Rep. Don Young was greeted by frequent applause as he spoke in an hourlong lunchtime forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Wednesday.
At the talk, which was co-hosted by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and Sealaska Corp., Young spoke in defense of tribal sovereignty and the ability of Alaska’s Native tribes to operate without state or federal interference.
“We have a responsibility within our own tribes. We have a responsibility,” Young said, speaking specifically to the issue of drug and alcohol abuse in rural Alaska.
Young visited Juneau as part of an extended Southeast Alaska stay during the August recess of the U.S. House of Representatives. Young is running for re-election this year against a handful of lesser-known Republicans and a series of Democrats.
Young did not make any major policy announcements but instead, after a five-minute introductory speech, listened to the problems and requests of a line of people who each walked to a microphone and explained themselves.
“Thank you for the conversation. This is a conversation. Anybody can make a speech, it’s easy to do,” Young said, adding that he learned “three or four” new issues, mostly relating to problems regarding Social Security overpayments and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A representative of the Central Council asked whether Young would consider supporting a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, something being pushed by Congressional Democrats.
Young declined to commit to that but said he would look at it and has voted in favor of a similar bill.
Central Council president Richard Peterson asked Young to support increased funding through the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Georgiana Hotch, vice president of the tribal council for the Chilkoot Indian Association in Haines, thanked Young for his support of that Native community’s efforts to obtain land through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Haines was one of a handful of Southeast communities left out of the act.
“It’s your land, and we’re going to try to get that done,” Young said.
(Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups have opposed the transfers because any land given to a new ANCSA corporation would come from public federal lands.)
Frances Andrews asked whether Young would be willing to support Savanna’s Act, a measure introduced by a Congresswoman from southern California to address the issue of missing and murdered Native women.
“I will look at it, because it sounds like the right thing to do,” Young said, then added that he believes communities have their own role to play in fighting crime.
“You can’t do it with just troopers. You have to do it with yourselves too,” he said.
One speaker asked whether Young supports the National Rifle Association, which has recently come under scrutiny for alleged funding ties to the Russian government and for resisting anti-violence legislation.
Young reminded the audience that he is an NRA board member, one of two from Alaska.
“The gun itself, to me — the Second Amendment is still the most important of all the amendments,” Young said.
He said he believes the right to own firearms is part of a balance of power.
“See what happens when the government overcomes the proletariat. That’s not healthy,” he said.
Young’s most passionate remarks came after Juneau resident Logan Henkins described his struggles to remain free of drugs and alcohol. In an emotional, sometimes teary speech, Henkins said he has been sober for 60 days.
Young said he understands what Henkins is going through. Young has a 27-year-old granddaughter who has relapsed into drug addiction three times, he said. Though the family has repeatedly gotten help for her, she falls into old habits after finishing rehabilitation.
“The challenge we have is when she goes to rehab: Where does she go when she gets out?” Young said. “Support forces, halfway houses, someplace you can stay away … we ought to have that.”
Henkins said his religious faith has helped him through his recovery, and Young said he also feels that faith is important.
“We have a challenge in our society because we have lost sight of God,” Young said, adding that he went through “all kinds of hell” during an ethics investigation that concluded in 2011.
“When I was under investigation for six years by your government — and I say your government because they weren’t mine then — that’s how I got through,” he said, referring to his religious faith.
He also thanked God for his marriage of 46 1/2 years to Lu Young and for finding his second wife, Anne Garland Walton.
“That wasn’t my doing; that was the Lord’s doing,” Young said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.