Melissa Borton, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Afognak, speaks during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Melissa Borton, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Afognak, speaks during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Many frustrated with state government seemingly uncaring of Alaska Native needs

Tlingit and Haida and others host Native Issues Forum in Juneau

Tlingit and Haida, together with Native Peoples Action, First Alaskan Institute, and Sealaska hosted a special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall in Juneau on Tuesday.

Members of the First Alaskans Institute guided the discussions as participants talked about problems they perceived in Alaska today, particularly those pertaining to the Alaska Native communities. Participants included citizens, Native elders, representatives of various nonprofit, corporate, and advocacy groups as well as state and local legislators.

“Without debate, without warning, without challenge, the systems that we have come dependent on have been yanked out from under us,” said Tlingit and Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes of the state budget have hit the Alaska Native communities particularly brutally, with cuts to electricity subsidies, early childhood education, public safety programs, and ferry funding. Many Native communities rely on these systems, which have been in place for years, to survive.

Participants make a list for a better Alaska during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Participants make a list for a better Alaska during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“In a triage situation, when things get tough, you make decisions,” said Liz Medicine Crow, president and CEO of the First Alaskans Institute, talking about the situation many find themselves in.

Without subsidies on electricity, or an efficient and inexpensive ferry service, the cost of keeping the lights on or traveling from island to bigger cities for things like food or medical visits becomes exorbitant, said Medicine Crow. In rural Alaska, the power costs can reach hundreds of dollars per month, said Peterson.

“I think it’s a dark time for Alaska, not just on the state level but on the federal level,” said AlexAnna Salmon, village council president of Iguigig. Salmon went on to council steadfastness in the face of the seemingly desperate situation. “It’s hard to keep ourselves grounded during this times,” Salmon said.

Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, speaks during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, speaks during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Many, however, were not given to hopelessness but anger at a government that doesn’t seem to care about their needs.

“How are we supposed to respond? Are we supposed to say thank you? Our way of life is in jeopardy,” Peterson said. “We’ve seen our people have to walk away from our way of life, not because they want to, but because they feel they have no other choice.”

A number of citizens voiced similar sentiments to Peterson, mirroring his frustration at a government and specifically at Dunleavy whose policies, vetoes and attitude seemed to Peterson to be at best recklessly neglectful and at worst deliberately targeted at Alaska Native communities.

“We don’t need to be talked down to all the time. This is very frustrating,” said Mary Marks, local teacher. “I have to concur with President Peterson, I’m getting angry now. We’re in a perfect storm. How do we calm the seas?”

Participants work at tables to list ideas for a better Alaska during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Participants work at tables to list ideas for a better Alaska during a Special Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The forum was sponsored by Tlingit Haida, First Alaskans Institute, Native Peoples Action and Sealaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Participants in the forums discussed issues with tablemates and Alaska Native elders present, identifying issues they perceived to be present within the state and ways to solve them. A proposed solution shouted to the hall, ‘Recall Dunleavy,’ was met with applause.

Other proposals include things like better representation of the most vulnerable members of the community, improved trauma training and better communication, particularly for community, family and health care issues.

Peterson says that as the legislature gets back into regular session, he hopes to have these Native Issue Forums every two weeks, to promote analysis of issues faced by the Native communities and come up with solutions. He also praised lawmakers, local and state, who attended the forum, and encouraged other legislators to attend the forums in the future.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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