ANCHORAGE - Alaska Federation of Natives delegates approved a resolution Saturday to create a commission to improve government relations and delivery of services to Alaska Natives.
Resolution No. 1 requires that the commission submit a preliminary report to Congress by June 30, 2004, and a final report three months later.
The resolution says the report should include a plan to reduce poverty and increase economic opportunities in Native communities, as well as ways to improve how public resources are delivered. It also says the commission should come up with a framework for improving government relations.
The resolution, taken up on the last day of the annual convention in Anchorage, apparently is in response to congressional efforts to steer federal funding away from Alaska tribes and toward regional groups. At stake is a portion of the $750 million in federal funds that flows to Alaska each year for Native programs.
Other resolutions included creating a fund to support the subsistence lifestyle, full funding for the village public safety officer program and more foster homes in Native communities.
Resolution No. 1 - among more than 50 resolutions that delegates considered - came one day after Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, by videotape defended himself against an accusation of racism for a comment he made to the media about tribal sovereignty.
Earlier this month, Stevens was criticized by some tribal advocates for a comment he made suggesting the tribal sovereignty movement was a threat to statehood.
Stevens has insisted that there's not enough federal money for each of Alaska's 229 village-based tribes to be declared a sovereign tribe, with courts, administrative support and grants for tribal government services.
The senator also has continued to defend a budget rider that would redirect tribal justice funds to Alaska state government.
Stevens is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
AFN president Julie Kitka addressed convention delegates Saturday morning about Resolution No. 1. She said creation of the commission would provide Alaska Natives with an opportunity for improving state and federal relations, and easing tensions.
"It is an opportunity to engage in the federal and state governments," Kitka said.
She also said the commission would not hinder government-to-government relations but would be a catalyst to develop those relationships.
"It is to build on that and evolve that," she said.
Kitka said strained relationships of late are "90 percent fiscal" and "10 percent ideological," and reflective of tighter state and federal budgets. Creation of a commission would help Alaska Natives create their own wealth and not rely on federal money to fund tribal courts and other needs, she said.
The commission also could help assure that the federal assistance that is coming into the state is targeting the real needs of Alaska Natives, Kitka said.
"There is no room for anyone to sit on the sidelines," she said. "We need to be in the driver's seat for developing a strategy."
A similar issue took center stage at last year's convention. Delegates voted to oppose any efforts by the state to revoke the sovereign status of Alaska tribes and restructure them into 13 regional tribal organizations. Delegates also voted to oppose political efforts to terminate the federally recognized tribal status of Native villages.