Royce's Alaskan License Plates - Alaska Native Tribal Plates
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What about Alaska Native tribal license plates?

Short answer: in my personal opinion, they are souvenirs -- with very questionable ties to tribal governance.

None of the plates shown here are true tribal issues, by the strict definition that I lay out below, and supported by facts and photographs.

The "Aleut" St. Paul plates are very likely to not be Aleut at all, but from Minnesota or Illinois -- not even from Alaska.

The others have never been used to register vehicles. If they have ever been used on a vehicle for novelty or Native pride purposes, I personally believe that this was at the suggestion of a third party, and that the creation of these plates wasn't initiated by tribal governance. If these plates stopped showing up one day, I doubt that a single Alaska Native would care -- or probably even notice.

I personally value the "Alaskan" ones at $10 shipped -- for novelty purposes only.

If you have any information or photos to confirm or deny any of the apparent facts, please send me your information and photos. I am especially interested in any photographs of plates not shown in the big gallery of plate photos further down in this page. I'm also interested in any higher-quality images you may have, or images taken at a different point in the plates' history. The more examples that I can demonstrate here, the more clearly we can see the pattern of their characteristics.


Known types

Chickaloon Village
Gold-Creek Susitna
Knik Tribe
four variants

More photos: Chickaloon | Gold Creek Susitna | Knik Tribe

Photos on this page with embedded captions on white background are from Mike Kustermann's World License Plates site (used by permission)


Potentially confusing non-Alaskan plates

"Aleut" St. Paul
(almost certainly
NOT Alaskan,
but Minnesota or Illinois plates!
)

According to "Tiger Joe" Sallmen, these appear to be St. Paul Minnesota business license permit plates, or Illinois plates

More photos: "Aleut" St. Paul


Important questions

General questions:

If they have even informal jurisdictional regulatory status:

If they are only souvenirs:

My answers

Most collectors want to collect -- and expect that plates offered for sale are -- plates that meet two criteria:

A) The plate was manufactured under the authority of the jurisdiction shown on the plate.

B) The plate was intended for registration. In other words, the jurisdiction tracks which vehicles are authorized to operate within a specific jurisdiction and geographical area, and have a serial number uniquely paired with the vehicle and centrally tracked by the jurisdiction, such that a given registration could be matched (by serial number) to a specific vehicle and vehicle owner.

Even if some tribes requested or authorized the creation of such plates, I assert that none of the plates listed here match criterion B. I support that assertion as follows:

By criterion B -- my strict definition of "intended for registration" -- these are souvenirs at best, and could confuse buyers into believing that they are examples of what are actually an entirely non-existent plate type.

Here's an illustration. The Alaska Highway front plates are what I would call an official souvenir. They were commissioned by the State of Alaska for the purpose of being souvenirs. They were A) authorized by the same jurisdictional authority that administers real Alaskan plates, and B) I think were authorized by law to appear on vehicles (but cannot immediately find the legislation. I will research this further).

So if the Alaska Native organizations had commissioned the creation of these plates, and had taken delivery of them themselves directly from the manufacturer, and had maybe sold them in gift shops in Alaska or something, I would call these plates souvenirs (but would not call them official souvenirs).

The objects described on this page are neither. I personally believe - and this is just a theory -- that Alaska Natives who happened to buy one of these tribal plates did so because they were encouraged to do so by third parties for business purposes. If even one of them ends up on an Alaska Native's bumper for ten minutes, you could (theoretically) magically describe them as "tribal" "issues" -- and then sell 200 plates per year at $90 each.

But don't take my word for it -- judge for yourself by reviewing the facts below, and examining the plates more closely by selecting the thumbnails below. Notice how none of them have any signs of road wear. Notice also how the only non-passenger types represented are those that command premium prices (Motorcycle, Government, vanity, ham, POW, etc.). For example, there are a lot of trucks in Alaska. Why are there no truck plates? Real truck plates are less sought after by collectors, and therefore have less value.

More information

While many web sites and resources state the legitimacy of these plates, they appear to me to be doing so because they're assuming that the other sources they've seen are authoritative. All claims about the provenance of these plates originally came from a single source without documentation to support the claim.

Other sites that directly mention these plates

Other ways to get information

You might also consider directing these questions to some of the parties known to be involved:

... or the tribes themselves:


All photos needed!

If you have any photo of an individual plate not shown below, please send it to me. The more examples are shown here, the more clearly we can see the pattern of their characteristics.

