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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(10/7/03)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

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.

*****

Stevens remarks called racist
SOVEREIGNTY: Senator says tribal advocates misinterpreting his words.

By LIZ RUSKIN
Anchorage Daily News

(Published: October 9, 2003)

WASHINGTON Advocates of tribal governance in Alaska say Sen. Ted Stevens should apologize for remarks he made last week while explaining why he is trying to prevent Alaska tribes from receiving certain federal grants.

In an Oct. 2 interview with Alaska reporters in Washington, Stevens said lawyers supported by an Indian organization in the Lower 48 are prodding Alaska's tribes to establish their own courts and housing programs, and then apply to the federal departments for grants.

He can't get enough money, Stevens said, for each of the state's tribes there are more than 220 of them to act as its own government with its own court.

"In the end they'll end up with a bunch of people thinking they're going to be tribal courts and they're not going to have the money to run them," Stevens said.

In the same interview, Stevens also described the tribal sovereignty movement as a threat to the state.

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

That's the comment broadcast last week on the Alaska Public Radio Network that some tribal advocates say Stevens should apologize for.

"It's being viewed by people like myself as racist language," said Vernita Herdman, advocacy coordinator for the Rural Alaska Community Action Program. "It makes me sick. It makes me feel sick inside for him. Are we or are we not Alaska's first people?"

Heather Kendall Miller, staff attorney in the Anchorage office of the Native American Rights Fund, also was offended.

"He's saying that our mere existence is a threat to the state ... and that the rights of Native people somehow threaten state sovereignty," she said.

Stevens' chief of staff, David Russell, said Kendall Miller is taking the remark out of context. He said Stevens meant that if the sovereignty movement is successful, the increase in the Native population would lead to more claims for the creation of sovereign tribes, more tribal courts and more questions about jurisdiction.

"The more confusion there is, the more uncertainty, the less successful the state's legal system will be," Russell said.

Stevens' remarks came as he is attempting to cut tribes off from some of the federal grants they have received in recent years. A rider that Stevens attached to a pending appropriations bill would prevent Alaska tribes from getting Justice Department grants to fund their courts and pay their police officers. Instead, the money would go to the state to provide court services and state police officers, he said.

Stevens revealed last week that he plans to take similar action on federal housing funds. The housing grants should go to regional associations not individual Alaska tribes, he said.

He again said the problem lies with sovereignty advocates.

"We found the same groups have gone from village to village and said, 'You are entitled to a housing organization. ... You should have an office. You should have a housing manager. You should have a housing planner. You should have a housing designer,'" Stevens said. "And we found one area of Alaska, we did fund those and there wasn't a house built in four years, but there's all those people out there hired to help them."

Stevens has long said that if each tribe goes after its own federal funds, there will be too many organizations administering programs and not enough money to go around. He has suggested a more regional approach to allocating money. At last year's Alaska Federation of Natives convention, he asked for help in devising a plan.

"I'm not suggesting the consolidation of your tribes or your villages just to consolidate the way they get their funding," he said last year. "But that's your decision, not mine. I am here to work with you, not against you."

Herdman said it now feels like Stevens is working against them.

Tribes, she argues, administer programs efficiently because people in the community do the work, saving money on travel.

"The state of Alaska cannot afford not to have tribes," she said. "They're using local people to do a local job."

Exactly what legal authority Alaska tribes have is in dispute.

Unlike Lower 48 tribes, courts have ruled that Alaska tribes with a couple of exceptions do not govern over geographic territory. They do, though, have the right to decide certain domestic disputes, like child custody.

Sovereignty advocates say tribes also can enforce criminal laws, at least for minor offenses. Opponents, like Stevens and Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes, disagree.

Kendall Miller said tribes are doing what any good local government would do: protecting children, maintaining the peace in the absence of state law enforcement, preventing alcohol-related abuses and keeping the community clean and safe.

"Some of the things that the senator is attacking with respect to tribal jurisdiction are the very, very reason why the system that is currently in place is working best," Kendall Miller said. "We're talking about good government at the local level."

She suggested Stevens hold hearings in rural Alaska so he can see what tribes are actually up to.

She and Herdman also said Stevens is wrong to say the sovereignty movement is something brought in from Outside.

"My village, Unalakleet, on Norton Sound, has been in the fight for 1,500 years," Herdman said. "In all those years ... we weren't just milling around there. We were establishing a culture and we were governing."

Stevens refused to name the Outside group that he says is pressing for Alaska tribal sovereignty, but he described it as "a rather well-heeled Indian organization in the South 48."

Herdman said she didn't know what Stevens is referring to. If he meant the Native American Rights Fund, Herdman said, he should know that its Alaska staff attorney Kendall Miller is an Alaska Native. Herdman, an Inupiaq, is on its national board.

The Native American Rights Fund, based in Boulder, Colo., is a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to tribes and individuals nationwide, and its Anchorage office has long advocated for Alaska Natives. It represented Mentasta Lake elder Katie John in the landmark case that resulted in the court-ordered federal takeover of subsistence hunting and fishing management across much of the state.

