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  • Writer's pictureKevin Gunter

A Tribe Divided

With less than one week’s notice from the Council, Tetlin's election came and went. Despite not having 30 days’ notice as was once the law and despite a Petition to Recall Michael Sam and other Council members for failure to serve the Tetlin tribe, the same old gang were reelected. The petition for the termination of Tribal Administrator Kristie Charlie also went unresolved.

Did the Native Village of Tetlin tribe reelected Michael Sam and his council?


Out of a tribe of almost 400 members officially enrolled with the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, less than 50 members were the only ones allowed to vote. It does not matter to Michael Sam and his posse that most of the tribe lives outside the village of Tetlin, we were told we were ineligible and were disallowed to vote. Adding insult to injury, they made a quick rule to assure their reelection — the Young-Charlie family who live outside the village of Tetlin — could vote. I'm not a gambler and don't play cards but I think they call that staking the deck which means "to arrange something in a dishonest way in order to achieve the result you want."

Welcome to the "Tetlin Reservation 2.0" where being an US enrolled Tetlin tribal member has no rights, no benefits, no meaning. This is a dictatorship at work, making up rules along the way to fit their self-serving needs and not the needs of the people.

The word "tribe" is used to define people of a community, family, linked together by common background and acknowledgement of recognized leaders. The tribe of Tetlin has long operated outside of this definition. Leadership found it to their advantage to divide Tetlin into two groups, two classes... the handful of tribal members who lived in the village of Tetlin would be under their control and have rights and benefits of tribal law.. but only the Council would know what they laws were. Tribal members living outside the village of Tetlin, who the Council could not control due to proximity (and access to information) would get zilch, diddly, zippo, nada, zero, goose eggs, NOTHING. No rights, no benefits... nothing except excluded (unless the Council choose to grant you privileges).

To see this in action, at the election I saw an 85 year old long respected elder tribal member who has contributed much to the village and tribe of Tetlin be told "you are ineligible to vote because you live outside of Tetlin". She was left to cry tears that still break my heart. The same people who denied such a tribal treasure as this woman, told Kristie Young-Charlie and her family, who live outside the village — "they could vote", because special rules had been made for them.

However, keep in mind the autocratic Council of Tetlin has to depend on counting ALL of its tribal members, living in and outside the village, when they want to appear deserving before certain federal funding agencies. I seriously doubt the Council would have received over $5,000,000 in COVID RELIEF FUNDS if they told the US Dept. of Treasury... "we only have about 100 people in the village of Tetlin".

By splitting the tribe in two... the Council has created the 'quasi' reservation of Tetlin 2.0. Tetlin 2.0 is impoverished, rundown, lacking health services, and without sanitary running water or a sewage system.

But fear not. Tetlin 2.0's has a leader who is happy, well fed, drives the newest of vehicles, and has pockets full of cash. Tetlin 2.0's leader can employ his family using federal money, and take them to far away vacations when the village or their jobs bore them. With Tetlin 2.0 leadership, it is "minority rules" so they can control a handful of economically distressed, unemployed, frightened, tribal members through intimidation and retaliation unless they do as they are told. 

What happened to the Recall Petition to recall the Tetlin 2.0 leaders? Many "outside tribal members" and more than 30% of the Tetlin 2.0 population signed for the replacement of Michael Sam and his political cohorts — but who was the petition to be presented to? Michael Sam, the so-called “Chief” who …

  • violated Tetlin members’ constitutional “Right to Speak and Meet Freely in a peaceable way" when on January 10th — Sam called State Troopers to remove tribal members from the Tribal Hall after they were given a key to access the center to discuss tribal matters and concerns.

  • refuses to provide the tribe with financial and program information about federal grants.

  • refuses to provide tribal members with newly engineered tribal laws and ordinances.

  • flaunts his newfound wealth in front of the distressed, destitute village of Tetlin 2.0 but will not disclose if his wealth comes from the mining companies in violation of used to be tribal laws?

So, should enrolled Tetlin members, be labeled as "outsiders" and give up and let an autocratic dictatorship rule our tribe? Personally, I don’t believe giving up is the answer. I believe the right thing for us to do is to stay informed and to be willing to SPEAK OUT. Don't let them scare you!

They may control the village of Tetlin 2.0 (pop. about 100), but they do not control the Native Village of Tetlin tribe (pop. about 300)

We know who “they” are… They are a handful of self-serving bureaucrats who are hiding truth from the people they are appointed to care for.

We have to let them know who “we” are. We are proud legally enrolled members of the Native Village of Tetlin who have rights to assemble peacefully, rights to vote for our leaders, and rights to tribal benefits. Having had all this taken from us, it is up to us to regain what is rightfully ours.

Speak up and be willing to sign up.

Not all our petitions for help will fall on deaf ears.

We, the majority of the Tetlin Tribe... will be heard.


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