Native leaders hold symposium to discuss strengthening self-government

Alaska Native leaders from across the state are gathered in Fairbanks for a tribal self-governance symposium. The three-day event is sponsored by University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Arizona, the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Casey Foundation. One of the organizers, UAF assistant professor of tribal management Carrie Stevens, said the symposium grew out of a similar tribal gathering in Fairbanks last fall on co-management of fish and game.

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”We had over 200 participants at that historic event. It was very successful,” Stevens said. “And from that event, there was a request by Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona to hold this event.”

Stevens said the symposium aims to identify ways Alaska tribes can strengthen their governments. Another organizer, UAF Associate Professor of Tribal management Kevin Illingworth pointed to recent agreements with the state on several fronts.

”Child protection has definitely been a key area that we’ve seen a lot of collaboration happening,” Illingworth said. “We’re also seeing partnership and collaboration happening in working with youth and also in the broad area of public safety.”

Another avenue by which Alaska tribes can expand jurisdiction is placing lands into federal trust. Trust status in Alaska was affirmed by a federal court ruling this summer, but Stevens said tribes are already well aware of the potential.

”The first case regarding land into trust was in the ’90s here in Alaska and so it’s been discussed for decades,” Stevens said. “And I think that a lot of tribes are well aware of the pluses and minuses of land into trust and that it is seen as one tool to help benefit the well-being of tribal membership.”

The tribal governance symposium, which includes keynote addresses and round-table discussions, runs through Thursday.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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