Stevens, when pressed by reporters, refused to name the group or groups, saying he didn't know them too well.

"I know they aren't the people who come to see me as Native people seeking housing. They're not the people who come see me urging me to get some more money for the Denali Commission, for this or that," he said. "They're people that come with the sovereignty movement, and it's financed by the sovereignty movement. And we do not have the sovereignty movement in Alaska. We do not have sovereign tribes."

*****

Anchorage Daily News

Opinion

(Published: October 12, 2003)
Wrong words

Sen. Stevens' remarks don't help, and he should know better

Let's be clear from the start. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is not a racist. He may be a fierce foe of Native sovereignty and tribalism in Alaska, but even his toughest critics can't tag him with the racist or anti-Native label. He's done too much on behalf of Alaska Natives over his decades in the Senate for that charge to have any substance.

But his very stature and service make the words he spoke that much more potentially disturbing.

In warning against the Native sovereignty movement, the senator said:

"The road they're (Native sovereignty advocates) on now is the road to destruction of statehood, because the Native population's increasing at a much greater rate than the non-Native population. I don't know if you realize that. And they (sovereignty advocates) want to have total jurisdiction over anything that happened in a village without regard to state law and without regard to federal law."

Just what does the Native birth rate have to do with the question of sovereignty and tribal powers? The middle of the senator's statement could be heard as a racist echo warning against the Native hordes "they're breeding faster than we are."

If some wing nut on talk radio said this we'd condemn it, then dismiss it with a recommendation to consider the source. But when Sen. Ted Stevens, arguably the most powerful Alaskan in the history of the state, says these words, they hit home.

We don't expect words like that from Ted Stevens. Even allowing for the fact that the senator occasionally speaks in apocalyptic terms when he really warms to a subject, these are words that Alaskans don't need to hear.

Vernita Herdman, with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, said that she felt the sting of the senator's remarks as an Alaska Native, but "it's also a slap in the face to us as his constituents."

There's the real harm in the senator's words. Vernita Herdman knows Ted Stevens is not a racist. But when an issue is cast in terms of us vs. them, it's a step backward from the sane, practical, decent and right question, which is how do we Alaskans together resolve questions of sovereignty and self-governance within state and federal law?

It's tough enough without incendiary language.

Sen. Stevens' record of service to Alaska and to the United States is long, honorable and will bear fruit for years to come, from the smallest village to the airport that bears his name. But that doesn't mean he gets a pass when he says something insulting to Alaskans, even when there's no reason to believe he set out to do so. He should expect Alaskans to let him know when he speaks out of line. He should count on it.

Sen. Stevens should acknowledge these were the wrong words to use and apologize. That will clear the air to argue the issues of Native sovereignty and authority of Alaska tribes on their merits. And to argue them as Alaskans.

BOTTOM LINE: Sen. Stevens is no racist, but a few of his words have no place in Alaska's debate over Native sovereignty and tribal powers.

*****

From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 10/23/03:

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Stevens defends stance on tribes
By SAM BISHOP News-Miner Washington Bureau

Stevens said he hopes AFN delegates in Anchorage today will see his request for more information from federal agencies as advocacy, not an attack.

"I think it's intended to protect the bulk of Native people who need the money," he said. "It is an attack on those who are, in my opinion, fraudulent."

Stevens said he wants to somehow pool money going to the smaller tribes to improve the efficiency of the services they deliver.

"All I'm interested in is getting the money where it's needed," he said Wednesday.

Stevens, however, also has expressed concern about the breadth of sovereign powers claimed by tribes in Alaska. Part of his motivation in redirecting the Justice Department grants to the state is to prevent the money from funding tribal police and courts that assert jurisdiction over criminal acts, he said last month.

Kanatak has a tribal court, Shanigan said, but judges are volunteers. Training them has cost about $1,300 a year. They handle only child welfare and adoption cases.

Mitchell said that even recognizing tribal jurisdiction over such non-criminal issues leads to difficult legal conflicts.

For example, Mitchell said, he is involved with a case in which the Northway tribal council asserted its power to decide a child custody dispute between a non-Native woman and a part-Native man. The whole family has lived all their lives in Tok, he said.

In another case, he represents a man who filed a wrongful discharge case against a Native council in Bethel. The council said it had sovereign immunity from suits. Mitchell has asked the federal district court in Anchorage to declare that the council is not sovereign.

Mitchell's basic contention is that there are no legitimate, federally recognized tribes in Alaska. He said the Interior Department under President Bill Clinton attempted to declare about 225 village groups to be tribes. But he said the Constitution says Congress has sole authority to decide such matters.

"Congress has never authorized that (sovereign) status, and Alaska Natives are subject at all locations, including villages, to the same civil and criminal jurisdiction of the state of Alaska that everyone else is," Mitchell said.

Stevens appears to agree with Mitchell. In the Oct. 2 interview with Alaska reporters, he questioned both the wisdom of and the legal basis for recognizing tribes as sovereign nations.

"We do not have the sovereignty movement in Alaska. We do not have sovereign tribes. There are only two in Alaska," Stevens said during that interview.

