Sarah Palin and Alaska Natives Part 3 of 3

There is no question of Governor Palin’s familial ties and her personal lifestyle. An article in  INDIAN COUNTRY  TODAY addresses Governor Palin’s personal views as the wife of a man who is mixed blood Yup’ik. “Palin has talked positively of her husband and children’s heritage in the past. When running for governor in October 2006, she wrote a letter addressed to rural voters, saying she ”so very much appreciates Alaska’s First People, their proud heritage and diverse cultures so abundant in the communities throughout our state.” The article continues: ”I personally feel the language, stories, and traditions of Alaska Native cultures are a national treasure to be nourished and held close to our hearts,” Palin added. ”It is our rural lifestyle and diverse cultural heritage that distinguishes Alaska from the rest of the world and makes it our wonderful home.”

The article SARAH PALIN’S RECORD ON ALASKA NATIVE AND TRIBAL ISSUES inquires as to the propriety of Governor Palin appointing an outside counsel for “Once in office, Governor Palin decided to continue litigation that seeks to overturn every subsistence fishing determination the federal government has ever made in Alaska. (State of Alaska v. Norton, 3:05-cv-0158-HRH (D. Ak).) In pressing this case, Palin decided against using the Attorney General (which usually handles State litigation) and instead continued contracting with Senator Ted Stevens’ brother-in-law’s law firm (Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot).” It is difficult to point to the role of the Governor in NOT assigning a case to the state Attorney General as evidence of corruption by itself, as alleged in , unless the case is made before a court.  It is worth asking why this decision was made and why it was felt inappropriate for the State Attorney General to litigate the case.

The case referenced in the article above in the article SARAH PALIN’S RECORD ON ALASKA NATIVE AND TRIBAL ISSUES regarding the use of the Yu’pik language on ballots was decided in a court case in which it was decided: “A Federal Judge has ruled that Yup’ik is not an historically written language. The ruling resulted from a lawsuit brought on by Yup’ik elders and tribes against the State of Alaska and the City of Bethel. The ruling by Judge Timothy Burgess did limit the kind of language assistance the state is required to provide.” The ruling did establish means for poll workers to increase ballot access for Native Yu’pik speakers.

An article in an Alaskan newspaper reported: “A federal judge in the suit ruled plaintiffs would suffer immediate and irreparable injury,” if not provided assistance to fulfill their right to vote in primary elections. He ordered the state on July 29 to remedy the situation in time for the primaries. The requirements included the placement of Yup’ik-English bilingual poll workers in every polling place with a significant number of Yup’ik voters – large portions of Western Alaska which are historically Yup’ik lands – and a standardized written Yup’ik translation of the ballots for poll workers to read aloud.  In testimony before the court, the state counsel for Alaska in July 2008 argued “the state of Alaska recently hired a Yup’ik translator to coordinate statewide assistance to Yup’ik speaking voters and that it now plans to provide a translator in all 38 voting precincts in the Bethel census area in time for the primary and general elections.”

The Bethel lawsuit was filed by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) on behalf of four traditional elders and four tribal councils representing 1,000 people. The area affected was characterized by a NARF attorney, who represented the plaintiffs, as being one of only three census areas in the US which is not a majority English or Spanish-speaking area. Sixty-eight percent of the population speaks Yu’pik at home. There is an illiteracy rate of 21% and 89% of those over 55 have no high school diploma. The decision could also impact on Inupiaq speaking peoples in the Arctic Circle of Alaska. The report summarizing the state’s steps to provide support for Yu’pik speakers at the polling places for the primary election will be submitted to the court on September 26.

Some of the matters raised are still undetermined because of the failures of previous state legislatures and Governors in Alaska, as well as Governor Palin’s positions.  Nothing in her record indicates that she will support indigenous subsistence rights in Alaska. The subsistence issues that remain unresolved present her with the opportunity to act decisively and affirmatively for Alaska’s future.

The dependence of many in Alaska on hunting and fishing for subsistence and food supplies for the year are distinct characteristics of 60% of the state’s population that are NOT familiar to many in the lower 48. There appears to be a particular disregard by Governor Palin  on defending  the particular subsistence rights of indigenous peoples in Alaska that are protected under Federal law.

There are clearly constitutional and legal issues in Alaska that have yet to be addressed to the satisfaction of Native Alaskans and tribal peoples of Alaska.   Clearly, Governor Palin has opposed any action that supports a state Constitutional amendment on rural and subsistence hunting. The state of Alaska will present a report to the U.S. District Court regarding the implementation of the court’s decision requiring assistance to Yu’pik speaking voters in the primary election. Governor Palin not only supports oil drilling in ANWR to increase the economic growth of Alaska, but looks to changing Senator McCain’s views on it as well. Governor Palin is on record denying that global warming is human caused. As global warming increasingly impacts on the Arctic icepack and the survival of polar bears, Governor Palin has opposed including the polar bear on the list of endangered species.

In elections, everyone makes choices regarding what’s important to them. Candidates are often chosen by their actions in one particular area, while other shortcomings are disregarded. There are NO issues in which there are NOT disagreements within communities, ethnic groups, states and nations. Some decide it is sufficient to vote for a candidate if a person is supportive of Second Amendment rights. Many prioritize land use and management issues in their decision. Others see ecological preservation as a significant consideration. And still others see tribal sovereignty as the singular issue. Governor Palin has taken action that has NOT furthered the rights of subsistence hunters or Native Alaskans. She has taken actions that could potentially damage the preservation of Bristol Bay and could endanger salmon hatcheries and wildlife in the region. She continues to feel compelled to give away Alaskan land rights to outside corporate interests in the ANWR.

Much has been made about how Alaska is simply a wilderness crying out for exploitation. This is reminiscent of the attitude in Brazil towards the interior rainforests. One should take note of the deforestation, forced displacements of indigenous peoples and the threats to native species that accompanied Brazil’s growth strategy before one looks to duplicate it in Alaska. Governor Palin has NOT shown herself up to the task of Governor and has failed to focus on defending Alaska’s natural resources, preserving its unique environment or protecting and enhancing the democratic rights of Native Alaskans. Most of the problems have NOT been of her making, but neither has she demonstrated the ability to “think outside the box” of the powerful economic interests seeking to come into the state for their own short-term profits.

Mato Ska

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