Togiak tribe banishes Dillingham man for 10 years

Apr 11, 2016

Citing "known fact" of 26-year-old's importation of drugs and alcohol, tribal president Jimmy Coopchiak said unnamed man is "no longer welcome in this community."

The Togiak traditional council has rolled out the “not welcome” mat to a Dillingham man they say has been importing alcohol and drugs into the community.

Audio transcript: This is the second time in a year that the Togiak tribe has banished an individual from the village. Last fall, local air carriers were informed that the first of them, a 23-year-old from Dillingham, was no longer welcome in Togiak. On Friday letters went out that the second had been banished as well. He, a brother to the first, is 26 years old.

"I think we need to do this, to protect our future children, and our elders, because they're vulnerable. It’s been getting worse, and we’re saying enough is enough," said traditional council president Jimmy Coopchiak.

The tribe has decided not to publicly release the men’s names. Because the allegations of drug and alcohol importation leveled against the men are not based on state criminal complaints or filed in open court, KDLG has withheld their names from this report.

Local airlines confirmed that the tribe had asked them not to allow either of these brothers passage to the village.

Banishments from tribal lands in Alaska are not necessarily common, but are not unheard of. The procedure appears to be of renewed interest as communities wrestle with the epidemic of heroin and meth use.

“It’s rare, but we are exercising our sovereign authority as a federally-recognized tribe," said Togiak tribal court clerk Helen Gregorio.

Gregorio said banishment begins with a petition to the tribal council, which then meets with the court's three judge panel. Once the banishment order has been signed, the tribe says its police force will arrest the men if they set foot on their tribal lands.

The first man was banished for life, the most recently banished for the next 10 years.

Coopchiak said the council is taking more petitioned cases under consideration right now, these involving actual tribal members who live in Togiak.

"If it’s a tribal member, we have the authority to revoke their membership in our tribal membership," he said.

Coopchiak and other officials in Togiak, a dry village, say the amount of hard drugs and alcohol coming in has spiked dramatically in the past two years. They blame that in part on direct cargo flights from Anchorage, and a lack of enforcement. They say they are asking the state and federal governments for help, hoping for funding and expanded jurisdiction for their tribal police and court.  

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281