Delegates offer prayers during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th Annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Muriel Reid / Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

Delegates offer prayers during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th Annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Muriel Reid / Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

Tribal Assembly declares crisis with fentanyl and other deadly drugs its highest priority

Delegates at 89th annual event also expand foster program, accept Portland as new tribal community.

Declaring a crisis with fentanyl and other deadly drugs its highest priority issue, unveiling plans for new education campuses, and accepting Portland, Oregon, as a new tribal community were among the highlights of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th Annual Tribal Assembly that concluded Friday.

Delegates also elected a new slate of leaders to two-year terms and presentations about a wide range of topics were made at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall during the three-day Assembly, whose theme this year was “Rooted in Tradition, Growing a Sustainable Future.”

Plans for a 12-acre tribal education campus on a forested hillside behind Fred Meyer and re-imagined 457-acre Cultural Immersion Park near Tee Harbor were unveiled on the opening morning by President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson, who was unanimously reelected to a sixth term during the Assembly. Those projects and numerous other actions by tribal leaders during the past year were cited in a speech by Lauryn Framke, a Juneau resident elected as Emerging Leader at last year’s Assembly.

“The vice presidents and President Peterson, they demonstrate our tribal values both on the council and on a daily basis,” she said. “They listen well and with respect to the needs of our people, and implement change on a regional, statewide and national level. They have pride in our people and in our traditions, and have worked hard to begin to establish a tribal education campus in Juneau so our youth can learn through our culture.”

“They are stewards of the land, air and waters, defending our inherent fishing rights and implementing the agreement with the Mendenhall Glacier for co-stewardship. They are strong and have the courage to fight for our land, and take back what has always been ours by buying back land and putting land into trust. They have respect for our women and children speaking up for (missing and murdered Indigenous woman) and serving on the (Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women Task Force). And best of all, they have humor. There was never a meeting without laughter.”

Eleven of 15 resolutions introduced at the Assembly were quickly approved as part of the consent calendar, including calls for a permanent increase in the state’s Base Student Allocation for public schools, supporting non-discrimination in student sports, calling on the federal government or state of Washington to “determine a credentialing process for traditional practitioners,” and four resolutions related to fishing rights and habitat protection.

Among the four resolutions singled out for discussion was one referring to deadly drugs as the tribes’ highest priority, which came in the wake of a federal report earlier this month stating 2023 was Alaska’s deadliest year for opioid overdoses and that the state saw the highest increase in deaths nationwide. A state bulletin published Thursday indicates the 342 overdose deaths in 2023 represent a 38% increase from 2022, according to preliminary data.

“The work in the field, it’s scary,” said Helene Simpson, a Ketchikan delegate who was among those bringing the resolution to a floor discussion. “Every day is frightening for our young people. I just wanted to be able to stand before you and ask you for your help in supporting this.”

Jacqueline Pata, first vice president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, addresses delegates during the 89th Annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Muriel Reid / Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

Jacqueline Pata, first vice president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, addresses delegates during the 89th Annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Muriel Reid / Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

An amendment expanding the resolution beyond fentanyl to include “other deadly drugs” was successfully introduced by Jacqueline Pata, a Juneau delegate elected first vice president during the Assembly.

“What we find in our villages and our communities is whatever comes into the community is what the community uses,” she said. “And so it can be fentanyl at the moment, then it could be heroin, then it could be meth and then could be other types of opioids.”

Several other delegates discussed how drug abuse has affected them and/or people close to them before the resolution was adopted by a voice vote without audible opposition.

Another resolution singled out for discussion was expanding the tribe’s foster care licensing program, with a plea in favor of the proposal made by Tasha Hotch, an Anchorage delegate, who expressed concerns about how tribal residents are faring under state and federal programs. The Tlingit and Haida program allows parents to be licensed through the tribes, the state, or both.

“I just feel like there’s a lot of interest from our community members to be engaged with helping keep our children that are in the state foster care system engaged with our culture and that we should do everything in our power to make that a possibility,” she said. Also, “I really wanted to just address the Assembly and challenge you to think of ways that we could expand upon this because I feel like every time I turn around the federal government is trying to challenge (the Indian Child Welfare Act) and if we have our own system in place already that could stand on its own then we don’t need to worry what they’re doing at that level.”

That resolution also passed by an overwhelming voice vote.

The motion making Portland a designated Tlingit and Haida community was historically significant because it is “the first new community to be authorized to form since Tlingit & Haida was founded in 1935,” according to a press release by the tribes. The resolution was sponsored by the Seattle Tlingit and Haida Community Council.

The release states Tlingit and Haida can designate a new community if there are at least 200 tribal citizens who are eligible voters and reside in the community, and at least 25 tribal citizens sign a resolution. The tribes’ Program Compliance Department reported 214 tribal citizens reside within a 100-mile radius of Portland and 30 tribal citizens of voting age signed a resolution requesting the formation of a Portland Tlingit and Haida community.

“I was actually born and raised in Portland and when I saw this come up, it was something that really spoke to me,” said Mike Hoyt, a Wrangell delegate. “I was in contact with a lot of my family still down there because this is an important issue. To me, when I think about growing up in Portland, it was kind of hard. I went to school with 800 kids and I knew only four Alaska Native kids in that entire school. Oftentimes, it was just a lonely place to be. So, when I saw this come up, I thought, this is going to be a great way for our people to start getting together, recognizing each other, and making those connections.”

A total of 83 of the 120 delegates voted in favor of the resolution, surpassing the two-thirds majority necessary for passage, according to the press release. Tribal citizens in the Portland area will be able to organize and establish a constitution to set the groundwork for electing delegates and community council members for Tlingit and Haida’s next general election in 2026.

The fourth resolution approved after being put to a floor discussion reduces the consent requirement on Native Allotment leases to 51% of people with an ownership share rather than 100%. The resolution states “with the death of allottees the numbers of individual allottees have multiplied, making it difficult to track lease holders and get authorization from all allottees on highly fractionated lands, and thus allowing no development or use of the land as it was originally intended.”

Kathryn Lawrence, a Juneau delegate, was among those seeking a change to the 100% requirement, stating that she originally came from Haines where her parents and grandparents had land under the allotment program. She had four brothers who she relied on for information about that land, but all of them have died and subsequent research by her about other tribes without such a requirement helped lead to the introduction of the resolution.

“There’s about an estimated 200 families with Native allotments and this is just one of the steps that needs to be done,” she said.

Webcasts of the Tribal Assembly are available at www.youtube.com/TlingitHaida.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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