Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy signed a piece of legislation requiring the state to formally acknowledge its 229 federally recognized Native American tribes. Both Dunleavy and the Native American tribes affected feel this action was a critical and progressive step.
The Meaning the New Bills Carry
Although the bill Dunleavy recently signed doesn’t create a lot of change in terms of the working relationship between the tribes and the government, it serves as a healing recognition.
As Representative Tiffany Zulkosky described, the initiative is an “important first step toward healing and recognizing our past.” According to Zulkosky, the Alaskan government has historically opposed tribes’ desire to practice sovereignty, essentially denying their prominence in the state.
And in recent years, the state has begun to rely heavily on the tribes for services tied to education and public safety in rural communities.
Therefore, recognizing Alaskan tribes in the state’s legal code is a fundamental step to expanding and strengthening their relationships.
Encouraging More Tribal Freedom
In addition to formally recognizing Alaskan tribes, Dunleavy signed a piece of legislation relating to tribal education. That said, the bill would encourage more growth in tribally-operated schools.
Supporters of the bill, like Senator Gary Stevens, see it as a historic opportunity for Alaskan Native heritages. According to Stevens, the legislation provides “a means for local tribal governments to determine their own path for educating young Alaskans.”
As a result, Indigenous tribes in Alaska could have substantially more freedom to construct an education system that best fits their students’ needs.
Strengthening Government and Tribal Relationships
Alaska’s state government officials have been making progressive steps to further improve its relationship with the many Indigenous communities that exist within the territory. Therefore, the two pieces of legislation passed carry heavy significance for Native American tribes.
To individuals like the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, Julia Kitka, the legislation allows Native people to “maintain freedom” to live their lives.
“The cultural survival of our Indigenous people is dependent on our ability to maintain our values [and] practice our traditions,” Kitka explains.
Essentially, the bills being passed will allow Indigenous communities to have more freedom in how they structure and operate their communities.
Overall, this helps create a better relationship between Native American tribes and the state government; this relationship previously saw strife and misunderstanding.