Correction: Kristeen Reft was not interviewed for this story. Alicia Reft was the source for the quotes in this story.
When federal judge Sharon Gleason ruled July 3 that the Native Village of Karluk had no legal jurisdiction over Koniag Inc., it was supposed to be the end of an era of discord between the two groups.
In an interview Friday, the Karluk Tribal Council explained that while there is a cease-fire in the courts, there’s anything but love between Kodiak’s regional Native corporation and this vocal group of shareholders.
“It’s just kind of gotten ridiculous,” said tribal administrator Alicia Reft, outlining the areas where Koniag and Karluk conflict.
The case between Koniag and Karluk has its roots in the 1980s, when Koniag attempted to assimilate the village Native corporations in the Kodiak archipelago. A handful of village corporation shareholders sued to block the move, citing irregularities in the merger.
When the lawsuit was upheld, only the village corporations of Larsen Bay and Karluk elected to continue with the merger.
In the first few years after the merger, the differences between the cities with village corporations and those without were few.
That started to change as Native corporations recovered from the malaise of the 1980s and took advantage of federal contracting to grow. Successful companies like Afognak Native Corporation and Old Harbor Native Corporation returned big dividends and support to their communities.
Karluk sued to split a corporation from Koniag, but that attempt was stopped by Gleason’s decision.
Without a village corporation of its own, Karluk feels left out. While Old Harbor and Ouzinkie have new docks and new infrastructure projects, Karluk is left with ailing electrical generators and a landfill near capacity.
“(Koniag) make(s) it look like they’re working for Karluk; that’s it, and it’s not true,” said one member of the village’s tribal council.
Koniag has held numerous teleconferences and in-person meetings with Karluk residents in an attempt to solve issues, but the meetings didn’t do much, the council said.
The corporation has occasionally written letters of support for projects but physical assistance is short on the ground.
Koniag CEO Will Anderson said the regional corporation is limited by the law. “Under corporate law, we can’t favor one subset of our shareholders,” he said.
That means Koniag can’t fill the role of a village corporation for Karluk and Larsen Bay. It can’t underwrite projects like sewage systems or a new landfill without doing the same thing in Akhiok or Port Lions.
“Our corporation, Koniag, does nothing for us,” Reft said.
While Karluk residents are Koniag shareholders, Anderson said, Koniag also has to protect the interests of shareholders who live in Seattle or Anchorage.
That approach creates problems in more than just finances.
Earlier this year, it was discovered that a recreational cabin built 11 years ago by Karluk residents is actually on Koniag land.
Koniag sent a cease-and-desist letter ordering the cabin to be removed. “We can’t give away land just because someone built a cabin on the land,” Anderson said.
Other land problems have cropped up as Karluk worked on a new landfill and investigated a wind turbine project, council members said.
Amid these problems, council members said they remained determined — despite the July 3 ruling — to find some sort of solution that guarantees Karluk residents land and the rights to develop it.
Reft asked that details of the tribal council’s legal strategy remain confidential, but she said one thing can be revealed: “We’re not going anywhere.”
Editor’s Note: The Karluk Tribal Council paid for a return aircraft ticket from Karluk to Kodiak.