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The Alaska Native community of Tyonek is pushing back on its inclusion in a local planning group that helps make decisions about land management, but which they say formed without their input.
Riley Board with KDLL reports.
Tyonek is a remote, predominantly Native community on the west side of Alaska’s Cook Inlet, across the water from the state’s population centers of Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.
While the community falls under the purview of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, it’s culturally and geographically distant from the borough’s other communities.
That’s one of the reasons residents are objecting to their inclusion in a new planning commission based on the other side of the inlet, in the predominantly non-Native community of Nikiski.
“When somebody talks about that few of people determining that they’ll have a huge voice in land planning for three million acres on the other side of the inlet, that seems inappropriate.”
That’s Stephen Peskosky, CEO of the Tyonek Native Corporation.
He says the planning commission does not represent the residents of Tyonek and was formed without its knowledge, by residents in Nikiski who wanted more of a voice in land management and permitting decisions.
Proponents described Tyonek as “Nikiski’s backyard,” where its residents hunt and vacation.
Peskosky says that notion is offensive.
“The villagers from Tyonek and some of our shareholders, they were highly offended by that, because they don’t see it as a vacation land, they see it as a land where they do their subsistence living and where they’ve been living for hundreds of years.
It’s not a vacation land in their eyes, it’s their home.”
Some members of the borough’s governing body were sympathetic to Tyonek’s concerns. But ultimately, the assembly was split on whether to remove the community from the planning commission’s boundaries.
The assembly will reconsider the plan at a meeting Tuesday, where Peskosky says Tyonek residents are planning to turn out and testify.
Dozens of Tyonek residents and several Native entities have already submitted letters in support.
Dr. Buu Nygren has passed the first 30 days as president of the Navajo Nation, one of the largest tribes in the United States.
President Nygren says he’s already fulfilled one of his campaign promises by lifting COVID-19 restrictions – fully opening the Navajo Nation.
The tribe was still under COVID-19 mandates as he took office in January.
“One of the first things we did do was make sure we lift the mask mandate. I felt like it was about time. All the surrounding communities have reopened, all the surrounding cities have reopened, and we just took precaution and made it optional for people to wear masks.”
President Nygren says he’s met with the governors of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – the Navajo Nation is located in the three states.
He’s also met with U.S. lawmakers and made his first official visit to Washington, D.C., where he attended President Joe Biden’s State of the Union.
Those helping him lead the Navajo Nation in his administration are a number of Navajo women, including his vice president, veterans affairs director and chief legal counsel.
Vice President Richelle Montoya made history in January becoming the first Navajo woman to serve in the position.
“I think it’s just my belief in just making sure the best people are in place and in this moment in time those types of people are in those positions.”
The Navajo Nation Council this year, inaugurated a historic number of women, nine of the 24 delegates.
Nygren says he’s working closely with the council to address many of the issues facing the tribe from making sure federal COVID-19 recovery funds are spent to tackling infrastructure needs.
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