Civil rights committee issues report on racism in Alaska

Posted: Thursday, May 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Nearly a year and a half after Alaska Natives were pelted with paintballs in Anchorage, a committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued its report Wednesday on racism in Alaska.

The 12-member Alaska State Advisory Committee focused on three areas in its 58-page report: justice, education and employment. It collected information over three days of public hearings in Anchorage in 2001.

The committee was formed after three white youths shot Alaska Natives with frozen paintballs in downtown Anchorage on Jan. 14, 2001, and videotaped the attacks. Six of the seven victims were Alaska Natives.

The Alaska Federation of Natives requested the hearings. President Julie Kitka was not available for comment Wednesday.

The report, titled ''Racism's Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska,'' makes 43 recommendations. Committee members will meet May 16 to develop a strategy to get the recommendations implemented.

The report's general recommendations include:

--Having the state access the reasons for the urban/rural divide, develop a plan to eliminate it and provide funding to cover higher costs in rural Alaska.

--Having the Legislature adopt a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a subsistence priority to rural Alaskans and placing it on the November 2002 ballot.

The report recommends more particularly that the Legislature increase education funding for programs in rural Alaska, adopt a local hire law between union contractors and village councils, and provide money for probation and parole programs in rural communities.

It also recommends that funding and training be provided so that rural communities can take on services now provided by the state. Not only would this provide year-round jobs but would help equalize access rural residents have to state services, the report says.

Commission Vice-Chairman Cruz Reynoso said inadequate funding for rural communities is a core civil rights problem in Alaska.

The report did not address where the state, which is facing a projected budget deficit of $963 million by the next fiscal year, could find the funds to implement the recommendations.

''The state has failed to support local government,'' said advisory committee Chairman Gilbert F. Gutierrez.

Committee member Thelma Buchholdt said subsistence was the No. 1 concern raised during the hearings. Buchholdt -- a former state representative and first Filipino American woman elected to the State House -- also served on the Governor's Commission on Tolerance. That commission made nearly 100 recommendations last December, and also called for a vote on subsistence.

Reynoso agreed that subsistence was the primary concern.

''There is no issue more important for ... racial harmony in this state,'' he said.

Alaska's constitution conflicts with a federal law requiring a priority for rural subsistence users. Knowles, who is in his last year in office, said he plans to call the Legislature into special session this month to tackle the issue again.

The governor wants the Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment that could be put to voters.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, last month told a congressional committee in Washington that he opposes any law that resolves the issue along racial or cultural lines. Murkowksi is running for governor.



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