The Alaska House of Representatives has created the Special Committee on Tribal Affairs.
That brings the number of committees in the House to 16 — 11 regular (including Committee on Committees) and 5 special committees. There are also 12 joint committees, and 18 Finance subcommittees.
But this committee is unusual in that it may be the first in Alaska history that is essentially race-centric.
The Tribal Affairs Committee has long been the goal of Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat from Dillingham, who introduced the resolution on Monday.
Early versions of the resolution creating the special committee contained three references to tribes as sovereign states, but that language was modified in the final draft, which was passed this morning on a 37-1 vote.
“Sovereign state” is mentioned only once in the final version that passed: “Whereas Alaska Native tribal nations prioritize the health, welfare, and well-being of their members as does any other sovereign state…”
“We’ve never had a committee to deal solely with tribal issues in the Legislature,” said Rep. Edgmon. “This is not just about tribal compacting; it is about basic and critical issues like health, children’s services, law enforcement, economic development, and other needs that can be met at the village level.”
The committee has been specifically charged with advancing “strategic partnerships with tribes that seek to advance and strengthen tribal communities.”
Critics say that this drifts into the purview of the Executive Branch, and that strategic partnerships with narrow and exclusionary categories of citizens is not part of the duties of the Legislature, but an overreach into the Office of the Governor.
The committee will be chaired by Representative Tiffany Zulkosky, a Bethel Democrat. Edgmon is co-chair. Other members include Rep. John Lincoln, a Inupiaq from Kotzebue. Also on the committee are Rep. Chuck Kopp, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, and Rep. Dave Talerico. Talerico is the only member from the 15-member Republican minority.
“Collaborating with our federally-recognized tribes helps bridge historical and political divisions while elevating opportunities to shape policies and programs that incorporate local and traditional knowledge,” said Rep. Zulkosky. “I am eager for the opportunity to chair this historic committee and pursue opportunities to move Alaska forward together.”
Representatives Ben Carpenter, Sharon Jackson, George Rauscher and David Eastman cautioned against creating a committee devoted to Alaskans with inherent traits of race or tribal affiliation. But in the end, only Eastman voted against the creation of the committee.
The House Special Committee on Tribal Affairs was created by the passage of House Resolution 5 on a 37-1 vote.
Special committees are temporary, but often are renewed with each Legislative term.
ANOTHER ‘KILL BILL’ COMMITTEE
With the wide range of Alaska tribes in every part of the state, it’s likely that any bill that is filed by any legislator may be referred to this committee, where Zulkosky and Edgmon can either kill it or move it to the next committee.
Other special committees include Arctic Policy, Development & Tourism; Energy; Fisheries; and Military and Veterans’ Affairs, which is chaired by non-veteran Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux and vice chaired by non-veteran Rep. Chris Tuck.
Alaska Natives / American Indians make up about 15 percent of the total population of Alaska, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.