United We Are Strong

by Willie Kasayulie

Through our ancestors, we still live in our own homelands today. Most of us are related, especially in our villages. If you really think about it, we are related throughout the YK Delta villages and are connected through our lineages. We also have the fastest growing population of new generation being born. We have a responsibility to make a path for our people.

I had the privilege of working for my tribe upon my return from high school in the early 1970’s. The Elders were elected by the membership along with some of us that were bilingual in the English language. We would interpret to the Elders and they advise us in what action to follow. In this way our community, our families, governed in the ways and traditions of our homeland. This is a tribe.

I found notes of discussions to our Council by visitors from other villages during a community meeting in mid-1960’s. The discussions were about uniting the villages in order to have stronger voice collectively. They were talking about forming a regional entity that would represent all the YK Delta villages. Subsequently Yupigtak Bista was formed.

Of notable people’s names I recognized were William Lomack of Akiachak, David K. Nicholai from Kwethluk and Eddie Hoffman from Bethel. There were others from other villages that also participated whose names I did not recognize, but whom I honor for their leadership. Most, if not all, were my fathers’ generation. These were Elders that did not have formal westernized education, but they were well versed in the traditional way of life.

The Yupigtak Bista was renamed to the Association of Village Council Presidents, Inc., which was incorporated in 1967 as a state chartered nonprofit organization. The membership of AVCP consisted of Tribal Councils from each of the 56 villages in the YK Delta. The Tribes elect a President and the Executive Board.

AVCP created Nunam Kitlusisti (protector of the land and its’ resources and primarily governed by the Elders), the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, and AVCP Regional Housing Authority. The members of the governing body for each organization are elected by the Tribes, and the entities hired their own CEOs except for AVCP, whose President, until recently, was elected by the Tribes.

The establishment of AVCP created a new generation of leaders from their time to implement the directives of the Tribes. People such as Harold Napoleon, Phillip Guy, Carl Jack, Ivan M. Ivan, Gene Peltola, Myron Naneng and Arthur Lake, all of whom were elected President of AVCP during their time of service.

AVCP was united by the strong Executive Board whose members, being answerable to the Tribes, truly spoke with one voice to outside forces to protect the interests of the 56 Tribes. The Chairman of the Board for AVCP, just as the President, was elected by the Tribes. This generation of leaders received formal westernized education. The leaders of this generation grew up in a traditional lifestyle being spoken to by the Elders before the influence of westernized concepts of living.

There were Elders from the tribes elected to the AVCP Board, along with those of us nominated to serve with them. For my generation, serving on the AVCP Board was an educational process that we have been putting into service and will continue to do so into the future. The Elders advised us never to commit the Tribe and organization without the consent of the majority.

As with the administrative leadership from the 1960’s to the present, my generation received our formal westernized education in boarding home settings away from our families. While this was difficult and, in many ways, traumatic, those experiences gave rise to many new ideas to be debated.

AVCP amended their organic documents a few years ago to comply with the requirements of the Alaska Corporation Code. The Executive Board memberships is still elected from their respective units by the tribal delegates. The Executive Board hires the President, who serves at the pleasure of the AVCP Board. AVCP is a state chartered nonprofit corporation. For decades our leaders have worked through AVCP to serve our communities. But the structure has become more regulated by state law, we must address a difficult truth. AVCP is not a Tribe.

In the mid-1980’s, the concept of establishing a regional tribal government came to the forefront. Akiachak, Akiak and Tuluksak tribes united to form the Yupiit Nation with the goal of uniting the YK Delta tribes under a regional tribal government. The Yupiit Nation grew to include eighteen federally recognized tribes from the Kuskokwim River and the coastal villages to the west.

Many of the founders of AVCP, including Elders from Tuluksak, Akiak, Akiachak, Nunapitchuk, Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Napaskiak, Napakiak, Tuntutuliak, Eek, Quinhagak, Kongiganak, Kipnuk, Kwigillingok, Chefornak, Nightmute, Toksook Bay, and Tununak, as well as other tribal leaders in the region, met periodically to discuss the formation of a regional tribal government. Elders and tribal members also participated from Togiak and Twin Hills.

AVCP delegates in 1990 conducted a constitutional convention in Akiachak. A unification of the region under the regional government format was supported in concept by all of the regional nonprofits, including Calista Corporation. The delegates recessed with a directive to the convention administration to finalize the constitution and present it for consideration and adoption at a future meeting to be held in one of the Lower Yukon villages.

As is evident from the history, the process of forming a regional tribal government for the YK Delta region is one that our Elders started more than 50 years ago. However, in the years since then, much has been accomplished. It is now left to us, guided by the wisdom and knowledge imparted to us by our Elders, to come together, united as one people in our region, to complete the process and adopt a regional tribal government constitution.

Taking this step fulfills our duty and honors our Elders and their lifetimes of service by governing our communities, using both our knowledge and our traditional ways in the best manner possible.

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