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Sarah Palin shows evidence of support for Aleuts in Alaska

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, has received criticism regarding her interactions with the Alaska Native community. But her history with the communities of King Cove and the Aleutians East Borough could be viewed as positive.

For many years, officials, tribal leaders and Aleutian residents in King Cove have requested a safe passageway to Cold Bay in exchange for a considerable amount of wildlife habitat that would be allocated to the Izembeck and Alaska wildlife refuges.

Palin supported an initiative that would greatly benefit both parties. In a letter to Sen. Ted Stevens in February 2007, she reaffirmed Alaska’s commitment to “participate in a land exchange with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the King Cove Corporation to secure road access between the Alaskan communities of King Cove and Cold Bay,” asserting that “the exchange will provide a long-needed safe, dependable and economic access for residents.”

As discussed in a previous Indian Country Today article [“Seeking a safe travel route in Alaska,” Vol. 28, Iss. 12], the Izembeck and Alaska Peninsula Refuge and Wilderness Enhancement Act (S. 1680 and H.R. 2801) proposes offering more than 61,000 acres to the federal government from the King Cove Corporation and state of Alaska in exchange for a small, 206-acre portion of land that traverses the Izembeck National Wildlife Refuge. These 206 acres would serve as the amount necessary for safe travel to and from Cold Bay.

The 61,000+ acres would be added to the Izembeck and Alaska Peninsula wildlife refuges. This would add 41,000 acres of new wilderness. Such an amount has never before been offered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will transfer 206 acres for the road, the construction of which would be funded by Alaska’s annual Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

King Cove is a community that sits dangerously between numerous volcanoes and high mountains, and high winds and heavy fog often plague its small airstrip. The situation can be critical if people are seriously injured or experience life-threatening illness. Since 1979, 11 people have died when flying in that area during questionable weather.

If this bill is ultimately passed, residents who live in King Cove (of which 80 percent are Aleutian) will have safer access to health care and common services that are not accessible during the winter months of extreme weather.

Della Trumble, president of the King Cove Corporation and an Aleutian Native who was born and raised in King Cove, has been a longtime supporter of the initiative. In a press release, she stated: “I am deeply connected to my land that you know as the Izembeck Refuge. Through my ancestors, who lived and fed themselves on this wilderness for 4,000 years, they speak through me in asking for support of H.R. 2801.

“Gov. Palin’s support for the effort has been strong and unrelenting. The tribe, the King Cove Corporation, the local communities, the city and the Borough are extremely grateful for that support.”

Due to the persistence of Palin and the residents and leaders of King Cove, the bill was a part of a package of 53 bills that passed the Senate Resource Committee markup Sept. 11.

This is viewed as a great success by Aleutian residents and tribal leaders. But the bill’s ultimate passage is seen as an uphill battle by Steve Hansen, Republican communications director on the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

“Despite what the Senate has done, the House leadership is sitting on the bill because of the opposition from national environmental groups. That is the reason why this bill was not approved much earlier.”

Although the road requested is a mere 206 acres, which would be exchanged for 61,000-plus acres, environmentalists argue that such a road would significantly harm geese and ducks and would set a pattern for other destructive practices.

Hansen refuted the assertions by saying, “It is needed by the people of King Cove. It would help them greatly. The refuge would be a prime beneficiary of 61,000 new acres of land. It would enhance its entire purpose of a wildlife refuge for just 206 acres.

“Gov. Palin wholeheartedly signed on to this legislation early in her administration last year, she approved the transfer of state land to the wildlife refuge to assist in the land transfer to help enhance the possibility of people finally coming to their senses to approve this legislation.”