There is a phrase that Vernita Sitaktun Qutquq Herdman, elder of IÃ±upiaq, likes to say: âWhen the natives fight the natives, someone else wins. “
That’s the mindset behind a new initiative from the First Alaskans Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on empowering Alaska natives. The program, titled âBeing Good Relatives,â aims to increase collaboration between Native Alaskan tribes and Native Alaskan societies.
âPeople have noted for many years the need for our tribes and societies to pull together their power and overcome some divisions created by the federal government that make it difficult for tribes and other entities to have the relationship that we know they have. they might have, âsaid La quen nÃ¡ay Liz Medicine Crow, Tlingit and Haida, President and CEO of First Alaskans.
Alaska’s Indigenous legal landscape is unique compared to the rest of the Lower 48: there are Alaska Indigenous regional and village societies, which oversee approximately 44 million acres of Indigenous land. And then there are 231 federally recognized Alaska Native Tribes that have a government-to-government relationship with the United States.
âThese are different entities that derive their authority from different places, each operating to care for our Alaskan natives, but operating with different missions, pilots and responsibilities,â said Barbara ‘WÃ¡ahlaal GidÃ¡ak Blake, Haida , Tlingit and Ahtna. Athabascan, who works as the director of the Alaska Native Policy Center at the First Alaskans Institute.
It’s an interesting dynamic. Corporations and tribes technically serve the same Alaska Native people in their region and sometimes even have leadership overlaps. Yet in the past there have been times when the two entities disagreed over community decisions like resource development. Even when there are no disagreements, some have struggled to fully coordinate plans.
Medicine Crow does not think this is a coincidence, but rather the result of federal policies aimed at dividing the community.
“Our tribes and our societies were not created to maintain good relations … And that says a lot about the strength and the incredibleness of our people, on the fact that they have been working since the creation of these different entities, to always try to protect our people. “She explained.” People want to see our businesses and our tribes come together and really use their strengths together on behalf of our indigenous peoples. “
50 years after ANSAA created the Alaska Native Societies, the community is finding new ways to bridge these types of institutional divisions.
âBeing good parentsâ is one example. The program kicked off in 2018, with an event that promoted dialogue between business leaders, tribal councils, and the Alaskan natives they both serve. The approach was simple: create a forum where everyone felt safe to have difficult conversations. Discussions highlighted specific local concerns, but also focused on strengthening relationships and laying the groundwork for better communication in the future. Most importantly, the participants focused on cultural solutions.
âThe job comes from what they’re willing to walk into the room and share with and then be able to do with each other,â Medicine Crow said.
RELATED: Alaska without ANSAA? Look at Metlakatla.
Forums are generally organized by region, as each region has slightly different topics that they might want to cover. The understanding between each region is also deep – each with its own traditions, cultural history and family ties.
The First Alaskans Institute had planned to host more in-person events, but the COVID-19 pandemic put that idea on hold. Now they are looking for ways to recreate it virtually.
âUnification does not mean 100 percent agreement or uniformity. But it means we can come together and make the decision that together, working on behalf of our people, we will go further than one can fight each other, âMedicine Crow said.
This type of collaboration is also increasing in other parts of Alaska. In early October, the Organized Village of Saxman and Cape Fox Corporation, the corporation of the village of Saxman, announced the creation of the Community Development Corporation. The new organization will lead a development project aimed at revitalizing the region. It’s a landmark decision that brings leaders together to act in unison, according to Organized Village of Saxman president Joe Williams Jr.
âNever before in the history of Saxman have OVS, the town of Saxman and Cape Fox Corporation, the ANC of the village of Saxman, met to discuss the future of Saxman. I have been working for 26 years to make this reunion happen and it has finally arrived! “He said in a statement.
Likewise, the Alaska Native Regional Society Sealaska recently established a fund that will support regional solutions led by a combination of village societies, tribes and local businesses.
The First Alaskans Institute hopes to continue facilitating programs such as âBe Good Parentsâ in the years to come.
âIf their region is interested in doing this work, the First Alaskans would love to be able to support it,â said Blake.
RELATED: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 101
This story is part of a reporting collaboration between Alaska Public Media, Indian Country Today and Anchorage Daily News on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Funding for the ANCSA project was provided by the Alaska Center of Excellence for Journalism. Read more of the series here.