Native leaders voted Tuesday to form their own coalition to address high energy costs and other economic problems in Southeast Alaska's rural communities.
The Native coalition will be tasked to work with groups such as the Southeast Conference, which lobbies for economic development in the region.
Proponents of the plan said this week that for too long, Native villages' efforts to boost their economies have followed separate tracks.
Jacky Johnson, a Sealaska Corp. board member and executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said Monday a regional entity would help the Panhandle's Native organizations and tribes work together on common goals.
A coalition would help Southeast Alaska Natives "leverage (our) collective economic might," said Marvin Adams, of the Native American Bank in Yakutat.
Participants in the Southeast Alaska Native summit, a two-day gathering of Panhandle Native leaders, elected officials and others, voted unanimously to create the coalition.
Tlingit and Haida Central Council, Sealaska and the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority agreed to take the lead.
The coalition will focus on integrating work by Native and non-Native groups, such as the Southeast Conference, to resolve the region's economic problems.
Issues that the coalition will work on include escalating energy costs, natural resources, tourism, transportation and other economic initiatives.
Kevin Ritchie, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, said that creating the coalition is a positive step because of its regional focus.
Alaskans, in general, have had trouble working on a regional level, Ritchie said. But that sort of approach is the best way to promote economic growth. He pointed to the Southeast Conference, a group of civic and business leaders, as an example.
Also on Tuesday, the Native summit voted to:
Oppose recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations that require Alaska Natives to acquire a permit to own, carry or use eagle feathers.
Ask that the state's community quota program for commercial fisheries be continued for an additional five years and that the state lower interest rates on the loan program.
Support granting federal land to Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Tenakee and Wrangell Native populations that were not allowed to form Native corporations under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Support the completion of Sealaska's federal land conveyances as well as potential land exchanges between Sealaska and the Tongass National Forest.
Request 20 percent ownership in the natural gas pipeline for Native corporations, as well as vocational training and a minimum of 20 percent Native hire in the construction, operation and maintenance of the gas line.
Ask federal officials to maintain the rights of Native Alaskans to participate in the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program, which links Native communities to federal contracts.
Petition Gov. Frank Murkowski to declare an energy disaster in rural communities harmed by the high price of fuel, allocate funding from the existing budget surplus to provide emergency financial assistance, fully fund the Power Cost Equalization program, establish a community dividend program derived from the Alaska Permanent Fund, and in the next legislative session, adopt an energy cost relief program.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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