Sitka Tribe Vice-Chair Speaks at Chamber

Category: News
Created on Friday, 02 November 2018 16:06
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Sentinel Staff Writer
    Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council vice-chair Lawrence “Woody” Widmark, wearing colors appropriate for Halloween, and of his beloved San Francisco Giants, outlined the Tribe’s recent activities and ongoing projects, at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting Wednesday.
    “I would like to share with you what the Tribe is doing,” Widmark said. “And Happy Halloween. These are my colors every day.”
    Widmark said STA has well over 4,000 enrolled tribal citizens, half of whom live in Sitka.
    He said 30 years ago tribes across the country worked on regulations to become self-governing.
    “Instead of being under the wing of the federal government BIA,” Widmark said. “Sitka Tribe of Alaska became a self governance trying to take care of its own matters.”
    Today, as a federally recognized tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act, STA has a budget of over $10 million.
    “Instead of having the BIA looking over us we can do our own things,” he said.
    Widmark also spoke of the memorandum of understanding with the City and Borough of Sitka.
    “That was huge,” he said. “From this point it became historic, where the City of Sitka recognized there was another government in town, not a Tribal government, another government. So because of that, we partner up on a lot of things.”
    He spoke of the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi community house, which is on a site important to elders who attended the school that used to be there.
    He noted the STA’s partnership with the National Park Service at Sitka National Historical Park.
    “We have a contract, if you will, with Totem Park,” Widmark said. “Having interpretation people out there throughout the summer. That has been in our strategic plan for about 20 years. Not too many tribes have done this at all. I think we are one of the first to do that in the country. There have been other agreements within Park Service or Department of Interior on other things, but having co-management is a big deal through Indian country… we are paving the trail for other tribes to do this in partnerships with other parks, and there have been some hesitancy on both parts, because it hasn’t really been done before.”
    Widmark also reported that the STA offices are moving from their present location on Katlian Street to the former U.S. Forest Service headquarters at Thomsen Harbor, but a date has not been set for an open house.
    “It’s a reality,” he said. “We are going to try and get our Tribal Court there…”
    STA’s Sitka Tribal Tours, Tribal Tannery and community house operations are helping economic development in Sitka, as well as the STA’s activities with the Forest Service, the Swan Lake Senior Center, Baranof Island Housing Authority, and the community RIDE bus service, which also benefit the community.

    Under a memorandum of understanding with SEARHC, STA appoints a primary and an alternate member to the SEARHC board, Widmark said.
    “We have other communities throughout Southeast who are on that board too,” he said.
    “I want to share with you that the Tribe not only works with its tribal citizens but I think being a partner in this community is very important to the Tribe,” he said. “We live here too, so we wanted to show some of the steps the Tribe does. I know when you have an agreement with the city I think that is a big deal and other communities throughout Alaska saw this. Even our legislators throughout the state saw this as well.”
    STA has received $900,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, which will provide pass-through funding to the Sitka Police Department for an additional officer and $600,000 to administer legal assistance.
    Widmark said STA received an Indian Community Development Grant of $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help fund the expansion of the Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV) shelter.
    The STA has provided nearly $300,000 a year to support various Sitka youth sports programs, a passion of Widmark’s as he has coached and officiated local teams for many years.
    “We work with our seniors in the community quite a bit,” he said. “Even though they may not be with the Tribe ... we thought it was important. The Tribe is trying to work with citizens to come up with some options so we can be a partner in this instead of complaining and not coming up with options or solutions.”
    Widmark also noted that, although the STA is outspoken on many topics, the Tribe has not taken an official stance on how it might be a partner in Alaska Day festivities.
    “That is a great question,” he said. “We don’t have an issue with the city. History is what we are looking at. The Tribe, in no circumstances, have come up with an official statement on this. I think the Tribe can probably do some things to enhance that… it has been quoted in the paper, and local media, the past couple years, not recently, but with our former GM, that wasn’t the Tribe, our Council did not say that. I am trying to be transparent but not transparent at the same time…”
    Widmark said the STA’s position is, “Without building partnership, that relationship, the Tribe could not go anywhere.”