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Alaska Natives question Palin's support

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/campaign-2008/story/705777.html Posted on Mon, Sep. 29, 2008 Alaska Natives question Palin s support By RACHEL D ORO
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2008
      http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/campaign-2008/story/705777.html

      Posted on Mon, Sep. 29, 2008

      Alaska Natives question Palin's support

      By RACHEL D'ORO

      Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin routinely notes her husband's Yup'ik Eskimo roots.
      But those connections haven't erased doubts about her in a community long
      slighted by the white settlers who flocked to Alaska and dominate its
      government.

      Since she took office in 2006, many Alaska Natives say they've felt ignored
      when she made appointments to her administration, sided with sporting
      interests over Native hunting rights and pursued a lawsuit that Natives say
      seeks to undermine their ancient traditions.

      Alaska's population today is mostly white but nearly a fifth of its people
      are Native Americans - primarily Alaska Natives. Blacks and Asians combined
      make up less than 10 percent of the state's population.

      As a result, race relations in Alaska are different from those in other
      states. Palin inherited a complex, sometimes strained relationship with
      Alaska Natives. There is a wide economic disparity between its
      predominantly white urban areas and the scores of isolated Native villages,
      and competition between sport hunting rights and tribal sovereignty.

      Early in her administration, Palin created a furor by trying to appoint a
      white woman to a seat, held for more than 25 years by a Native, on the
      panel that oversees wildlife management. Ultimately, Palin named an
      Athabascan Indian to the game board, but not before relations were bruised.

      When a game board chairman suggested Alaska Natives missed a meeting
      because they were drinking beer, the remark struck a chord since the Alaska
      Native community is wracked by alcohol abuse. Palin, a candidate for
      governor at the time, asked him to resign.

      Critics felt the man's remarks rose to the level of misconduct that would
      have allowed the governor to fire him and were appalled Palin didn't do
      more to get him off the board once she became governor later that year.

      "He should have been removed," said Lloyd Miller, a tribal rights attorney
      based in Anchorage. "When your conduct fractures the public trust, it's
      misconduct."

      When Palin this summer fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, a
      Native, she replaced him with a non-Native. His successor resigned after 10
      days on the job, when a previously undisclosed reprimand that stemmed from
      a sexual harassment claim against him came to light.

      The Monegan firing is the subject of two state investigations. Palin is
      accused of firing Monegan because he refused to fire her sister's former
      husband, a state trooper.

      Two weeks after she was tapped as John McCain's running mate, Palin named a
      Native to Monegan's old position.

      Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor's Cabinet members and
      chief advisers represent the state's diversity. For example, Palin's
      communications director, Bill McAllister, is part black. Her commissioner
      for the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Emil
      Notti, is a noted Alaska Native leader.

      "The governor is colorblind when it comes to hiring," Leighow said.

      But Duke University political science professor Paula McClain, who went to
      high school in Alaska and now specializes in minority relations, said
      Palin's actions suggest she has "a political tin ear or that she simply
      doesn't care."

      "In a state like Alaska, how can you not be aware of how not reappointing a
      Native is going to play? At best, she's naive," McClain said.

      Alaska Natives - the term includes indigenous Eskimo, Aleut and Indian
      populations - tend to lean Democrat. Many prominent Native leaders have
      endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president.

      But the mother of Palin's husband, Todd, is a quarter Yup'ik Eskimo. Each
      summer, he heads to his birthplace in Western Alaska to work in the Bristol
      Bay commercial salmon fishery.

      Palin's family ties would suggest she would be more sensitive to Native
      issues, said Stephen Haycox, a University of Alaska Anchorage history
      professor. But in her 21-month tenure, the governor has used those ties
      mostly to highlight her experiences in commercial fishing, moose hunting
      and general outdoorsmanship.

      "She has not manifested, so far, any extraordinary measures on behalf of
      Alaska Natives," Haycox said.

      Alaska Inter-Tribal Council Chairman Mike Williams of Akiak said he's been
      seeking an audience with Palin to address tribal concerns ever since she
      was elected governor, but her staff keeps telling him that her schedule is
      full.

      "She's so busy that she doesn't have time for the tribes. There needs to be
      respect and a dialogue," said Williams, who is also Yup'ik Eskimo.

      This time of year, Williams is busy putting away meat, fish and berries for
      the winter - supplies that are critical to survival in cash-poor rural
      villages - and he said he wants to explain to Palin how increased pressures
      from sport hunting and fishing as well as oil and mining have eroded native
      hunting lands.

      Palin's Director of Community and Regional Affairs, Tara Jollie, a member
      of the Chippewa tribe of North Dakota, said the popular governor's schedule
      is busy, but she has attended events such as the yearly gathering of the
      Alaska Federation of Natives and a recent bridge dedication honoring a
      native leader.

      Jollie also said many of Palin's initiatives, like energy assistance and
      sharing state revenues with municipalities, are particularly important to
      the rural Natives coping with some of the highest fuel costs in the nation.

      "It's her nature to want the best for all Alaskans," said Jollie. "She
      would treat her native constituency exactly the same as any other
      constituency."
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