In an effort to improve his odds for re-election, Gov. Bill Walker is preparing to apologize to Alaska Natives.
The apology is, Must Read Alaska has learned, being queued up for the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, Oct. 18-20 in Anchorage.
The AFN convention attracts as many as 6,000 Alaska Natives to Anchorage during the days leading up to the midterm General Election, and all three candidates for governor typically speak at the convention. It can be influential: AFN in 2014 endorsed Walker and his running mate Byron Mallott, giving them needed momentum to win against the incumbent Sean Parnell. They won by 6,223 votes.
During his time at the podium, Walker is likely to have Lt. Gov. Mallott with him, and discuss how they are directing the Department of Law to join a legal challenge to a court decision involving the adoption of American Indian and Alaska Native children into non-Native homes.
Last week he signaled that after a federal judge ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act unconstitutional, Walker’s administration would continue to fight that decision:
“There is nothing more important to Alaskans than the well-being of our children. Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott and I continue to stand with Alaska Tribes in supporting the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Walker said.
That case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Brett Kavanaugh is now one of the conservative majority. Walker vociferously opposed the Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court, saying he would not rule in favor of Alaska Natives.
“Mr. Kavanaugh’s appointment could also jeopardize the Indian Child Welfare Act, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and other laws that enable tribal self-determination due to his overly narrow view of the relationship between federal and tribal governments,” Walker said in September.
Critics pondered that Walker was treating the Supreme Court as if it was merely another legislative body, rather than one that weighs laws and government actions as they pertain to the U.S. Constitution.
There is recent precedent for the anticipated apology. President Barack Obama signed one in 2010: The Native American Apology Resolution.
At the time, tribal citizens criticized Obama because the apology was not fulsome. He neither announced it, nor issued it verbally, they said. They found it lacking.
That apology was introduced as a congressional resolution by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, “to officially apologize for the past ill-conceived policies by the U.S. government toward the Native peoples of this land and re-affirm our commitment toward healing our nation’s wounds and working toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation.”
The bill passed the Senate in 2008 and 2009, but the version signed by Obama was different, a bit watered down. He apologized: “on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native peoples by citizens of the United States.”
But Obama’s apology didn’t authorize legal claims against the United States, nor reparations, nor did it settle any existing claims.
Walker’s apology will surely deal with some of these issues specific to Alaska — Native adoptions, historic mistreatment, and institutional racism — but will it go so far as to make specific promises on behalf of the State of Alaska? That is the million-dollar question.
On Sept. 23, Walker signed Administrative Order 300, recognizing a linguistic emergency for Alaska Native languages. During recent weeks, he has made Native issues the center of his official and campaign activities.
Alaska Natives may be somewhat split on their support of Walker-Mallott. After all, many are supporters of Mike Dunleavy, whose wife and children are Alaska Inupiaq, born and raised in Kotzebue. Dunleavy taught school in the rural Arctic village of Koyuk and also in Kotzebue.
Dunleavy would become the first governor of Alaska who has actually lived above the Arctic Circle, something that gives him “street cred” in rural Alaska.
Others support Mark Begich, the Democrat running for governor. Begich just won the endorsement of Emil Notti, a Native elder and the first president of AFN.
Walker is on an apology tour — promising the tourism industry $12 million in marketing funds for next year, and promising he will focus, at last, on public safety.
Next week, he’ll apologize to 20 percent of Alaskans on behalf of the State of Alaska, searching for the Native Alaska vote that can make or break his campaign.
For the past several weeks Walker has not focused on the gasline, which was his signature project for his administration.
Instead he has populated both his official Facebook page, and his campaign Facebook page with a series of postings aimed at the Alaska Native community.
IS IT AN APOLOGY WHEN THERE IS POLITICAL GAIN INVOLVED?
One of the most sincere apologies in history was issued without a word: Chancellor Willie Brandt of Germany fell to his knees to demonstrate his sincere apology to the Jews of Europe for what happened to them during World War II, when there was no political gain to be made.
That event took place on Dec. 7, 1970, when Brandt laid a wreath at a monument to the German occupation-era Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He then knelt and remained kneeled.
Walker’s apology, if he proceeds with it, would be among the more cynical and insulting, coming just two weeks before a major election in which Walker has so much at stake. It’s correlation to the political timetable would cheapen it.