Alaska Natives sign agreement formalizing tribe-state relations

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Delegates from about one-quarter of Alaska's 229 federally recognized tribes signed an agreement Wednesday formalizing relations between state government and tribal leaders.

Sixty-two delegates signed the Millennium Agreement in hopes of improving relations with the state.

The agreement calls for a temporary committee of four state officials and four tribal leaders to come up with recommendations on tribal-state relations within three months. A permanent state-tribal forum will hold meetings twice annually.

''With this agreement, we acknowledge something that tribal leaders have known all along, that their governments are the modern day expressions of the oldest, continuous political entities in North America,'' Gov. Tony Knowles said to strong applause at the signing ceremony.

Knowles in December 1999 invited Alaska's Natives to negotiate an agreement for a state-tribal relationship. Knowles last December signed an administrative order establishing that the state of Alaska recognizes those tribes already recognized by the federal government.

''Today is a new beginning for all the tribes of Alaska,'' said Joe Williams, co-chair of the State-Tribal Relations Team. ''I strongly believe this agreement will lead to a stabilized, improved relationship with the state.''

Several protesters holding signs that read ''Don't sign. It's a trick,'' and ''Where is informed consent?'' marched briefly through the ballroom crowded with tribal delegates

Patrick Saylor, chief of the Healy Lake Traditional Council near Fairbanks, said his tribe is opposed to the agreement because it recognizes state sovereignty. Only the federal government and the tribes are sovereign entities, he said, adding that the Civil War was fought over the states claims to sovereignty.

''It is not the place of the tribes to recognize the states' sovereignty and this will only negatively impact tribal governments on the international level,'' Saylor said in a statement.

Mark Jacobs Jr., fifth vice president of the central council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said he had the same concern, but was signing the agreement because he respected the efforts of those involved.

''You cannot legislate sovereignty. You can't grant it or take it away,'' Jacobs said.

While the agreement does not address any substantive issues between the state and tribes, it creates a framework for a government to government relationship, Williams said.

He said the agreement gives tribes the power to take their concerns to the state and get them heard, he said. ''Prior to this the state could say we don't need to talk,'' he said.

Improved delivery of services such as health care and education, and more control over subsistence fishing and hunting, were on the minds of some of the delegates who lined up to sign the agreement.

''I'm here to get support from the state agencies and the legislature. They don't understand the things we need and they aren't helping us,'' said Almira Beatus, a delegate representing the 70 to 80 people of the Hughes tribe northwest of Fairbanks. ''They are cutting back on education. We need more teachers, better classes.''

Gary Kompkoff, a delegate from the Tatitlek tribe of Prince William Sound, said he wants his tribe to have more say in the management of natural resources. The tribe of about 100 people lives three miles from the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that dumped 11 million gallons into the sound.

''I think we need to be more involved in the management of those issues,'' he said.

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