Federal Civil Rights Commission meets in Anchorage

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Civil Rights Commission began meeting Thursday to hear testimony about the racial climate in Alaska, including the paintball attacks earlier this year on Natives in Anchorage.

During the two-day hearing, 12 Alaskans on a state advisory committee and three members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hear testimony from invited panelists. The public also will be allowed to testify during open sessions toward the end of each day.

The group plans to hold more hearings in Alaska, but hasn't scheduled any additional sessions yet. Within a year, the committee will submit a report to the commission for distribution to state politicians and the U.S. Congress.

A little more than a year ago Gov. Tony Knowles' office told federal commission staffers that a statewide racism conference was ''unnecessary at this point,'' according to a June 2000 letter signed by David Ramseur, the governor's deputy chief of staff.

The governor's reluctance to get involved motivated the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state's largest organization of indigenous people, to press the commission to come to Alaska, according to federation spokesman John Tetpon.

''We couldn't get help from anybody else in the state so we went to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, it's as simple as that,'' Tetpon said.

But the governor felt he was doing enough on racism issues by working closely with tribes, giving the state Office of Equal Employment Opportunity more staff members and responsibility, and with minority appointments within state government, said governor's spokesman Bob King.

Knowles held that position until February, when the public learned that three Eagle River youths attacked several Natives in downtown Anchorage with paint balls, King said.

The attacks, documented in a home video that included racist remarks by the youths, drew nationwide publicity and triggered a public outcry.

''Alaskans have a strong sense of self-reliance. We like to try to address these issues by ourself,'' King said. ''Yet after the outpouring of emotion we saw following the paint ball incident, who could argue that more wasn't needed?''

The governor's Tolerance Commission is expected to file its own report this fall after holding hearings on racism around the state.

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