The group charged with drawing up an historic agreement to establish government to government relations between Alaska Native tribes and the state began its penultimate meeting in Kenai Wednesday. The "Millennium Agreement" is scheduled for adoption at the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council's convention later this month in Anchorage.
AI-TC Chair Mike Williams, a longtime Iditarod musher, characterized the meeting as the group's "last checkpoint."
"The finish line is just up the street in Anchorage in 30 days," he said.
The roughly 50 members of the group were welcomed to town by Kenai Mayor John Williams and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley.
"This is a tremendous endeavor you're undertaking," Williams said. "The city of Kenai welcomes you and knows you will be very fruitful."
State Attorney General Bruce Botelho, co-chair of the team for the state, said in his opening remarks that despite some "bumps in the road," the group had made "very substantial progress."
"And we've made some friends out of it," he said. "Government and Natives don't have to see eye to eye on everything, even important things, to have a good relationship."
He said the two groups have developed what he called "a reservoir of good will" that they could take back to their respective governments and draw from in dealing with each other.
The tribal negotiating team is made up of 46 Natives from tribes across the state. The tribes are led by Joe Williams II of Saxman, who serves as co-chair of the team with Botelho. The attorney general is joined by several other Cabinet members on the state negotiating team.
Niles Caesar, regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Alaska Region, attended the meeting as an interested observer.
"Our department is very interested in this process," he said. "The progress you've made in tribal relations is amazing."
The group spent the afternoon negotiating language changes in the two versions of the Millennium Agreement, one tribal, one state.
This is the third meeting of the team, set up by Gov. Tony Knowles in January.
The federal government formally recognized Alaska tribal governments in 1993 with the issuance of a new tribal entities list from the Interior Department. Congress, with the support of Alaska's delegation, approved the list in 1994. The State-Tribal Relations Team is Knowles' effort to formally recognize tribal governments on a state level.
The State-Tribal Relations Team continues its meeting at 8:30 a.m. today at the Kenai Merit Inn.
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