Governor Mike Dunleavy today delivered his fourth annual speech at the 2022 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention (AFN) in Anchorage. His address highlighted his vision for Alaska, the resiliency of rural Alaska, and the importance of working together for the next generation.
Governor Dunleavy’s 2022 AFN Convention Address, as prepared (watch the full speech here):
Good morning. It’s an honor to be here at the 2022 Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention.
I’m so glad to see everyone in person after two years of virtual gatherings.
The AFN Convention is a uniquely Alaskan tradition, and we’ve missed it.
There is truly no substitute for meeting in person, and I can’t think of a better theme than “Celebrating our Unity.”
Wouldn’t you agree?
I want to thank President Kitka, Co-Chairs Hoffman and Nelson, the AFN board, the delegates, and everyone here for welcoming Rose and myself today.
At this time, I’d also like to recognize the First Lady, Rose Sattu Dunleavy, my wife of almost 35 years from Noorvik.
I’d also like to recognize my daughters who are here today.
I know many of you have traveled here from the villages of Alaska, and I always let people know that it’s those communities like yours that make Alaska unlike any other state.
In fact, it’s what makes Alaska, Alaska.
The way of life in Alaska’s villages is what appealed to me when I moved here in 1983 and took my first job as a teacher in Koyuk.
It was where I lived and worked alongside my fellow Alaskans whose history and people date back for thousands of years here in their homeland.
It was only in rural Alaska could I jump in a flat-bottomed jet boat by myself and travel up the Bering Sea coast.
It wasn’t very smart, but I could do it.
Only in rural Alaska could I get on my snow machine and travel for hundreds of miles from Koyuk to Kotzebue to visit my future wife Rose.
There’s no doubt I love the land, the wide-open spaces, the freedom, and the seclusion that comes with living in rural Alaska.
But when my friends and family back in the Lower 48 would ask me why I stayed in Alaska all these years, the answer for me has always been easy:
I stay because of the people. It’s the people that make Alaska, Alaska.
I went to a small college in Pennsylvania most people have never heard called Mesericordia.
The name means mercy or compassion, and as a small school of less than a few thousand students, its mission is to instill the values of service.
That value of service means a lot to me, and that’s why I chose to serve our youth in rural Alaska as a teacher.
It was my goal to be the best teacher I could be.
To achieve that goal, I knew that I needed to understand the people and the culture where I served.
While I was still teaching in Koyuk, I started work on my master’s degree in cross-cultural education.
I made a special effort to talk to as many elders as possible so that I could understand the history and the culture of the people I served.
I greatly enjoyed those conversations and relationships with the elders in my community.
Those conversations helped me as I completed my master’s at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Later, I became a principal, and then the superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, where Rose and I built a home in Kotzebue with our three daughters: Manilaq, Sattu, and Quton.
My three daughters still work in rural Alaska at the Red Dog Mine.
They are ANCSA shareholders and Tribal members, and Rose and I can’t be more proud of them.
17 years after we got married in Nome, Rose and I decided to move onto the road system with our children, but I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to live in rural Alaska.
In the villages, we live off the land and we make the most of what we have.
We rely on each other. We take care of each other. We look out for each other.
Rural Alaska isn’t a theoretical place for me.
It’s not some story in a newspaper or a passage in a book.
It’s not just a place to reference in a stump speech.
It’s not second-hand information. It’s real.
I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to have to fly hundreds of miles to receive medical services, because I’ve had to.
I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to live in a place where the weather can mean life or death, because I have.
I don’t have to imagine the importance of catching wild fish and game to feed a family or the elders in the community.
I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to attend a funeral for a friend who was lost to the elements, or for a young person who was lost to suicide.
I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to pay high prices for food, for fuel, or for a plane ticket to visit another community.
Having lived in rural Alaska for nearly two decades, I also know how important the PFD is to manage some of these high costs.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve fought so hard as governor to deliver the largest PFD I could get from the Legislature.
We haven’t solved this issue yet, but I am proud that by working with like-minded legislators, we delivered the biggest PFD in history, this year, at a time when Alaskans needed it the most.
