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New head of tribal administration for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe

Peter Evon started as the tribe's new Executive Director of Tribal Administration this spring.
Sabine Poux
Peter Evon started as the tribe's new Executive Director of Tribal Administration this spring.

Peter Evon, of Bethel, is joining the Kenaitze Indian Tribe this spring as its new executive director of tribal administration.

He said it’s a good time to come on board. The tribe has a lot of momentum.

“Oh, perfect timing in my opinion," he said. "Just because a lot of this stuff is just getting started, where I’m able to jump in at this time to help.”

The tribe’s opening its new educational campusthis fall. It’s also working on launching a new fixed-route public transportation option for both tribal and non-tribal members, slated for 2023.

Evon will help oversee all that and more as director of the 1,800-member tribe. He was hired by the seven-member tribal council and came onboard in April.

The position has been held by an interim director, Tribal Member Chelsea Hendriks, for the last year. The tribe’s former director, Dawn Nelson, left last July.

While Evon is no stranger to tribal administration, he is new to the region.

He spent most of his life in southwestern Alaska. He was born in Bethel and raised in Akiachak, about 20 miles up the Kuskokwim river

“It is off the road system, so that’s obviously the biggest difference," he said. "But you have the same kind of rural community feel. It’s 56 villages, communities, all scattered throughout the Bethel region. But even despite the distances, it kind of feels like a small community, kind of like you have here on the peninsula.”

Evon went to college in Arkansas. As a branch manager for Wells Fargo in his 20s, he moved around the state, living in Bristol Bay and Anchorage before making his way back to Bethel, where he was executive director of the Orutsararmiut Native Council.

He said there are a lot of parallels to his job at ONC and his current gig. But unlike the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, ONC and more than 50 other tribes in the Bethel area fall under the banner of the Association of Village Council Presidents, which has a consortium-run healthcare program. The Kenaitze Indian Tribe, on the other hand, has its own wellness program, which it runs through the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai.

Most recently, Evon was CEO for the Association of Village Council Presidents, Regional Housing Authority. That’s the organization that addresses housing needs for a large part of southwestern Alaska.

He said he’s been hard at work in Kenai since April meeting the 300-plus employees of the tribe. And he’s making the rounds at as many local events as he can to get to know his new community.

On the whole, that sort of front-facing community advocacy is something he’d like to see more of.

“The potential is — there’s no ceiling here," he said. "That’s what’s exciting. And that's across the board. And obviously they’ve got the growth kind of down. They’ve acquired lots of grants and those things are happening. But what I’ve heard from council is the advocacy, kind of getting out in the community, establishing those partnerships with the city, the borough, the state, at the federal level ... that's kind of the big focus, is to start getting the word out a little more. Which they already do a great job of that. But having someone at the executive level help push that."

Outside of work, Evon is seeing the area another way — through baseball tournaments. Evon has five kids and he said they've been traveling around the Kenai Peninsula for their baseball games this spring.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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