On Wednesday night, Coast Guard base Kodiak and the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak held a ceremony to mark the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the tribe and Coast Guard.

They celebrated with cake and dancing, but the agreement’s real work will be done in fluorescent-lit conference rooms and by email as Sun’aq continues its long-term quest for land to call its own.

“It’s the tribe’s ultimate goal to have a parcel of land it can call it’s own,” said tribal administrator Bob Polasky.

Sun’aq, recognized as an official tribe in 2000, missed out on land distributions from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Last year, the tribe publicly announced its intention to gain surplus land currently held by the U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak.

The base encompasses 21,000 acres, making it the largest Coast Guard facility in the country, but much its property is unused.

The base was formed in the early days of World War II and took over thousands of acres formerly used by Natives for subsistence.

“I was here then, and I was 10 years old at the time, and I remember all of it,” Sun’aq Elder Iver Malutin told the assembled crowd.

He simply stated the long-term goal of Wednesday’s memorandum: “to get back what the Coast Guard doesn’t need.”

To that end, the document calls for the Coast Guard and Sun’aq to share information about contaminated sites on Coast Guard land, particularly in the Buskin River valley.

It also schedules an annual meeting between the Coast Guard and Sun’aq about tribal issues. It deliberately avoids detailed discussion of a land giveaway, something that will only happen after years of federal processes — if ever.

While Wednesday’s signing is a small beginning, Malutin thinks it’s an example for military bases across the country in the way they interact with tribal groups. “Whether you know it or not, we are making history,” he said. “This could be a really important meeting coming from little Kodiak Island.”

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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