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The real solution to rural Alaska’s challenges? Good jobs and the dignity that comes with them 

Feb 25, 2019

By First Lady Rose Dunleavy

In December, my husband chose to hold his inauguration in my home village of Noorvik because it expressed our deep respect and love for the people of rural Alaska. I will forever be grateful to the people of my home village, the people of Kotzebue and the all the people of the Northwest Arctic region for hosting the governor, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, our families and all who attended that amazing, historic event as guests. They received the tremendous hospitality and kindness our people are known for.

The event was held at a school named after my late father, Robert Aqqaluk Newlin, Sr. My father was the first chairman of the NANA board of directors and a former mayor of Noorvik. Our family is honored that his portrait and a quotation of his, highlighting the importance of hard work, hangs in the school. That quotation and its location in the school illustrate two very important values that our people and the Native people of Alaska share: the value of education and the value of hard work.

Those are the same values I share with my husband and rural residents because those values are important to have if Alaska is going to to attract new businesses and investment.

Critics have called the governor’s proposed budget unfair to rural Alaska. Would you like to know what is really unfair to rural Alaska? Previous state budgets that used up $14 billion in reserves and employed budgetary smoke and mirror tactics to avoid making the tough choices that we now must make.

As the first chairman of the board of the for-profit regional corporation for the Northwest Arctic, my father committed to the mission of NANA, to provide economic opportunities for the more than 14,300 Inupiat shareholders and to protect and enhance NANA lands.

Since its earliest days NANA has done just that, creating a profit for the corporation and the people through the development of businesses from construction, to hotels and apartments, to fuel sales and mining.

And we have done so while preserving and protecting our lands and our traditional way of life. I am proud that for 17 years my father helped lead NANA to become both a successful business and a guardian of our culture.

In the 1980s, the Robert Aqqaluk Newlin, Sr. Memorial Trust was founded by NANA to help provide shareholders with university scholarships and vocational training and to help preserve our cultural values and way of life. Even after his death, my father’s legacy remains to promote education and hard work.

NANA is not alone in its success. We and other Native peoples throughout Alaska have taken our traditional values and used them to develop successful businesses throughout this great state and to partner with others.

I’d like to mention a few more of those values. You may have seen posters of the 12 traditional Inupiat values, but I’d like to touch on just a few that I believe we all share in common and that are the foundation of the beliefs that have guided me all my life and that guide my husband in his work.

Inupiat values include:

  • Avoidance of Conflict – we are encouraged to try not to argue or fight. I think you can see the benefit that value can bring to business and government;
  • Humility – to not be boastful;
  • Spirituality – reliance on our individual beliefs about God or the Creator;
  • Cooperation – willingly working together;
  • Compassion – understanding, kindness and love for others;
  • Above all we value respect, for elders, for nature, for each other, for family,
  • And we value humor and the ability to laugh at something without hurting anyone.

These values are what have allowed us to build success for ourselves, for each other and for the state. And I believe they are the values that both the success of good business and the success of good government are based.

Gov. Dunleavy has pledged that Alaska is open for business and he has pledged to Alaskans living in rural villages throughout our state that they will not be forgotten.

Our state and all our people throughout Alaska are ready, able and willing to work hard, to receive the training and education needed to succeed in the jobs that are provided, and to do so while respecting our land and our environment.

We all know the dignity and the self-respect that jobs provide. We know that social problems and family problems are made better when people’s economic needs are met and when people have the self-respect and self-determination that good jobs provide.

In his State-of-the-State address, my husband noted a staggering statistic.

While our country has been adding jobs, Alaska’s economy has remained stagnant, in fact, Alaska has the worst unemployment in the nation.

He said, “There are no circumstances where that statistic is acceptable,” and he pledged that Alaska can and will do better.

If we all work together that pledge will be realized.

It is my hope and my prayer that in these next four years, as we grow Alaska’s business sector, and as we live our lives in service to all people in this state, that the future generations of Alaskans will count us, our lives, and our work as worthy.

Rose Dunleavy is first lady of the State of Alaska.