Saxman: Call us ‘Rural’

Saxman Totem Park and Clan House. Shared via KRBD-Ketchikan.
Saxman Totem Park and Clan House. Shared via KRBD-Ketchikan.

The Southeast village of Saxman took its fight to be designated a “rural” community to Congress today. Saxman Village President Lee Wallace told a House subcommittee he was devastated in 2007, when he watched the Federal Subsistence Board decide Saxman was “non-rural.”

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“When the vote came down, it ended up being the saddest moment in my life, only to be eclipsed by the loss of my parents.”

The rural designation matters because without it, the 400 or so residents of the community near Ketchikan aren’t entitled to a subsistence priority when it comes to hunting and fishing. The ruling was put on hold, but Wallace says it still hurt in Saxman.

“There was a lot of civic apathy and there was a feeling of loss that we couldn’t maintain our way of life, gathering, hunting, fishing.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young, who chairs the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, says the decision to remove Saxman’s rural status wasn’t right. The village pre-dates Ketchikan, the city that grew up three miles away. Young sponsored a bill to restore Saxman’s rural status, and change the process.

“It reinstates Saxman and anytime now on, if they want to redesignate another community as non-rural, it has to come through this committee.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has sponsored a similar bill in the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, the Federal Subsistence Board has proposed a rule change that would allow more flexibility when determining rural designations, and has held public hearings on that rule. Wallace told the subcommittee that while the rule change would help, Young’s bill would provide more security.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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