State panel recommends long list of racism reforms

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A state panel created following racially motivated paintball attacks on Natives in Anchorage issued a long list of reforms on Thursday it says will help heal intolerance in Alaska.

Among the nearly 100 recommendations are a hate crimes bill, a change in the state seal and song to reflect Alaska Native contributions and other education, economic and judicial reforms.

Gov. Tony Knowles, who appointed the 14-member panel, said there is a ''crying need to make progress'' in healing intolerance toward minorities in the state.

''The commission's historic work is a giant step toward that goal,'' Knowles said.

Knowles said some of the recommendations can be implemented at the local level while others will need approval by the state Legislature. He gave no cost estimates for the proposals.

Among the recommendations:

-- Require Alaska history be taught in public high schools and aggressively recruit and retain Native teachers.

-- Fully fund Head Start programs and reverse the state's school funding formula that pays only 60 percent of new enrollments for some rural schools.

-- Recognize tribal governments and reinvigorate the Office of the Ombudsman to address allegations of discrimination by state government.

-- Increase the state's minimum wage and increase training and pay opportunities for the growing number of senior citizens in Alaska.

-- Put a subsistence amendment to the state constitution before voters, pass a hate crimes legislation and require law enforcement to compile a report on hate crimes.

Knowles appointed the 14-member panel in May after public outrage over paintball attacks by white teens on at least a dozen Natives in downtown Anchorage last winter.

The teens videotaped the drive-by-shooting style attacks in which they described going out to ''nail some Eskimos.''

Alaska has no hate-crime law, however a judge may consider racism as a motive in an attack to impose the maximum sentence for a particular crime.

The Legislature has voted down hate crimes legislation in the past. But Knowles said he thinks public pressure will change that.

''I think frankly it is something we will achieve. The public is going to insist on it,'' Knowles said.

Commission members held 11 hearings in Anchorage, Juneau, Kodiak, Fairbanks, Bethel, Kotzebue and Kenai. During testimony many Natives and other minorities recounted their own experiences with intolerance.

''Some of the testimony we heard was heartbreaking,'' said Tom Stewart, a retired Superior Court judge and a member of the commission.

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