Tolerance group targets racism

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Gov. Tony Knowles named 14 Alaska Native, ethnic and religious leaders to a new Governor's Commission on Tolerance on Tuesday.

Knowles said the commission was recommended by his cabinet-level task force that explored racism in the state following a paintball attack in January that targeted Alaska Natives in downtown Anchorage.

"This assault was only the latest in a series of incidents of racial intolerance eating away at Alaska's social fabric, and it's appropriate that the state respond," Knowles said.

Two Juneau residents were named to the panel: retired Superior Court Judge Tom Stewart and Shari Kochman, Knowles' deputy legislative director and board secretary of the Juneau Jewish Community. The Rev. Michael Oleksa of Koliganek, formerly of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Juneau, was also named.

The Rev. Chuck Eddy of Anchorage, who recently retired as rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Anchorage, will chair the commission.

Other appointees include three legislators: Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat, Sen. Bettye Davis, an Anchorage Republican, and Rep. Mary Kapsner, a Bethel Democrat. Other members are Fairbanks Mayor Jim Hayes, the first African-American to be elected mayor in Alaska; former state Rep. Thelma Buchholdt of Anchorage, the first Filipino American woman elected to the state House; and Denise Morris of Anchorage, chief executive officer for the Alaska Native Justice Center.

The commission plans hearings in about a dozen communities and will prepare recommendations for countering racism by Nov. 30. The panel will seek recommendations from the public about ways to deal with racism, said Will Mayo, the governor's adviser on rural and Native affairs.

"The governor has emphasized from the beginning that this is an Alaska problem, that Alaskans should be dealing with it," Mayo told a panel of state advisers to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at a meeting last week in Anchorage.

Several members, however, said that panel tried two years ago to interest Knowles in examining discrimination in Alaska and he turned it down.

At its meeting last week, the commission decided a federal investigation also will be conducted into racial intolerance in Alaska with hearings in about four cities.

The federal probe was sought by the Alaska Federation of Natives, which has criticized local and state handling of discrimination issues involving law enforcement, village safety, state prisons, subsistence and education. No time frame was set up for the federal hearings.

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