Tlingit, Haida sign agreement with state

Entities committed to working together to improve lives in Southeast Alaska

With a pair of signatures and a handshake between Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard Peterson and Gov. Sean Parnell on Monday, the state of Alaska has committed to developing a closer working relationship with the central council.

 

It’s an unusual move, not least because the state of Alaska has repeatedly objected to tribes’ attempts at sovereignty. Tuesday’s document, officially called a memorandum of agreement, is the first of its kind between the state and CCTHITA.

Peterson said some people have questioned him about the agreement — and the state’s recognition of their tribal government — but he views the signing of this agreement as recognition.

CCTHITA is a tribal government based in Juneau representing more than 29,000 Tlingit and Haida Indians worldwide. It is a sovereign entity with a government-to-government relationship with the federal and state governments.

It’s important for CCTHITA to “get some of our people in decision-making positions in the governor’s office,” Peterson said, later adding, “Political leaders have to respond to what our people are wanting.”

CCTHITA has hired Barbara Blake as its government affairs liaison. Blake most recently served as a professor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, focusing on Alaska Native law, policy and government.

Though Tuesday’s memorandum of agreement has come to pass under Peterson’s leadership, he doesn’t take credit.

“It’s not me, it’s really there in the communities, people here in Juneau. They want change — and not just here in the tribe — but across the board in our political structures,” he said.

Peterson said recognizing indigenous languages and honoring Walter Soboleff are small but important steps toward future legislation.

“The next step is to make sure there is legislation that represents our needs being introduced,” he said. “We need to be at the table and active participants in what happens around us.”

The scope of the agreement is broad, said Randy Ruaro, special counsel to the governor. It’s also fairly vague — at least so far.

The state and CCTHITA agree to improve upon already existing relationships in areas of family and social services and public safety, including the Village Public Safety Officer program (which is run by CCTHITA in Southeast Alaska), Temporary Aid for Needy Families and children’s services. The state and council have identified a number areas for developing new partnerships, including but not limited to economic development, education, energy, jobs, public safety, transportation and workforce training.

One program they’re in talks about is offering Microsoft Academy training, which could improve job readiness for rural and Native Alaskans.

Ruaro worked closely with Peterson on the agreement, a document that may be amended to expand the resolutions as the entities see fit. The agreement will be in effect for three years unless terminated earlier.

“I would say the agreement to work together is for the mutual benefit of both sides, both entities,” Ruaro said.

Both the state of Alaska and CCTHITA provide necessary services in rural Southeast Alaska and its hub communities. There are some areas in which the state’s programs benefits tribal citizens and some areas in which the tribal government’s programs benefits all regional residents. One example is the VPSO program, run by CCTHITA with support from the state of Alaska. Such partnerships can open up opportunities to more effectively serve Southeast Alaska residents.

By signing the memorandum of agreement, Gov. Parnell, on behalf of the state, and Peterson, on behalf of CCTHITA, agree to take action.

The second page of the MOA outlines resolutions each entity will take, all aimed at more effective communication between the entities and further collaboration to better meet Southeast Alaska residents’ needs.

“It is with great respect that together we sign this memorandum of agreement that you see before us,” Gov. Parnell said before signing the documents. “We will continue working on our shared values on behalf of all Alaskans. … I really think this will take us to an even higher level of communication, coordination and cooperation.”

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