Indianz.Com Video by Kevin Abourezk: Newly appointed Alaska lieutenant governor kicks off Alaska Federation of Natives

Thousands gather for annual meeting of Alaska Federation of Natives

Opening session comes after political shakeup of Native leaders
By Kevin Abourezk

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Newly appointed Alaska Lt. Gov. Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson kicked off the first day of the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention Thursday by addressing the turmoil that cost her predecessor his job earlier this week.

“Alaskans deserve the highest standards of conduct by their elected officials,” said Davidson, who is Yupik and most recently served as Gov. Bill Walker’s director of Health and Human Services. “Respect for women and the dignity of all Alaskans is our responsibility. I stand ready to serve as your lieutenant governor.”

The Alaska Federation of Natives is the largest inter-tribal organization in Alaska, representing 186 federally recognized tribes, 177 village corporations and 12 regional corporations. Nearly 6,000 people attend its annual convention each year.

The Nelson Island School Dancers from Toksook Bay perform at the opening of the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage on October 18, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Byron Mallott, who is Tlingit, resigned as lieutenant governor on Tuesday, just three weeks before the general election. The same day, Walker announced his decision to appoint Davidson, making her the first Native woman to serve in that post.

Walker has said Mallott had made “inappropriate comments” to a woman but has not offered any details.

An Independent, Walker was seeking re-election prior to the political shakeup this week and had faced tough odds against his opponents, Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Mike Dunleavy.

His campaign manager has said, if elected, Walker would name Davidson as his lieutenant governor, though Mallott’s name will remain on the ballot on November 6.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) addresses the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage on October 18, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Speaking before tribal leaders on Thursday, Walker commended his former running mate for stepping down after the incident came to light.

“Byron did the right thing and took responsibility immediately for his actions,” he said. “We will only fully heal when everyone woman in Alaska is treated with respect.”

And he offered a rare public apology to Alaska’s first peoples.

“As the 11th governor for the state of Alaska, I apologize to you for the wrongs you have endured for generations,” he said. “For being forced into boarding schools, I apologize. For being forced to abandon your Native language and adopt a foreign one, I apologize. For erasing your history, I apologize.”

“This apology is long overdue. It is but one step in hundreds more to go on this journey toward truth, reconciliation and healing.”

Alaska Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson received two standing ovations during her speech at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage on October 18, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

For her part, Davidson spoke about her values and accomplishments on Thursday, starting with her background in education. With a bachelor’s degree in education, she has served as a Head Start, first grade and middle school teacher.

She said he learned to work hard and help others less fortunate while growing up in a small village in southwest Alaska.

“We do whatever we need to do to be able to face the day,” she said.” As women, we often do that with a baby on our back.”

She voiced support for subsistence fishing and hunting rights for Alaska Natives and applauded Walker for signing the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact last December with 18 tribes and tribal organizations.

The compact has led to more than 90 tribes now regularly being allowed to intervene in the lives of struggling Native families well before the state takes formal action against those families, Davidson said.

She also commended Walker’s decision to take executive action to expand Medicaid in September 2015, a decision that resulted in more than 44,000 Alaskans receiving access to health care who didn’t have it before and to more than $1 billion in health services being provided to Alaskans, nearly all of which was paid for through federal sources.

And she offered reassurance to tribal leaders that Walker would continue to reach out to them if re-elected, and he wouldn’t be alone.

“I know that Gov. Walker sees us,” she said. “I am here to serve you. I look forward to working with you.”

First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference
Earlier in the week, more than 1,200 elders and youth met in Anchorage for the 35th Annual First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference.

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