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Obama Hosts Alaska Native Roundtable Upon Visit to Anchorage

President Barack Obama hosted a roundtable discussion with members of his administration and Alaska tribal leaders.
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President Barack Obama hosted a roundtable discussion with members of his administration and Alaska tribal leaders at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska on Monday where he highlighted one of the biggest things brought to his attention “was the need for us to work more intensively and more collaboratively with communities.”

The roundtable discussion was held prior to the President speaking at the Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER) Conference.

In attendance for the roundtable were Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; Alaska Governor Bill Walker; Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot; Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Melanie Bahnke, president and CEO of Kawerak; Marvin Adams, 5th vice president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes; Ana Hoffman, president and CEO of Bethel Native Corporation; Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents; Eugene Asicksik, Mayor of Shaktoolik, Alaska and VP of Bering Straits Native Corporation; AlexAnna Salmon, president of Iguigig 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; and Carol Gore, president/CEO of the Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

Below are the President’s remarks during the roundtable:

“Well, I am thrilled to be in Alaska, and I look forward to spending the next few days with everyday Alaskans, telling me what's going on in their lives and what's going on in this remarkable state. I want to thank our governor, Governor Walker, Lt. Governor Mallot, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Secretary Sally Jewell for joining me.

“But the main purpose of this meeting is to give me an opportunity to interact and listen to some of the Alaska Native tribe leaders. A number of them I've met before at the tribal summit that we had in Washington, but this gave me a chance to focus more intensely on, specifically, what's happening in Alaska. And they don't just represent a large portion of Alaska's population, but these are communities that have been around for ten thousand years or so, so it's worth paying attention to them, because they know a little bit from all that history.

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“Since I took office I've been committed to sustaining a government-to-government relationship between the United States and our tribal nations. We host tribal leaders in Washington every year. I went to Indian country at Standing Rock Reservation – Choctaw Nation. This week I'm going to be visiting two more tribal communities here in Alaska, in Dillingham and Kotzebue. And in fact, by the end of my time in office, I'll have visited more tribal communities than any previous sitting president. And I feel pretty good about that. In case anybody's keeping track.

“One of the things that we've been focused on is how can we work together and improve communication, consultation, collaboration and participation and dealing with the issues that face Native communities. We've made progress so far in providing support to tribal youth, expanding access to health care and disaster assistance, and making sure that we're addressing squarely, the profound violence against native women.

“Announcements today – obviously the big one, returning the most magnificent peak in our nation to its original name, Mount Denali, something that the people of Alaska had been working on and petitioning consistently since 1970. And I'm glad that we were able to respond to that. My administration is also taking new action to make sure that Alaska Natives have direct input into the management of Chinook salmon stocks – something that has been of great concern here.

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“One of the biggest things that I heard during this discussion was the need for us to work more intensively and more collaboratively with communities, particularly in rural areas that are burdened by crippling energy costs. That are obviously continually concerned about hunting and fishing rights and about their ability to sustain their way of life in the face of profound climate change that's taking place – twice as fast here in Alaska than it is in the lower 48. And so in addition to initiatives around renewable energy and how we can be more creative in helping local communities deal with high energy costs and bringing them down, housing that is more energy efficient and can save people money, we are also going to be paying attention to how we can work together in tandem to the wisdom and knowledge of tribal communities in managing and conserving land in the face of what is a profound global challenge.

“Many of the issues were raised here – everything from voting rights to land trusts – are issues that my agencies will be following up with on an ongoing basis and we've already had a lot of visits from various cabinet secretaries and deputy secretaries working with the people around this table. That's going to continue as long as I am president. And hopefully we will have set a new pattern and a new set of relationships that will extend well beyond my own presidency, because when it comes to the First Americans, how we interact with these communities says a lot about who we are as a country. And I think the people of Alaska understand that as well as anybody.

“So, again, I want to thank all the leadership here for everything that they’ve done in working with us. I want to thank you for all the great ideas that you offered. And I want to thank the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Senator for their participation as well. They obviously feel very deeply about these issues in their home state as well.”