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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(11/1/06)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Game Board head apologizes for remark

By ALEX DeMARBAN
Anchorage Daily News

Published: November 1, 2006
Last Modified: November 1, 2006 at 05:43 PM

The new Board of Game chairman apologized Wednesday for implying that Natives absent from a recent meeting may have been off drinking beer.

Ron Somerville's controversial remarks came at the end of a politically charged meeting at a downtown Anchorage hotel last month.

The Alaska Federation of Natives will ask the U.S. Department of Justice, the Alaska Human Rights Commission and the state ombudsman to investigate the remarks.

The statements came Oct. 7 during a Game Board meeting. Somerville called on three people who were signed up to speak but weren't there, according to a recording provided by Game Board staff.

The speakers were part of a group of more than 50 Natives attending the special meeting from Copper River-area communities to protest several proposals. Their primary concern: that the board would restrict subsistence hunting for caribou and moose in the Nelchina basin north and east of Anchorage. The board did take such action and is continuing the process at upcoming meetings.

After the third person in a row who had signed up to speak didn't show up, Somerville said:

"There must have been a run on free beer or something."

Somerville then called Donna Hicks of Copper Center to speak.

"Don't like beer, Donna?" he asked.

Some laughter followed the statements, though it is impossible to tell who was laughing.

Several Natives in the audience were deeply offended, said Ken Johns, chief executive of Ahtna Inc., the Native regional corporation for the area.

Alcohol is a sensitive topic in Native villages, where it's blamed for some of the nation's highest rates of violent crime, suicide, fetal alcohol syndrome and other ills.

Delegates at the AFN convention last week passed the resolution calling for the investigation. It also asks the state to take corrective action, including Somerville's removal, if the investigation shows that he demonstrated "inappropriate, discriminatory, oppressive or discourteous behavior."

Somerville, reached in Arizona, where he is vacationing, said he was just trying to lighten the mood during a tense moment. He said he understands the sensitivity of alcohol among Natives and didn't mean anything racial by the comment.

"If I offended somebody, I'm terribly, terribly embarrassed by that, if it was taken other than as just a way of breaking the tension, and I apologize for that. I don't think I have to, to be honest with you, but if that's what happened and someone took it wrong ... " he said. During a break in the Oct. 7 meeting, a Native woman told Somerville that his remarks were offensive. He apologized to her, he said.

He added that the uproar in the Native community is "really just trying to divert attention" from the Game Board's efforts to redefine rules for the Nelchina subsistence hunts.

*****

Somerville apologizes for offensive remarks

Published: November 2, 2006
Last Modified: November 2, 2006 at 07:07 AM

The new Board of Game chairman apologized Wednesday for implying that Natives absent from a recent meeting may have been off drinking beer.

Ron Somerville, who has a long history of angering Natives with outspoken views on subsistence, added that the uproar in the Native community over the comments is a diversionary tactic.

The Game Board is restricting subsistence hunts in the Nelchina basin north and east of Anchorage, including the popular caribou hunt, and Natives from the region strongly oppose the changes.

Somerville, of Juneau, said he was trying to lighten tension at the end of a long Game Board meeting last month when he made his comment about beer drinking.

"If I offended somebody, I'm terribly, terribly embarrassed by that, if it was taken other than as just a way of breaking the tension and I apologize for that. I don't think I have to, to be honest with you, but if that's what happened and someone took it wrong ..." he said.

A Native woman privately complained to him at the meeting that the comments were offensive, he said. He had not heard of any other complaints until now, he said.

The Alaska Federation of Natives voted Saturday to ask the U.S. Department of Justice, the Alaska Human Rights Commission and the state ombudsman to investigate the remarks.

Alcohol is a sensitive topic in Native villages, where it's blamed for high rates of violent crime, suicide, fetal alcohol syndrome and other ills.

If the remarks are deemed "inappropriate, discriminatory, oppressive or discourteous," AFN will ask the state to pursue "corrective action," including removing Somerville, according to a resolution passed at the AFN convention.

Somerville made his remarks Oct. 7. During a public comment period, he called on three people in a row signed up to speak but who weren't there, according to a recording provided by Game Board staff.

The three were part of a group of more than 50 Alaska Natives from Copper River-area communities who had been speaking throughout the day.

Some charged the board with wanting to restrict subsistence hunting to create a surplus of caribou, leaving enough to open a sport hunt for the first time in 17 years next year.

After the third speaker didn't show, Somerville said:

"There must have been a run on free beer or something."

Somerville called Donna Hicks of Copper Center to speak.

Hicks was present. "Don't like beer, Donna?" he asked.

Some general laughter followed the statements, though it's impossible to tell from the recording who is laughing.

Several Natives in the audience were offended.

"I was like, 'That was uncalled for, especially since he knew we were all Indians,' " said Tammany Straughn of Cantwell. "It's stereotyping, like, 'Oh they're drunken Indians.' That's the way I felt."

Board member Ben Grussendorf of Sitka "kind of stiffened up" when he heard the comment, he said.

There were about 45 people in the audience. About six Natives looked at each other, apparently questioning the remarks, he said.

Grussendorf said the meeting had become somewhat informal, even conversational.

"I think he meant it in jest, and it just didn't sit well," Grussendorf said.

Somerville, appointed chairman at that October meeting, is no stranger to political fire storms or Native issues.

For much of the 1980s, he headed the pro-sport hunting and fishing Alaska Outdoor Council, leading efforts to overturn the state's old rural priority for subsistence.

In 1991, Gov. Wally Hickel suggested Somerville to head the Department of Fish and Game, touching off a statewide flurry of protests by Alaska Natives.

The appointment, ultimately rejected by the fish and game boards, was critical because the state was seeking new ways to provide subsistence hunting and fishing. The state's rural priority had been ruled unconstitutional in 1989.

The AFN delegates were told of Somerville's comments by Brenda Rebne of Ahtna Inc., the Glennallen-based regional Native corporation for the Copper River area.

*****

Game board chairman gives up post after upsetting Alaska Natives

The Associated Press

(Published: March 3, 2007)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) The chairman of the state Board of Game has given up the post, five months after suggesting Alaska Natives missed a meeting because they were drinking beer.

Ron Somerville will remain on the board until his term ends in 2008, he said Friday, the start of an extended meeting for the group in Anchorage.

Somerville made the remarks at a meeting Oct. 7 after calling on without response three people in a row signed up to speak about the Nelchina caribou hunt, a contentious issue for Alaska Natives, who testified the board was trying to limit the subsistence hunt of the herd in favor of sport hunters.

After the third consecutive speaker didn't show, Somerville said: "There must have been a run on free beer or something."

Somerville then called Donna Hicks of Copper Center to speak. Hicks was present. "Don't like beer, Donna?" he asked.

Somerville later apologized, but Gov. Sarah Palin and Alaska Natives called for his resignation.

Somerville twice rejected Palin's request to resign, said her spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton. Palin has said his remarks created a cloud of controversy that detracted from the board's business.

After Somerville would not resign, Palin asked him to give up the chairmanship, Stapleton said.

"She feels it clears much of the cloud the board is working under, so she's satisfied," Stapleton said.

For much of the 1980s, Somerville headed the pro-sport hunting and fishing Alaska Outdoor Council.

Board members Friday elected Cliff Judkins of Wasilla to replace Somerville.

*****

Demotion offer accepted

By ALEX deMARBAN Anchorage Daily News

(Published: March 3, 2007)

Ron Somerville, stung by criticism after implying that Natives missing from an October meeting were off drinking beer, announced Friday he'll step aside as Board of Game chairman.

He did not resign from the board.

Gov. Sarah Palin twice asked Somerville to quit the board but he refused, said Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton. Palin has said his remarks created a cloud of controversy that detracted from the board's business.

After Somerville wouldn't resign, Palin then asked him to give up the chairmanship, Stapleton said.

"She feels it clears much of the cloud the board is working under, so she's satisfied," Stapleton said.

Somerville's three-year term on the board ends next March.

"The governor will have the opportunity to evaluate the seat at that time," Stapleton said.

Somerville, appointed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski, could not immediately be reached Friday.

The board's members elect the chairman. After Somerville stepped down, board members elected Cliff Judkins of Wasilla to replace him as chairman.

The controversial remarks came after some Natives who had signed up to speak at the board's Oct. 7 meeting didn't come to the microphone when Somerville called their name.

"There must have been a run on free beer or something," he said.

The next person he called came forward.

"Don't like beer, Donna?" he asked.

Natives from the Copper River region led the call for his removal. They feel he threatens subsistence hunting, and wish he'd been removed, said Ken Johns, president of Ahtna, the region's Native corporation.

"He's still in a position to do damage to our area either verbally or by his actions on the game board, so we're not too happy he's sticking around," Johns said.

Somerville announced the decision on the first day of a marathon meeting in Anchorage where the board is considering, among other things, allowing bear hunting near areas such as the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, one of the world's premier bear-viewing areas.

Related links
Drunken Indians

Readers respond
"As usual, this is not an apology!...We all know the intended meaning is conveyed under the guise of a joke or jest."


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