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Tribe blossoming after restored recognition

Posted: December 19, 2011 - 1:06am

KODIAK — A decade ago, the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak had two full-time employees working from a small office. Today, it has 20 employees who operate from a 6,000 square-foot office in a million-dollar building in downtown Kodiak.

That kind of progress was trumpeted last weekend as the tribe held its annual meeting in Kodiak. About two dozen people attended a briefing on the tribe’s growth during the past year, but the crowd grew to more than 200 for the annual Christmas party that followed.

“We went through a hard winter, but I think it’s starting to pan out,” said John Reft, a Sun’aq Tribe board member who was re-elected to a three-year term last Sunday. “It took a lot of years to get where we are now; we have made our place in this state and beyond.”

Sun’aq CEO Robert Polasky said the tribe collected $2.5 million in revenue during the latest fiscal year, up $200,000 from the previous year.

“We’re in a real solid position,” he said. “Our tribe is continuing to grow.”

Sun’aq is a federally recognized tribe that falls outside the constellation of tribal organizations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement act in the 1970s. Sun’aq’s federal recognition lapsed in the 1970s, and the group reclaimed its recognition three days before the start of 2001.

Since then, the tribal organization has relied on federal grants to run outreach programs, a tribal court and adoption help — a situation the tribe is trying to change, Polasky said.

The tribe operates a bingo hall in the first floor of the building that also houses its offices, but its real hope lies in Wildsource, a seafood processing operation that got its start with a grant from the Administration for Native Americans.

In a presentation last Sunday, Wildsource CEO Chris Sannito said he plans to raise his fish processing goal, from 60,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds, in 2012.

“A lot of things have to happen for that, but I’m confident,” he said.

In the past year, Sannito has overseen the installation of new equipment that will permit Wildsource to process that much fish. Now the problem is to find a market for it.

“What we’re looking for now are new customers. We’re looking directly at consumers,” he said.

Wildsource has opened a website for direct sales and hired a marketing person in mid-November.

More sales and more processing would create a demand for more fish from tribe members, he said.

“This year we’re going to need more Sun’aq tribal fishers,” he said.

Sun’aq board member Iver Malutin said it’s important that Wildsource be a success.

“To me, if we work this right, Wildsource is the future of our tribe,” he said. “I don’t have any words for how important this is for us.”

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