Craig Fleener Talks Rural Alaska Issues

by Angela Denning-Barnes on February 13, 2014

Fleener mugCraig Fleener is running for Lt. Governor with Bill Walker for Governor. They are running as Independents but Fleener has no official party affiliation. He lives in Anchorage now but he’s originally from Fort Yukon and he’s Gwizhyaa Zhee Gwichin.

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Fleener worked for the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, a consortium of the ten tribes in the Yukon Flats, for 16 years. He was involved in multiple tribal government programs including managing BIA programs, natural resources, as well as wildlife and fisheries biology. He eventually became the executive director of the consortium. He says this experience affected his decision making when he took the job as Deputy Commissioner for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.

“I have strong conservation ethics. I believe in good fish and game management,” Fleener says. “At the same time, I hold very strong feelings towards the importance of subsistence and ensuring that we’re managing our fish and game resources so people can meet their subsistence needs and I’ve never let those values slide.”

Fleener says that the rural subsistence priority has some issues and the state should consider a Native subsistence priority.

“I don’t even know if the rural priority would work because of the constant lawsuits that we might face,” Fleener says. “You know, we lost it initially because it was rurally based and so we either need to change the constitution or we need to try a different approach and try something different like what was originally intended and that is a Native priority.”

He points to the Lower 48 where Native priorities have been successful. He says in Alaska right now there are battle lines drawn in the sand dividing subsistence and commercial users and the State of Alaska.

“Probably the better solution instead of us battling it out in court like we’ve been doing all these years, I think the best way forward is for us to sit down and have a conversation together,” Fleener says. “I mean, when do you think was the last time the State of Alaska sat down with subsistence users and said, ‘We’ve got a problem here. Let’s sit down together and work on a solution we can all agree with.’ That’s the path that I would choose.”

Fleener says he’s been pro-tribal government his entire life. He fully supports tribal courts.

“Tribes have been self-sustaining, self-sufficient, managing themselves, other than when the State and Federal government interfere, they have been doing this for thousands of years,” Fleeener says. “They know the process, they know what to do and when you empower people, and I mean empower anybody, tribes or non-tribes, cities, individuals, when you empower people to take care of themselves, they typically do a pretty good job of it. So, I’m actually a pretty big fan of the state and federal government leaving tribes alone, letting them manage their issues the way they would like to manage them.”

Both Fleener and Walker are planning to attend the Cama-I Dance Festival in Bethel next month.

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