The state constitution does not recognize hundreds of Tribes in Alaska. House Bill 123 would amend state law to officially recognize Tribes that the federal government already does. The House Special Committee on Tribal Affairs moved the measure out of committee and to the House State Affairs committee.
During Tribal Affairs meeting (April 1, 2021), committee members held the second hearing on House Bill 123 and took testimony from invited speakers and the public.
Vivian Korthuis (Yup’ik, Emmonak Village) is the chief executive officer of the Association of Village Council Presidents. The nonprofit corporation serves 56 federally recognized Tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.
While reading a prepared statement during invited testimony, Korthuis talked about communities without drinking water and basic sanitation:
“The State of Alaska does not have to be alone in addressing these issues,” she said. “Tribes are here to help however we can only help if the state recognizes we are here – ready, willing and able to do so.”
Korthuis said House Bill 123 could be a turning point for the state and would help Alaska become a leader in Tribal-state relations.
Gloria Simeon is a member of the Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council in Bethel. During her public testimony, she says the federal government officially recognized Alaska Tribes in the 1990s, and there have been memos and proclamations at the state level. But no official legal action.
“I thought that we were done with this and was looking forward to a summit of leaders -- nation to nation, Tribal nations to the state, with commissioners of every department working together to tear down barriers and build opportunities to begin this partnership,” she said during public testimony. “I’m so in support of this bill being passed because it’s so long overdue for us to be working together for our nations and this state.”
Jones Hotch Jr. also spoke in favor of HB 123. Hotch serves as vice president of Chilkat Indian Village in Klukwan.
“It’s ironic that the federal government recognizes our Tribe and it’s also something else for us with the state of Alaska to sign a waiver at times. This is something that, this is a historic moment, and which side do we want to stand on.”
Anchorage Democratic Representative Zach Fields motioned to move House Bill 123 out of committee. The motion passed without objection. And it now moves on to House State Affairs for consideration.