SENATOR MURKOWSKI ADDRESSES ALASKA FEDERATION OF NATIVES CONVENTION
FAIRBANKS, AK – Senator Murkowski today addressed the delegates at the 2007 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Her remarks, as prepared, follow.
Respected Elders, Tribal Leaders, Delegates and Friends.
Good afternoon. Good afternoon to all in the Carlson Center. Good afternoon to our friends and families in the villages and around the world who are watching on cable television and the Internet or listening on KNBA Radio.
We come together this week in the Interior of Alaska – in a region which is known for its great chiefs.
This is a region where the tribal organization is named for the Tanana Chiefs who met at the place where the rivers meet. That place is today called Tanana.
In this region the Native Corporation is called Doyon, meaning “chief of chiefs. “
We come together at a time that this region is mourning the loss of another of its great chiefs -- the Reverend Doctor David Salmon.
The loss of a Chief, in fact the loss of an Elder in any of our communities, causes us to stop what we are doing and reflect.
We stop thinking about ourselves, our disagreements and our problems. We listen to the river. We listen to the wind. We reflect on how the Elder helped us grow. We think about health and wellness. We realize that respect for traditional cultures are empowering. They are the keys to the future.
David Salmon knew this. From his perch in Chalkyitsik he guided the youth to appreciate the value of education. So they could protect the land but also so that they could own the businesses.
In an obituary for David Salmon, which was transmitted around the world by the Associated Press, our friend Orie Williams said, “He never brought negativity with him. He was always positive. You could never go to school enough years to know what this man knew.”
You see this common thread running through so many of our leaders. You see it in the Elders who left us since we last met in Fairbanks. In this region, Jonathan Solomon and Shirley Demientieff come to mind. I’m thinking about Stanton Katchatag from Unalakleet and I’m thinking about Frank Hill, who directed the AFN’s education initiatives.
What makes our Chiefs and our Elders so wise… so cherished… is their sense of hope. Their understanding of the possibility that each day presents new opportunities for the advancement of our Native people. That is the inspiration for my conversation with you today.
We could spend the remainder of our time today talking about the challenges that confront our Native community. We have spoken about these in my past conversations at the AFN Convention. And I reaffirm my commitment to work with you in resolving the enduring issues – subsistence, violence in our communities, an education system that serves our young people, the unacceptably high rate of suicide in our communities and others. We will work together to find new solutions to challenges like coastal erosion and climate change. And we will get to the bottom of why Cancer rates in the American Indian and Alaska Native communities are rising, when they are falling nearly everyplace else.
Our controversies and our challenges often seem divisive and perplexing. But I share the message of hope that emanates from our Elders and our Chiefs. We have the tools to resolve these problems. You are the tools.
In our Alaska Native community we get things done because we are a community of doers. I have plenty of examples to support this point.
Let’s start with the wonderful progress toward construction of the Morris Thompson Center. On May 30th we broke ground on a facility that will not only tell Morris’ story but also the story of Alaska’s Native peoples to all of our visitors. This project would not be possible without the strong support that every region put into it.
When I think about doers, I think about our Alaska National Guard. In October 2006 I traveled to Mississippi to see the three – two nine seven off. Last week I traveled to Mississippi to welcome them home. There were 81 communities represented in the battalion. Our Alaska Native villages were well represented among that group.
We took lots of pictures during each of our visits to their training facility called Camp Shelby. In fact, I have before and after pictures of quite a few of our soldiers. They looked good when they left. They looked good when they came home.
There’s tens of thousands of years of Alaska history etched into those faces. But make no mistake about it. You can see the sense of satisfaction and personal growth in those faces too. Training in the 90 degree Mississippi heat. And then a year of solid performance in Kuwait and Iraq.
I am intrigued by the possibility that our Guardsmen will return to their communities and teach our youth something. They’ve learned just how much we can grow when we challenge ourselves. They are in a unique position to inspire our kids to do the same. I am proud of our troops and am so grateful to welcome them home.
In 2004 we saluted Katherine Gottlieb, as Alaska’s first MacArthur Foundation Genius Award recipient. And in 2007 we are proud to learn that Sven Haakinson, an Alutiiq, is the second. Both of Alaska’s MacArthur Genius recipients come from this community.
Alaska Natives serve in top leadership positions in America’s most respected Native organizations. Organizations like the NCAI, the National Indian Health Board, the National American Indian Housing Council, the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Arts. We are a community of doers.
It seems like every year that I tell you how much I respect the commitment of this community toward growing its young people into positions of leadership. If any of you doubt that the youth are ready to lead, I invite you to consider the resolutions passed at the Youth and Elders Conference.
I am especially impressed by the resolution crafted by high school students in the Saint Mary’s School District calling for youth centers in the villages that would offer healthy, culturally relevant activities. Beading and Native language instruction – in; drugs, alcohol and teenage pregnancy – out. Let’s work together to make this happen.
As many of you know, I was recently elevated to the Vice Chairmanship of the Senate Indian Affairs. This appointment has enabled me to place an emerging young Native leader on the professional staff of the Indian Affairs Committee. That person is Megan Alvanna-Stimpfle from Nome.
Megan could you stand up so that we may congratulate you?
Megan will be working with David Mullon, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, who serves as Republican Staff Director for the committee.
I would like for David to stand and be acknowledged at this time. Please use them both as a resource.
In a moment I will leave the podium and we will move to the presentation of the AFN President’s Awards. You will hear more stories of accomplishment.
When I think of what we can do to advance the condition of the American Indian people I serve on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I look no further than the success our Alaska Native community has enjoyed in growing its future generations to take the reins of leadership.
I know that Jerry Isaac and Orie Williams like to think of their region as the one that produces the Chiefs of Chiefs. But I have to tell you, everywhere I look in the Alaska Native community, I see Chiefs, and more importantly the next generation of Chiefs. Among your peers in Indian Country, this Alaska Native community truly leads in all we do.
It is an honor and a privilege to join with you once again this year. I wish you the best of holiday seasons.
Anna Bassee. Thank you so very much.