Edward K. Thomas Sr. was elected Friday and sworn in Saturday as president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
Thomas, who served as president for 23 years before retiring in 2007, was elected to the position at the Tribal Assembly this weekend, defeating incumbent Bill Martin in the final of six ballots, 67-56. The change in leadership means change in some priorities for the council. Among them is the likelihood of a cultural center Martin advocated for the location colloquially known as Juneau's downtown "pit."
Thomas said the tribe has "a lot of work to do."
"There's a lot of challenges to the tribe," he said.
The biggest challenge is a lack of full reimbursement by the federal government for managing federal programs, which creates a deficit and puts a strain on anything else it does, he said on Saturday.
Some of those programs are higher education, human services and child welfare, he said. Thomas said the tribes will either need to be fully reimbursed or will discontinue managing programs that don't provide full reimbursement.
He also said he plans on reinstituting a grievance procedure for tribal members that he had in effect during his previous administration, and plans to improve collaboration with other area Native organizations to ensure they aren't competing.
"My whole platform was to make sure we protect our tribal resources for future generations," he said. "I think that resonated with the delegates."
As far as the cultural center, Thomas said he sees other tribal buildings, like ANB Hall, that are currently underutilized. "We need to do a better management plan for a facility of that nature," he said.
The Tribal Assembly was to vote on whether or not to appropriate $800,000 from the council's trust fund for the purchase of the property later Saturday. Most said they thought it unlikely to pass, something Martin said was "a big disappointment to me."
"It would have been great for the area, and for downtown Juneau," he said.
Martin said he plans to stay active in the state suicide council; he has been active in trying to reduce the suicide rate.
"I will do whatever I can in that area," he said.
Thomas will serve a two-year term as president.
The six vice-presidents, who meet several times a year and serve as the governing body of the council between conventions, are Will Micklin, Rob Sanderson. Jr., Yodean Armour, Richard Peterson, Harold Houston and Lowell Halverson.
A somewhat controversial vote prior to nominations made the six losing presidential nominees this year ineligible to run for vice-president, a change from past procedure.
The six vice-presidents will also serve two-year terms; the two youth representatives, who serve on the executive council with the vice-presidents but don't have voting rights, will serve a one-year term each.
Shawn Eby of Sitka and Megan Gregory of Kake were elected Youth Representatives.
Jerry Bennet of Juneau was elected Delegate of the Year.
Doug Luna, from Seattle, was elected Tribal Judge.
Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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