Last week, KYUK provided daily updates from the 2017 Alaska Federation of Natives conference. KYUK’s Christine Trudeau was there and filed this story:
Chris Apassingok was the first keynote speaker for the 34th annual Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage last week.
“Will you stand with me as I continue my hunting? Will you stand with me as we all continue our subsistence activities,” Apassingok asked the crowd, which responded with tremendous applause.
On Monday, he was personally recognized by Alaska Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.
This past year, Apassingok, who is 16, came into the national spotlight when Paul Watson, of Sea Shepherd fame, criticized the Siberian Yup’ik subsistence hunter about a recent post he’d made to social media concerning a whale he had killed. Watson's public comments goaded hordes of followers into attacking Apassingok on social media.
The Elders and Youth Conference leading up to AFN saw record numbers this year, nearly doubling the previous year's 1,200 attendees according to First Alaskans Institute President and CEO, Elizabeth Medicine Crow.
Elders and Youth events included workshops on tanning and traditional jewelry making, immersion sessions in indigenous languages, and a special teen dance concert featuring A Tribe Called Red.
The conference wrapped up by passing seven resolutions covering subsistence hunting and fishing rights, adjustments to corporation tax exemption dividends, and Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Trans-Queer (LGBTQ) rights.
Also leading up to the Convention, AFN sponsored a conference of Tribal Leaders. Now in its sixth year, the large tribal gathering provides a common forum for the more-than-200 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, nearly half the total number nationwide.
The State's willingness to work with the tribes was evident, as the conference was attended by most of Governor Bill Walker's cabinet. Each of them, from Corrections, to Commerce, to Public Safety, came prepared with a list of items that they were prepared to cooperate on with the tribes.
Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams said that it was "completely unacceptable" and "wrong" that three out of four Alaska Natives who get out of prison end up being incarcerated again. He's hoping for agreements with tribes to take over probation programs, and he's looking to revamp the halfway house system.
Environmental Conservation Deputy Commissioner Alice Edwards expects to soon grant health certification that will allow elders in public care facilities to be fed traditionally processed seal oil.
Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said that the state wants to do more for village law enforcement programs. They want to give Village and Tribal Police Officers training in evidence gathering. She said that her staff has been hard at work drafting "sovereign immunity" waiver agreements with tribes.
At a conference on Native Law on Tuesday, Lindemuth gave the first detailed description of the administration's position on tribal banishment. She said that any time the state learns that a person has been banished related to domestic violence, the state becomes involved in any protective order. But often, she says, the banishment occurs because the village can find no other option to deal with a drug dealer or bootlegger. The state needs to help the village find more tools to keep their communities safe, and that includes tribal courts and tribal police. Lindemuth also spoke to the rights of the individual being banished.
“In most instances, what we're talking about with a banishment order is the person who's being banished or excluded from a community may feel like their civil rights were violated,” said Lindemuth. "That's really a civil matter, rather than a criminal matter. The state's not in the business - we have limited resources - not in the business of protecting an individual's civil rights.”
At least three Alaska tribes are known to have banished people during the past year.