Alaska Police Can Force Out Village Leaders Who Won’t Leave

Tom John, right, is tribal administrator for the new Newtok council. Loren Holmes / ADN

Tom John, right, is tribal administrator for the new Newtok council. Loren Holmes / ADN


ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A federal judge on Tuesday allowed police to use force if needed to remove former officials of an Alaska tribal village who have refused to leave the offices of the community embroiled in a long-running leadership dispute.

The new sanctioned tribal leaders of the Yup’ik Eskimo community of Newtok asked U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline to enforce a Nov. 4 ruling that ordered the former leaders to stop presenting themselves as the village’s governing body.

The flood-prone village is among Alaska’s most eroded communities, located 480 miles west of Anchorage. The power dispute, which began in 2012, stalled millions of dollars in government funds for efforts to physically move the village to higher ground 9 miles away.

In his three-page order, the judge said the new leaders are entitled to immediate possession of village equipment and records. Beistline said the former leaders can be forced to leave the tribal office and troopers can enter their homes to look for any records and equipment.

“The Alaska State Troopers may use any reasonable force deemed necessary by them to accomplish these acts,” Beistline wrote.

The new tribal council wanted help from troopers because forcibly taking over the office and tribal records themselves would be contrary to Yup’ik values against “self-help,” according to their attorney, Michael Walleri. The new leadership also followed another aspect of Yup’ik culture: showing patience toward the former leaders, Walleri has said.

It’s the latest legal defeat for the old council, which lost its official recognition as the governing body from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2013. The former officials appealed that decision, but the Interior Board of Indian Appeals upheld the bureau’s decision in August.