"No it won't work," he said when he asked if a dual court jurisdiction could function in Alaska. He cited a recent child abuse case in which a tribe claimed immunity from suit.

"They're saying the children in that village are not subject to the protection of federal courts as far as their civil rights are concerned," Stevens said, referring to tribal sovereignty advocates. "It's a very difficult thing. The road they're on now is the road to the destruction of statehood because the Native population is increasing at a much greater rate than the non-Native population."

That last comment was called racist by one tribal official quoted in a subsequent news report, but other Native leaders have not gone so far in recent statements. Stevens' phrasing also drew a request for an apology by the Anchorage Daily News editorial board.

Stevens' staff said he wasn't criticizing the expanding Native population, but just pointing out that conflicts between state, federal and tribal courts would continue to grow as a result.

Mitchell said he didn't think Stevens' comments could be considered racist.

"Not only no, but I think that Senator Stevens is acting responsibly in attempting to deal with this finally," he said.

Calls seeking comment from AFN and the Native American Rights Fund in Anchorage were not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

*****

From Indianz.com, 10/27/03:

Stevens unapologetic in speech to Alaska Natives
Monday, October 27, 2003

Saying "sovereignty is not the answer" for Alaska's tribes, Sen. Ted Stevens (R) on Friday defended himself against accusations of racism before the largest gathering of Alaska Natives.

In a videoaped speech to the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee sought to counter controversy over remarks that have Native leaders fuming. Pointing to his record on Native issues, which includes telling white-owned businesses to take down their "No Natives Allowed" signs to bringing millions in federal dollars to the state, he said he was hurt by the criticism.

"To be called a 'racist' after more than 50 years of dedicated service to Alaskans, particularly Alaska Natives, is something I will not forget," Stevens said on the tape. "It is a stain on my soul."

But Alaska's senior senator was unapologetic over his push to change the way more than 220 tribes in the state receive federal funds. Stevens has authored legislation that would shift the money to the state and to regional Native entities, a move tribal leaders and their advocates see as an attack on their sovereign rights.

Stevens framed the debate a different way. Not only would exercising sovereignty create jurisdictional disputes, he told delegates that they wouldn't be able to make decisions affecting their own land "without Uncle Sam's permission" and said the Bureau of Indian Affairs would mismanage their assets.

"Tribal sovereignty is not the answer to the problems Alaska Natives face," he said. "It merely brings authority to some, power to others, and legal fees to advocates that bring incessant litigation."

Earlier this month, Stevens told the Alaska media that it was impossible to fund each and every village due to budget constraints. That explanation, while disputed by Native leaders, wasn't what got him in trouble. It was his statement that tribes threaten the state by exerting their sovereignty. A comment about the exploding Native population didn't help either.

Friday's speech to the AFN annual convention, held at the Egan Center in Anchorage, did little to quiet the controversy. Native leaders saw Stevens as overly defensive and weren't satisfied with the justification he gave for his campaign.

"The services that we provide currently are in jeopardy," Mike Williams, president of Alaska's Inter-Tribal Council, told KNBA FM, which provided continuous coverage of the AFN meeting. "Suggesting that the state of Alaska has a better answer to our problems. . . I disagree with that."

In a speech to delegates on Thursday, AFN president Julie Kitka said she was alarmed by Stevens' proposals. But she also said it was up to Alaska Natives to respond to some of the issues he has raised. She called on the creation of a "blue ribbon" federal commission to examine them.

On Saturday, AFN passed a resolution endorsing the "Commission on Fiscal and Governmental Relations." Composed of tribal, state and federal officials. it's task would be to provide recommendations on improving delivery of federal services to Alaska Natives.

Keeping the funding issue separate from tribal status is a critical one, Kitka said. But in his speech, Stevens traced the source of his concern to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' decision to recognize every Alaska tribe.

"It's a problem that developed because the former director of BIA, Ada Deer, decreed that every Alaska Native village was a tribe, leading many to assert there are now 231 Alaskan tribes," he told delegates.

In October 1993, the BIA placed Alaska's tribes on the list of federally recognized entities, ensuring them equal status with tribes in the lower 48 states. But Alaska tribes differ from their counterparts in important ways, including small membership and limited territorial jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, tribal leaders in the state have sought to assert their powers by establishing housing departments, court systems and law enforcement units, among other activities. The tribes provided critical services, particularly in rural areas where state dollars don't reach.

Through a rider in an appropriations bill, Stevens is cutting off federal funds for village courts and law enforcement. The language forces the Department of Justice to send the money to the state instead.

Separately, Stevens is considering another rider that would redirect federal housing funds to regional Native organizations. Some are affiliated with for-profit corporations that Stevens helped create with the passage of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The corporations are not tribes.

The AFN convention ended Saturday. An estimated 4,000 Natives from across the state attended three days of meetings, speeches and cultural events. A separate conference for youth and elders was held Monday through Wednesday.

More of Stevens in the Stereotype of the Month contest
Stevens wants to know if "phantom tribes" exist in Alaska

Related links
The facts about tribal sovereignty


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