Amid sharpened sensitivity to racial issues plaguing the state and brought to the forefront by a February paintball attack that specifically targeted Alaska Natives, on Tuesday, Gov. Tony Knowles named 14 Alaskans to serve on the Governor's Commission on Tolerance.
Representing a cross-section of Native, ethnic and religious leaders, the commission is expected to hold public hearings in communities throughout the state.
Its goals are to identify the depth of the problem, pull together ideas from professionals and private individuals on how to approach the issue, and develop proposals and recommendations for solutions.
According to Bob King, Knowles' press secretary, the commission's schedule and the locations of the public hearings have yet to be determined.
"The commission hasn't had the opportunity to formalize their plans," King said shortly after the Tuesday announcement. "They want to hold a few organizational meetings to determine how to logistically work this."
"I'm sure the Kenai Peninsula will be included," King said. "I think the intent and hope is to reach out to all corners of the state."
The United States Commission on Civil Rights also recently announced that a federal investigation would be conducted into racial intolerance in Alaska.
King reported that Knowles has said Alaska will cooperate with whatever work the federal panel is doing.
"But it was important for the state, since this is an Alaska problem, to take action of our own," King said.
"So we're going to move forward with this commission, and I am sure it will cooperate with whatever efforts the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has chosen to take."
The spokesperson for the federal commission's investigation in Alaska was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
A press release issued by Knowles listed the following members of the Commission on Tolerance:
n Rev. Chuck Eddy, of Anchorage, who will serve as chairman of the commission, is the retired rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church and has served on that city's Social Services Advisory Commission as well as the board of the Alaska Council on Alcoholism;
n Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, who is in her third term in the Alaska Senate and has served on the Local-State Tribal Relations Task Force;
n Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, who is serving her first Senate term after three terms in the House and is chair of the Alaska Black Caucus, president of the National Caucus of Black School Board Members and a former member of the Anchorage School Board;
n Father Michael Oleska, of Koliganek, an ordained Orthodox priest who is well known throughout the state for his presentations on intercultural communications;
n Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, who is serving her second term as a representative of the Kuskokwim and Bristol Bay area and is a former youth representative to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the National Congress of American Indians;
n Jim Hayes, of Fairbanks, Alaska's first African-American mayor who also served on the Fairbanks human rights commission;
n Thelma Buchholdt, of Anchorage, director of the state's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, one of the founders of the Asian Alaskan Cultural Center, and the first Filipino-American woman ever elected to the state House, where she served three terms;
n Denise Morris, of Anchorage, president and CEO of the Alaska Native Justice Center;
n Marie Greene, of Kotzebue, senior vice president and chief operating officer for NANA Regional Corporation, former chairman of the Kotzebue IRA council, and also a former delegate to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference;
n Tom Stewart, of Juneau, a retired Superior Court judge, who worked as secretary to the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955 and 1956;
n Kelly Brown, of Fairbanks, business agent for the Alaska State Employees Association who helped organize a local "Not In Our Town" campaign against hate violence and intolerance;
n Shari Kochman, of Juneau, Knowles' deputy legislative director, as well as board secretary for the Juneau Jewish Community;
n Mara Kimmel, of Anchorage, staff attorney for the immigration and refugee services program of Catholic Social Services who previously focused on Alaska Native law and served as subsistence liaison for Chugachmuit Native Corporation;
n Gilbert Sanchez, of Anchorage, a broadcast journalist whose coverage of the unsolved homicides of Alaska Native women in Anchorage has won awards; and
n Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, ex-officio member of the commission.
A report and recommendations from the commission will be presented to Knowles by Nov. 30.
"I think it's a very nice list of people," said Will Mayo, the governor's senior adviser on rural policy, of the commission members selected by Knowles.
Mayo said he has already received inquiries concerning where the hearings will be held.
"I think the commission would probably welcome any requests," Mayo said.
"I don't know what they will be able to fulfill, but I don't think they would be averse to getting requests."
Until a contact individual is identified for the Commission on Tolerance, Mayo said, suggestions for statewide locations of the public hearings be called into the governor's office in Juneau at 907-465-3500.
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