'Phantom' tribal group defends its existence

Leader says tribe still exists, but is displaced

Posted: Sunday, October 26, 2003

ANCHORAGE - The tribal president of a so-called phantom village said he objects to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' suggestion that tribes like his shouldn't get federal money.

Kanatak is a village on the Alaska Peninsula that no longer exists, but Terrence Shanigan said his tribe counts 130 members and has a budget of about $145,000.

"To me a phantom is like some shadow-walker lurking in the bushes. That's not us," Shanigan said Thursday. "We are displaced, landless tribes, landless communities. We are not phantoms."

Stevens, an Alaska Republican, told reporters Wednesday that, having heard reports of possible fraud, he will ask the federal agencies to account for the money they have given to Alaska tribes "to determine whether some of those monies have been sent to nonexistent entities."

Stevens said he wants to make sure money intended to benefit Alaska Natives goes where it's needed and is not misused.

He said he's heard complaints for years about grants to "phantom tribes." He decided to act after receiving three letters supporting his effort to "regionalize" funding for rural Alaska, rather than allow each tribe to get its own grants from the federal agencies.

One of the letters also encouraged him to look into the problem of phantom tribes, and the writer named four in the Bristol Bay region, including Kanatak.

The village site, on Shelikof Strait, is unoccupied. No one has lived there since 1956, said Shanigan, who lives in Anchorage.

The 1890 census recorded 26 residents there. Oil drilling boosted the number to 134 by 1940. In the 1950s the industry dwindled, the teachers left and the town's institutions fizzled.

"The government came in and told my grandpa that kids had to go to school and they had to move," Shanigan told the Anchorage Daily News.

A wildlife refuge was established over the town site. Shanigan doesn't think re-establishing a village there is possible.

Still, the displaced residents and their descendants are a tribe, he said. A dozen or so of the members still live in the Bristol Bay region, while others live elsewhere in Alaska. About a third live out of state.

The members keep in touch and have a community center in Wasilla.

"We're not somebody's illegitimate children," Shanigan said. "Just because we don't own the land does not delegitimize us as Aleuts from Kanatak."

Kanatak was on the list of federally recognized tribes the Department of Interior released in 1993.

In 1997 it got its first grant - $30,000, to help it organize. Now it gets most of its money, about $125,000, from a program for small and needy tribes.

By agreement between the organizations, most of the tribe's grants are routed through the Bristol Bay Native Association.

The tribe also gets a federal housing grant through the Bristol Bay regional housing authority, he said. The grant - about $16,000 - is used to provide emergency shelter for tribal members, help families get into apartments and help one or two buy their own homes, Shanigan said.

The tribe provides scholarships, he said, and sends back-to-school backpacks of school supplies to its 37 children, wherever they live.

One of Stevens' concerns is that the federal government may not keep track of its grants to Alaska tribes to make sure they are spent as intended.

That might be something Shanigan could agree with. A few years ago, the tribe was led by people who Shanigan said misused the federal grants to buy trucks and travel.

"Tribal members were upset that no one was looking into us," he said.

He said he and other tribal members tried to blow the whistle but no one in government would listen. Finally, he said, a counterfeiting scheme brought on the law and the tribe got new management.



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