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Rural Alaska

Eek traditional council approves funds to bring DMV to town to issue Real IDs

  • Author: Anna Rose Macarthur, KYUK
  • Updated: January 7
  • Published January 7

An Eek boardwalk in February 2019. (Anna Rose Macarthur / KYUK)

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, Alaskans will need Real ID compliant identification to board commercial airlines, access military bases and enter federal facilities. The Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles issues these IDs, but it doesn’t have offices in most rural communities. To bridge the gap, a Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta tribe wants to bring the DMV to its town.

Micah Heakin runs the Gaming Department for the Eek Traditional Council. Recently, he asked the council to pay for DMV workers to come to Eek to issue Real IDs to residents. He proposed using funds from the Gaming Department to pay the DMV expenses, and residents would pay the $40 fee for their own IDs. The council accepted his pitch.

“Some of these people don’t have the funds to go into Bethel and get this done," Heakin said, referring to Eek residents.

Bethel has the closest DMV office to Eek. Round-trip tickets cost about $248, and trips to the regional hub are often tight turns, scheduled around hospital appointments and shopping for goods and groceries to take back to the village. Heakin said many people would consider it an “extravagance” to travel from Eek to Bethel just to get a Real ID.

Heakin got his Real ID in Anchorage in July of last year, opting to use the privately owned UMV with shorter lines and higher prices instead of the state-run DMV.

But the process for getting his Real ID wasn’t without delays. Applying for a Real ID can require up to six different documents. One of the document options is a Social Security card, which Heakin didn’t have. Acquiring one took longer than expected.

“There was a mix-up. They sent me one that had the wrong name on it, so I had to send it back,” Heakin said. “I sent it out in April, and I got the actual card towards the end of June.”

This process of finding and obtaining the required documents can take a while. Heakin wants to make sure people have all their documents before bringing DMV workers to town.

One of the trickiest documents for village residents can be proof of physical address. Houses in Eek aren’t numbered, but Heakin found that his Permanent Fund dividend application fulfilled that requirement.

Heakin is using Facebook and paper flyers posted around town to get the word out, asking people to sign up to get a Real ID and confirm their documents. Once he has at least 30 people with everything in order, he’ll book a date with the DMV to fly to Eek.

This article was published by KYUK public media in Bethel and is reprinted with permission.