The long-awaited YK Delta Regional Committee kicks off this week in Bethel.
Since its early roots in the 1980s, the committee has gone from a dream to reality. More than 60 entities representing 40-plus communities will meet at the Cultural Center in Bethel to take a hard look at the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and attempt to address the social and economic upheaval that’s ensued in the 40 years since passage. Andrew Guy is President of Calista.
“That protest fishery really showed it to us, the power of all the villages, when they act together. It was an event that made the state of Alaska and the federal government sit up and take notice of how a concerted effort by all of these villages, what they could do. It made the powers that be take notice of them,” said Guy.
The idea of unity runs through the planning for the meeting. The three-day session includes presentations on indigenous sovereignty and what tribes in the Lower 48 have done to address their rights. The bulk of the agenda however, is discussions. They cover everything from land and food management to tribal governments, and whether now is the time for change.
Robert Beans is originally from Mountain Village. He sits on the Calista board of directors and is a member of the committee. He says success relies on the collective knowledge of the region.
“Our people are very intelligent. They may not have a piece of paper on the wall. They know how to live, they know what the living conditions are out there,” said Beans.
Participants will connect their knowledge of our region with some of the landmark legislation that determines life in modern day Alaska. One of the first discussions it titled “Are the people of the Y-K Delta region better off than we were 40 years ago before ANCSA?” That monumental piece of legislation has changed the landscape of Alaska forever. President Guy says the law needs a close examination.
“If you look at it now, from the time of ANCSA I don’t think we’ve moved far from the base we had back then. We have so much more to do in terms of adding jobs for families, meeting the basic intent. This is a way we can garner the strength of all the village corporations and tribal organizations, make them stronger,” said Guy.
If things go well, the next step for the committee involve electing a small steering committee to come up with a strategic plan. That process could take a year. The regional committee meeting kicks off Tuesday evening in Bethel. Calista has published a frequently asked questions document.