August 14 — Three Alaska Native leaders have proposed an electoral measure that would require the state of Alaska to formally recognize Native tribes within its borders.
The measure is currently under legal analysis by the Alaska Elections Division and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer. If the measure is certified by the state, donors will have until the start of the 2022 legislature to collect 36,140 signatures, the amount needed to place it on the ballot next fall.
The measure is identical to House Bill 123, a law from Representative Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, which was passed by State House earlier this year. According to a legal analysis, it “will have no legal impact on the relations between the state and the tribes”.
‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake of Juneau, one of the measure’s sponsors, said supporters believed the measure was worth it, even though it is mostly ceremonial.
“In my opinion, this is an opportunity for two … sovereign governments working simultaneously in our state of Alaska to have a better working relationship with each other, instead of constantly being in disagreement over whether or not the state of Alaska will recognize the existence of tribes, ”she said.
She said the tribes have consistently demanded recognition and that “it’s high on the agenda of many, many people in terms of what needs to happen next.”
The other two sponsors, also from Southeast Alaska, are La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow and Chaa yaa eesh Richard Peterson.
Peterson is President of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and Medicine Crow is President and CEO of the First Alaskans Institute. All three said they were sponsoring the measure themselves and not on behalf of their groups.
Blake said that as the legislature deals with budgetary matters, “their ability to focus on things that are necessary, like tribal recognition, tribal recognition, is just not placed center and foreground.” .
This makes a voting measure necessary, she said.
The US Supreme Court and the Alaska Supreme Court have repeatedly ruled that the federally recognized tribes – Alaska has 229 of them – are sovereign governments.
Medicine Crow said the measure would focus on “respecting and nurturing a relationship” between the state and the tribes that live within its borders.
The three sponsors have said they intend to speak with indigenous communities statewide and could withdraw the measure if it is poorly received. But given the time constraints to present it to voters in 2022, they felt they needed to act now.