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Senator says Natives threaten state of Alaska
Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Alaska Natives threaten the state of Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens (R) said in remarks published last week that are drawing fire from the Native community.

Speaking to members of the Alaska media, the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee defended efforts to deny federal funding to justice systems in Native villages. He said tribes are a threat to the rest of the state because they are exerting their sovereignty.

"The road they're on now is the road to destruction of statehood because the Native population is increasing at a much, much greater rate than the non-Native population. I don't know if you know that," he said on October 2. "And they want total jurisdiction over what happens in a village without regard to state law and without regard to federal law."

Stevens remarks were broadcast on the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN) that evening. Among those listening was Heather Kendall-Miller, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in Anchorage, who said Native leaders are outraged and are demanding an apology.

"As an Alaska Native person, I take very strong offense to the statements made by the senator. It's unacceptable," she said yesterday. "He talks about Native people as if it were 'us versus them.' I haven't heard that kind of talk since I don't know when."

NARF attorneys are distributing a transcript of the report, which was independently verified by APRN, to Native leaders and other members of the media in hopes of drawing attention to Stevens. "We want him to stop his assault on tribalism," she said.

When it comes to tribal issues, Stevens has made no secret of his agenda. Citing a tight federal budget, he spoke to the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) annual convention last October and urged Native leaders to consider consolidation of their programs into regions.

Stevens followed up by inserting a rider in an appropriations bill that denies federal funding to tribal courts and justice systems in Native villages. The money would be redirected to the state of Alaska's Village Public Safety Officers Program, which tribal leaders say suffers from inadequate resources.

In his remarks last week, Stevens blamed outsiders for the interest in tribal courts. With more than 220 federally recognized tribes in the state, he said efforts to exert sovereignty are problematic.

"If all the villages in Alaska are tribes, more than half of the tribes in the United States are in Alaska, and if each one is entitled to a court, and each one is entitled to a judge -- uh, you see, it's not going to happen," he said.

Stevens also confirmed that he is considering another appropriations rider that would force consolidation of Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination (NAHASDA) funds. Although Native leaders have rejected regionalization in favor of local control, Stevens said the government won't provide housing money for every village.

"We found one area of Alaska [where] we did fund those [villages] and there wasn't a house built in four years," he said. "But there are all those people out there hired to help them."

Despite his warnings, Stevens has consistently used his position to bring millions of dollars in federal appropriations to Alaska Natives and rural Alaska. He has also enjoyed positive relations with many Native leaders and organizations.

Concern over the status of Alaska Natives isn't limited to Stevens either. During the Clinton administration, more than 220 tribes were added to the list of federally recognized tribes, a move that is still contested by Alaska lawmakers and politicians. State and federal courts have recognized Native authority in some areas.

AFN meets October 20-25 in Anchorage for its annual convention, which draws thousands from across the state. Stevens' riders are expected to be a hot topic on the agenda.

Relevant Links:
Sen. Ted Stevens - http://stevens.senate.gov
Native American Rights Fund - http://www.narf.org
Alaska Federation of Natives - http://www.nativefederation.org/flash.html

Related Stories:
Alaska Natives oppose limits to tribal court funding (09/23)
Alaska court hears suit on village law enforcement (09/18)
Bill cuts funds to Alaska tribal justice systems (09/10)
Alaska Natives debunk federal funding myths (05/07)
Stevens files Alaska Native gaming rider (01/24)
Alaska Natives press unity on sovereignty (10/25)
Stevens: Too many Alaska Native tribes (10/24)
AFN events kick off today in Anchorage (10/21)
GOP request has Alaska Natives fuming (1/28)
Stevens: 'Problem' with Alaska Natives (01/29)

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