Alaska Governance Project

Encouraging ongoing dialogue, the sharing of information, and continued open discussion as ways to advance issues and shed light on unique needs of rural Alaska.  The Alaska Governance Project, a North Star Group (NSG) initiative, has grown out of NSG’s prior work with the Rural Governance Commission. This website aims to offer Alaska communities and people resources to help build healthy communities. You can learn more about the history of rural governance in Alaska here.

Leading Models for Municipal-Tribal Cooperation & Effective Local Governance – Alaska Municipal League Panel

The panel featured the City of Albuquerque, NM– a national leader in establishing official ties between municipal and tribal governments, Anchorage’s new tribal recognition ordinance, existing agreements in Unalaska and Sitka, and collaboration in Nome. Through lively discussion, the panel addressed the challenges, sustainability, public support, and future prospects for Municipal-Tribal Governance in Alaska and beyond.

At right: North Star Group’s Karl Ohls and Veronica Slajer with panel moderator Bruce Bothelo.

Key advice for municipalities on establishing stronger relationships with Tribes:

  • Do your homework to learn about local and regional tribes and cultivate respect for Tribal viewpoints and practices. Acknowledge tribes as separate sovereign entities and regard tribal leaders as heads of state.
  • Dialogue with tribal partners about intent. This is a crucial step. Municipalities should ensure tribes are interested in developing partnerships before they are codified via ordinance. Tribes should have time to consider and adopt their own resolutions in support of proposed agreements.
  • Evaluate existing city government practices and routines to change the structures and behavior that resulted in the neglect of tribal nations in the past. Use the new behavior to build trust with tribes.
  • Embrace Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, as outlined in theUnited Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  to help create the needed level of trust between municipalities and tribes.
 

Panelists’ Main Points

Click a panelists’ name to be directly linked to the beginning of their remarks during the webinar. Dawn Begay, Native American Affairs Coordinator, City of Albuquerque, NM
  • Albuquerque was the first city in the U.S. to formally recognize Native American Tribes and to establish government-to-government relationships.
  • The city and the Tribes have worked together on a long list of agreements and initiatives that cover many subjects including access to sacred sites, housing justice, and investigations into missing and murdered indigenous women.
  Terry Sloan, Intergovernmental Tribal Liaison, City of Albuquerque, NM
  • The City of Albuquerque initiated a heartfelt effort to establish meaningful relationships with Native American Tribes and a meaningful consultation policy, working with the Tribes on the municipal actions that would affect them.
  • Tribal nations bring so much to the table in agreements with municipal governments. The Tribal nations are still thriving and active after thousands of years of existence on the North American continent. They have much to offer.
  Meghan Sigvanna Topkok, Member, Nome City Council, and Staff Attorney, Kawerak, Inc.
  • She ran for office because she wanted to have people who had similar values making decisions for the community. They are trying to make the Nome city government a more welcoming place for Native people through things like using the Native language in meetings and in city communications.
  • One critical task is to mesh municipal and Tribal opportunities. Tribes have access to different funding.
  • A good resource for information is the National League of Cities and its Indigenous municipal officials working group, offering a way to coordinate and communicate with other Native elected officials.
  Dennis Robinson, Vice Mayor, City of Unalaska
  • Participated in writing a tribal constitution and gaining federal recognition for the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska. Even in the early days of forming Tribal governments, they recognized the need to work with municipalities.
  • The City of Unalaska has a trilateral agreement with the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska and the Ounalashka Corporation. The corporation owns almost all of the land in the Unalaska area.
  • Important for the municipality, Tribe, and village corporation to work together. Tribes have opportunities to obtain money that municipalities can’t access, and vice versa. Numerous federal agencies offer many funding opportunities only for Tribes.
  Christopher Constant, Vice Chair, Anchorage Municipal Assembly
  • Anchorage Assembly members decided on an ordinance instead of a memorandum of understanding because they wanted it to be in effect through future administrations. It provides a permanent mechanism to work together, not just when problems arise.
  • In crafting the ordinance, learned a lot from Aaron Leggett, Native Village of Eklutna president, about the history of the Indigenous people in the Anchorage area. This part of Southcentral Alaska was the most populated Indigenous area in Alaska until devastated by the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. The damming of the Eklutna River (for power generation) and destruction of the local salmon run was another major blow.
  • They hope to inspire every other municipality in Alaska to also do this.
  • Believe we are in a period of Tribal renaissance, which provides opportunities for municipalities.
  Steven Eisenbeisz, Mayor, City & Borough of Sitka
  • The agreement between the City & Borough of Sitka and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska has been in effect for a long time. It is one of older municipal-Tribal memorandums of understanding in the state.
  • As the current mayor, he serves as the municipality’s tribal liaison. Hopes that is codified and becomes standard practice for Sitka.
  • Through the municipal-Tribal partnership, Sitka obtained full CARES Act funding. That wouldn’t have been possible without the Tribe. They also established a therapeutic court—difficult to do under state law—through the tribal court system.
  • As a recommendation for other municipalities, CBS partners with the Tribe on lobbying trips to Washington DC. Sitka has a stronger voice in support of its priority projects when both governments endorse them.

