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Jerry Isaac, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview of Jerry Isaac on January 14, 2014 by Leslie McCartney and Karen Brewster at the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks, Alaska.  In the second part of this two part interview, Jerry talks about his thoughts on community leadership and his work with the Tribal Council at Tanacross.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-06_PT.2

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Jan 14, 2014
Narrator(s): Jerry Isaac
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Leslie McCartney
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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Additional thoughts on leadership

Work with the Tribal Council in Tanacross

Differences between the tribe and the village corporation

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JERRY ISAAC: Like from outside the region there is Willie Hensley -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yes.

JERRY ISAAC: And those guys, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: And they were Natives and they spoke --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: They were educated and spoke very well. JERRY ISAAC: Very good, so. Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: So I’d like to speak like that some day. You know I --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I think you do very well.

JERRY ISAAC: And I set out to do that, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And you have, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now was your father a leader in Tanacross?

JERRY ISAAC: Yeah, he was on the local council leadership for a number of years, but culturally he is also the -- one of the culture bearers and that heavily influenced me as a you know, I’m singer dancer. Drummer as well. Yeah. And that came from them.


KAREN BREWSTER: I changed tape because I had to -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did -- KAREN BREWSTER: I did -- we kinda had to interrupt. LESLIE McCARTNEY: That’s okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: I know Jerry's busy, but I had one last question that you haven’t talked about. Which is that your work with the Tribal Council in Tanacross.

And I am wondering about -- if you could talk about that and also the relationship of the tribes to the park service in a government to government relation and how that has or has not worked?

JERRY ISAAC: Well, you gotta understand that I haven’t been home for eight years and I did have some sort of relationship with the National Park Service because I know Barbara Cellarius.

As long as I've known Barbara she's always offered dialogue and coordination with the village there and we attended their meetings and they attended ours.

You know, I really can’t give you quantitative idea about our relationship with the park service because like I say it has been eight years, but I did have a discussion relationship with Barbara and those that she worked with in the National Park Service out of Glennallen in that area. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when were you -- when did you first get on the Tanana Tribal Council?

JERRY ISAAC: Tanacross? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Tanacross. KAREN BREWSTER: Tanacross, excuse me.

JERRY ISAAC: When I was young. Like when I was 22 years old in 1976. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow.

JERRY ISAAC: My cousin Betty Denny came into the house and says we are having a meeting down at the hall and my answer to her was so? I don’t wanna go to no meeting. She says we need a couple of more people to make a quorum. What is that? The number of people required to have a -- a meeting.

So she says you should come in and just be there to be counted and, you know, we'll have a quorum established. So, okay, yeah, all right. I’ll be down there.

So I went down there and they had a quorum and the council they had seven positions open and five people were running. There again Betty convinced me to run for the council cause we need seven.

So, you know, I had a successful run there, you know. And she told me that if you feel like it you can resign down the road and -- cause I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t even know what leadership was about.

All I wanted to be -- to do is to be left alone so I could live my lifestyle more like drinking, heavy partying kind of guy. And so I went and ran for the council and then they had a meeting and then they had a couple of more meetings and I got interested after that.

Hey, this is interesting stuff. I got stuck with it. I've been a leader with the Tanacross Council until March of ’06 when I left. I started in April of ’76.


JERRY ISAAC: Or June of ’76.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: What issues were -- do you remember any really salient issues that you had to deal with on council over that -- that's a long stretch of time?

JERRY ISAAC: Service providing. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: Service provision, hiring village infrastructure needs. I remember we only had 12 houses and a community hall and we needed more infrastructure.

So when I got on the council just around two years later the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed so that became interesting project to get into. So that pretty much set the stage for my leadership.

You gotta understand that I wasn’t the best, you know. I had to learn on the job and in my council leadership position I was -- I had to access to meeting people like yourselves, you know. You know, agency people.

People who, you know, like from the state and federal governments, from all different agencies. We even met gas pipeline companies and it was interesting back in ’78 when we were working with Northwest Gas Pipeline Company trying to build gas line and we are still trying to build it 40 years later. I haven’t seen that pipeline yet.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: No. They're still trying to build the McKenzie Pipeline in Canada too. That's been going longer. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: At some point you were president of the council, weren’t you?

JERRY ISAAC: I became President of the Tanacross Council I think in that fall of ’76 to the time I left. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow.

JERRY ISAAC: I didn’t know why Tanacross has a habit of electing one president and leaving him forever. Like Bob Brean, you know, my friend and colleague Bob Brean. He's been the President of Tanacross, Inc. since ’78.


KAREN BREWSTER: Now is Tanacross, Inc. the village corporation?

JERRY ISAAC: Corporation, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so how did that come about?

JERRY ISAAC: From the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So there has to be a village corporation -- JERRY ISAAC: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And then there is the tribal -- the tribal -- JERRY ISAAC: Well --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Or how does that work?

JERRY ISAAC: Well, they, you know, the state -- the state and the congressional delegation has always been afraid of tribal sovereignty. So when they were crafting the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, they made sure that they kept the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act away from tribal authority.

Where they mandated the organization of corporations.


