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2020 Alaska Federation of Natives Address

Oct 15, 2020


As prepared for delivery:

Governor Mike Dunleavy: Good morning Alaskans. It’s truly an honor to address you today.

This year has been tough on all of us. From fishing villages to remote communities, no part of our state has been immune to the impacts of COVID-19. This pandemic has greatly disrupted all of our lives.

The 1918 pandemic taught us many things. During that pandemic, and I don’t need to remind many of you, rural Alaska lost many people. As a matter of fact, more Alaska Natives were tragically lost, because of that pandemic, than just about any other group impacted by the 1918 Spanish flu.

As a result, in preparing for and battling this pandemic, rural Alaska, including our fellow Alaska Natives, were not an afterthought. During the planning and execution of mitigating approaches to deal with this virus, you were, in fact, front and center.

From the very beginning, we worked with individuals representing AFN, tribal health, and our rural communities, on a collaborative and consistent basis. Frequent meetings occurred, and still occur, between my administration, representatives of rural Alaska, and our Native communities, in an effort to protect our people.

With the input of elders and health officials, working together with our Native communities, we supported unprecedented travel guidelines to protect communities that lacked necessary healthcare facilities, in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus.

Through our Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, through the leadership of General Saxe, and working with leaders in rural Alaska, we secured quarantine space in our Alaska Native villages in the event it was needed.

We chose to emphasize local control, allowing communities unprecedented latitude to protect themselves. We collected over 2,600 community protection plans. These ensured our mining, oil, and commercial fishing operations didn’t threaten vulnerable populations.

As a result, our communities have been kept safe, relative to past pandemics, and critical industries were able to operate. At the airports, over a quarter-million travelers were screened for infection. About 400 COVID-19 cases were caught before any Alaskans were put in danger.

None of this would’ve been possible without the close collaboration of our leaders, both in rural Alaska, and our Native leaders statewide.

As a result of this continued cooperation, while cases will continue to grow, Alaska still has some of the lowest hospitalization and death rates in the nation.

Alaskans are a resilient people. We’ve seen our share of tragedy – the 1918 Spanish flu, the second-largest earthquake ever recorded, wildfires that spanned millions of acres, floods, and you name it. I have no doubt the future will be no different. Together, we will make Alaska a stronger and better place by working together.

Examples of our continued cooperation include the Gulkana village land transfer. I was honored to join village elders as we formally returned ancestral lands to their rightful owners, and fixed additional longstanding land disputes as well. Although this decades-long land dispute dragged on longer than it should’ve, my administration was determined to bring resolution to the people of Gulkana.

Another example of our continued cooperation is our work with Native leaders on modifying the Office of Children’s Services compact involving foster care. This, too, will be an ongoing process that I believe will lead to better outcomes for our children and families.

My team, along with countless Alaskans, is working each and every day to get Alaska back on its feet. Whether that means supporting new industries like mariculture, advocating for renewable energy projects, or building roads to resources – every option is on the table to provide Alaskans with opportunity, including those in rural Alaska.

It also means continuing our all-out push for public safety. Last year, we hired a historic number of new troopers, many of them to be placed in rural Alaskan villages. This year, the training academy is processing the highest number of public safety recruits in recent history. My goal is to continue to beef up the number of troopers in rural Alaska to combat longstanding public safety issues.

We cleared the state troopers’ sexual assault kit backlog, reopening 21 cases and producing charges in four of those cases. We funded 26 emergency shelters and victim services programs at record levels. We are in the process of standing up a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team. Initiatives like Operation Lady Justice, Savanna’s Act, and the Not Invisible Act are focusing more resources than ever before on the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women, and this is just the beginning.

Equally important to me is the educational success of our Alaska Native children. To that end, we’ve signed agreements with the Knik Tribe Educational Agency and the Tanana Chiefs Conference to advance tribal charter schools, tribal compacting, improve data sharing, and make certain every child has the opportunity to learn.

The Department of Education also worked to procure needed personal protective equipment for staff and children, as well as learning devices, including 500 iPads, for many of our rural schools to better deal with this pandemic.

Like you, I love this great state. I look forward to our continued collaboration during this pandemic. Together, we will prioritize the health and safety of our Alaskan communities.

I lived for almost 20 years in rural Alaska. My wife Rose, the First Lady, and my children were born in rural Alaska. I have friends in rural Alaska. I was married in rural Alaska. Some of the best years of my life were spent in rural Alaska, and I want to do everything in my power to improve the lives of those that call rural Alaska home.

This has been, and will continue to be, my commitment to all of you.

There’s no doubt we’re accomplishing something special. The partnership between Native health corporations, tribal leaders, village elders, and the State, is a testament to our ability to set aside what divides us and work together. I want to thank you for that.

Until we can meet again, I look forward to seeing each of you in person. Thank you, God bless all of you, and be safe.

First Lady Rose Dunleavy:

Hi, I am Alaska First Lady Rose Dunleavy. Like many of you, I grew up in a small rural village. My parents worked hard to better our lives and provide us with education, clean water, and basic needs.

Life was tough at times, but we held together as a community. We helped each other when in need.
We tackled big challenges; I remember our leaders fought so hard for ANCSA.

My own father helped found NANA Regional Corporation and worked to provide jobs, scholarships, dividends, and much more.
Today, we have more big challenges at our doorstep, but just like our parents we will prevail.

Let’s stick together as Alaskans. Thank you so much.