Panelist Bios

  • Bruce Botelho, Moderator – Former Alaska Attorney General and former Mayor of Juneau – Bruce’s Bio
    Bruce M. Botelho served as the mayor of Juneau from 1988 to 1991 and from 2003 to 2012. Born and raised in Juneau, where his father was a top official of the Alaska Highway Patrol, Botelho has pursued concurrent careers in law and politics, largely with success. He also previously served a term as mayor from 1988 to 1991, defeating former Alaska Secretary of State Robert W. Ward in the election. He spent most of his professional career as an employee of the Alaska Department of Law. He rose to the top position in the department in 1994, when Governor Walter Hickel appointed him to be the Alaska Attorney General. Retained by Hickel’s successor, Tony Knowles, Botelho served as Attorney General for nearly nine years before retiring from state service.
  • Dawn Begay – Native American Affairs Coordinator, City of Albuquerque, NM – 2019 OrdinanceDawn’s Bio
    Dawn, a member of the Navajo nation, is the Native American Affairs Coordinator for the City of Albuquerque Office of Equity and Inclusion. She previously worked in homeless outreach at First Nations Community HealthSource and with the New Mexico Council for Racial Justice. She is a 2011 graduate of the University of New Mexico.
  • Terry Sloan – Intergovernmental Tribal Liaison, City of Albuquerque, NM – 2019 OrdinanceTerry’s Bio
    Terry, a member of the Navajo and Hopi people, is the City of Albuquerque’s Intergovernmental Tribal Liaison, working directly with the five Tribes surrounding Albuquerque and with all 23 of New Mexico’s Tribes. Terry is also the manager, supervising senior auditor and an accountant for Sloan & Company. He was the director of the non-profit organization Southwest Native Cultures, also becoming an accredited member of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Non-Governmental Organizations Branch. He has worked extensively on environmental issues on behalf of Native American Tribes. Terry has a degree in accounting from the University of New Mexico.
  • Christopher Constant – Vice Chair, Anchorage Municipal Assembly – 2021 OrdinanceChristopher’s Bio
    Christopher was first elected in 2017 to represent an assembly district based in downtown Anchorage. Currently the Anchorage Assembly’s vice chair, Christopher works as a licensed real estate agent as well as a Grants and Contracts Director for a statewide nonprofit substance abuse and behavioral health treatment provider. He previously served twice as president of the Fairview Community Council.
  • Meghan “Sigvanna” Topkok – Member, Nome Common Council, and Staff Attorney, Kawerak Inc. – Meghan’s Bio
    Just re-elected to a new term on the Nome Common Council, Sigvanna works as the staff attorney for Kawerak, a tribal consortium serving 20 communities in the Bering Straits region. At Kawerak she assists the region’s tribes with issues including tribal elections, state child welfare cases, tribal courts, law enforcement, and personnel matters. In addition to city council service, Sigvanna is President of the Bering Sea Women’s Group Board, a volunteer with the Nome Reentry Coalition and the Nome Youth Court program, and an adjunct professor for UAF Northwest Campus, teaching courses in Tribal Governance, Alaska Native Studies, and the Inupiaq Language. Originally from Mary’s Igloo on the Seward Peninsula, she is a 2017 graduate of University of Oregon School of Law and a 2013 graduate of Dartmouth College with a BA in Native American Studies and Linguistics.
  • Dennis Robinson – Vice Mayor, City of Unalaska, and Qawalangin Tribal Council board member – 2020 MOU – Dennis’ Bio
    First elected to the Unalaska City Council in 1986 when he was 27 years old, Dennis served several separate times on the city council, most recently re-elected in 2018 and holding the position of Vice-Mayor. He works as an independent business owner with interests in the fishing, shipping, and oil support services industries. He is a member of the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska and the Ounalashka Corporation.
  • Steven Eisenbeisz, Mayor, Municipal Administrator – City & Borough of Sitka – 1998 MOUSteven’s Bio
    Steven was elected as Sitka’s Mayor in 2020. Previously he served on the city & borough assembly from 2014 through 2020, including three years as Deputy Mayor. A certified EMT, Steven has a record of community service including volunteering with the Sitka Fire Department, Search and Rescue, Police and Fire Commission, Gary Paxton Industrial Park Board, Chamber of Commerce Board, and Downtown Revitalization group. He and his wife, Ashley, own Russell’s, a long-established clothing and sporting goods store located in downtown Sitka.

Resources

Municipal-Tribal Agreements

 

Reference Materials and Websites

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Other reports, materials, and websites

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North Star Group Initiative

North Star Group (NSG) navigates complex social challenges related to resource development and community self-governance across Alaska, the Arctic, and beyond. Through respectful, mutually supportive relationships founded upon collaboration, the NSG global network of professionals guide business, government, and organizations toward socially responsible and economically sustainable goals. As international interest in the Arctic has increased, we have expanded our operations to include other geographic regions. NSG team members are based in Anchorage, Alaska, Washington, D.C., and Paris, France, with global partner organizations across the world.