Alaska News Nightly: October 17, 2011

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Kohring to Change Plea on One Count of Indictment

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A former Alaska lawmaker facing retrial on federal corruption charges plans to plead guilty this week. Vic Kohring will change his plea on count one of the indictment against him, according to his lawyers. Kohring and another former lawmaker, Pete Kott, were scheduled to be retried after their earlier convictions were thrown out for prosecutorial errors. Kott last week signaled his intent to plead guilty as well in his case.

Kookesh Pushes for Recognition of Alaska Native Corporation

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

There’s a power struggle going on between Alaska Native tribes and corporations, and that battle was taken to Washington, DC last week. The board chairman of the Sealaska Native Corporation in Southeast, Albert Kookesh, was in Washington with the Alaska Federation of Natives, for whom he serves as co-chair.  He was attending an event designed to bring unity to the Alaska Native and Indian American message, but Kookesh used some of his time in a White House meeting to advocate for corporations.

He and other representatives of the Alaska Federation of Natives met with Kim Teehee, President Obama’s senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs.  And Kookesh says he told her corporations need more recognition in Alaska.

Kookesh says corporations want to join groups like the National Congress of American Indians, which called for last week’s indigenous gathering in Washington.  He at first said Alaskans can’t join NCAI, but then clarified that Alaska’s tribes can – but not its corporations.

Those are troublesome words for some tribal leaders in Alaska, who see the mission and responsibility of the corporations as very different from that of tribes.  Kookesh’s comments upset David Harrison, executive director for the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council.  He says calling corporations “like Lower 48 tribes” hurts the actual Alaskan tribes.

Harrison says there’s a fundamental need for true tribes that’s different from the corporation’s mission of making money.  He’s fighting Kookesh’s statements.

Harrison says he’s trying to get as many tribal representatives as possible at this week’s Alaska Federation of Natives gathering in Anchorage to speak up about the role of tribes, and later at this month’s National Congress of American Indians gathering in Portland.

Rock Creek Mine to Close

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

Nova Gold will permanently close the troubled Rock Creek mine in Nome.

Section of Ruling Declaring Global Warming Threatening Polar Bear Habitat Thrown Out

Associated Press

A federal judge has thrown out a key section of a 2008 Interior Department rule that declared global warming is threatening the survival of the polar bear.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Bush administration did not complete a required environmental review when it said the bear’s designation as threatened could not be used to control greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The Obama administration agreed a year later, saying that activities outside of the bear’s habitat such as emissions from a power plant could not be controlled using the Endangered Species Act.

Sullivan’s decision directs the Obama administration to set out a timetable for completing the required environmental review. Environmental organizations don’t want greenhouse gases left out of the consideration of protections for the bears. Sullivan left the interim 2008 designation intact while the case continues.

Senators Seek Extension of Secure Rural Schools Program

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators wants to extend the expiring Secure Rural Schools program for another five years. The annual payments have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for school districts in national forests around the country, including schools throughout Southeast Alaska.

Officials Wrapping Up ‘SOS’ Initiative Vote Count

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

Monday, Lake and Peninsula Borough officials are wrapping up the ballot count on the ‘Save Our Salmon’ Initiative in King Salmon. The ballot measure would ban the Lake and Peninsula Borough from issuing permits for large-scale resource extraction, including mining that would “destroy or degrade” salmon habitat. It’s aimed at stopping the Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper prospect near salmon spawning grounds. Voter turnout in the mail-in election was high, about 57 percent.   There were 93 question ballots and 515 valid ballots. The vote is unlikely to be the last word on the Pebble Mine project. A challenge to the initiative has already been filed in court.   The judge on that case put his decision on whether the initiative is constitutional on hold until November 7th.     The results of the vote will be posted on the Lake and Peninsula Borough’s website before 10pm.

District 1 Republicans Likely Dropping Recall Effort Against Johansen

Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan

District One Republicans say they will likely drop their recall effort against Ketchikan Representative Kyle Johansen. The decision comes after the Alaska Division of Elections last week rejected a recall petition application for the Ketchikan lawmaker.

Shishmaref Woman Gets Jail Time for Daughter’s Absence from School

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A Shishmaref woman was sentenced to 20 days in jail today due to her daughter’s continued absence from school. This is the second truancy case in as many weeks in the Bering Strait School District that has resulted in parents being sentenced to jail time for their child’s poor school attendance.

Frieda Kuzuguk called in from Shismaref via teleconference for the hearing. In an agreement with the court, four of the five charges against her were dropped in exchange for her pleading guilty to one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Court papers allege she aided or encouraged her daughter to miss hundreds of days of school over the last three years.

District Attorney John Earthman said Kuzuguk ignored all efforts by the Shishmaref School and the Bering Straits School District to help her child return to class. He also noted thousands of dollars in unpaid fines. He sought the maximum penalty of 30 days in jail to “send a message to like-minded parents.”

In an affidavit by an Alaska State Trooper, Kuzuguk cited bullying by other students as well as teachers as reasons why her daughter missed so many days of school. Kuzuguk said she had talked to the principal and had her daughter moved to a different class, but she continued to miss school, claiming she was scared of the school environment.

Kuzuguk will report to Nome on Nov. 21 to be remanded and begin serving her sentence.

Tobacco Company Headed to Western Alaska Court

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

The biggest tobacco company in the world will be defending themselves in a courthouse in Western Alaska this week.

Over 1,000 Attending Elders and Youth Conference

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

More than 1,000 people are attending the Elders and Youth conference that started Monday at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage. Organizers at The First Alaskans Institute want to provide a forum for building connections.