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Racism hearings planned around Alaska

Posted: Friday, April 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Two different government agencies -- one federal and one state -- will be conducting hearings about racism in a number of Alaska communities. The hearings were prompted by crimes against Natives in Anchorage.

Gov. Tony Knowles will be naming a commission in the next few days that will travel around the state to hear stories about discrimination.

The state commission also will seek recommendations from the public about ways to deal with racism, said Will Mayo, the governor's adviser on rural and Native affairs.

''The governor has emphasized from the beginning that this is an Alaska problem, that Alaskans should be dealing with it,'' Mayo told a panel of state advisers to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at a meeting Thursday in Anchorage.

Several members said, however, the state advisory committee tried two years ago to interest Knowles in examining discrimination in Alaska and he turned it down.

After about two hours of discussion and testimony, it was decided a federal investigation also will be conducted into racial intolerance in Alaska. That investigation will include hearings in about four cities.

The federal probe was sought by the Alaska Federation of Natives. The AFN has criticized local and state handling of discrimination issues involving law enforcement, village safety, state prisons, subsistence and education.

Reading from a prepared text, AFN co-chairman Albert Kookesh called the treatment of Alaska Natives a national disgrace.

Paint ball attacks on Natives by three teen-agers in downtown Anchorage this winter were ''only the latest indication of racial intolerance that permeates modern Alaska and also underlies discriminatory public policies,'' said Kookesh, who also is a state legislator.

Compare police reaction to the two sides in the paint ball attacks, Kookesh said. The one adult involved was charged with the lowest form of assault available and sent home on bail. But a Native who tried to report being attacked was arrested for disorderly conduct and served a 10-day jail sentence.

Kookesh also cited a series of rapes against Native women in downtown Anchorage, for which someone has been arrested; and four murders of Native women in Anchorage, which remain unsolved.

''While a majority of Alaskans are decent people who recognize the value of having Alaska Natives as full partners in the state's future, they have remained largely silent,'' Kookesh said.

No timetable was announced for the state hearings.

The federal hearings may have to be spaced out over two years for budgetary reasons, said Philip Montez, a regional director for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from Los Angeles.

Most of the focus will be on discrimination against Natives, but the experiences of all minorities will be solicited.

''We don't want to be the sole player here,'' Kookesh said. ''We would welcome them all at the table.''



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