ANCHORAGE - An accusation of racism for a comment he made about tribal sovereignty "is a stain on my soul," U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said Friday.
In a videotaped speech to the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention here, Stevens said "to be called 'racist' after more than 50 years of dedicated service to Alaskans, particularly Alaska Natives, is something I will not forget."
Earlier this month, Stevens, an Alaska Republican, was criticized by some tribal advocates for a comment he made to the media suggesting that the tribal sovereignty movement was a threat to statehood.
"It's a very difficult thing. The road they're on now is the road of destruction of statehood because the Native population is increasing at a much greater rate than the non-Native population. I don't know if you realize that," Stevens told reporters during a news conference in early October.
"And they want to have total jurisdiction over anything that happens in a village without regard to state law and without regard to federal law. Very serious, but people seem to laugh it off and say, 'There goes Stevens again, he's picking a fight with the Native people of Alaska.'
"Not so at all. I'm trying to give them protection of the American system."
The remarks were broadcast on the state's far-reaching Alaska Public Radio Network.
In his videotaped speech Friday, Stevens said that Alaska's Native population, which includes American Indian, Eskimo and Aleut people, had grown from 42,522 in 1960 to more than 98,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census.
"The problem I raised in that press conference was the same problem I raised here with you at your convention. I raised it in 2000 and again in 2002. It's a problem that developed because the former director of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), Ada Deer, decreed that every Alaskan Native village was a tribe, leading many to assert there are now 231 Alaskan tribes," Stevens said in a transcript of his speech provided to the media.
Some seek to have each Native village declared a sovereign tribe, with courts, administrative support and grants for tribal government services, Stevens said.
While Alaska Natives represent 4 percent of the nation's Native population, they receive about 20 percent of the Indian Health Service budget, he said. Alaska Natives are only 1/25th of the nation's Native population, yet they receive about one-seventh of all Native American housing funds, he said.
"It is just not possible to fund 231 separate villages as tribes," he said.