The theme fits the times.
The focus of the National Congress of American Indians convention coming to Juneau next week is relationships between tribal and state governments. The topic fits Alaska as state and tribal relations here are strained over subsistence, rural school funding, Indian gaming and the status of Native lands in Alaska.
Mike Williams, chairman of the Alaska Inter Tribal Council and NCAI vice president for Alaska, said ``the timing was right'' for the subject and the place.
Though tribes and the administration of Gov. Tony Knowles have been talking, they are on opposite sides of a lot of issues, he said.
``There are so many things on the table right now,'' Williams said. ``It's the good, bad and the ugly. (But) we have to try.''
During the convention -- running Sunday through Wednesday at Centennial Hall -- representatives from tribes from across the United States will discuss what they've done to further their goals and establish good relationships with state legislatures and governors.
``There's going to be a lot of discussions over what has happened in other states,'' Williams said. ``Some of the other states ... have established good, positive relationships instead of being at odds.''
Whereas much of the talking in the Lower 48 has revolved around Indian tribes developing gaming operations, in Alaska subsistence and land status have dominated the relationship between the tribes and the state, he said. Then there's public safety funding, school funding and a host of legal battles in which Alaska's tribes are arguing against state lawyers in federal courts.
``It's frustrating,'' Williams said. ``We need to really sit down with the state and talk these things through.''
John Shively, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, is on the state's negotiating team with Alaska's 227 tribes. He said the talking's really just started.
``Things are moving along,'' he said. ``I wouldn't say zipping along.'' He said tribal leaders and the state have talked to people from the Lower 48 who have experience in state and tribal talks. They say pretty much the same thing, Shively said: ``These things take time.''
So far, he said, the talks have been about setting ground rules for how talks will go.
``A lot of it is just trying to understand what each of us wants,'' Shively said.
``We have time,'' Williams said. ``The tribes are not going anywhere. The tribes will be here in Alaska forever.''
The convention's agenda is available at the congress' Web site at www.ncai.org
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