The right to govern ourselves is inherent

by Gloria Simeon

21 February 2021

In response to the recent action taken by YKHC Executive Board.

It is beyond my comprehension that the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) has taken it upon themselves to attempt to coerce sovereign nations through thinly veiled threats and intimidation to dilute and limit their inherent rights to self-governance and self-determination.

Each and every tribe of this region is a sovereign nation unto itself, as recognized by the United States of America. The right to govern ourselves is inherent. It is our God-given right to govern ourselves as our ancestors saw fit. The oral traditions of our People guide us through their teachings, customs, examples. We govern and serve none other than our citizens as leaders of these nations.

My teenage years were times of turbulent change for our People. The Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act forced our region’s village leaders to come together to organize ourselves. Some villages were already organized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. I commend those forward-thinking leaders of that time. Mamterilleq, the Native Village of Bethel was not one of these villages. Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council became our Traditional government in 1983. I cannot speak to what this difference means in the long and short of it.

We were forced to organize so that through our rights to self-determination, we could access federal funds due us through the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. This was to create jobs and educational opportunities under P.L. 93-638 in Indian Country.

Our leaders at the time were so new at this. The villages had many, many unmet needs. Even the basic infrastructure was lacking to take care of the recordkeeping and paper requirements this new era brought in. That was an issue the leaders faced and dealt with in the best way they knew how.

Through the authority vested in them, they birthed what was Yupiktak Bista in order to have a conduit for the federal money that was available to us as Native People, prepaid by the land and resources taken from us to meet our health, education and welfare needs.

Yupiktak Bista, was formed by 56 member tribes through authorizing resolutions. On behalf of the Tribes, they were entrusted to receive, apply for and administer these funds. It was intended that Yupiktak Bista would continue in this role until the tribes had developed their own infrastructure and could administer funds, services and programs to their citizens themselves.

The State of Alaska took over the BIA schools and formed the regional education attendance areas (REAA’s) to do this, they worked with the tribes through Yupiktak Bista. They took responsibility for our education from the federal government, under P.L. 280. This was done with no meaningful consultation or engagement with the Tribes. This was after the forced relocation of villagers to educate their children and the decades of children forced to attend boarding schools. The Hootch Act had much to do with bringing this change about.

I am not sure what political machinations were in place at the time that the change from Yupiktak Bista to Yupiktak Bista Manpower to AVCP occurred in the 1980’s, but here we are.

Many of our tribal nations have succeeded in developing local infrastructure. They have the capacity while many other tribes still do not and have to depend on regional organization to assist as they have been charged to do through authorizing resolutions.

Indian Health Service funds were also self-determined to the tribes. It was in the late 1980’s that YKHC’s renowned community health aide program grew into the corporation it is now. Those same Apa’s that were already on all the other boards were commandeered to form a new organization charged with the health and well-being of every man, woman and child in this region. A new kingdom with millions of dollars rolling in, to form this new union of tribes and state. They too did the best they could with what they were told.

As with other federal programs and funds that are the right of tribes to oversee and manage through their rights to self-determination, these IHS tribal shares were available to the tribes to apply for and manage if they so choose. Otherwise they were provided with a blanket resolution from YKHC authorizing YKHC to receive these hundreds of millions of dollars and administer to the health and well-being of our Nations.

Two tribes in our region took their right to self-determine their own IHS funds. Akiachak and Quinhagak. (I commend the foresight of those leaders, also). This greatly alarmed YKHC administration and it is known that Ted Stevens was a very good friend to YKHC administration. It was through his crafted riders cleverly hidden in important legislation, he managed to alleviate the concerns of YKHC and locked IHS funds from access by the Tribal Nations intended to be the beneficiaries of these funds through an Act of Congress. The selfsame Nations that created YKHC.

There have been other attempts by YKHC in the past to circumvent the sovereign, inherent right of tribal nations to self-governance and self-determination. This recent action taken by YKHC is threatening in that we are being led to believe, as the YKHC Executive Board apparently believes, that Calista is a threat to our tribes and we must act now to vanquish this enemy at our doorstep. I remind you that Calista is not the enemy. Calista is us. Calista belongs to us. It is not the boss of our Nations nor the decisions we make.

Our nations do not have to do anything that has the potential to dilute our inherent rights to self-governance and should never bow to organizational pressure without asking hard questions.

As nations with those inherent powers to self-governance, we have formed, in perfect union, and in agreement with each other, these organizations, such as AVCP, AVCPRHA and YKHC to receive and administer the funds we have the rights to, under the different Acts of Congress, authorizing such.

As nations we have the inherent right and power to form treaties with other nations to form and organize in any manner, we see fit, which includes but is certainly not limited to how we govern ourselves, collectively or separately.

YKHC Board and administration have overstepped their bounds and should be ashamed for promulgating division and derision amongst those they are charged to serve. As a former YKHC board member myself, I am astounded that the ten (10) member Executive Board took this action on behalf of the full board whose members are appointed by Tribal governments in their respective units. Where is the transparency and meaningful engagement in that?

One of the drawbacks of the pandemic is that if you already have issues with meetings of your membership and being able to engage fully due to technological and broadband limitations, it is expected that somethings gets lost or may fall between the cracks. Time must be made available and needed engagement and discussions must occur at all levels.

In closing, my plea to the 58 Sovereign Nations that are the parents of YKHC, think long and hard about any action that you are being directed to take. Actions that have the potential to diminish or dilute your inherent powers and rights to Self-Governance and Self-Determination.

These words are my own, taken from the depth and breadth of my knowledge and experience acquired from being of service to my Tribe and my People. Any of my statements are open to be corrected by those who are more knowledgeable than I about the history of how our regional organizations came to be.

Respectfully submitted by Gloria “Al’apacuuk”, “Cainaq” Simeon – Citizen of the Nation of the Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council, and Customer/Owner of YKHC.

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