Benjamen Miyasato (KCAW photo by Ed Ronco)

Benjamen Miyasato (KCAW photo by Ed Ronco)

Ben Miyasato is one of six candidates for Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Council. He just finished a two-year term as Tribal Vice Chairman and is running for reelection. Miyasato wants the council to focus on tribal finances, and take into account the possibility of another government shutdown.

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There are two things that Ben Miyasato says he’s known for in Sitka – walking everywhere,

I do walk a lot here in town. I used to walk the dogs.

and his common sense.

He says, “We are the product of our parents and my Dad was a real common sense, quiet individual.”

Miyasato is also a product of Sitka. He was born here in 1963 and graduated from Sitka High.

The Sitka that shaped him has two governments – and he has served both.

“I served as a liaison from the tribal council to the city assembly meetings. And that’s the part I like is the cooperation. That we get a chance to interact at each other’s council meetings and assembly meetings,” says Miyasato.

He is finishing up a two-year term as STA Tribal Council Vice-Chairman, and in October was elected to the City of Sitka Assembly. Miyasato says that it is unusual to serve on both Tribal Council and City Assembly simultaneously.

He feels that he is in a strategic and unique position to help achieve one of his primary goals.

He says, “My first time running, two years ago. I came out with a very simple philosophy: I would do what’s right for STA and do what’s right for its tribal citizens.”

He says that communication between the STA and Sitka’s municipal government helps effectively address the needs of tribal citizens. One of which is protecting the subsistence lifestyle.

“Council does support our subsistence users, in regards to the commercial fishery. It’s in the state constitution that subsistence users are supposed to come first,” says Miyasato.

[Note: It is a common misunderstanding that the state constitution includes a clause about rural preference — meaning rural residents’ needs would be met first, over urban residents in times of scarcity. But this is not the case. Although, rural subsistence preference was added to state statute in 1986, it was later declared unconstitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court in 1989. There was an attempt to amend the state constitution in 1998 to include a rural subsistence preference, but it was rejected.

The rural preference enjoyed by many Alaskans today is supported at the federal level by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act — or ANILCA, and enforced by the state under a dual-management system.KCAW News regrets that we did not ask Mr. Miyasato to clarify his remarks prior to the broadcast of this story.]

A big part of this is protecting the subsistence herring fishery in Sitka. Miyasato says overfishing through commercial fishing practices is always a threat to the herring lifecycle.

“And this is the last fishery in Southeast Alaska. There is that possibility that there will never ever be another herring fishery. And you got to look at it in terms of decades. There used to be openings in Juneau there used to be openings in other parts of Southeast Alaska. Those fisheries are gone. If you have a bad year where they catch everything it takes several years for it to catch up, ” says Miyasato.

While Tribal Council Vice-Chairman, Miyasato served on the Herring Committee, and many others. He says it’s important to make sure the Tribe has a voice on issues important to the tribal citizens, without necessarily pushing an agenda.

He says, “You become a better council member when you rotate on what committee you serve on because you learn more about those committees, and our tribal citizens’ needs.”

If reelected, Miyasato is most concerned about managing tribal resources, made difficult by the sequestration and the recent government shutdown.

“A big challenge for this election cycle is how we’re going to manage if there is another government shutdown,” says Miyasato.

“That herring is almost like a symbol. This is our subsistence lifestyle. Don’t mess with our subsistence lifestyle. If we have a government shutdown, we won’t have our resource protection to look out for our tribal citizen’s needs. Our resource protection department to go out there and set branches for our tribal citizens is a greatly appreciated thing, especially for our elders.”

When Miyasato first ran for council, he just wanted to act in the best interest of tribal citizens. With experience, he has come to understand where the council has fallen short: preparing for tough financial times. After feeling the effects of the most recent government shutdown, Miyasato’s priorities for another term are clear.

He says, “Top priorities, we’re going to have to look at how we’re going to spend less and still provide the same service we’re providing to our tribal citizens.”

Ben Miyasato is on the ballot with Stephanie Edenshaw, Thomas Gamble, Louise Brady, and Lawrence “Woody” Widmark. Harvey Kitka is running as a write-in candidate. Visit Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi between now and Election Day on November 12 to cast your vote.