Leatha Merculieff, SEARHC’s vice president of executive administration, awards a “Healthy is Here” grant to Petersburg Indian Association tribal council president Tracy Welch in May 2018. (Photo courtesy of Ross Nannauck III)

Tribal organizations in 15 communities served by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, have until the end of September to spend grant money the non-profit gifted them at the beginning of the summer to promote health and wellness. In Petersburg and Kake, the funds will provide for an array of different projects.

Activity fees have gone up twice in two years in Petersburg’s middle and high schools.

Petersburg Indian Association Tribal Council President Tracy Welch said the council decided to put some of the 50 thousand dollars to help families cover the costs of sports and other activities: “three hundred dollars for each high school student, two hundred dollars for each middle school student, and one hundred dollars for each elementary school student,” Welch said. “And that can be applied to a variety of things – school fees, activity fees, swim club, the dance studio, Devil’s Club Shooters. So all you have to do is come up and show your current enrollment card.”

For enrolled tribal members, PIA will write a check to the school. Families may apply the funds to activities that aren’t strictly physical – like quiz bowl. Welch said by distributing the grant this way, the organization is tackling another of its goals.

“One of the things that we’ve been trying to do over the past few years is updating our tribal enrollment list because that mysteriously went missing a few years ago,” Welch said.

Welch said good enrollment information can help the organization win other grants. A similar program will award 200 dollars to seniors who verify or update their enrollment. Those funds are supposed to go toward utility or residential costs. And she said some of the money went toward an event happening August 11th through 14th: “the first kids culture camp in many, many years.”

Kids age 8 through 14 will be traveling up the Stikine River. Those 7 and under can go as long as they’re accompanied by a parent. There will be an adult culture camp in Petersburg during the Rainforest Festival, also supported by the SEARHC money.

About 40 miles away across Kupreanof Island, the Organized Village of Kake is instituting another hodgepodge of programs under the broad theme of wellness. The OVK put part of the award toward Kake’s kids and adult culture camps. Tribal Council President Joel Jackson will use some of the money to get firewood and fish to community members at no cost.

“I’ve done that all my life,” Jackson said. “My late wife she’d say why do you put up so much fish? I’d say, you know why I do it, because in the winter time I go and give it away.”

By purchasing fuel, snacks, and chainsaws for the free firewood, Jackson’s hoping to get younger people involved. He said tribal leaders are planning to purchase a flake ice machine to support subsistence fishing, as well as equipment for community sea otter tanning.

“My cousin actually has a tannery up there right behind his house, and he’s tanning sea otters and sewing vests and throws and blankets you know and stuff like that. He’s doing pretty good, he charges a lot but it’s all handmade. He hardly uses any chemicals, it’s pretty green,” Jackson said.

Jackson said his cousin’s going to help set up a sewing room and tannery in the old cannery, which is a historic landmark the OVK plans to turn into a market and tourist attraction, “and hopefully start a little cottage industry of people that want to do it.”

Jackson said funds for the sewing machines would come from a different grant – not SEARHC’s. The wellness money also brought a water safety trainer and a set of plastic kayaks to the village. The kayaks have already been used at a couple of events. Jackson said the OVK may rent those out in the future.

The Organized Village of Kake’s office building. The tribal government is using the grant money to support several new projects. (Photo/Alanna Elder)