President Obama meets Native leaders after landing in Alaska

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D), who is Tlingit, rode with President Barack Obama on Monday, August 31, 2015. Photo from Facebook

President Barack Obama met with Alaska Native leaders on Monday afternoon, shortly after landing in Anchorage for a historic three-day visit to the 49th state.

Obama is used to meeting with tribal leaders, typically during the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. But this was a historic occasion -- a roundtable composed entirely of representatives of Alaska Native tribes, corporations and organizations.

"A number of them I've met with before during the tribal summits that we've had in Washington," Obama told reporters after the engagement at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. "But this gave me a chance to focus more intensely on specifically what’s happening in Alaska."

"They don’t just represent a large portion of Alaska’s population; these are communities that have been around for 10,000 years or so," the president continued. "So it’s worth paying attention to them because they know a little bit from all that history."

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) also rode with President Obama. Walker's administration is fighting a land-into-trust rule that includes Alaska tribes for the first time. Photo from Facebook

Tribal leaders raised two significant legal and policy issues during the meeting. One was about land -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs has finalized a to a land-into-trust rule that includes Alaska tribes for the first time in decades.

The state of Alaska, however, is pursuing an appeal in federal court in D.C. The opening brief was filed last Monday.

The second major issue was voting rights. Tribes and advocates like the Native American Rights Fund are fighting to ensure that election materials are translated into Native languages. They also want to make it easier for the state to place polling locations in villages, a proposal supported by the Obama administration.

"Many of the issues that were raised here -- everything from voting rights to land trusts -- are issues that my agencies will be following up with on an ongoing basis," Obama said yesterday.

A view of Kotzebue, Alaska. Photo from Native Village of Kotzebue

Previewing the rest of his journey in Alaska, Obama said he will be traveling to two Native communities -- Dillingham and Kotzebue -- on Wednesday. Kotzebue is in the Arctic, making him the first sitting president to visit the region.

Obama noted that he visited the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma in June and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota in June 2014.

"In fact, by the end of my time in office, I’ll have visited more communities -- more tribal communities than any previous sitting president, which I feel pretty good about -- in case anybody is keeping track," Obama said.

Participants in the roundtable at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage follow:
Melanie Bahnke, President and CEO, Kawerak
Marvin Adams, 5th Vice President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes
Ana Hoffman, President and CEO, Bethel Native Corporation
Myron Naneng, President of the Association of Village Council Presidents
Eugene Asicksik, Mayor, Shaktoolik, AK and VP, Bering Straits Native Corporation
AlexAnna Salmon, President, Igiugig Tribal Council
Victor Joseph, President of Tanana Chiefs Conference
Rhonda Pitka, First Chief of Beaver Alaska Native Village
Andy Teuber, President of Kodiak Area Native Association and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
Michelle Anderson, President of Ahtna Incorporated
Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives
Carol Gore, President/CEO of the Cook Inlet Housing Authority

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D) holds two Tlingit basketballs that he presented to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo from Facebook

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D), who is Tlingit, also participated in the roundtable. Walker, who flew with the president on Air Force One from Washington, D.C., to Alaska, and Mallott drove with Obama as his motorcade made its way from the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to downtown Anchorage.

Relevant Documents:
White House Fact Sheet: President Obama in Alaska (August 30, 2015)

Related Stories:
President Obama restores Alaska Native name of highest peak (8/31)
President Obama to visit Native villages on historic trip to Alaska (8/25)
Alaska governor pursues appeal in landmark land-into-trust case (8/25)
Alaska Natives to welcome President Obama at end of month (8/17)

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