Tribal Leaders Paint Bleak Picture At Summit

Paimuit Tribal administrator Harrold Napolean. Photo by Lori Townsend-APRN
Paimuit Tribal administrator Harrold Napolean.
Photo by Lori Townsend-APRN

Tribal leaders and representatives met in Anchorage last week to denounce the exclusion of Alaska Native tribes from the Violence Against Women Act reauthoritization and other problems facing Alaska’s tribal people.

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Harold Napolean is the tribal administrator for the Native village of Paimuit near Hooper Bay. Looking around the room at the sparse attendance, Napolean said many of the tribes could not send representatives because they’re broke. He said they are dealing with third world conditions because tribal governments have no land.

“They have no land on which to exercise their jurisdiction,” Napolean said. “So, the tribes are sovereign, but they’re sovereign over air.”

Napolean said the Venetie court decision that stated tribes had no land rights and therefore could not tax was a great defeat for tribal governments.

During a presentation, Napolean ticked off statistics about Native people in the state. He pointed out that Anchorage is the area with the largest percentage of Native people and the majority of them are young women with children. He likened them to refugees.

“They’re escaping conditions in the villages,” Napolean said. “The poverty, the violence, so this is very significant number.”

Virginia Commack. Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage
Virginia Commack. Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

“They go from one place of having a hard time to another place of having a hard time.”

He said 25 percent of Alaska Native children live in poverty. The VAWA reauthorization angered Ambler resident Virginia Commack. She says women are the core of the family and violence against them must stop.

The upper Kobuk River community resident says she often reads policy and helps interpret it for the tribal council. She says VAWA is an act of discrimination against Alaska Natives.

“We’ve been able to do things in the village to try and minimize that kind of violence in our village,” Commack said. “Violence against children, violence against women, violence against each other, we don’t get the dollars that other people, other organizations get on our behalf, but we do it voluntarily anyway, because that’s our culture.”

One-hundred-sixty tribes in the state currently support three  changes to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to put forward to Congress. Restoring tribal ownership to lands selected under ANCSA, restoring hunting, fishing and gathering rights extinguished under ANCSA and mandating enrollment of all Alaska Native children born after December 18, 1971.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori