Report: ‘Rural Governance Remains Unfinished in Alaska’

Bruce Botelho leads a discussion on rural self-governance in Anchorage. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN - Anchorage)
Bruce Botelho leads a discussion on rural self-governance in Anchorage. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Formalizing a government to government relationship between tribes and the state was the message and mission today of former members of a commission tasked with addressing tribal self governance. Their report says rural governance “remains unfinished business in Alaska.”

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The Alaska Commission on Rural Governance and Empowerment first reported on the need for tribal recognition 15 years ago.

Veronica Slajer, the president of the North Star Group and member of the original commission, says Thursday’s report outlines the need for the state to recognize a Native Way of Life Priority, allow for tribal jurisdiction and develop natural resources for the benefit of local people.

Slajer says these priorities all allude to one thing.

“The number one recommendation is the state at some level, whether it’s legislative initiative or administrative initiative or both, needs to once and for all recognize tribes,” she said.

Though little progress has been made at a state level on the issue, Slajer says the state’s social and political climates have changed over the last 15 years.

“Everybody sees that there’s an issue. And also, there’s fewer people who are fearing this issue,” she said. “There’s more people who recognize tribes, work with them and are in fact seeing the constructive role and see how everybody needs to work together.”

Despite those changes, Slajer says the state’s inconsistent message when it comes to working with tribes has made progress slow.

“Until we get that consistent message, whether it be from the administrative arm, the legislative arm, or the judicial arm, being comprehensive recognition of tribes and working with tribes universally, we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

With a new state administration, Slajer is hopeful progress can be made.

Incoming Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott also served on both commissions and is a Tlingit from Yakutat. He says he will work with Governor elect Bill Walker to strengthen the state’s relationship with tribal entities.

“We will try to make progress at the level of the policies and programs and the administration of state government to maximum extent possible,” Mallott said.

The commission is no longer active, but former commission members and others met last December to streamline the report, which they presented to the public Thursday.