Obama hears from a roundtable of Alaska Native leaders

Sen. Dan Sullivan greets President Barack Obama and Gov. Bill Walker as they disembark from Air Force One. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott waits on the left. Photo: Marc Lester.
Sen. Dan Sullivan greets President Barack Obama and Gov. Bill Walker as they disembark from Air Force One. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott waits on the left. Photo: Marc Lester.

President Barack Obama is in Alaska to learn and talk about climate change. Before giving a speech to dozens of foreign ministers and dignitaries from around the world attending a conference on climate change, the president met with Alaska Native leaders.

President Obama spent an hour meeting with a dozen Alaska Native leaders from across the state on Monday, including Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium president Andy Teuber.

“He told us up front that he was there to listen, and he did. He listened to everybody around the table, including all the tribal or indigenous leaders,” Teuber says. “And he followed up with questions and took copious notes, and Secretary Jewell was in the room with us and several members of his administration staff members. And we look forward to following up with members of his administration on the points that were made and some of the challenges that were presented.”

During his speech, President Obama mentioned some of what he’d learned.

“They described for me villages that are slipping into the sea and the changes that are taking place, migratory, fauna, what used to feed the animals beginning to vanish,” the president says. “It’s urgent for them today but that’s the future for all of us if we don’t take care.”

Dalee Sambo Dorough is the former chair and current expert member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She says the president also struck a theme for international audiences.

“I think that it was first of all important that he acknowledged the impact of climate change on Alaska’s indigenous peoples. And the refrain that he had in terms of that we can’t do this alone was a really strong message to all the foreign ministers seated around the table that we need collective action. And I think it was also important that he underscored the fact that we need to do this much faster.”

The president will visit Seward, in southcentral Alaska, and the predominantly Alaska Native communities of Dillingham and Kotzebue in western and northwestern Alaska.