authenticity because it doesn't own land and no one lives at the original village, Shanigan said.

"We should not have to legitimize our Native heritage and our ancestry based on land ownership," he said.

However, Don Mitchell, a former AFN attorney in Anchorage who opposes tribal sovereignty claims in Alaska, said some connection between a tribe and a locality should be a necessary condition of receiving money. Mitchell said he figured there are roughly six to eight tribes in Alaska linked to entirely abandoned villages, and several more tribes for places with just a few residents.

He questioned the propriety of such arrangements.

"There is some connection between a physical locality and the reason the group is being funded by the federal government," he said.

The Kanatak tribe receives about $200,000 a year in federal grants, Shanigan said. About 25 percent of that has been spent on administration in the past, though that fell to 13 percent in the last year.

Shanigan said the tribe misused some of its money a few years ago and even got involved in a counterfeiting ring busted by the Secret Service. Shanigan said he and a group of younger tribal members have since reformed the organization.

Stevens said he hopes AFN delegates in Anchorage today will see his request for more information from federal agencies as advocacy, not an attack.

"I think it's intended to protect the bulk of Native people who need the money," he said. "It is an attack on those who are, in my opinion, fraudulent."

Stevens said he wants to somehow pool money going to the smaller tribes to improve the efficiency of the services they deliver.

"All I'm interested in is getting the money where it's needed," he said Wednesday.


'Phantom' tribe defends its existence
KANATAK: Shelikof Strait village has not been occupied since 1956.

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: October 24, 2003)

WASHINGTON — Terrence Shanigan is the tribal president of Kanatak, a village on the Alaska Peninsula that no longer exists.

But his tribe counts 130 members and has a budget of about $145,000.

He objects to Sen. Ted Stevens' suggestion that tribes like his — so-called "phantom tribes" — shouldn't get federal money.

And Shanigan really objects to the term "phantom tribe."

"To me a phantom is like some shadow-walker lurking in the bushes. That's not us," he said Thursday. "We are displaced, landless tribes, landless communities. We are not phantoms."

Stevens told reporters Wednesday that, having heard reports of possible fraud, he will ask the federal agencies to account for the money they have given to Alaska tribes "to determine whether some of those monies have been sent to nonexistent entities."

He said he wants to make sure money intended to benefit Alaska Natives goes where it's needed and is not misused.

Stevens said he's heard complaints for years about grants to "phantom tribes." He said he decided to act after receiving three letters supporting his effort to "regionalize" funding for rural Alaska, rather than allow each tribe to get its own grants from the federal agencies.

One of the letters also encouraged him to look into the problem of phantom tribes, and the writer named four in the Bristol Bay region.

One of them was Kanatak.

In a way, Kanatak could be the poster child for those who want draw attention to phantom villages.

The village site, on Shelikof Strait, is unoccupied. No one has lived there since 1956, said Shanigan, who himself lives in Anchorage.

But the place once had churches, a school and a post office.

The 1890 census recorded 26 residents there. Oil drilling boosted the number to 134 by 1940. In the 1950s the industry dwindled, the teachers left and the town's institutions fizzled.

"The government came in and told my grandpa that kids had to go to school and they had to move," Shanigan said.

A wildlife refuge was established over the town site. Shanigan doesn't think re-establishing a village there is possible.

Still, the displaced residents and their descendants are a tribe, he said.

A dozen or so of the members still live in the Bristol Bay region.

More than half live in the Mat-Su area, Anchorage or elsewhere in Southcentral Alaska. About a third live out of state, he said.

The members keep in touch, even though some live as far away as Pennsylvania and Florida. They have a community center in Wasilla. They put out a newsletter.

"We're not somebody's illegitimate children," he said. "Just because we don't own the land does not de-legitimize us as Aleuts from Kanatak."

Kanatak was on the list of federally recognized tribes the Department of Interior released in 1993.

In 1997 it got its first grant — $30,000, to help it organize.

Now it gets most of its money, about $125,000, from a program for small and needy tribes.

By agreement between the organizations, most of the tribe's grants are routed through the Bristol Bay Native Association.

The tribe also gets a housing grant through the Bristol Bay regional housing authority, he said.

It may seem odd that a tribe without a village gets a federal housing grant — about $16,000 — but Shanigan said it is used to provide emergency shelter for tribal members, help families get into apartments and help one or two buy their own homes.

The members who stayed in Alaska could get assistance from the Native housing authority where they live, but he said he believes tribal members from another region get a lower priority.

He said he follows the rules of the grants programs. Some allow assistance to be sent out of state and some don't.

The tribe provides scholarships, he said, and sends back-to-school backpacks of school supplies to its 37 children, wherever they live.

Stevens said that among the abuses he'd heard about were tribes that used their housing grants to build away from their villages.

Since no one lives in the village of Kanatak, none of its tribal housing money has been spent at the place where the tribe was originally formed.

Is it wrong for a tribe that has scattered to get federal money intended for tribes?

Don Mitchell, a former attorney for the Alaska Federation of Natives who has become one of the leading voices against Alaska's tribal sovereignty movement, says that's a policy call.

How to distribute federal funds is a different question, he said, than whether Alaska tribes have sovereignty — the power to arrest and bring people before tribal courts, for example.

Americans, he said, generally agree that it is appropriate to spend federal money to address social and economic needs of Native Americans.

"Logic suggests that the less you look like the intended beneficiary class, the more you are risking that continued consensus," he said.

Or, as Mitchell also put it, "Why on earth are federal tax dollars spent on this guy to live in Wasilla ... to put (stuff) in school bags to send to children who might live in Georgia because their grandparents once lived in a village somewhere?"

As he sees it, that is "not a good result for the Native community."

One of Stevens' concerns is that the federal government may not keep track of its grants to Alaska tribes to make sure they are spent as intended.

That might be something Shanigan could agree with. A few years ago, the tribe was led by people who Shanigan said misused the federal grants to buy trucks and travel.

"Tribal members were upset that no one was looking into us," he said.

He said he and other tribal members tried to blow the whistle but no one in government would listen. Finally, he said, a counterfeiting scheme brought on the law and the tribe got new management.

He said neither he nor anyone on his five-member council is paid. They waive their $100-per-meeting stipend, although Shanigan said he does take reimbursement for the miles he drives for tribal business.

More of Stevens in the Stereotype of the Month contest
Stevens:  Sovereignty threatens "destruction of statehood"

Related links
The facts about tribal sovereignty

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