Sasha Soboleff walked on stage in front of the 83rd annual Tribal Assembly with a package of frozen herring eggs.
He handed them to Kenan Sanderson and Eva Rowan, saying it will be up to them to continue Alaska Native traditions — and that it will not be easy.
“You are holding the sacredness of herring eggs on branches. You are holding the sacredness of pickled gumboots,” said Soboleff, Grand Camp President of Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. “‘Your moms and dads knew how to preserve these, and now it is up to you. Be ready to be forceful, be ready to be an advocate by putting traditional foods on your table. You will be under pressure to figure it out, but we have your back.”
Sanderson, 20, said his studies of fisheries and other related issues at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are guiding him to preserve his heritage.
“It has been my lifelong goal to preserve these natural resources for future generation,” he said. “It feels really good to be lifted up like that. It is a huge honor.”
That moment, of handing down and trying preserve traditions, is what the Assembly represents.
More than 100 Central Council delegates from Alaska, Washington and California will gather through Friday to discuss issues and pass resolutions to address challenges within the Alaska Native communities. President Richard Peterson leads the Council as it examines its constitution and elects new delegates and tribal court members.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who was born in Yakutat and is Tlingit, discussed the importance of preserving and revitalizing Alaska Native languages. He said the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council is working to help the languages, but that the state government must also help. According to its official website, the Council “provides recommendations and advice to both the Governor and Legislature on programs, policies, and projects; and to network and advocate in support of the Council’s mission.”
“The growth of languages among our people is important,” Mallott said. “We are looking at focusing to see whether we can give teeth, resources and staff to the language council.”
Mallott added that rural and tribal areas of Alaska must not be forgotten.
“There is a public safety crisis in rural Alaska,” Mallott said. “No matter where anyone lives they should have governmental support. But, in reality, urban Alaska has had a 911 service for generations, but rural Alaska — particularly village Alaska — has not. What does that say about us as a state? What does it say about the priorities?”
Gov. Bill Walker also addressed the Council about rural and tribal area concerns and referred to a story about a Native women having a heart attack, but struggling to get help because the 911 emergency response number was not available in that area.
Mallott also talked about that subject.
“There is a plan to directly work with communities across the state to address services and public safety that every other place takes for granted,” Mallott said.
According to the official Public Safety Action Plan website, the plan focuses efforts in four main areas: the criminal justice system, public safety agencies, mental health and substance abuse issues and the opioid epidemic and drug trafficking.
Walker discussed how important it is to have the state government work alongside, not against, Alaska Native government. He spoke about the Governor’s Tribal Advisory Council — of which Peterson is a member — and how it helps bring issues to order.
“Those meetings are rather spirited,” Walker said. “The idea is that there is no holding back. These (issues) need to be talked about. They needed to be talked about 30, 40 years ago.”
Walker said the topics of health care, public safety and education highlight the meetings, and the only way to improve is by joining forces.
“It is about working together, rather than working at odds,” Walker said. “Things are not going to happened without these conversations.”
Peterson, in his State of the Tribe Address, called for his delegates to respond to the public safety issues.
“It is a shock to my system as I travel that our people don’t feel safe,” Peterson said. “Whatever village you live in, whether it is rural or urban, we don’t feel safe. I honestly believe we are the answer to this problem.”
Wednesday’s session began with a grand entrance that included a dance group, “Has Du Eetéex’ X’aakeidíx Haa Siteeand,” moving and chanting to drums. Peterson then called the Assembly to order. Before the Council began business, Tribal elders brought a little laughter to the room.
Shirley Kendall, of Anchorage, started the Assembly by giving the delegates a lesson on how to become a TV personality.
“You can be a weatherman in the Southeast,” she said. “It is really easy. All you need to know is one prediction — ‘it’s going to rain.”’
She then asked the room to repeat back to her that phrase in Tlingit. She then asked them to answer her with that response after a couple phrases.
“I think I’ll go on a picnic,” she said. The room appropriately responded. “Maybe I’ll go Sunday,” she said. Again, the room responded. “OK, you win,” she joked.
The chuckles did not stop there as the Tribal Host, Fred Hamilton Sr., of Craig, and Tribal Hostess, Bertha Karras, of Sitka, were introduced.
“I don’t know about sitting next to Mr. Hamilton,” Karras said. “The first thing he did was ask for my phone number.”
Karras, who has been a delegate for 25 years, then thanked the Council for its work.
As stated by Walker in his speech, the Council has played much more of a role in statewide politics in recent years, creating General Counsel and Government Affairs Liaison positions help build relationships in state government. Locally, CCTHITA and the City and Borough of Juneau worked together on land issues last year.
“I am feeling really honored and humbled to be here,” Karras said.“Many accomplishments and many doors have been open through this great organization.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at email@example.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.