Tlingit and Haida Central Council joins chorus of Rep. Eastman’s critics

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska on Tuesday formally added itself to the chorus of critics of Alaska lawmaker David Eastman.

Leaders within the organization, which represents more than 30,000 Tlingit and Haida people, had piles of unflattering adjectives to characterize Eastman’s comments, including “appalling,” “demeaning,” “egregious,” “inexcusable,” “venomous,” “indefensible” and “demonizing.”

Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman hasn’t backed down from his claim that some women from Alaska villages purposely get pregnant to get Medicaid-funded trips to Seattle or Anchorage for abortions.

Nor has Eastman substantiated the claim.

When Central Council President Richard Peterson was asked if he was aware of anyone, Native or otherwise, who was interested in getting pregnant in order to get a trip to the city, his response was certain.

“That is the most ridiculous statement he ever made — I’ve ever heard – No! I’ve never! And, you know, to be honest, I don’t know that many Native women who have an abortion, you know? So, it’s just frustrating,” Peterson said with a exasperated sigh.

Eastman denied he was referring to Alaska Natives in an interview on KTVA.

“This is not a racial issue,” Eastman said Saturday. “This is dealing with the fact that our state is paying for this and we want to raise issue with that. … Race is not the factor here. Obviously, when you’re dealing with travel, it’s gonna be from some place out of Anchorage, but that’s not specific to any particular part of our state ‘cause the policies are not based on race. What they are based on, is the fact that abortion is funded by our state.”

Peterson isn’t buying it.

“People can say, you know, ‘He didn’t single out Alaska Natives.’ But, you know, we’re synonymous with rural Alaska. Those are the people he’s talking about,” Peterson said.

Peterson said he has seen some feedback sympathetic to Eastman.

“You have to troll the racist comments on, you know, news sites from people to find those,” Peterson said.

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have demanded Eastman apologize. He has not.

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Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.