The Dunleavy Administration has put out a number of press releases detailing the efforts that the administration is undertaking to start compacting with tribal governments on delivery of education services. This is a positive step for the administration and one that will serve the people of the state well, especially the children who will be receiving the education services. But this recent engagement with tribal governments in the state extends only to one area of state policy and does not go far enough. The administration needs to look at tribal compacting in other areas of state policy.
To begin that process, the administration needs to recognize all tribal governments in Alaska and begin to develop a government to government relationship with them. Part of that relationship will have to be an Office of Tribal Affairs within the governor’s office that would serve as the main liaison between the governor’s office and tribal governments. The second component to a change in state policy would best begin by ending all state lawsuits against tribal governments for the exercising of their authority over their land.
The administration needs to accept that these lawsuits are not only a waste of money and personnel time, but are legal warfare on Alaska Native people that is not building trust and respect between the administration and tribes. The last thing the governor and his team can do is to remove from the administration those who have been an enemy of tribal recognition in this state. There are two individuals in particular that the governor needs to get rid of to make any meaningful headway with tribal leaders in terms of developing trust. The first is John Moller, who currently serves as the governor’s advisor on rural Alaska. Moller has been an opponent of recognizing tribal governments and has actively worked against tribes receiving any government to government assistance from the state. When he worked for Gov. Sean Parnell he was one of the key drivers behind the Parnell Administration’s war on tribal governments, especially as it relates to the lawsuits the state filed against tribes when Parnell was governor. The second person the governor should fire from the administration is Doug Vincent Lang, who is the current Commissioner of the Dept. of Fish and Game. When Vincent Lang was working in the Parnell Administration he was along with John Moller another architect of the state’s political and legal battles against the tribes.
As long as he is in the current position the Department of Fish and Game will not compact with tribal governments for the purposes of game management.
Finally there are two organizations that the administration should reach out to for the purposes of developing a good policy framework with respect to tribal governments. The first is Alaska Village Initiatives which is led by Charles Parker and the second is the First Alaskans Institute, which is directed by Liz Medicine Crow. They have both been leaders in the fight for tribal recognition in the state and could work with the governor to build the relationships he needs with tribal leaders. They are ready, willing, and able to work with the administration if someone will call them and solicit their help which currently is not happening. Until it does, the present situation with tribes and any meaningful resolution of those issues will not be possible in the foreseeable future.