I am especially interested in photos that:

Note that unless otherwise noted, duplicate numbers do not indicate duplicate plates.


The plates


"Aleut" St. Paul

These are almost certainly not Alaskan St. Paul plates at all. There is no pictorial or other hard evidence to confirm that this plate was even related to the Alaskan St. Paul location (instead of any other English-speaking city called "St. Paul"). Also, there is no explanation for why the Aleut community would tax or track only St. Paul Island, and no other locations. I strongly suspect that these are actually St. Paul Minnesota or Illinois plates.

According to Bureau of Indian Affairs list of tribes served (April 2016): Pribilof Islands Aleut Communities of St. Paul & St. George Islands

According to the National Congress of American Indians: Aleut Community of St. Paul Island

St. Paul Island is one of the Pribilof Islands, and had a population of 532 in the 2000 Census, and 479 people in 2010.

According to the NOAA web site, Today, St. George and St. Paul Islands each function under three distinct non-federal entities: a municipal government, a tribal government or traditional council, and a village corporation.

This is the only type on this page that bears even a passing resemblance to an effort to license vehicles, but even that is circumstantial based solely on their appearance. If you have any evidence for or against these plates being used to track individual vehicles, please let me know.

According to the World License Plates web site: The Aleut Community license plate shown was briefly available at a cost of $5 and was used for a three-wheeler according to a St. Paul resident. However, St. Paul, an island in the Bering Sea, is off the road system, has no highway connection and receives no state money for roads. Vehicles on the island are not registered. Drivers licenses of St. Paul residents have their own classification - "off system". However, this story almost certainly came from a single, trusted verbal source without independent confirmation.

1963 mini Passenger-sized - unknown manufacturer (listed on eBay as a Minnesota plate, April 2016)

1975 mini Passenger-sized - unknown manufacturer

1984 mini Passenger-sized - unknown manufacturer

The likelihood that St. Paul Island - with a population of 479 people - has 75 cars is very low.

1984 Motorcycle-sized - unknown manufacturer

The likelihood that St. Paul Island (with a population of 479 people) has even 88 motorcycles (let alone 188) is very low. But the value of motorcycle plates to collectors is high.

1988 mini Passenger-sized - unknown manufacturer

1990 mini Passenger-sized - unknown manufacturer (listed on eBay as a Minnesota plate, April 2016)

Note the same stylized 7 and same dies as the 1988.

I also have no independent evidence that the Aleut tribe ever issued any license plates.


"Chickaloon"

According to Bureau of Indian Affairs list of tribes served (April 2016): Chickaloon Native Village

According to the National Congress of American Indians: Chickaloon Native Village

According to the US Census, the village of Chickaloon had a population of 213 people in 2000, and 272 in 2010.

Google Maps map of the area - approximately 80 square miles, or about 9 miles by 9 miles if it was square.


1990 Passenger-sized - unknown manufacturer, "made in Anchorage" according to Fred Agree


Apparent Government


1998 Passenger-sized - Beaver Graphics in Minnesota (according to Fred Agree)


Apparent samples


"Gold Creek Susitna"

According to Bureau of Indian Affairs list of tribes served (April 2016): not found

According to the National Congress of American Indians: not found

According to the State of Alaska Department of Commerce, the Gold-Creek Susitna Native Assocation was "involuntarily dissolved" in 2004, yet plates appear here that are dated 2008 and 2012. This State of Alaska list of tribe information simply directs questions about Gold Creek Susitna to Cook Inlet Region, Inc., Shareholder Relations Dpt., 1-907-274-8638.


1997 Passenger-sized - MVLS?


Apparent samples


1999 Passenger-sized - MVLS?

Note the non-Alaskan sticker on #6. According to Jim Moini, this is a Rhode Island 1997 sticker.


Apparent vanity


Apparent samples



1999 Motorcycle-sized - MVLS?

The likelihood that the Gold Creek-Susitna tribe has a hundred motorcycles in rural areas is low. But the value of motorcycle plates to collectors is high.


2000 Passenger-sized - MVLS

This is the first issue to bear the MVLS copyright.


Apparent vanities


Apparent samples


Apparent prototypes



2000 Motorcycle-sized - MVLS

The likelihood that the Gold Creek-Susitna tribe has a hundred motorcycles in rural areas is low. But the value of motorcycle plates to collectors is high.

