Leadership dispute to continue at Native meeting

ANCHORAGE — A leadership dispute is expected to be continued at a conference of the Association of Village Council Presidents kicking off in Bethel on Tuesday, when protesting delegates plan to push their argument that the member villages are in charge of the tribal nonprofit, not the executive leadership.

Mike Williams, who is with one of the protesting villages, Akiak, said Monday that the hope is to elaborate on the issue at the three-day meeting. “It’ll be interesting to see,” he said.

Protesters say the organization’s executive board and their attorneys have hijacked authority from the tribes that created it decades ago to advocate for 56 Alaska Native communities. They also say Association of Village Council Presidents officials also have failed to answer questions about the organization’s finances, including allegations of misspent federal grant money.

Acting association President Michael Hoffman said Monday that he has no comment about the protesting faction. “But I think everything will come out in the convention tomorrow, and for the next three days,” he said.

In July, Hoffman said in an email to The Associated Press that the campaign against them is the work of a small group of tribal members who have long sought to replace the association with a regional tribal government.

In fact, at this week’s meeting, delegates plan to bring up the idea of creating a constitutional type of regional government, Williams said. That idea would involve the villages obtaining federal trust status now that they can do so legally after the state’s recent decision not to appeal a recent court ruling in the matter.

The association has been under close scrutiny over the allegations of misspent federal funds that emerged after 30 employees were laid off late last year.

KYUK-AM has reported that documents it obtained show almost a decade of misspent federal grant money. The documents show at least $1 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families account went to a flight school.

The organization cited economic conditions as the reason for the layoffs. Months later, former association President Myron Naneng resigned from his long-held post. Naneng could not be reached for comment Monday.

Tribal activists say they were told at a June convention that the organization had been near bankruptcy last fall.

Association officials say many of the people laid off have been rehired, and the organization is implementing a quality improvement plan. Memos to member villages sent in recent months say internal reviews have not shown any evidence of any intentional wrongdoing within the organization. They also note an audit of recent years is underway.

Tribal activists say the tribes have never gotten satisfactory answers about the organization’s financial health after questions about its management and financial health were prompted by the layoffs and closure of its Bethel hotel.

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