Leslie Becker of Ketchikan went to Metlakatla to talk to a group of residents about her campaign for House. She is running for House District 36 against Rep. Daniel Ortiz, and went to the Native reserve upon the invitation of a Native veterans group.
But it was a bit of a set up. Before she even left Ketchikan, a protest by local Natives was organized at the ferry terminal, where protesters apparently thought Becker would embark to Metlakatka. Becker took a plane, however.
When Becker arrived at Alaska’s sole Indian reserve, a public broadcasting reporter was there to cover the meeting. And, of course, he had had his transportation arranged by the protesters.
It was a staged event for the public broadcasting audience.
This would be an October surprise for Becker, the former executive director of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and member of the school board. She is campaigning as a “champion for change and a more prosperous District 36.” Metlakatla is part of District 36, and is south of Ketchikan on Annette Island, with a population of about 1,500.
The protesters were upset with a prayer that Becker had written over a year ago. Becker is a practicing Christian.
They chanted: “You’re not welcome,’ at her when she entered the longhouse. They had a sign with them, “Re-elect Dan Ortiz.” Other signs had Becker’s name with a slash through it.
Some didn’t even want her in the longhouse, as they said it was sacred space. It was built in 1972 as a traditional Tsimshian-style longhouse.
But Becker was not to be discouraged. She was an invited guest of the Metlakatla Veterans Association. They had permission from the mayor, Reggie Atkinson, to use the longhouse. They wanted to hear from the candidate who traveled to see them — not many politicians make it to Metlakatla.
Public media reporter Eric Stone described prayers that Becker offered in the past as “offensive” and wrote she was met with jeers on Saturday.
The part of the prayer that the protesters did not like was when Becker had prayed to heal the alcoholism in the state, that “hearts will be lifted from alcoholism, drugs and despair.”
Stone also wrote, “Also notable: Becker came out against the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change in favor of a theory she called ‘climate variability’: decades-long cycles. She said repeatedly, ‘I don’t have a position on Pebble Mine,’ but said she supported mining in general.”
“The afternoon concluded with an apparently spontaneous performance from residents — a song written by Metlakatla resident Huk Tgini’itsga Xsgiik (Gavin Hudson) called ‘We Can Speak For Ourselves,” Stone wrote.
The entire protest was anything but spontaneous, and Stone had evidently been given advance playbook about what was going to occur, in addition to having his transportation arranged by the group.
Becker had gone to Metlakatla with tribal Elder Ken Pruitt and Joann Barsic, and was met by Dion Booth, who grew up in Metlakatla. She had been invited by Roy Brendible and Jeff Moran, tribal members. Also traveling was Dr. Steven Becker, Leslie Becker’s husband, who is an orthopedic surgeon in Ketchikan.
Whether the protests at the Ketchikan dock and in Metlakatla are related to the disappearance of most of her campaign signs in Ketchikan is something Becker could not answer. Over the weekend, many of her signs were missing. And she had 300 of them. “The stakes are in the ground but the signs are gone,” she said.
Although the heckling in Metlakatla was rude, it didn’t deter Becker from having a conversation with the people who came to the longhouse. One woman called her racist and asked her to apologize for her racist prayer. Becker did not apologize for her prayer.
“I am so grateful for the people of Metlakatla, such a proud and worthy community. They care. It’s important to recognize how deeply they care about their community and I care about Metlakatla too. I know we all want the same things — healing, hope, and economic opportunity,” Becker said. “I was very moved by the spirit of the people who I met with and their heart for their community.”