Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s short speech during Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s Tribal Assembly Wednesday prompted some criticism of his proposed budget.
During his remarks at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, Dunleavy touched on ongoing state budget negotiations as well as his goals of improving public safety and education outcomes.
”I just wanted to talk about one or two things,” Dunleavy said. “We do have a bit of a budgetary issue that we’re working through, and I’m sure most of you have heard about it. We’re talking about significant reductions, but at the same time we’re having conversations continuing with the Legislature about coming together with a budget that’s good for all Alaskans.”
However, during a portion of Tlingit & Haida President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson’s sprawling State of the Tribe address, Peterson said the proposed budget with a cut to state spending on the Alaska Marine Highway System would be bad for predominantly Alaska Native villages in Southeast Alaska.
“I look at many of my friends in the villages right now,” Peterson said. “How is Angoon going to survive? How’s Hoonah going to survive? How’s Kake going to survive? Shipping’s already expensive. That ferry system is imperative to our communities to our way of life. They made us dependent on that system, and now they’re going to jeopardize it. We’re up there fighting. I can promise you we’re up there fighting.”
Dunleavy outlined some of his policy goals during his brief speech as well.
He said “beefing up” public safety in all of Alaska’s communities remains a priority.
“We want to bring down the crime rate, we want people to feel safe,” Dunleavy said. He said that was especially true for Alaska’s women and children.
Dunleavy said it’s going to take some time to accomplish, but it’s a goal he plans to work toward.
Similarly, Dunleavy said improving education throughout the state is a goal that will take time and cooperation to reach.
“The educational outcomes in many of our communities — not all, but many of our communities — are not where we want them to be,” Dunleavy said. “We’re going to work hard with all stakeholders to ensure that every child — it doesn’t matter where they live, urban or rural, doesn’t matter — they have the best opportunities for a quality education.”
Peterson said he has a hard time reconciling the disconnect he perceives between those goals and the proposed budget.
“It’s unfortunate that his priorities are public safety and education, yet they’re trying to take away the VPSO (Village Public Safety Officer) program,” Peterson said. “Head Start has been zeroed out in his budget. Education overall has taken a tremendous hit.”
He also said some of the proposed budget is at odds with what Peterson understands to be traditional Tlingit & Haida tribal values.
“When I think about how I was raised, I always heard a couple of things: We cherish our children and we value and cherish our elders, and right now, maybe I’m naive, maybe I don’t understand the process, but when I look at a budget that zeroes out items for children, when I see them wanting to raise costs for Pioneer Homes … how is that value reflected there, I don’t get it.”
Rest of report teases big developments
Things are on the upswing for Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, according to President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson’s State of the Tribe address.
During a speech that stretched to well over an hour the first morning of Tlingit & Haida’s 84th annual Tribal Assembly, Peterson shared updates on tribal activities and finances that he largely colored as positive.
“I’m not trying to put a rosy picture on things,” Peterson said. “I’m very candid. I believe in accountability and transparency, and I never try to dodge those arrows. I am very excited this year. This year especially, it was great to put together this report with my staff and be reminded of all the good things that are happening.”
Peterson said previous executive council’s and presidents laid the foundation that led to financial and program success, and he thanked the hard work of Tlingit & Haida staff.
Among the successes Peterson touted were the Tribal Child Support Unit collecting $1 million in child support, more services for tribal citizens, the impending opening of Tlingit-language child care center Haa Yóo X‘atángi Kúdi,outreach efforts that include building rapport with international indigenous communities, progress toward a cultural immersion park and strong and varied revenue streams.
“The success is starting to show, and I’m really very proud of it,” Peterson said.
“It’s working, and we’re putting people to work,” Peterson said. “Not just people, our people.”
He said the day is coming soon there will be a Sacred Grounds Coffee in in Anchorage, Seattle or potentially a village.
Peterson also identified some pending developments he expects to have a big impact.
He said Tlingit & Haida have executed a letter of intent with Channel Construction and Shorty Tonsgard for the acquisition of 86 acres of land on Douglas Island.
“One of the things you say is, ‘What’s a tribe without land?’ Well, here you go,” Peterson said.
Also, Peterson said he was proud to announce Tlingit & Haida had entered into purchase agreement January 2019 with Triplette Construction with the intent of turning it into a construction academy.
“”It’s going to be a big deal,” Peterson said. “It’s amazing to create jobs and see our people find that self-worth and value in themselves and they do well making coffee and working in catering, but we want to take it to the next level, and we want to build real, life-long careers.”
He said the emphasis on economic development is in service of sovereignty and increasing the services available to tribal citizens.
“I never want to use the term again, ‘You don’t live within the service area,’” Peterson said. “The only way we’re going to abolish that term in this tribe is through economic sovereignty.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907) 523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.