Last month, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) hosted a Special Full Board of Director’s Meeting and Behavioral Health/Hunting and Fishing Task Force Summit in Fairbanks. The Full Board of Directors voted to keep the conversation and dialogue solution-focused, with the tribes directing TCC and offering solutions to the issues at hand.
The first day of the Summit was focused solely on Behavioral Health, with panels focused on tribal leadership, emergency services, and community intervention.
Katie Kangas, First Chief of Ruby, spoke on the tribal leadership panel. “This is a dream to meet together – it’s something that we have advocated for for many years,” said Kangas, “In the case of our children- the number one thing we can do is work on our relationship with schools and administrators on behavioral health issues. We also need to keep expressing our love and support even through the mistakes our people make from these types of behavioral health issues.”
Julie Roberts-Hyslop, Tanana Tribal Council, who also spoke in the panel shared a similar sentiment, “One of the best gifts that we have for one another is love and compassion. That’s the only thing that’s going to save our own people-showing that you really care about them.”
“We have to stand together and work together. Don’t give up. Your culture – don’t leave it behind,” said Trimble Gilbert of Artic Village/2nd Traditional Chief, “Many time I talk about the fires – keep the fire on in your community. Keep burning. If you leave it behind then it will go out. So your community needs you and you got to be there with them.”
Later, TCC Chief/Chairman Victor Joseph spoke about Chief Gilbert’s comments and his interpretation of it. “I think about when I was a young person and I was getting in trouble. A lot of people said I was bad. They walked away from me. It was the elders that came in and started working with me, and giving me hope back. They were the ones that came back to me and started putting a little kindling in the fire. Started building it back up. So that I can be here today,” shared Chief Joseph, “We never know where our people are coming from and we never know where they’re going to.”
The following day the focused shifted to the Hunting and Fishing Task Force. Although the two issues may seem separate, they are more intertwined than one might think. “Our elders have always said our wellness is directly connected to our connection to the land and the animals,” said Ben Stevens, Director of the Hunting and Fishing Task Force.
This portion of the Summit featured panels on Using the Regulatory Process for Solutions, Research, Science and Data as a Means to Alaska Native Management, and the Future of Alaska Native Management.
Charlie Wright of Rampart, Hunting and Fishing Advocate, spoke about how using a hunting permit can be a benefit to tribes in regards to Fish and Game. “Arctic Village is fighting for their sheep hunting ground because they weren’t putting in permits saying that they hunted or that there is not enough animals, so Fish and Game doesn’t know what’s going on,” explained Wright, “You have to fill those out and turn them in, that way it counts how many animals you need in your village That’s a tool that works for you.”
Many tribal leaders came forward to voice their concerns after the Research, Science and Data as a Means to Alaska Native Management. The concerns surrounded the proposal of working with tribes to develop a Wild Foods Economy Matrix so that tribes could collect and use their own data.
“What we’re talking about is creating an instrument that’s tribally directed, developed and driven and that tribes could then receive the training in it to collect their own information to own it themselves. It doesn’t belong to anyone else to control how it’s used and how it can benefit us in our advocacy and in our efforts to take steps towards co-management,” explained Will Mayo, Executive Director of Tribal Client Services, “What if we had our own data that we controlled that is scientifically solid, that nobody can argue against or make a case against because it is scientifically accurate?”
“Our tribal leadership were voicing their concerns,” said Chief Joseph, “Our people have been surveyed to death. Data has been used against us since data started being collected. We know what it’s like to have no control over data. So these surveys and data collections are going to be really important for our future – but we understand the risk it takes.”
The summit wrapped up with the Full Board of Director’s voting on the passage of two new TCC policies: Executive Board Policy 50-5001 “Board of Directors Drug and Alcohol Policy” and Full Board of Directors Resolution 2019-02 “Random Drug Testing for Executive and Health Board and Require Testing 1 week Before Elections.” Both of the policies passed with a majority vote.
Continuing with the solution-focused theme of the Summit, TCC will be collecting the information received during breakout sessions conducted during the two days where tribes met to discuss solutions. This information will be used in future strategic plan development.