State-tribal talks break down

Posted: Monday, December 04, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Talks broke down between delegates from Alaska's tribes and the state of Alaska on an agreement to work together as one government to another.

The agreement was supposed to be finalized Saturday but was broken off after some tribal delegates wouldn't go along with language recognizing the state's sovereignty.

Attorney General Bruce Botelho, who heads the state's team at the talks, said the agreement must contain mutual recognition of state and tribal sovereignty, and that has been the state's bottom line from the start.

''Sovereignty means the right to govern,'' he said. ''It shouldn't mean something different for the tribes than it does for the state.''

Gov. Tony Knowles last year said it was time for the state to formally acknowledge Alaska's 227 federally recognized tribes, and he invited the tribes to negotiate an agreement for a new state-tribal relationship.

The draft document called the Millennium Agreement is intended to serve as a framework to shape that relationship. In versions proposed by both the state and the tribes, it says the sides agree to treat each other with dignity and respect, to inform each other of matters that may significantly affect the other and to establish a permanent state-tribal forum for talks.

Delegate Gary Harrison, a tribal chief from Chickaloon, said tribes are inherently sovereign. But, he said there is no legal basis for the state's sovereignty, so he opposes any recognition of it.

''The state is not sovereign. It's elevating them with something they don't have,'' he said. ''Our sovereignty comes from within. Ours is original.''

The two co-chairmen of the state-tribal talks, Botelho and Joe Williams of Saxman, said the delegates will try to work out their differences at a future meeting. No date was set.

Harrison, one of a minority of delegates opposed to recognizing state sovereignty, said he is skeptical of the agreement and fears it may hurt tribes later, when they bring complaints to the United Nations, for example.

''My worry is the U.N. will say we signed away our rights to sovereignty,'' he said during a break in Saturday's talks.

Other delegates said they didn't understand the resistance.

''Acknowledging that there is some sort of (state) sovereignty isn't a lessening of tribal sovereignty,'' said Ingrid Cumberlidge, a representative of the Aleutian and Pribilof tribes.

Brenda Regne, a representative of the Copper River tribes said the objections verged on the ridiculous.

''This is an agreement to establish a government-to-government relationship, and it's all coming down to one word,'' she said.

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