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Knowles Honored by Congress of American Indians
Governor Recognized for Support of Tribal Governments, Subsistence


News Release
November 29, 2001
Web Posted: 2:15 pm

Spokane - Recognizing his support of Alaska Native tribal governments and tireless efforts for subsistence rights, Gov. Tony Knowles was presented with an award today by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). America's oldest tribal government-led organization with a membership of more than 250 tribal governments including many from Alaska, the NCAI presented the award during its 58th annual session in Spokane, Washington.

"It is a great privilege to be honored by the National Congress of American Indians," Knowles said. "NCAI's involvement in public awareness, advocacy, and consensus-building is vitally important to your tribes and to our nation. Just as a unified nation has made America the strongest, freest country on earth, we know unity is necessary to accomplish the goals we all share in common: jobs and opportunities for our children; good schools; safe, healthy communities."

"Gov. Knowles has been a strong friend and partner with tribal governments in Alaska," said NCAI executive director Jackie Johnson. "Throughout his administration, Gov. Knowles has recognized the role of tribal governments and has worked with them to address the many complex social and economic issues they face. His leadership is best exemplified by the signing of the historic Millennium agreement between tribes and the state; his commissions on rural governance and tolerance; and his tireless efforts on behalf of subsistence."

Following the theme of this year's NCAI convention, "Reflecting Our Traditions in a Contemporary World," Knowles remarked on the progress made in Alaska in the state's relationship with Alaska Native peoples.

"I believe Alaska's experience can be a positive model for other states and tribal organizations in three specific areas: tribal relations, tolerance, and subsistence rights," Knowles said. "Thanks to many of the Alaska delegates here this afternoon, we have taken a major and historic step to reverse these divisive trends and unify Alaskans by acknowledging, recognizing, and embracing Alaska's federally recognized tribes. Together, we are forging a partnership for positive change."

That process began three years ago in the midst of an ever-increasing sense of alienation throughout village Alaska. With a bitterly divisive, widening gulf in the quality of public services between urban and rural communities, the perception was that state agencies were sadly irrelevant from the daily lives of rural Alaskans.

"This past April, built on the principle of mutual respect through government to government relations, we in Alaska launched a promising new era when we signed the historic Millennium Agreement between the state and Alaska tribes," Knowles said. "Despite considerable political and legal opposition, I am proud to stand with Alaska tribes, to reverse long-standing state policy and acknowledge what tribal leaders have always known - that tribal governments are the well-working, modern day expressions of the oldest, continuous political entities in North America."

Noting that subsistence is vital to the culture, nutrition, and economy of rural and tribal Alaska, Knowles said he is prepared to call the Alaska Legislature into special session so it can provide every Alaskan voter the opportunity to vote on a subsistence constitutional amendment.

"It is a core value; the foundation of a way of life," Knowles said. "Subsistence is a defining issue of this generation of Alaskans. Its permanent protection guaranteed by a constitutional amendment will be a historic milestone in healing the rift between Alaskans."

Knowles said he would also continue to push hate crimes legislation that he and Sen. Georgianna Lincoln (D-Rampart) sponsored last session in response to the so-called paintball attack.

"If there was any good to come from the paintball attack, it has opened Alaskans' eyes to our personal responsibility to help bridge the urban-rural divide," Knowles said. "In early May, I appointed the Governor's Commission on Tolerance, which has listened to thousands of Alaskans about ways to increase tolerance in our state. At the end of this month, this commission will propose comprehensive actions which I'll be taking to the Legislature in January."

Knowles told the crowd of some 3,000 attending the convention, including a large delegation from Alaska, that much work remains to be done to address disparities between urban and rural Alaska, but the progress to date provides a solid foundation on which to build.

"The true measure of the Millennium Agreement won't be known until we determine whether, together, we're meeting our mutual responsibilities," Knowles said. "Are we responding to a child's cry for help and feeding their thirst for knowledge? Are we insuring basic needs for clean water, sanitation, and protection from disease? Are we providing every young family the opportunity for hope and a meaningful job to support themselves? I'm confident we will meet that test of time."

"Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you. Thank you for lending your support and guidance to Alaska's tribes, and indeed to all of Alaska's citizens as we work together to protect sacred traditions in a contemporary world," Knowles said.



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