JERRY ISAAC: State chartered. And also you have to enroll whereas on the tribal sover -- on the tribal government basis, you didn’t have to do anything. You just get born into the tribe. And then you don’t have shares.

You -- you die -- you die with your rights. Your -- your position vacated. There's are other children born into the tribe and they take it over. So there was no share ownership or anything just membership.

And fundamental difference between the state’s position and the tribes, so, you know, there was -- there's always that battle. It is still today. Today -- to this day there's that battle.


KAREN BREWSTER: I was wondering how that works -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Between the Tanacross Corporation and the tribe? How is that relationship bring --

JERRY ISAAC: Relationship wise I don’t know, but what happens is the village corporation is mandated by state law to have its annual shareholders elections -- meetings and, you know, you have to be a shareholder to run for office and being a shareholder doesn’t mean that you have to be from that village.

There are a lot of Tanacross, Inc. shareholders that are not from the village. It's just they became shareholders because of inheritance and/or, you know, divorce decrees where somebody was divorced and the stocks went to the non-tribal member and, you know, they -- they own the stocks.

The tribal government on the other hand is -- you have to be member of the tribe. You have to be from Tanacross and so that’s the two fundamental difference between the two of them.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: If your parents were from Tanacross and your mother was from Tanacross and she came to live in Fairbanks and then had children lived in Fairbanks, can those children still be part of the tribe.

JERRY ISAAC: They can be, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: They can be?

JERRY ISAAC: They can be. It is just that the village corporation is different. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

JERRY ISAAC: As of December 18, 1971, if you were alive and well as of that day, you could apply to become a shareholder. And then the shareholder period closed.


JERRY ISAAC: That’s it. If you didn’t meet the December 18, 1971 commission day --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You born on December 19th, you lost out?

JERRY ISAAC: Yeah. You lost out. And we have a lot of that. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: They're called the afterborns. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah. So --

KAREN BREWSTER: How does it work in Tanacross -- what kinds of things -- activities does the corporation do versus the kind of activities that the council and the tribe are responsible for?

JERRY ISAAC: Generally speaking the Tanacross Council is responsible for social services community infrastructure being the voice of the tribe in terms of watchdog education policies, legislative priorities and actions, you know, this stuff. Whereas the corporation is mainly just business. You know, they --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Can you be on both? Is there a problem with that? JERRY ISAAC: Yeah, you can be -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: That’s not a problem?

JERRY ISAAC: If you are --if you are a tribal member, but also a shareholder. LESLIE McCARTNEY: A shareholder. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. [00:11:38JERRY ISAAC: You can serve on both.

ESLIE McCARTNEY: So it's not a conflict of interest or anything? JERRY ISAAC: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No.

JERRY ISAAC: I -- I served on both before. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: Roy Denny -- he served on both before. Betty Denny, his wife. There's a number of times when some of us who served on both boards. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

JERRY ISAAC: The only thing is the corporation is a business and you can’t do things that the village council can do. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

JERRY ISAAC: You know, the village council can access grant funds to do community infrastructure. Stuff. The corporation can’t use its resources to do community infrastructure stuff. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. Must be a lot of gray area that -- JERRY ISAAC: Well, yeah -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, there must be.

JERRY ISAAC: There is a lot -- there is, you know, like that land into trust issue. You know, there's a lot of ramifications to that. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

JERRY ISAAC: It's not negative, but it's just people -- people’s perception of it is fear, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: And, you know, that Alaska has tribes. It is just the question of land jurisdiction, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

JERRY ISAAC: But the question of whether there's tribes in Alaska there is. And sometimes those tribes will have a village in our region where the church returned back their -- they gift deeded their church lands back to the tribe and the tribe wants to put that into trust.

And we’re stuck now because of that, you know, just this -- the courts ruled in favor of the tribes’ position that we can put lands into trust.

Right now they’re -- it's really not decided upon because there's some corporations that are fearful of, you know.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So the corporations want the land or who else has already tried --

JERRY ISAAC: No, the tribe. LESLIE McCARTNEY: The tribe. The tribe does. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But because of the Native Claims Settlement -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Native Claims Settlement -- KAREN BREWSTER: Act and how the lands and distributed --

JERRY ISAAC: Well, you know, the ramifications from the settlement act is the fact that they are for-profit corporations. They -- they have to make money in order to survive and sometimes when they get into resource development it doesn’t bode well with the tribe. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

JERRY ISAAC: So there's that conflict. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: And, you know, when you put land into trust, you cannot develop those lands. It has to remain -- its' like the park service, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: You can’t just run in there and develop it. There's a process you got to go through in order to get to that.

Same thing with the -- with the land into trust where and the ultimate situation is you cannot develop trust lands. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

JERRY ISAAC: You know, cause if the tribe wants it in perpetuity then that's the way it goes, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

JERRY ISAAC: Yeah. Yeah. But I got my --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I want to first of all I want to thank you for explaining that because I've always kind of wondered how that worked. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But more importantly thank you for your time today and thank you for telling your story.

JERRY ISAAC: I really appreciate -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, we really -- I really enjoyed it. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Thank you, Jerry. JERRY ISAAC: Yeah.