Local Native leaders very optimistic

Posted: Friday, November 06, 2009

Two Native leaders from Southeast Alaska that attended Thursday's meeting in Washington, D.C., among President Obama, his administration and hundreds of tribal leaders reported feeling extremely optimistic about the direction federal-tribal relations are headed.

State Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, said he had never felt as positive about it as he did Thursday.

"This is very historic. For the first time in history, we have a president of the United States ... who actually apologized to us ... promised us - They promised us, in front of God and everyone else" to listen and address Native American issues.

Kookesh, alluding to his pending trial for allegedly violating fishing limits under his subsistence license, said he thinks the state is "not too happy" that state troopers cited him for overfishing, given the renewed federal attention that's followed and the mishmash of state and federal regulations governing subsistence in Alaska.

"The state has kind of gotten pushed out of the picture. ... For a $500 fine I might end up paying anyway, we're going to have a whole different landscape" for subsistence rights, he said.

Kookesh said he'd be happy to take Obama fishing if he visits Alaska.

The day was light on specific policy commitments, though Sealaska Corp. CEO Chris McNeil said Obama and his administrators clearly communicated that Native Americans would have a seat at the table in future policy-making.

"We believe we want to be a thought on the first day rather than an afterthought," particularly on green energy legislation relevant to Alaska that could facilitate exploration of tidal energy and stimulate regional and village economies, McNeil said.

Sealaska board member Clarence Jackson of Kake also attended the event and delivered the opening invocation.

McNeil and Kookesh were reached via telephone press conference.

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