Saxman City Council members at their November 5, 2019 meeting. From left: Woody Watson, Norman Natkong, Sr., clerk Lori Richmond, mayor Frank Seludo, vice-mayor Billy Joe Thomas, and Denny Blair.

Saxman’s city government won’t object to alcohol being served and sold in the community. That’s despite vocal protests from residents and the local tribal government calling on the city council to oppose selling alcohol in the predominantly Alaska Native community.

The local Native village corporation is applying for a state license to sell wine and beer at its downtown restaurant next to Saxman Community Center. It’s also applied for a liquor license in what would be the first of its kind in the community of 400 people about three miles from Ketchikan.

Five community members testified against the license. Saxman resident Ed Jones told the city council he’s seen first-hand what alcoholism does to families and communities.

“We talk about culture and teach culture. In a culture way they say, ‘Care for each other. Love each other. Help each other.’ And I don’t see liquor helping anybody.”

The application comes from Cape Fox. It’s the local village corporation that owns and operates Dockside Galley restaurant in Saxman. No one from Cape Fox spoke at the meeting and requests for comment from KRBD have gone unanswered.

Late last month the Organized Village of Saxman – the community’s tribal government – passed a resolution against the license.

But in weighing the state license application coming before the city, vice mayor Billy Joe Thomas clarified that the city council’s hands are tied. There’s no local law on the books that would prevent the state license application from advancing.

“This is not a resolution stating if the council is for or against the sale of alcohol. This is a resolution letting the alcohol board know if we currently have a law in place to stop it. Which we do not.”

That fact now has some in the community pushing to change that. Alaska law allows for local option in which communities restrict or even ban alcohol through a local referendum. 

The last time that was voted on in Saxman was in 1992. That resolution failed. Saxman resident Nora DeWitt told the council there’s a new petition circulating to ban alcohol sales in the community.

“And I believe that with this local option election, that’s the cleanest way to take action because you’re going to give the people the opportunity of a vote.”

Teresa DeWitt urged the city council to consider how their tribal ancestors would feel about allowing alcohol sales in town.

“Knowing that there’s a weight on your shoulders, is it going to be light-feathered because you’re pushing for the people? Or is it going to be heavy hearted knowing that you’re going against the grain?”

The Saxman City Council amended its resolution to note that a local option petition is circulating. But as the city has no legal cause to request a denial of a liquor license, it registered no formal objection. 

To restrict alcohol sales in Saxman, local option supporters plan to put the question to voters. To do that, they first need to file an application with the city clerk, then gather signatures from 25 percent of the residents who voted in the last election. That would be about 70 to 80 signatures. The petition is then delivered to the city clerk for certification.