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The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
Alaska is unique in the continental United States in having a high percentage of Native Americans in its population but little of what is considered formal "Indian country." So it's worth having someone familiar with Alaska in an adviser's role to the top federal officials in charge of American Indian policy.
That person will be Elizabeth Hensley, according to an announcement at the recently concluded Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks.
Hensley will advise Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk.
If Echo Hawk didn't have an Alaska adviser before, he deserves a nod for recognizing that he should hire one. Alaska Natives have a much different set of historical, legal and social circumstances than indigenous communities elsewhere in the country. Those circumstances don't always mesh with federal policies designed to address Native American issues in the traditional, reservation-dominated communities of the Lower 48.
Hensley no doubt understands this well, by way of her education and background. She's an attorney, and she's the daughter of Willie Hensley, one of the most perceptive and articulate Alaska Native leaders of the past half-century.
Federal policies on issues that concern Alaska Native people often also concern all Alaskans. It's fair to say that the majority views in the two population sets don't always match. And there often are deep disagreements within the Native community itself. Agreeably threading one's way through these disagreements isn't easy, because the divergent views are held passionately.
It's valuable to have someone in Washington, D.C., who understands this complex situation and will make sure it's understood by those who make the decisions.