This week, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), discussed important infrastructure development in Native communities with key tribal leaders and stakeholders during a SCIA roundtable on “Concrete Solutions: Building a Successful Foundation for Native Communities’ Infrastructure Development.”

Murkowski began her remarks by discussing a virtual roundtable she previously hosted with members of the Association of Alaska Housing Authorities. The Vice Chair went on to recall that at the event, “Every single one of the housing authorities raised the issue of housing as infrastructure.” During the infrastructure discussion, the Vice Chairman asked, “what more can [Congress] do to incentivize financial institutions to invest in our Native communities.” Carol Gore, President & CEO of the Cook Inlet Housing Authority, responded by discussing the issues they face in accessing capital investment in rural Alaska.

“It’s interesting. I will just start by making a statement that you already know first-hand, that there is no private market in our village communities so lending mechanisms are really tough. Between the cost of delivering that housing and finding a way in a subsistence economy for our people to afford some payment of debt it’s really challenging,” said Carol Gore. “I think we have a chicken and an egg, we can’t have an economy in rural Alaska without adequate housing.”

Reflecting back on her visit to the Native Village of Savoonga in 2018, Vice Chairman Murkowski commented, “I recall going into one home and… there were so many people living in the house and so few places to sleep that people literally slept in shifts.” The Vice Chairman went on to explain, “I remember as I was trying to move around this very crowded home that one of the individuals who was taking his turn sleeping … was the local VPSO, the law enforcement officer, and it was just a reality that when you have housing that is so overcrowded, it doesn’t even meet the definition of housing. It was something that you don’t forget. Very impactful.”

Roundtable panelists included:

  • MR. ANTHONY “MORGAN” RODMAN, Executive Director, White House Council on Native American Affairs, Washington, D.C. 
  • MR. JASON FREIHAGE, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Management – Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
  • THE HONORABLE JANET DAVIS, Chairwoman, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Nixon, NV
  • THE HONORABLE DAVID FLUTE, Secretary, South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations, Pierre, SD
  • MR. WILLIAM AILA, JR., Chairman, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Kapolei, HI
  • MR. ANTHONY WALTERS, Executive Director, National American Indian Housing Council, Washington, D.C.
  • MS. CAROL GORE, President & CEO, Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Anchorage, AK
  • MR. GODFREY ENJADY, President, National Tribal Telecommunications Association, Chandler, AZ

Click here to watch the full SCIA roundtable.


Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska