Traditional Council donates $23,500 to community groups

Members of the various community organizations that received mini-grants from the Traditional Council on Aug. 30. PHOTO COURTESY OF SKAGWAY TRADITIONAL COUNCIL

At least $23,500 has been passed out to various organizations in the community by the Skagway Traditional Council, as the council distributes the remainder of a $50,000 check given to it by Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) earlier this year.

“We had a lot of people apply for it, and at the end the council decided that they want to fund all the projects, because they were all great projects,” Tribal Council Administrator Sara Kinjo-Hischer said.

SEARHC representatives came to Skagway in April of this year to present the Traditional Council with the check; Skagway was one of fifteen communities to receive such a gift from the health consortium. The money came with several stipulations: that it be spent on things that would make the community more healthy, that the expenditures were documented for SEARHC and that it be spent by Sept. 30 of 2018.

After some quick planning, the Traditional Council began to spend parts of the $50,000. Bike helmets were bought for local children, and the funds from SEARHC were also used to purchase gym memberships for local Alaska Native/American Indian residents, buy accessibility aids for older residents (such as grab bars for bathrooms and slip-proof mats) and get nicotine patches to help with smoking cessation.

“Our main aim is to do programs and projects that keep Skagway healthy and active and a good community,” Kinjo-Hischer said.

More recently, at the end of August the Traditional Council presented $23,500 from those funds to a number of community groups who had applied for mini-grants.

To be eligible, the project or cause needed to be something that is health-related to either the community members or Traditional Council members, or safety-related.

Kinjo-Hischer said the Traditional Council was able to fund almost everything at the level requested, though some did receive less than asked for to “keep it fair amongst all the similar programs and clubs,” Kinjo-Hischer said.

The local Archery Club was awarded $2,000. Archery coach Aaron Schmidt said the funds will be spent on new bows, arrows, targets, quivers, a bow rack and another arrow-catching curtain to allow for more archers to participate.

“I am honored and grateful to have the support of the Traditional Council as we build a new, unique program at our school. It elevates what we are doing to have an ally like that, and we hope to make them proud through many years of empowering our kids to find the hero within themselves,” Schmidt said.

Each of the high school basketball teams received $2,000. Boys basketball coach Scott Lesh said the money would be put towards travel expenses to and from tournaments. Paul Myers, girls high school basketball coach, said the grant money his team received will be put towards travel as well, and to send the girls to basketball camps during the summertime. The grant will allow the girls to attend basketball tournaments that are out-of-conference, which means school funds don’t support travel to them.

“So we do a lot of fundraising to be able to do these trips so the kids can get more playing time, more experience and traveling and staying together as a team,” Myers said.

While some of the money was put towards obvious safety and health-related things, other expenditures were less traditional.

One of the applications was from Beau Dennis, so that he could attend a formline class. Formline is the traditional Tlingít art style.

“That relates to reconnecting with your culture, which is healthy for mental health,” Kinjo-Hischer said. “It’s healthy for the whole tribal community to have someone here become proficient with it.”

From the initial $50,000, Kinjo-Hischer said around $7,000 is leftover. This money is being slotted for a smoking cessation program. Kinjo-Hischer said the Traditional Council has its eye on a group that does weight loss and smoking cessation hypnotherapy.

“The date hasn’t been completely set yet, but it’s probably going to be in December sometime,” Kinjo-Hischer said.

The full list of mini-grant recipients are: Track Team, Archery Club, Beau Dennis, Skagway School, Boys and Girls Basketball teams, Skagway Traditional Council, Mighty Munchikins, First Presbyterian, Skagway Development Corporation and Mission Objective Outdoors, Inc.

“This [the money from SEARHC] actually kind of came as a surprise to us in the spring, we didn’t know we were going to get it, and we only had maybe four-five months to spend it,” Kinjo-Hischer said. “From what I understand it might become a yearly thing, as long as SEARHC is doing well with their finances and their programs, and if it becomes a yearly thing we’ll probably have more thoughts on how we want to work on it in the future.”

Public Works projects discussed

The Public Works Committee ran through a list of several current and upcoming projects at its Sept. 10 meeting. The first discussed was sidewalk repair around town.

Public Works Director Tyson Ames said there are “rough” stretches of sidewalk all over the place that could use some attention, such as a portion by the Skagway Library on Eighth Avenue.

“We don’t have to go through and do them all at once,” Ames said.

Committee Member Orion Hanson asked if priority would be given to rough sidewalks in the business area, and Ames replied that he’d have to see which spots were in the worst shape and what sidewalks have high traffic levels.

“I don’t know how much we’ll even get done this year before freeze-up anyways,” Ames said. “I’d like to get that one [sidewalk] by the library done, and that’ll tell us quite a bit –how long and how much it’s going to cost.”

The committee passed a motion to have the Public Works Department upgrade the Eighth Avenue sidewalk near the library, get the numbers for repair costs and identify other sidewalks that need similar treatment.

Hanson also asked after another sidewalk repair project, which is budgeted to fix the tilting sidewalk along Broadway by the stream. Ames said that project would hopefully be done by the beginning of the next tourist season.

Another topic discussed was the potential for adding a bike path to an existing project. Engineering for a South Klondike Highway utility extension had been approved by the assembly in the wintertime, and the Public Works Committee weighed the merits of incorporating a bike path to the project. The engineering to put water and sewer utilities was supposed to go all the way to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities shops.

“With our long-term plans of putting an RV park out there, and already people are going and living in Liarsville…runners and everything else, there’s a lot of pedestrians and bicyclers and kids riding their bicycles down from the Dyea Road to school – I think its not just an enhancement, but a real safety factor too,” Hanson said.

The idea would be to put the bike path along the west side of the highway to connect it to the footbridge already spanning the Skagway River.

A bike path wasn’t part of the original plan, so the committee voted to investigate a contract amendment for the utility extension project in regard to a bike path.

The last thing the committee voted on was over a proposal from the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.  A suggestion had come from the railroad, suggesting that a parcel of White Pass-owned land north of the old police station on State Street be leased to the municipality for use as a parking lot. The committee voted to recommend the Borough Assembly consider having the interim borough managers negotiate a potential contract for that parking lot.