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Speech: Governor Addresses AFN Convention

Success Beyond Barriers

Governor Sean Parnell
October 18, 2012

Thank you. It’s great to be back with you.

Co-Chairs Kookesh, Anderson, President Kitka, delegates, elders: It’s really my honor to be with you again. I’d like to welcome another guest, Senator Akaka of Hawaii, we’re so glad to have you here, and thankful. Let’s give the senator a hand.

And Mayor Reggie Joule, are you here this morning? We’re going to miss Reggie in the halls of the Legislature but I know he’ll serve the Northwest Arctic Borough well as mayor. And I look forward to working with him in that new role.

The “Success Beyond Barriers” theme of this year’s conference gave me pause, to think about those words, and frankly about each word.

How do we measure success? Perhaps we first must ask ourselves what we consider to be our greatest treasure. What is that? Is it ourselves? Is it wealth? Is it others? Is it our family? Is it our God? “For where our treasure is, there our heart will be.”

Our Alaska treasure is our youth. Last night Sandy and I returned from Homer on an airplane, and I had the privilege of sitting next to a seventh-grader from a rural community outside of Homer. I asked him what his dream was -- what did he want to do with his life. He said he wanted to be a helicopter pilot. I had the opportunity to talk to him about the Air National Guard and Army National Guard and how they would pay him to train to be a helicopter pilot. If that’s what he wanted to do, there are lots of ways to learn to be a helicopter pilot.

But I also told him you’ve got to stay in school and get good grades. And you’ve got to work hard. And when things get hard, when you’re bored with your classes, or you think you can’t do it, keep that goal out in front of you. Keep that dream, that treasure in front of you, because it’s so easy for us to focus on the barriers, when they’re so close, and they are so personal, and so hard.

Some of those barriers we create for ourselves and some are handed to us. Some of those barriers are lies that go around our head, lies that say: “I’m no good.” Or lies that say: “How could anybody really love me?” If anyone has heard these lies about themselves, I want you to know that they are just that – lies.

Here is the truth: Every person, every Alaskan in this room has value. Every person has worth. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in your head: Believe that truth.

The world can put up barriers, too: Structural barriers, economic barriers, educational barriers. Those who have worked for me since I was lieutenant governor know that when I speak with staff or my cabinet, I tell them that our job is to clear paths of opportunity, to erase those barriers, so you can know success and you can live your dream.

I want to introduce a few people who are responsible to you in serving you in those roles. Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell is here. Mead, will you stand up? We also have virtually our entire cabinet serving you, and if members of the cabinet would stand up please.

Our job is not to guarantee success, but it is to ensure more opportunity for you. That’s the life and mission of a public servant and of your public officials.

One of those barriers to success is fear for one’s safety. No Alaskan should have to settle for living a life in fear of physical violence. That’s why we’re determined to knock down the barrier of fear.

I know this: If Alaskans will stand with Alaskans, the fear can be overcome, and safety can be restored to our homes and to our communities.

You already know of my great love for you as people and you know my love for Alaska’s communities. I will not back down. I will continue to protect, and our administration will continue to protect every woman, every child, and yes, every man who is a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Also, if you know me at all, you know of my great love and respect for my wife of 25 years, Sandy. Her heart has always been for the children, ours and yours. I want her to share something she is learning more about, something we didn’t realize was happening here in Alaska, but something we need to raise awareness on. So if you would, please welcome my wife, First Lady Sandy Parnell. [Sandy speaks]

Thank you, Sandy. I think you heard her heart for Alaska’s children and for a future for them beyond those barriers.

Part of erasing fear is awareness. It’s arming oneself with the knowledge about how to protect our families. And I appreciate you giving us permission to do that this morning.

Sandy is right: Providing loving homes, free of abuse -- that’s what we can do.

Knowledge leads to action. I want to say thank you, and offer a word of encouragement to you, and to say how proud we are of you and our 120 plus communities that have stepped forward in the Choose Respect Initiative to host marches and rallies every spring.

This last March, Sandy and I were in Huslia for their Choose Respect march, along with John Moller, our rural affairs director. We joined together to march along the river and through town.

