Tribal recognition 'long overdue' and the Legislature treads old ground
It's starting to feel a lot like session.
Good evening, Alaska!
Programming note: As we get into the flow of the legislative session coverage, I’m going transition away the focus in on one big hard-to-write idea and into more bite-sized updates on the day’s news. I’ll still have the occasional big idea posts, but I’m hoping that this session format will be a little easier to manage with live-tweeting and managing the blog. And, hooboy, between session and a litany of lawsuits, it’s going to be a busy couple months.
In this edition: The backers of the tribal recognition initiative turned in their signatures, breezing past the benchmark to reach the ballot; the Legislature is back with a reminder that covid-19 and, specifically, covid-19 politics are not going away anytime soon; legislators might bicker over masks, but at least they agree on one thing: Dunleavy’s veto of their per diem was bad; a quick note about the scholarship lawsuit; and a couple corrections.
Coming soon: The second set of pre-filed legislation will be due out tomorrow, so I figure I’ll run them all down at that point.
‘It’s long overdue that they deem recognition of Alaska’s first people and tribes as important.’
The backers of an initiative that would add formal recognition of Alaska’s 229 federally recognized tribes to state law turned in dozens of boxes of signature booklets to the Division of Elections’ Anchorage office on Wednesday, blowing past the 36,140-signature requirement. The group, Alaskans for Better Government, turned in a whopping total of 56,230 signatures from throughout the state. Once the signatures are reviewed and certified, it will clear the way for The Alaska Tribal Recognition Act to appear on either the primary- or general-election ballot (with a caveat noted below).
“We’ve gotten so many people who are pumped, excited about this, want to know how to help and be involved,” said Barbara ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Blake, one of the initiative’s primary sponsors in an interview with me. “There’s a lot of excitement out there to see how strong Alaska can be once our sovereigns are all working together.”
Formal recognition of the state’s tribes has been a long-running goal of advocates working to improve the relationship between tribes and the state government. If enacted, it will not directly lead to any changes in the legal relationship between tribes and the state government, but Blake said it will go a long way to setting the tone for the relationship moving forward.
“I really see it as Alaskans acknowledging us. Up until this point, it’s been a consistent, ‘We’re going to pretend like we don’t see you and you don’t exist,’” she said. “The state of Alaska has always been our first indicator of what’s important and what’s not, even if we disagree with the leadership, and everyday citizens will usually take some adherence to what our state does. It’s long overdue that they deem recognition of Alaska’s first people and tribes as important.”
The Alaska Tribal Recognition Act initiative is similar to Bethel Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky’s House Bill 123, which passed out of the House with broad bipartisan support in May. It’s currently in the Senate, where it has yet to be assigned to committees. If the Senate does take up the measure during the upcoming legislative session and Legislature passes it, it would preempt the initiative from appearing on the ballot.
Even if the Legislature fails to take up the legislation, their adjournment date will determine which ballot the measure appears on. Initiatives appear on the first election held 120 days after the end of the regular session, which means the initiative will appear on the general election ballot if the Legislature adjourns after April 18.
Covid in the capitol, again
The Legislative Council met today in a hearing that was cut short due to technical glitches. On the agenda was the Legislature’s per diem payments (more on that below), covid-19 mitigation and an executive session on the pending lawsuit over the Higher Education Investment Fund and its sweep-a-bility (more on that below).