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Tanana man sues village council for banishing him over 'radical' beliefs, alleged threats

Jerzy Shedlock
St. James Episcopal Church in Tanana in May, 2014. Loren Holmes photo

A man banished from the Interior Alaska village of Tanana by the community’s tribal council has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court arguing for his right to return.

The Tanana Tribal Council adopted a resolution May 14 banishing William “Bill” Walsh from the village. The community leaders decided to ostracize Walsh and Arvin Kangas following the shooting deaths of two Alaska state troopers in Tanana that month.

Troopers responded to Tanana, a community of about 250 residents, after Kangas allegedly threatened its lone village public safety officer with a firearm. When the troopers tried to arrest Arvin, he resisted. Arvin’s son, then-20-year-old Nathaniel Kangas, shot Fairbanks-based troopers Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Gabriel “Gabe” Rich seven times during the struggle, according to the charges.

After the shooting, residents said Kangas and Walsh radicalized Nathaniel’s thinking. A small group in the village regularly argued for the need for Alaska Natives to take back traditional territory, they said.

The younger Kangas faces murder charges and, if convicted, will spend his life in prison. Arvin has been charged with multiple counts of tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution. The 58-year-old eventually could be released, even if convicted.

But village leaders have decided they don't want Arvin Kangas or Walsh back. Their “uncensored and dangerous views” contributed to Nathaniel Kangas’ decision to shoot and kill two public servants, according to one resolution.

Now, Walsh has filed a lawsuit against the tribal council's members and its president, Curtis Sommer, as well as the village. He argues that as a federally recognized member of the Native Village of Tanana, his civil rights were violated by their actions, according to the federal court document.

He also argues neither the council nor village provided prior notice of the proposal to banish him and, as a result, he did not have an opportunity to defend himself.

An amended resolution passed by the council June 23 ordered Walsh not to return to the village before tribal court hearings addressed “further banishment proceedings,” according to the court document.

Sommer wrote in the amended resolution that the move to banish the men was based on support from a vast majority of the council’s members.

He further stated that overwhelming evidence “shows that these individuals continue to present a danger to the peace, morals, culture, and physical and general welfare of the community.” He said Arvin Kangas and Walsh threatened and assaulted tribal staff with deadly weapons, which forced closure of the tribe’s office on five occasions.

According to Walsh, that resolution contained “serious criminal allegations, libelous statements” and violations of his civil rights due to his criticisms of the council and his association with Arvin Kangas.

Walsh is asking for the court to reverse Tanana’s banishment sentence and to prevent the defendants from doing so again.

Sommer could not be reached for comment. Tanana Mayor Donna Folger said the decision on hiring an attorney will be left to the council, and the city will back it up.

“We want to continue to keep our community safe from radical people,” she said.