My turn: Write-in campaign reaffirms a core Native value

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010

On Nov. 2, we witnessed remarkable citizen activism, and a mobilization within the Alaska community with more than 258,000 citizens exercising their right to vote - of those voting, more than 100,000 exercised a right they had never exercised before by casting a write-in vote for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. This is a new page in Alaska's history.

Native Elders in this election recalled their remarkable fight for Native civil rights. The right of citizenship and the right to vote were the key reasons for the establishment of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood in 1912. This right and movement is akin to the women suffragettes who in the 1800s fought for women's right to vote. Nearly 200 years later, and as we embark on the 40-year anniversary of ANCSA, the power of our vote was on full display as the eyes of the nation turned to Alaska to witness the first successful senatorial write-in campaign since 1954.

The last two months have reaffirmed one of our core Alaska Native principles is alive and well in our communities, that of Haa Shagóon - we must honor our past while planning wisely for the future. Murkowski won the election because she inspired us to engage and to take action. She inspired us because she has values that align with ours and she reflects the priorities of our communities. She won because she recognizes and respects we have accomplished so much, yet we have so much more to do.

Sealaska would like to extend congratulations to all who dedicated their time and energy to encourage voter participation. We would also like to recognize the effort of the leadership from the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and the Alaska Federation of Natives. The ANCSA regional corporations also worked closely together on the common goal to maintain representation in Washington D.C. who understand Alaska Native issues. We would also like to extend our appreciation to Murkowski. She continues to embody the spirit of a warrior, and exhibits respect for what we have achieved as a people, and as a state.

Our Elders fought long and hard for Native civil rights and to overcome segregationist Jim Crow laws in Alaska. Their sacrifice and battle for our right to vote continues to unite us, and allows us to accomplish great things. We illustrated to the nation we respect and exercise our most fundamental right to vote. We ask only for that respect to be returned as we seek sustainable solutions for our people, our economies, our communities, and our futures.

• Kookesh is chairman of the board of directors of Sealaska, and a Democratic state senator from Angoon. McNeil is president and CEO of Sealaska.

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