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Road tests and Real IDs come to Manokotak

The mobile DMV unit in Manokotak. November, 2023.
The Bristol Bay Native Corporation
The mobile DMV unit in Manokotak. November, 2023.

Just because communities in Bristol Bay are not connected to Alaska’s road system does not mean their residents don’t need Department of Motor Vehicle services. From November 14 to November 16, residents in the village of Manokotak took road tests and received real IDs in their home community for the first time ever.

Mary Lillie is a volunteer proctor for the Alaska DMV in Manokotak. She said that community members mapped out a road test route, housed DMV workers and visiting organizers, and helped each other get their paperwork in order.

“It literally took the entire village to put this on and inspire people and help their elders to come and get all their documentation or just to get to the village office,” she said. “And be like, ‘hey – we care about this community. We care about our elders. We care about everyone. Let’s do this.’”

The mobile unit conducted 36 road tests during a three-day period and issued 83 Real IDs, which meet stringent federal requirements. The federal government plans to require Real IDs for commercial air travel in 2025, making them especially important in communities where flying is key to get to otherwise unavailable services in large cities.

As a proctor, Lillie can give written tests, but she cannot conduct road tests or issue licenses herself.

Lillie said that for many village residents, trying to get their driver’s license comes with different challenges than for those with regular access to a DMV office. Of the 31 communities in Bristol Bay, only King Salmon and Dillingham offer road tests, so many village residents need to fly to access these services. Then, a person needs to find a car to use in the city where their test is scheduled.

“The DMV has very specific guidelines for the vehicle. You have to have it registered, you have to have it insured, you have to have it in good running order, good tires, all of which I understand,” she said. “But when you’re borrowing a car, sometimes you get what you get.”

On top of that, Lillie said, you have to take the test somewhere new.

Residents of Manokotak taking online tests before the mobile DMV unit arrived. November, 2023.
Mary Lillie
Residents of Manokotak taking online tests before the mobile DMV unit arrived. November, 2023.

“Then if the stars align, and you do get to have a road test, you don’t know the area. It might be bad weather. It’s just not a good situation,” she said.

Providing documentation for identification cards may be especially difficult for elders. Lillie said some elders were issued birth certificate paperwork that the DMV does not recognize. She said people working at the Village of Manokotak helped others fill out necessary paperwork to get birth certificates and file for proof of residency.

The mobile unit came about through work and support from the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the State of Alaska and the community. Martha Anelon is the native corporation’s training manager for shareholder development.

She said that while working on the North Slope, she noticed a lack of a driver’s license was a huge barrier for things like career opportunities, and she said that air travel is too costly for some in the region.

“Not everybody gets to travel,” she said. “Us coming to them – it made a huge impact on their community. We had elders get their Real IDs and the look and the feeling in the air [was] almost like Christmas morning.”

She said she spent a year conducting research on the issue, before the corporation and the state were able to create the first mobile DMV in Alaska – that went to New Stuyahok in January of 2020. Anelon said the corporation had plans for more units but had to stop temporarily due to the pandemic.

The mobile DMV unit in Manokotak sent two DMV workers. November, 2023.
The Bristol Bay Native Corporation
The mobile DMV unit in Manokotak sent two DMV workers. November, 2023.

Anelon said two department workers went to Manokotak to serve the community. One focused on road tests, while the other worked to get people’s information put into the DMV’s system to issue their Real IDs.

Anelon said that with licenses and the new ID cards, community members now have more opportunities for employment.

Mary Lillie, the DMV proctor in Manokotak, said with a license comes possibility.

“If you get your driver’s license and you’re feeling confident and you’re inspired, what else are you going to be inspired to do? This is just really, really exciting to me,” she said.

The Village of Manokotak said in a statement that those who participated in the mobile DMV unit were happy with the results. The Bristol Bay Native Corporation said in a Facebook post that it hopes to continue partnering with the DMV and communities across Bristol Bay.

Martha Anelon of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation thanked community members in Manokotak, especially those who helped run DMV services and bring the mobile DMV to the community and the State of Alaska DMV. 

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Christina McDermott began reporting for KDLG, Dillingham’s NPR member station, in March 2023. Previously, she worked with KCBX News in San Luis Obispo, California, where she focused on local news and cultural stories. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich work that informs and connects the public.