Kenai tourism director resigns over remarks about drunken Natives

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- The executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council has resigned following public outcry over racist remarks he allegedly made about Alaska Natives, the council board of directors announced Friday.

Faron Owen resigned Thursday night, said board vice president Chris Degernes.

''It's pretty clear the organization has been mired in controversy,'' she said. ''(Owen) has been a great executive director. He felt that if the organization was to survive he needed to leave.''

Owen declined to comment Friday. Degernes said he would briefly stay on to help in staff training and transition. She said the council hopes to hire his replacement within the next few months.

According to earlier reports, Owen accompanied two free-lance travel writers to Homer's Pratt Museum Store on March 30. Owen reportedly was asked by one of the writers if Native people still used ulus.

Owens' response, as reported to museum director Michael Hawfield by two museum employees and one person visiting the museum store, was ''No, they sell them to buy booze -- I can get that for five bucks from a drunken Native.''

Owen, however, said his words were, ''You can buy ivory carvings from drunk Natives in Nome for $5.''

Tourism groups expressed outrage as word spread. The Pratt Museum and Era Aviation pulled out of the council, a marketing group that represents tourism-related businesses and organizations and serves as the Kenai Peninsula's liaison with the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

''Era has indicated it would consider rejoining once we're back on track,'' Degernes said.

Other businesses and organizations also registered their concern and sought Owen's resignation.

On Tuesday, Patrick Marrs, the president of the Seward Chamber of Commerce, and Julie Tauriainen, that organization's executive director, released a statement that called Owen's comments ''insensitive, unprofessional and intolerable,'' the Peninsula Clarion reported.

''The incident has tarnished the reputation of the organization and, given the circumstances, the executive director should strongly consider resigning,'' Marrs and Tauriainen wrote.

Earlier in the week, the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau announced in a prepared statement it was re-evaluating its working relationship and marketing partnership with KPTMC and said the incident has damaged the credibility of KPTMC.

Degernes said Owen had been an outstanding head of the council since he began in September 1998.

''It was an inappropriate remark, and I'm not condoning it but it was totally out of character for Faron,'' she said.

The council now must work on mending the damage done, Degernes said.

''We have to refocus toward the future,'' she said. ''There's been a lot of feeding frenzy over an inappropriate remark. Now we must rebuild a relation of trust with the communities, our members, with all the people it potentially affected.''

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