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Residents of Bristol Bay depend upon an Alaska state-issued ID for our necessities and our livelihoods. From securing and maintaining employment to getting where we need to go for our basic needs, an ID is essential to keeping life in motion. Yet, the 31 communities in the Bristol Bay region share only two Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices—one in Dillingham, and the other in King Salmon—and distance, terrain, and weather all become obstacles for residents of remote and rural communities when it’s time to obtain or renew a license.

Just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, BBNC partnered with the Alaska DMV on an innovative program that would launch a mobile DMV to travel to various Bristol Bay villages so residents can gain access to a valid ID without the expense and hassle of traveling to Dillingham, King Salmon, or Anchorage. After a successful debut in New Stuyahok in January 2020, COVID-19 threw a temporary wrench in the plan, but we’re pleased to report that the program is back on track. BBNC’s partnership with the state resurrected the mobile DMV initiative, which recently rolled into Manokotak with enthusiasm.

Timing is key. Beginning in May 2025, all Alaska residents will need a state-issued REAL ID to travel on domestic commercial airlines or access military bases and other federal facilities. REAL ID’s are an enhanced form of identification that meets certain federal security standards that were implemented in the wake of 9/11. Particularly because air travel will be impacted and so many Alaskans depend upon air travel for basic needs, obtaining your REAL ID now is highly recommended.

The mobile DMV program itself requires a fair amount of care and coordination to pull it off without a hitch and ensure that everyone who wants or needs a new license, renewal, or REAL ID is as prepared as possible. It took the synchronized efforts of a team at BBNC in Anchorage, folks on the ground in Manokotak, and our supporters at the DMV to ensure everything went as smoothly as possible. Before the DMV can even show up in the village, Martha Anelon, BBNC’s Shareholder Development Training Manager, coordinated with tribes, school district employees, and others in local communities to ensure residents had the proper documentation and paperwork to qualify for a REAL ID, or that they had already taken the road test required to qualify for a license.

“It’s a serious thing to have all of your documents and to make sure they’re official, like your original birth certificate embossed with the State of Alaska seal,” Martha noted. “There was an Elder lady, for example, who had a very old State of Alaska seal on her birth certificate that the DMV didn’t recognize offhand. They had to verify that it was indeed her official birth certificate and an official seal. To have all the documents that the DMV requires is really important.”

The whole effort required out-of-the-box solutions. Carol Wren, BBNC’s Senior Vice President of Shareholder Development, noted that “Martha had to coordinate meals for the DMV folks (there are no restaurants in Manokotak) and help facilitate accommodations for their successful two- to three-day stay. We’re always trying to be a good partner and offer solutions, so we tried to anticipate anything they’d need in the village while they were here. This is a huge benefit for our communities, and we want to make it as effortless as possible to encourage the DMV to continue this important service.”

Mary Lillie, a special education teacher who was on the ground in Manokotak helping to coordinate the effort, noted that “this whole effort was about everyone working together. It was amazing. Everybody was pitching in, caring about every single person in the village, and doing what we have to do to help open doors for people.”

BBNC intends to expand the program to other villages in the Bristol Bay region and, ideally, to bring the mobile DMV back to New Stuyahok and Manokotak. We’ll continue to keep shareholders and residents of Bristol Bay up to date about the program so everyone is prepared for the upcoming REAL ID deadline.

For now, we’re celebrating the initial success of the program. “For the people who took part,” Martha says, “it was pure happiness. You could just feel it. I think about this nice young man in Manokotak when the DMV told him he passed his test and got his driver’s license. And his smile was ear-to-ear. Just the biggest, happiest smile. It was like a kid on Christmas morning—super excited and joyous. That’s how it felt in Manokotak.”