The killing of two Alaska State Troopers last week has devastated the agency. It has brought tears and sadness to Alaskans. And it has brought unspeakable grief to the family members of the two troopers, Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Gabriel “Gabe” Rich.
It also has wrenched Tanana, a small community sitting where the Tanana River meets the powerful Yukon.
Tanana, too, is a victim in this crime. And Alaskans should recognize this.
Curtis Sommer, the chairman of the Tanana Tribal Council in the Native Village of Tanana, wrote a brief and moving condolence message that was published in the Daily News-Miner on Monday.
In it, Mr. Sommer writes not only of Tanana’s anguish but also of its wish to distance itself from the gunman.
“We wish to express our grief, tears, love and hugs that we want to give these brave officers wives and children and the rest of the Alaska State Troopers who serve urban and rural Alaska.
“We want them to know that this was the action of individuals and that this was not, and is not, Tanana.”
Tanana tribal leaders acted swiftly, on Tuesday to distance the community from two others who they believe played an indirect role in the deaths of the troopers, banishing the men for life. That decision was followed Wednesday by a supportive vote by the Tanana City Council.
One of the men banished is Arvin Kangas, whose action against a village public safety officer on April 30 led to Sgt. Johnson and trooper Rich being sent to the village, where they were killed. Arvin Kangas’ son, Nathanial, is charged with murder in their deaths.
The other man banished hasn’t had much notoriety. He is William Walsh, reportedly the leader of a group known as Athabascan Nation. The group doesn’t recognize the authority of the state government and has been in conflict with the Tanana tribal government.
Tribal leaders believe Nathanial Kangas was heavily influenced by anti-authority talk from both men.
Banishment is an almost unheard-of occurrence. Deciding to impose it shows just how deeply Tanana believes it, too, has been wounded.
The community will heal, in time. Alaskans can help by remembering that the actions of a few people do not define an entire community.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,