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  • Writer's pictureKevin Gunter


Updated: Dec 17, 2023

It’s troublesome times for the tiny Tetlin tribe. Tetlin’s council has told almost 75% of the Native Village of Tetlin’s enrolled 385+ members that we can’t vote for our leadership because we don’t live in Tetlin. That’s like telling us, we can’t vote for the President of America because we don’t live in Washington D. C.

The Council also says, if you don’t live in the village, you don’t get any benefits that are intended for tribal members. Ouch, that bites.

The same Council has told Tetlin residents they cannot sign a petition asking about Council finances. Chomp! Another bite.

Now, certain Council members have decided to use news outlets, social media, and gossip, to try and turn tribal members against the Tetlin Native Corporation (TNCorp) and its shareholders. That’s another big bite!

The Council is boo hooing that if you are not a shareholder, born before 1971, or have not received shares from deceased shareholding family, that you won’t get anything from the Corporation. What a twist, Tetlin’s Council is telling us we won’t get anything from the Corporation if we are not shareholders, while they tell us we won’t get anything from the Council if we don’t live in Tetlin. That’s the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it?

Word is, gossipy Council members are saying, “The corporation is stealing money from the corporation members (shareholders)” …This would be laughable if it wasn’t such a lie.

The corporation is the shareholders. It is not like back decades ago when TNCorp was (mis)managed by a board of directors that were also Council members. That was when TNCorp was a swamp!

In 2011, TNCorp had to ally with a General Manager who pays out of his own pocket to keep the Corporation functioning financially and administratively. His position is working with the TNCorp board to recover from its losses and rebuild a stronger ANCSA village corporation for the Native Village of Tetlin. So, is he stealing from himself?

The TNCorp of today expends all its resources on fighting to reclaim its land that has been wrongfully transferred and taken from them. There currently are no revenues, no funds, no assets to be stolen — anymore. The alligators ate them all long ago.

According to certified audits, former Tetlin Council leaders who also served as Corporation directors, (Council/Directors) robbed TNCorp into insolvency. By as early as 1995 the Corporation was nearly destitute. The Council/Directors then wrongfully transferred most of TNCorp’s land to the Council and in 2008 gave what was left of the Corporation land to the mining operators, with no right to do so. They just claimed the land was the Council's to give.

This was just some of what I have learned over the years. For more details, I called David Flenaugh, TNCorp’s General Manager, who keeps the Corporation’s head above water with his research specialist, Loretta Smith. Loretta helps the Corporation find FACTS to turn information into knowledge and knowledge into power.

I asked David, "Just what happened to the Tetlin Native Corporation that I heard once had millions of dollars, airplanes, vehicles, stocks, and bonds."

Through board minutes, legal letters, certified financial audits, and court records I learned the tragic history of TNCorp’s rise and fall and the role the Tetlin Village Council played in it.

Audits reveal TNCorp has never held millions of dollars or generated a steady income. At the most, they were paid $1.3 Mil from the Dept. of the Air Force. What was expected to last the Corporation 15 years, lasted less than four. Other monies came from selling or contracting bits of land to the State of Alaska.

By the early 1990s, under the Council's Chief Donald Adams, the Corporation’ s leadership blurred between corporate directors and Tetlin Council members — NONE having any business expertise, the two entities worked under the same roof and from the same wallet. Auditors said…

  • TNC's funds were extensively commingled with Tetlin Village Council's funds.

  • TNC paid bills on behalf of Tetlin Village Council and doled out improper loans of astonishing amounts to the Council, to themselves, and to others, without proper documentation and provisions for repayment, security, and interest.

  • For over a decade, the Council/Directors used TNC funds to pay their personal taxes, make cash withdrawals, pay themselves excessive per diem and travel expenses, make payments to family members, and more.

  • Council/Directors were paid wages for unknown services. One person was paid $14,000 in one check to cover 9 months of work that it is never known what for.

  • An air service business was purchased by the Council/Directors and mismanaged costing the Corporation hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  • $30,000 was paid to TNCorp from a construction company proposing to build a casino for them. The money was to be held for the Corporation by the attorney. It was never disclosed what happened to the $30,000.

  • Aircraft were bought and sold with no records of disposition.