Apparent Motorcycle vanities


2002 Passenger-sized - MVLS

As of April 2016, listed on the MVLS web site as a United States passenger plate, in the Legal License Plates product category.

Note serials 155 and 158 have a piece of paper covering the year on the plate, which implies that they were eBay listing some time before 2005 (less than 2 years old by eBay's rules).

Artwork

Apparent samples

Apparent vanity

Apparent replicas

Many #171 plates are regularly posted to eBay without the "©MVLS2001" in the lower left-hand corner. They appear to be "replicas". They have a different border - full white border on all four sides.

Apparent Amateur Radio

The amateur radio call sign "KL7IR" was registered to Martin Cordes of Haines, Alaska. However, that call sign registration expired in 1998 and was never recycled or renewed. Also, Martin Cordes died in 1999. The family information in his wife's obituary and this newspaper photograph of he and his wife in 1982 reduce the likelihood that he was an Alaska Native.

The likelihood that Martin Cordes -- who was very likely a white ham radio operator who died in 1999 at the age of 82 -- requested this 2002 license plate is low. However, the collectible value of amateur radio plates is high.

Apparent Prisoner of War

The likelihood that there are three POWs in the Chickaloon tribe is low. But the collectible value of POW plates is high.


2002 Motorcycled-sized - MVLS

The likelihood that the Gold Creek-Susitna tribe has a hundred motorcycles in rural areas is low. But the value of motorcycle plates to collectors is high.


2008 Passenger-sized - MVLS

As of April 2016, listed on the MVLS web site as a United States passenger plate, in the Legal License Plates product category.

Pay special attention to plates numbered #59, #61, #89, and #90. They were posted for sale on eBay with the "©MVLS2008" in the lower right-hand corner Photoshopped out. What would motivate a seller to do this?

2008 Motorcycle-sized - MVLS

The likelihood that the Gold Creek-Susitna tribe has 60 motorcycles in rural areas is low. But the value of motorcycle plates to collectors is high.

Apparent Motorcycle sample


2012 Passenger-sized - unknown manufacturer

These plates bear no copyright. My first photograph of these plates is from March 2012.

Artwork

The artwork was apparently taken from some royalty-free clip art, which was also used in other work.

Apparent error
(missing the red color layer) - note the green "ALASKA" and off-color bear


"Knik Tribe"

According to Bureau of Indian Affairs list of tribes served (April 2016): Knik Tribe

According to the National Congress of American Indians: Knik Tribe

Note that there appear to be as many as four distinct series here, with overlapping serial numbers. Note also that photos of Type 1 #25 show it resting unbolted on someone's bumper. I believe that this was a photograph staged by the seller.

Note also that some have a white border on all four sides, and others do not. This follows the pattern of similar plates often seen on eBay with a variety of vanities on them on the Centennial base - some with a thicker white border all around, others without. This, along with the fact that no motorcycle sizes seem to have been made, suggest that they were also ordered from Irwin Hodson, with the wolf/husky and "KNIK TRIBE" either added by them, or added later.

If you have a photo of a missing serial, especially one that overlaps with another type, please contribute your photo.


1998-ish Passenger-sized - possible Irwin Hodson souvenir orders

Type 1 - brown wolf, blue KNIK TRIBE, number centered on the right, white border top and bottom only, sticker wells

Serials overlapping with Type 3: 16

Serials overlapping with Type 4: 19

Artwork


Type 2 - brown wolf, black KNIK TRIBE, number centered on the right, white border top and bottom only, sticker wells

Serials overlapping with Type 4: 26, 49, 57, 88


Apparent samples
The likelihood that tribal members would have any interest in sample plates is low. The value of samples for collectors who specialize in them is high.

Apparent vanities


Type 3 - black wolf with black eyes, black KNIK TRIBE, number centered on the right, white border top and bottom only, no sticker wells

Serials overlapping with Type 1: 16


Type 4 - black wolf with blue eyes, black KNIK TRIBE, number right-flush on the right, thicker white border on all sides, no sticker wells

Serials overlapping with Type 1: 19

Serials overlapping with Type 2: 26, 49, 57, 88


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Copyright ©1998-2016 Royce Williams, except for photos taken by others, for which exhaustive collection and display is essential to the core purpose of the piece. No usurpation of copyright is implied or intended. This is a transformative work of independent investigative journalism and opinion.
Last updated 2016-05-02