Celebration and demonstration

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Gov. Sarah Palin’s recent visit home ended with a rousing rally in downtown Anchorage, followed by an enthusiastic anti-Palin demonstration later in the day. Both gatherings reportedly drew more than 1,000 protesters each, with some estimates as high as 1,500.

Before departing Alaska to continue campaigning in the lower 48, Palin stopped by the new Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in downtown Anchorage.

According to Leslie Ridle, director of constituent relations in the Anchorage mayor’s office, a press conference was called the day before, with Mayor Mark Begich, Eklutna Native Village President Dorothy Cooke and others scheduled to speak. “People who had worked on [the conference center project] for years got to do their own little opening before the event.”

Palin’s speech mirrored the comments she’s made at other campaign stops across the country. She reminded Alaskans of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s war hero status and reputation as a maverick, and assured her audience that McCain is a supporter of the Second Amendment. She also touched on Alaska’s role in energy development and energy independence. To the cheers of the crowd, Palin closed by saying Alaskans can have political differences, but can resolve their differences like family.

She then introduced Dorothy Cooke from Eklutna Native Village. “Let us take a second to thank Dorothy Cooke,” said Palin. “This has been their land … what they have allowed us to do today in this beautiful convention center is [set] foot on this land, and again, work as a united Alaskan family as we work toward bettering the United States of America, so we thank them for this opportunity and this honor.”

“We are the original inhabitants of this area, and thanks to the mayor of Anchorage we have this convention center named in honor of our people,” Cooke told the crowd. Begich, a Democrat, is running against embattled Sen. Ted Stevens for his seat in Congress. Cooke noted the tribal names represented inside the civic center’s meeting rooms.

The anti-Palin demonstration was held on the lawn of the largest library in Anchorage. The event, dubbed “Alaskan Women Reject Sarah Palin” by organizers, was publicized by e-mail for nearly a week prior to the governor’s visit and was planned before the Palin rally was announced. Hundreds of men and women, either protesting Palin or supporting Barack Obama, or both, lined the street in front of the Loussac Library. A few Palin supporters from the morning event staged a counterdemonstration across the street.

Alaska Native Linette Marino Hins, a Palin protester, stood in the middle of the crowd wearing her clan robe and holding signs supporting subsistence rights. Hins, who is originally from Sitka and is of Tlingit, Mexican and Japanese ancestry, said at first she supported Palin but changed her mind.

“We know that Governor Palin is not for us. It is her responsibility to protect the state, but it is not good for us. We know that it is the federal government that protects us.”

Hins is concerned about what Palin’s new popularity means to women. “What are we saying to our daughters?” she asked. “What are we saying to the females in the country? It’s all based on looks. ... It’s got to be based on intelligence, you know?”

Longtime Alaska resident Linda Warford attended the noon rally. She is concerned, as a woman and as a Native, about Palin’s bid for the vice presidency. “Sarah’s the wrong person to be where she’s at and she’s setting all of us back. We’re going backwards instead of forward.”

The pro-Palin rally and the protest seemed to be equal in size and enthusiasm. If McCain does not win the White House, Palin will return to a state that has lately been reminded of its many differences.

The new focus on Palin has resulted in some strong responses from the Alaska Native community. Heather Kendall-Miller, Athabascan and an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, recently co-authored a statement detailing Palin’s opposition to Alaska subsistence hunting and fishing rights, languages and sovereignty.

Her objections are supported by news reports from this past February when the Alaska Federation of Natives objected to Palin’s appointees to the state’s Board of Game.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, if Palin’s appointees had been confirmed, the Board of Game would have had no Native representation for the first time since the board was formed 32 years ago. One of Palin’s choices was a former president of an outdoor sportsman organization that opposes priority hunting rights for Alaska Natives living in rural areas. According to AFN co-chair Albert Kookesh, none of the three names recommended by the Native organization was interviewed. A Native representative was appointed to serve on the board after the AFN objected.