National | Politics

Native leaders slam lawmaker for comments about village women in Alaska

Few Alaskans realize that the state pays 100% of the costs of nearly half of all abortions in Alaska. Not only the...

Posted by Representative David Eastman on Friday, May 5, 2017

Representative David Eastman on Facebook: 'investigate State Funding of Abortion-related Travel'

Leaders of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes are supporting the censure of a Republican lawmaker who said women in rural villages intentionally get pregnant so they can get a "free trip" to the city.

President Richard Peterson said Rep. David Eastman's remarks, which were widely reported in the Alaska media, were "inexcusable." They are a direct attack on Native women who experience high rates of victimization, the tribal leader asserted.

“Alaska Native women account for less than 20 percent of the State’s population, but make up nearly half its reported rape victims. Rape in Alaska is also two and a half times higher than any other state," Peterson said in a press release. “When you understand that Alaska Native women already experience a disproportionately higher rate of domestic violence and sexual assault than any other group in the nation, I consider these comments by Representative Eastman to be a direct insult to Alaska Native women…period."

The controversy started last week with an otherwise innocuous resolution aimed at raising awareness of sexual assault and child abuse in Alaska, where rates of both are sky-high. Eastman proposed an amendment that described abortion as "the ultimate form of child abuse," the Associated Press reported.

Posted by Central Council Tlingit & Haida on Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Central Council Tlingit & Haida on Facebook: 'Women are the foundation of our cultures'

Eastman then told the AP: "We have folks who try to get pregnant in this state so that they can get a free trip to the city, and we have folks who want to carry their baby past the point of being able to have an abortion in this state so that they can have a free trip to Seattle."

But Eastman wasn't done. He later singled out women in "villages" in remarks to Alaska Public Media: “You have individuals who are in villages and are glad to be pregnant, so that they can have an abortion because there’s a free trip to Anchorage involved.”

After Eastman refused to give a clear apology for his remarks, another lawmaker called for his censure. That's when he finally said he was sorry, in a speech on the floor of the Alaska House on Wednesday.

Lawmakers ended up censuring Eastman anyway by a vote of 25-14, according to news reports. But their action was symbolic -- it doesn't affect his position or his activities.

“Our families, our men, our women and children already suffer from historical traumas of forced acculturation and assimilation,” First Vice President Rob Sanderson Jr. of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes said. “After all these years we continue to be assailed and by a lawmaker no less. He does not represent our people and we must call out these venomous comments that undermine the dignity of our people.”

Read More on the Story:
House censures Rep. Eastman for ‘village’ abortion comments (The Juneau Empire 5/10)
Alaska House votes for public reprimand of Wasilla representative after abortion comments (Alaska Dispatch News 5/10)
Alaska House rebukes lawmaker who said women get abortions for ‘free trip to the city’ (The Washington Post 5/11)