Murkowski Lays Out Alaska Native Priorities to Interior Secretary Zinke

Zinke Testifies to Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

The newly confirmed Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, testified for the first time in front of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee this week at a hearing on “Identifying Indian Affairs priorities for the Trump Administration.” U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a member of the Committee, took the opportunity to highlight areas where the new administration can work with Alaska for the benefit of Alaska Natives and American Indians, including the development of Tribal Courts in Alaska, honoring trust responsibilities, and how the administration can help with public safety challenges in rural Alaska.

Senator Murkowski first explained the importance of the administration working with Alaska’s tribes.

“Alaska is home to 229 federally recognized tribes. You can imagine the importance of the trust responsibilities and relationship with the Federal Government for me and my constituents. What it means is meaningful consultation and true relationships in decision making. It means when an agency performs the duty of consultation they are not simply ‘checking the box.’ They are building relationships, ensuring tribes have a seat at the table, and that sovereignty is being recognized.”

Murkowski explained programs of extreme importance to Alaskans such as the Small and Needy Tribes Program funding, the development of Tribal Courts and public safety challenges.

“I believe this is a direct investment into the health, well-being, and safety in our villages.  At the department level there was much room for improvement in the rolling out the funding and plan. We must continue to improve in this area and push for outreach and consultation with the tribes as we progress. I do believe we are making progress and I ask you commit to working with me on that as we move towards a sustainable, long lasting system for tribes. There are too many instances of young men, women, and children living in constant fear, in times they are not even able to leave their homes, because they do not have adequate public safety in their area. This is far too often the case in rural Alaska. I urge you, Secretary Zinke to work with other members of the Cabinet, and the members of this committee, to find ways where the federal government can make improvements.”

Senator Murkowski also highlighted ways to help create jobs and promote economic development in Alaska, such as supporting the implantation of the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience Act (NATIVE Act), hiring local Alaska Natives to fill position in the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, or contracting directly with Tribes at the local level. 

“As you can tell, we have much to work on together. And I thank all the witnesses, especially Secretary Zinke for taking the time to look through the lenses of opportunity. This committee is one where we are known to work together, in a bipartisan way, and I look forward to continuing that tradition.”

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska