State, Natives pick teams for upcoming talks

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A dozen state officials will be on one side of the table in upcoming discussions with Alaska's tribes. On the other side will be three times as many Native representatives.

Tribal leaders this week chose about 45 delegates to represent the tribes in creating a new relationship with the state. Gov. Tony Knowles in October offered to establish a government-to-government relationship with the 227 federally recognized tribes.

''I didn't ever think I'd live long enough to see this day,'' said Lee Stephan, from the Native Village of Eklutna, one of the delegates selected Thursday during a two-day meeting in Anchorage.

Knowles appointed a 12-member negotiating team that includes six state commissioners and Attorney General Bruce Botelho, and expected a Native delegation of similar size.

But Knowles spokesman Bob King said he didn't see a problem with the size of the tribal team, beyond presenting some logistical challenges.

''With a crowd like that, it may be difficult to see that everybody has a seat at the table,'' King said. ''We may have to bring in bleachers.''

Issues to be discussed are still undecided, but tribal leaders this week spoke often of giving tribes control over state and federal funds aimed at solving some of the pressing village problems, from substance abuse to educational needs to inadequate airports.

''I think we need to forge ahead because I think there's a lot of opportunity to enhance the services that are provided,'' said Arnold Brower Jr., a delegate from the Arctic Slope.

The tribes say they don't want to ''negotiate'' with the state team. As one delegate described it, they are working on a new way to shake hands with the state.

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