  • Council/Directors entered into several logging contracts and leases with Joe Young for less than fair market value. Lease payments were never repaid. In one case $42,000 was paid with an insufficient funds check that was never honored. CPAs found other dubious financial transactions where the Corporation filtered money into Joe Young’s business with no evidence of return. In one instance, the Corporation paid for repairs on a loader they had sold to Joe Young.

These are only a fraction of the financial tomfoolery found by accountants. The Council/Directors failed to maintain proper accounting controls or records. Because auditors can only audit what they can see; such as receipts, invoices, and other paper trails, documents were believed to be intentionally destroyed.

In 1995, having bled the Corporation dry and almost at a dead stop, the Council/Directors turned their attention to TNCorp's last asset; the land. Council/Directors and their attorney misled Shareholders to believe their land was at risk under ANCSA and that by transferring the land to the Council the land would be put under “BIA trust” for protection. They tried to convince the shareholders to vote without ever telling them that…

1) Under ANCSA The land was protected from judgements, bankruptcy, adverse possession and taxation.

2) The Council could never put the land in federal trust because of the Alaska Exception. (Only tribal land that was Indian Country / Reservations could be held in federal trust).

3) The Council/Directors and their attorney wanted to transfer the Corporation’s land to the Council for the Council to secure a gambling license to operate a Casino on “Indian Land”. (The Gambling Commission never approved their applications because the land transfer did not qualify as “Indian Land” just privately held land.)

The Council/Directors knew holding the land under ANCSA meant answering to shareholders and government regulations but holding the land under the Tribe meant one person could control it all — the Chief.

The shareholders voted NO to transferring the Corporation's land. But, violating state laws to protect the shareholders' rights, the Council/Directors and their attorney transferred the land to the Council anyway. Just like that, 643,147 acres was taken from the Corporation shareholders.

The Council/Directors were sued individually The court ruled the land transfer was wrongful. But following the lawsuit, in the midst of dispute between the Corporation and the Council over the land, along came Brad Juneau and Chief Adams and the 2008 Mineral Lease.

Chief Adams, one person, without the Council or tribal members' knowledge or consent, just one person gave all of the Council and the Corporation's land away for a $0 rental 3% royalty deal, when other mines are getting up to 35% royalties and land rental. And Tetlin's royalties are not even being paid yet. Since 2008, the Council only gets $75,000 a year — and no one in the tribe know where that goes. Chief Adams, who was personally paid over $250,000 from the mining operators, committed another 10% of of the tribe's measly 3% royalties to a friend of his, Rickey Hendry, under another deal, the Finder’s Agreement.

In summary, Tetlin’s ANCSA village corporation was led to the very edge because of its village Council's Chief. And we wonder why Congress didn't give the land to a tribal government, because they knew the land would be abused and not protected for the tribal members.

Let's look at TNCorp today. They have leadership solid in integrity and business know-how. Above all, the Corporation stands to serve the Native Village of Tetlin as a whole, not divided. Presently, they are looking to the future and working on updating Bylaws for shareholders to vote on Open Enrollment and Shares Gifting to increase shareholders from the tribe.

Let's look at the Council-ruled Tetlin of today. Once land rich, but common-sense poor, it still has no running water, sewage system, cell services, and people are unemployed, poor, and hungry.

But, as it happened with the Chief before, Tetlin has a Chief who always has money, drives the newest trucks, boats, recreational vehicles, vacations when he wants, builds new homes, but still tells tribal members they can’t vote, or share in benefits… you get the picture.

Well, I say, Tetlin tribal members, shareholders or not, we should stand by our ANCSA village corporation because they give us the promise of hope. They have drained the swamp but need our help to get rid of all the alligators.

Once the coast is clear, the Native Village of Tetlin tribal members and its shareholders will benefit from viable economic development and a team of ethical players through the Tetlin Native Corporation.

So, let the Council gossip. Gossip is immature, unprofessional and shows their desperation and fear of the facts TNCorp delivers to us. The Corporation is open, honest, and backs up what they share with us with proof.

So, the next time the Council or their minions toss some unfounded nonsense at you about TNCorp, just ask them “CAN YOU PROVE IT?”

Then be ready to snap a picture of their “deer caught in headlights” expression.


Please email comments on Kevin's blog to: David Flenaugh
and your comments will be forwarded to Kevin Gunter

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