Summary: The proposed cuts are going to have devastating effects on the Alaska Natives, according to Tlingit and Haida President Richard Peterson. Sharp fears about the future of the Head Start Program and about Alaska Native language teaching in schools were also voiced by members of the public.
Serious concerns about the Village Public Safety Officer program were also raised. The VPSO program, often the only law enforcement and public safety presence in many Alaska Native villages, is set to lose at least $3 million and possibly as much as $6 million if the proposed budget cuts go through.
Peterson assured attendees that the CCTHITA was doing all they could to push on the course of events, but asserted that the proposed budget was a direct attack on rural Alaska. “It’s not a Native or Non-native issue. It’s an Alaska issue. But we’re the ones who are going to pay the price,” Peterson said.
According to General Counsel Madeleine Soboleff Levy, Gov. Dunleavy signed HB 49, a law that contained a provision allowing for Tlingit and Haida’s continued operation of the Village Public Safety Officer program. The council also closed on an 86-acre piece of land on Douglas Island called Kowee.
“My honest belief is that the tourist industry has the money to be compliant,” Peterson said. “I’m not trying to chase an industry away, I’m just trying to make sure they make a positive impact, not a negative impact,” referring to cruise ships with their exhaust and grey water. He also referred to other shipping traffic, and toxic waste and remnants contaminating the waters where Alaska Natives fish and clam.
“It is at lethal levels,” said 4th Vice President Rob Sanderson Jr., referring to toxic levels of contaminants present in clams in the Ketchikan and Sitka regions. “It’s not ‘take you to the hospital or you’re going to die,’ it’s at lethal levels. They call it Alaskan roulette: one clam.”
“Central Council has been at the forefront of advocating for overturn of the veto,” said Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard J. Peterson. “Unfortunately, some of our communities are going to see power bills in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars, guaranteed,” Peterson said. “This is a direct attack on rural Alaska.”
“I’m saying this very bluntly now: we can’t pretend this is a favorable administration to us. We are being attacked on every level,” Peterson said. “If you take a moose out of season, they show up in three hours,” Peterson said, talking about the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. “A young Tlingit woman was murdered and it took three days.” The administration views moose as more important than Alaska natives, Peterson said.
Peterson’s assistant Heather Gatti later clarified Peterson was referring to a previous governor’s administration, as Peterson was referring to the death of Mackenzie Howard, who was murdered in the Tlingit community of Kake in 2013. Gov. Sean Parnell was governor at the time.
In the meeting, Peterson said of education, Dunleavy’s administration “zeroed out Head Start. “Without that state match, we’re going to have to close down centers,” referring to the proposed budget cutting all of the funding from the state to the Head Start program, which in turn, would eliminate all of the corresponding funding from the federal budget. “The resources that support Alaska come from rural Alaska, and rural Alaska is being cut off.”
“UAS. What programs do you think are going to be cut off first? We just listened to a passionate speech about our public schools,” Peterson said. “Those language programs are going to be the first to go,” referring to public comment from Joseph Marks.
“I’m saying political parties be damned. This is about our state. Democrat or Republican, you’re Alaskan,” Peterson said, referring to the proposed educational cuts and the effects it will have on everyone in the state. “Cutting the university is going to have generational impacts,” Peterson said. University teachers will flee the state to follow better offers.
“We’re yelling as loud and hard as we can. We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Peterson said. “But the constitution is set up in a way that the administrator has far more power than most states,” referring to difficulty in overturning the governor’s proposed budget cuts. “It’s not a Native or non-Native issue. It’s an Alaska issue. But we’re the ones who are going to pay the price,” Peterson said.
Brandy Niclai, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies for Alaska Permanent Capital Management stood to address the investments and returns of CCTHITA. She rapidly briefed the executive council and talked about bull-case/bear-case scenarios for investments in the near future. Most indicators for the future seem generally positive, said Niclai.
“I do think we’re in a good systematic process,” she said, adding that the tribe will meet its stated goals if they stay on track with their investments.
“How much will a presidential tweet hurt our business confidence?” asked 4th Vice President Rob Sanderson Jr.
Niclai responded that it will hurt global trade, but they’re positioned to handle it positively if necessary.
“Why do we have to fight our way into the classroom if the public schools are supposed to be promoting us?” he asked. “We wonder why we’re not getting any speakers? This is why.”
“We have thousands and thousands of years of history, and our languages have so much power in them, and we have to teach that in one 45 minute period a week?”
After ironing out some technical issues, the meeting proceeds. We’ll now be hearing from citizens addressing the meeting in public comment. The first citizen, Mary Marks, is voicing her concerns about the Head Start Program.
“By eliminating our Head Start Program, there is no justification for him (Gov. Mike Dunleavy) to eliminate something so important to our people and our state.” She also asserts the governor is violating the constitutional rights of the citizens by eliminating the program.
“Our kids, our families, are left without services that essential for their public health, education and welfare,” Marks said. “We’re putting our children’s futures at risk.”
“All of these are important. They are vital,” Marks said. “Our constitutional right has been violated. We cannot sit around and say ‘let another organization take care of it.’”
“But I don’t see that,” Marks said. “We can no longer sit down and let the bully tactics squish us and push us aside.”
“If we’re going to train kids to be Native leaders in our state, we need to have all these structures in place, and remain in place,” Marks said. Many of her concerns are about lack of communication with other regional corporations and organizations to push back.
“This my state. This is where I belong. And I shouldn’t have to be pushed out of my state to go get an education somewhere else,” Marks said.
“You have been a tireless advocate for education for as long as I’ve known you,” said President Richard J. Peterson, thanking Marks for her comments and inviting her to remain for his address, where he promised to address her concerns.
The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) is meeting today in Juneau to hear public comments on proposed cuts to programs that will affect Alaska Native residents of the state and discuss other issues. The executive council is present to discuss priorities and strategy for dealing with these issues.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 52302271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.