New president of Ketchikan Indian community says she will push for better access to traditional foods

The newly elected 2022 Tribal Council leaders of the Ketchikan Indian Community. From left to right, Vice President Norm Skan, Secretary Judy Leask Guthrie, President Trixie Bennett and Treasurer Chas Edwardson. (Photo courtesy of Ketchikan Indian Community)

The Ketchikan Indian Community Tribal Council elected a new president this week. Trixie Bennett says she plans to lead community advocacy to preserve Indigenous ways of life.

The new president of the Ketchikan Indian community said ensuring that tribal members have access to traditional foods and medicines is among her top priorities.

“Lay it under sovereignty if you want, but up there with sovereignty is our food,” Bennett said in a phone interview.

Trixie Bennett, Lingít of Wrangell, is the new president of the 6,000-member federally recognized Ketchikan Tribe. She had previously served as Vice-Chair of the Board.

In her new role, Bennett says she plans to continue pushing for tougher environmental standards for mines located near rivers that flow from Canada to southeast Alaska. Conservationists and tribes say mining waste is threatening salmon migrations in the area. Bennett says she plans to continue working with groups like Salmon Beyond Borders and the Southeast Alaska Native Transboundary Commission to push for a ban on tailings dams that hold mine waste along rivers. cross-border.

“Part of my priority is to keep paying attention to it, because salmon is our way of life,” she said. “It’s our canary in the mine for the environment.”

She says she is planning trips to Washington DC and Ottawa in the coming months to keep the pressure on.

Closer to home, Bennett says she plans to continue her efforts to have Ketchikan designated as a rural area under a federal law that governs who can participate in certain subsistence hunts and fisheries.

“Access to land is equal to access to our food. It’s like that — my great-grandfather was Chief Shakes in Wrangell in… the 1890s, and he was fighting for the same thing: access to our land and our food. So that will continue to be a priority for me and this tribe,” Bennett said.

As it stands, the Federal Subsistence Board considers most of Ketchikan, with the exception of Saxman, to be a non-rural area. And that means most Ketchikan residents can’t hunt or fish under subsistence rules on federal land.

“We fought to have the fishery open to subsistence users on the Unuk River for eulachon every spring, and we actually won – people could go out and get five gallons each. But we couldn’t go there ourselves as a community, and our tribal people weren’t allowed because of that rural designation,” she said. “It’s just not right.”

Bennett says another area of ​​interest is addiction, mental health and homelessness.

“It all goes together,” she said. “We have a lot of amazing programs and services and an ongoing treatment center that we are working on plans for. We’ve completed a feasibility study, so it’s moving forward, and (we’re) looking forward to collaborating with the rest of the community. We know this is a real need here.

Beyond that, Bennett says she plans to put her new business and management degree and her experience to work for people to make KIC a better place to work and get health care.

Prior to assuming the presidency, Bennett worked for the tribe’s clinic for more than a decade before winning a tribal council seat in 2018. These days, she runs a small online traditional medicine store called Tongass. Tonics and says she’s in talks to buy another downtown. business.

“Our traditional foods, many of our people have never had them to this day because they are shipped to the highest bidder. I would love to see more of these things offered by businesses in the city,” she said.

Bennett replaces Gloria Burns as president. Norm Skan, who preceded Burns, will return to lead the board as vice chairman. Treasurer Chas Edwardson and Secretary Judy Leask Guthrie complete the 2022 Executive Committee.

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