Central Council President delivers State of the Tribe address

Richard Peterson talks on child support, veterans and language

During the State of the Tribe address Wednesday morning, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard Peterson pledged to continue standing up for the tribe, expand tribal services and work toward language revitalization.


Peterson spoke to about 102 delegates from communities all over Southeast Alaska, Anchorage, Seattle and San Francisco who gathered in Juneau for the 81st annual Tribal Assembly. The three-day event is taking place at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.

Peterson said he was recently appointed to Gov. Bill Walker’s 11-member tribal advisory council. He said that will continue Central Council’s efforts to broaden its impact across local, state and federal government.

“We’re really going to hold him to task. While we do the nice things and recognize the governor and work with him, I can tell you that we’re not afraid to go toe-to-toe with him,” Peterson said.

Last month, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in favor of Central Council’s Tribal Court to issue child support orders that must be reinforced by the State of Alaska Child Support Services Division. Previously, the state did not recognize tribal court support orders or provide interstate support services.

Peterson commented during his speech on the possibility of the state appealing.

“It’s disheartening, but we went to meet with the governor. I have to say I’m not afraid to tell him, ‘You’re on the wrong side of history if you appeal this,’” Peterson said.

“Our families are hurting. They’re broken. The power isn’t in the state to restore our families — it’s within us, and we need them to get out of our way to do so,” Peterson said, to applause from the delegates.

Peterson also mentioned the historic Title IV-E Maintenance Agreement between Central Council and the state that will allow the tribe to recruit and license tribal foster homes and be reimbursed by the state for the cost of foster care placement.

Peterson said he wants Central Council to expand services for veterans. He’s working on getting funds for a position housed in the tribe that advocates for veterans locally.

“So many of our people are veterans. Our people are the first to serve. Our people are warriors,” Peterson said. “Our people come back, and they need services they’re not getting. They suffer from PTSD. They have social anxiety. We need an advocate working for them across the region to make sure they’re getting those services they deserve.”

Peterson also wants to do a better job at engaging the youth.

“We stand here and we keep saying that youth are our greatest asset, that they’re our greatest treasure, that we have to protect them, mold them and guide them. I don’t feel like we do a great job at that,” he said.

He wants Central Council to have a youth department and implement an annual tribal youth assembly.

Peterson said Central Council has gotten some funding for its language department. Central Council hired Tlingit language instructor Mary Folletti to develop a curriculum and is working toward an immersion childcare and kindergarten program. The eventual plan, he said, is to expand the program into a tribal charter school.

Peterson said it’s important to fight for and promote language equality between Tlingit, Haida and the Tsimshian language of Sm’algyax.

“We have to hold each up. We can’t say this language versus this language,” he said.

Peterson also pledged to break down barriers of the eligibility process to becoming a tribal citizen. He said Central Council is redoing its application process.

“We’re working on going from a culture of ‘no’ to our people, to a culture of ‘yes,’” he said.

Peterson also reported on Central Council’s employment. There are 200 total employees in the administration — 157 are Native hire and 43 are non-Native hire.

Later in the day, Central Council’s Business and Economic Development Manager Myrna Gardner talked about the Tlingit Haida Immersion Park, an economic development project of the Tlingit Haida Tribal Business Corporation (THTBC). THTBC generates funds for Central Council.

The immersion park will be housed at the old Thane Ore House Salmon Bake through a 35-year land lease from the City and Borough of Juneau. Gardner said the plan is to convert the present building into a longhouse. The immersion park will employ guides, hosts and staff for a gift shop and restaurant. It’ll also be a place for masters and apprentices to engineer and carve canoes and totem poles.

During the State of the Tribe address, Peterson told the delegates that the apprenticeship programs were mainly for tribal members.

“We’re really teaching our culture. Yeah, it’ll be tourism, but they’re there for us, we’re not there for them. We don’t wear our culture as a costume. It’s going be a place for our people to learn and have opportunities; tourism is just going to help us pay for them,” he said.

Throughout the next two days the tribal assembly will also hear various reports and presentations, hold elections and adopt a budget.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.


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