Every time you do this, you send a loud message. You inspire the victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to be courageous, and to step out and get help. Because you march, the barrier of silence and fear is broken. More Alaskans are set free.

Additionally, I made a promise tied to this Choose Respect Initiative, to you in 2009, to add 15 Village Public Safety Officers annually and the trooper support to help them, so that our communities, your communities, will be safer. And we continue to build this safety net of protection for every community.

Now, we need even more Alaskans to step up as VPSO’s. A new VPSO class starts in January. If you want a new career path and you have a heart for protection of Alaska’s people, there’s a booth downstairs for the Department of Public Safety, and they’d love to speak with you.

In addition to new VPSOs, we’ve put new trooper posts in Emmonak and Selawik.

We still have a long way to go to remove the barrier of fear. But together we are making progress.

It is not only through marching and rallying, but it is through listening to each other and learning from each other. During this past year, I have visited many communities, as has Sandy, and I would like to take a moment to show you some of what we have experienced -- some of your beauty, some of the beauty of this great land. [Video]

That last scene was from a trip this summer to Dillingham to honor members of the Alaska Territorial Guard. Back in the 1940s, then Governor Gruening flew a float plane from community to community to raise up scouts; to raise up members of the Alaska Territorial Guard. They monitored Alaska’s waterways to ensure safe passage of our allies, set up food and supply caches, served as nurses. They never asked for recognition or compensation.

Yet, their service will not be forgotten. For several years, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has documented the service of these guard members still living. It is never too late to thank someone for their sacrifice. We deeply appreciate all our Territorial Guard veterans, and all of our veterans of military service.

We have lost some good friends this year that we want to acknowledge and honor. My good friend, the late Senator Al Adams, Marge Baker, Niles Cesar, Catherine Attla, Mabel Pike, Richard Frank. There were others: Mentors, cultural icons, political leaders, civic leaders, bridge-builders. With thankful hearts, we honor these Alaskans who succeeded by knocking down barriers.

Success means a good education. There have been barriers to that in Alaska, but since I first became your governor, we’ve knocked down the roadblock of a funding practice that disadvantaged rural school construction. Now, when more urban districts get school construction funds from the Legislature, so do rural schools. This year, we funded school construction in Emmonak and Koliganek, and, we anticipate funding the school in Nightmute next year.

We resolved the Kasayulie and Moore court cases, putting millions of dollars into rural school infrastructure. We knocked down the financial barrier of college and job training, with the Alaska Performance Scholarships. Now, every high school student can earn their way to a postsecondary education.

And I want to stop there and just pause for a moment. When someone tells you that rural students cannot get Alaska Performance Scholarships, I want you to help us understand why, because I will work with you, just as Louisiana did two decades ago, to make sure that every rural student has access to these scholarships.

We’ve knocked down the barrier of low educational expectations by raising high school graduation standards. We’ve asked for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, because one size does not fit all in Alaska. Never has!

As one size does not fit all in education, we know that local economies are not the same. Many of our rural households and communities rely on Alaska’s fisheries as a part of culture, food, and the local economy.

This was a tough year, especially for king salmon runs, and I have been very concerned about how many Alaskans are going to struggle through the winter. Here is what we are doing:

First, I requested and received federal disaster declarations for the Yukon and Kuskokwim, as well as Cook Inlet. We’re working with our congressional delegation to get an appropriation for that.

Second, I convened a panel of scientists and experts to get information. They have analyzed gaps in our understanding of Chinook salmon throughout their life cycle and recommended additional research be done.

Next week, this panel will host a scientific forum in Anchorage to discuss needed research and stock assessment. You are encouraged to participate in that forum.

Third, I appointed a special assistant to be our Governor’s office knowledge specialist on fisheries. She is with us today. Help me welcome Stefanie Moreland.

Fourth, our departments have worked diligently to make sure that those who are eligible for assistance actually apply for it.

I’m thankful to see our communities embrace private business growth, especially small businesses. My father and mother fed us with a small business, and I fed our family for about nine years with a small business.

Small businesses account 177,000 thousand jobs in this state. People, in every community in Alaska, want to work. So I applaud you for searching for new ideas to build economies that coexist with the honor and meaning of subsistence living.

