There’s an open seat on the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Tribal Council. That’s after one of its members resigned in protest last month. The council will consider applicants for the open seat at its upcoming meeting, but it may take more than just a fresh face to fix the alleged issues within the Tribal Council.
Ben Miyasato stepped down from the Tribal Council in the middle of the Tribe’s monthly meeting in January.
“I hereby resign off Sitka Tribe of Alaska Council effective immediately,” Miyasato declared.
Miyasato was one of nine council members serving the tribe of more than 5,000 citizens. He said he’s been thinking about resigning since last spring.
That’s when he and fellow council members Wilbur Brown and Woody Widmark took part in an ad hoc committee. The committee was formed to look into the firing of the Tribe’s director of social services, but Miyasato says conversations went far beyond that.
“They wanted to remove the Chairman,” Miyasato explained. “They wanted to remove the General Manager, and they discussed the possibility of removing the Tribal attorney and the Finance Director.”
Mike Baines was the Tribe’s Chairman at the time. Baines says he felt pressure and even public ridicule during council meetings.
“I knew they were trying to run me out of office and I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of just resigning,” Baines said.
He didn’t back down, but he also didn’t get re-elected this past November, which he said was a bit of a relief.
That position is now held by KathyHope Erickson.
“In the last couple of months, since I’ve been on the Council, I haven’t felt any intimidation,” Erickson said.
She said she wasn’t aware of the ad hoc committee Ben Miyasato sat on last year. Both Woody Widmark and Wilbur Brown were asked to comment for this story, but declined.
If there are any allegations of improper conduct made in the future, Erickson said she’d refer to the Tribe’s Code of Conduct.
That code tied Miyasato’s hands while serving on the council. But now that he’s resigned, he finally feels free to air his grievances.
He did say he has one regret.
“If I had filed a complaint that might have been able to at least let the other council members know and the Chairman know what those two [council members] were up to,” Miyasato said.
Miyasato urges whoever fills his seat on the Tribal Council not to back down to intimidation.
“You have to stand up,” Miyasato said. “You have to stand up and say, ‘This is not right.’ You have to be able to do that for yourself. You have to have integrity.”
The newly-appointed council member will serve the remainder of Miyasato’s term, which is up in November of 2017.
The Sitka Tribe of Alaska says KCAW News received inaccurate information for a recent story concerning the abrupt resignation of Tribal Council member Ben Miyasato. Following his resignation — made in protest in January — Miyasato approached media to discuss his resignation and the circumstances surrounding his dramatic departure.
KCAW News reported reactions by both current Tribal chair KathyHope Erickson, and immediate past chair Michael Baines. Other figures identified in the story declined to comment.
A public statement released by the Tribe this week says that not only was the information Miyasato revealed factually inaccurate, it was also confidential. For that reason, the Tribe says it cannot offer any further public comment on the story.
The statement cites the Tribe’s commitment to its mission, which is to “exercise sovereign rights and powers, to preserve the integrity of tribal society, and to improve the lives of individual Tribal Citizens.” The statement says any concerns about Tribal Council or management are welcome and will be taken seriously and addressed as needed.
Read the full statement here.