This PFD, again, the largest PFD in the history of the state, will help tremendously this winter with the rising price of food, fuel, and our basic necessities.
Like former Governor Jay Hammond, who also had strong ties to rural Alaska, the communities where many of you have traveled from will never be an afterthought to me.
Rural Alaska is always at the top of my mind, because I know that living in those communities made me the person I am today.
I know that living in rural Alaska made me a better person.
I know that I consider those years to be some of the best years of my life, whether it was visiting with elders, whether it was watching my kids grow up, or whether it was going with my family to catch our food.
There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t have a moment when I wish I was back there.
It’s where I met my wife Rose, got married, and where my daughters spent their childhoods.
It’s where I made some of my fondest memories and some of my best friends.
It’s where I was sworn into office, and where we celebrated in Rose’s hometown of Noorvik.
Rural Alaska isn’t just a place I lived. It’s part of my life.
Making a life in rural Alaska takes resilience. It takes patience. It takes resourcefulness. It takes tolerance. It takes caring for others.
I’ve seen it firsthand from my family and the friends who still live there to this day.
We’ve certainly seen that resiliency during the last month in Western Alaska.
We’re so grateful for our community partners and leaders who worked so hard to keep people safe and help in the recovery effort after the storms. Thank you for everything you did to protect your communities.
Those of us who’ve lived in rural Alaska accept the fact we will live with storms like we saw just last month.
To a degree, we accept that there are some things we don’t have that they do in urban Alaska.
However, there are still certain things expected by all.
We need shelter. We need food and clean water. We need energy. And we need to be safe in our homes and communities.
Those experiences living in Western Alaska for nearly 20 years are reflected in my administration’s priorities, and our actions.
Nowhere did this come into play more than during the 2020 pandemic that quickly enveloped the entire world.
Through these conversations, I had a glimpse into how a pandemic could devastate rural Alaska.
The pandemic of 1918 wasn’t theoretical. It wasn’t just something I read about in a history book.
The suffering of those who survived and those who lost their lives was impressed upon me like nothing else.
As difficult as they were, I’m forever grateful for those conversations.
Those firsthand accounts I listened to, and learned from, back in the 1980s ensured we were prepared for what was to come.
When that first plane arrived in Anchorage from Wuhan, China, in January 2020, I told my team there would be no repeat of 1918 on my watch.
We immediately got to work with our communities and Native partners in rural Alaska, including with AFN, to ensure we were ready.
I want to thank AFN, and all of our community, Native, and Tribal partners, for the frequent meetings and collaborations we forged to get through this pandemic together.
I also want to thank you, everyone in the audience, for everything you did and all your sacrifices to get through this, together.
It was all thanks to people on our team like Health Commissioner Adam Crum, Dr. Anne Zink, Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Heidi Hedberg, and countless others, working with many of our partners in this room, including AFN.
As a result of this teamwork, we’ve had some of the best outcomes in the country.
That isn’t to say we’re celebrating.
We’ve lost many outstanding Alaskans to this virus.
At the same time, we know the way we responded saved countless lives, and for that I am grateful.
Our response, and our outcomes, show what we can accomplish when we work together.
Whether it is a pandemic, or a storm, or any other event that impacts all of us without discrimination, when we work together we can solve almost any issue.
That’s just who we are.
I’ve never discounted rural Alaska, and I never will.
I recognize the important role Alaska’s Tribes have played in our past, our present, and the role they will play in our future.
My vision is for this generation to leave a better Alaska for the next one.
I know that’s a vision we all share.
My vision is an Alaska where everyone can live in a safe community, with economic opportunity, affordable energy and housing, clean water and sanitation, quality health care and educational outcomes, and robust management of our fish and game that benefits our communities first.
Our strength is our diversity, but that diversity still leads to one destiny:
An Alaska that is strong. An Alaska that’s independent. An Alaska that keeps getting better with every generation.
Alaska isn’t Alaska without the people in this room and the people you represent, and I will always be your partner in achieving everything Alaska is destined to be.
Thank you again for the honor of speaking with you today. I wish you luck with this conference and look forward to working together.