Tribal leaders from Alaska and the rest of the country had a chance this week talk with the highest powers in the federal government.
Nearly all of President Obama’s cabinet secretaries participated in the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, as did Obama himself.
This was the fifth such conference in as many years. The gathering is an Obama initiative to reach out to tribes and show his administration is listening. It includes break-out sessions with department and agency heads, and a presidential address. Ted Mala, who in past years represented Buckland, says the value is enormous.
We had a degree of it with other administrations but this one has blown the doors open, and it’s incredible.
Will Micklin came representing the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes. He says the highlight for him was hearing the president mention contract support costs. It was a reference to the decades-long failure of the government to fully pay tribes for services they provide, primarily health care.
“We require that they fulfill obligations and their commitments in order that we can most effectively govern ourselves, and it starts with paying your contractual obligations,” Micklin said.
Obama, though, only said he’d heard their call for full reimbursement and pledged to work with Congress to find a solution. Micklin says when tribal leaders show their faces every year it helps hold the president accountable for his promises. Micklin believes the conference can produce results:
“It’s beginning to. We know the president means what he says. We sometimes have difficulty with his key officials, and so we’re trying to close the gap between what the president promises and what his key officials deliver.”
Mary Ann Mills of the Kenaitze Tribe said the best part for her was a smaller session she attended with top Interior Department personnel.
“I was a little bit disappointed with the president Obama because he didn’t mention Alaska one time in his speech and we have so many issues there,” Mills said. “I thought he’d say something about our health care and about the violence against women and the high suicide rate, and I thought he would lend a little more support than he did.”
Just before the conference, Obama invited a dozen Native American leaders to the White House for a special meeting.
The only Alaskan among them wasn’t the leader of a tribe but a corporation: Chris McNeil, CEO of Sealaska. He says he focused on three issues: subsistence rights, changes to the 8a program that helps Native corporations win government contracts, and community development financing.
More photos are available here.
- Details are emerging slowly on the fire at the Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller. The 100-year-old plant caught fire late Tuesday night, and the blaze continued to burn Wednesday. The full scope of the damage is still unclear, but witnesses say it is extensive.
- For five years, Sharon Livingston has organized “Camp A”, where first-, second- and third-graders immerse themselves in traditional stories, crafts and foods. By encouraging kids to explore Unangan culture, she said they learn to see the value in cultures of all kinds.
- The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the safety of Alaska skies during a hearing will take all today. The NTSB is looking into the wider issues surrounding the continued persistence of high numbers of accidents involving small planes and air taxis in Alaska.
- The Sun’aq Tribe won a grant to study the kind of threat that invasive crayfish in Alaska pose to subsistence resources. The award was announced Tuesday.