Examples like: the lodge at Wood River, the port at Hoonah, Kwik-Pak Fisheries in Emmonak, just to name a few. These are pivotal developments in rural business enterprise. And there are more on your drawing tables.

High energy costs-- another barrier. They stall local economies and cause Alaskan families to suffer real financial hardship. Over the past two budget cycles, the state funded nearly $1.5 billion dollars for energy infrastructure and investments, and set an aggressive energy policy for our state.

There’s more to do to bring more affordable, more abundant, cleaner energy to Alaskans. Thankfully, we are at a place where we are finishing one chapter of Alaska’s energy history, and we’re transitioning to writing that new history -- one, where we move away from high-cost diesel and heating oil, and where we move toward natural gas and propane, and to hydropower. We need to invest in long-term energy solutions, like using Alaska’s gas and water resources, rather than becoming increasingly dependent on high-cost fuel oil.

The traditional cultures are foundational to the success of every community and our state as a whole.

This year, the Chief Shakes Tribal House in Wrangell was completed with assistance from state funds. We’ve also been supportive of culturally-rich approaches like the magnet school in Kotzebue.

To assist with preserving the treasured traditional languages, the Legislature created, and I approved, the Alaska Native Language Preservation Council. Today, I would like to announce the members: Steven Walkie Charles of Fairbanks; Delores Churchill of Ketchikan; April Counceller of Kodiak; Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle of Nome; and Annette Evans Smith of Anchorage.

These people are passionate about serving, and have given their lives and their careers to preserving culture and language in our communities. Like you, they seek to build bridges, and knock down barriers of success.

I appreciate your willingness to serve.

# # #
 

Shirley Demientieff Award

And now it’s my privilege to announce this year’s Shirley Demientieff Award, a tradition where we honor a person or organization who shares Shirley’s passion for protecting and promoting respect for Alaska Native women and children.

This year’s honoree is Mary Jane Fate. Mrs. Fate is an Athabascan, born and raised on a trap line in Rampart, to the late Sally Woods Evans Hudson and Thomas George Evans.

After graduating from Mount Edgecumbe High School, she was one of the first Native women of her generation to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she studied accounting. The University awarded her an honorary Ph.D. of Laws degree in 1992.

She worked hard for the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, taking the minutes during many statewide and Interior meetings to achieve that milestone legislation.

Mrs. Fate also was instrumental in establishing the Breast Cancer Detection Center in Fairbanks, to provide mobile mammograms and education in rural Alaska.

She was a founding member of the Fairbanks Native Association, Tundra Times Newspaper, the Institute of Alaska Native Arts, and is past president of the North American Indian Women’s Association.

The first woman co-chair of AFN, and a director on the Alaska Airlines corporate board for 25 years, Mary Jane served as a University of Alaska regent, and as the only indigenous member on the U.S. Arctic Research Commission during her term.

She has been a board member for 40 years, and former president of her village corporation.

Among her many other “firsts,” Mary Jane was the first Alaska Native woman to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council.

John Moller, will you please escort Mrs. Fate, to the podium?

Mary Jane, your life is a positive example of how we each can make a difference wherever we are. You are an Alaska Native leader who has led and advanced the health and safety of Alaska Natives. And while accomplishing so many firsts, you have also always been there for those in need, providing a place to stay, writing letters of recommendation, and scholarships.

These are no small blessings to the many students and the families you helped.

You have always shown the world that, while there are Acts of Congress, there are also acts of human kindness.

And they matter greatly.

The individuals whose lives you have touched include the many people in villages who were served by the dental clinics, you and your husband, Dr. Hugh “Bud” Fate made possible.

And ultimately, you have been described as a selfless person who always kept a smile on your face, even during tough times, reassuring those around you that things would be OK; as a woman who made sure that after fish camp, elders in Fairbanks received their smoked salmon.

That’s how your four children and your 12 grandchildren know you.

We know you as a bridge builder, as a peacemaker, as one who always has brought people together to make things happen.

Let’s thank her for her service and help congratulate Mary Jane Fate.

# # #

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