WASHINGTON - Sen. Ted Stevens won't confirm or deny reports that he will offer a "rider" or late amendment to a housing appropriations bill that could affect how Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act funds reach Alaska Native villages.
Courtney Shikora, the Alaska republican's deputy press secretary, said the senator doesn't broadcast riders before he offers them because events are too fluid in Washington at this time of year, in the last month of the 108th Congress's first session. A decision one minute could change within the hour, she explained.
One of the most common criticisms of riders, recently leveled by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in the Anchorage Daily News, is that they do not accommodate a process of public comment.
Stevens has already offered a rider that would eliminate Department of Justice direct funding for judicial systems in Alaska Native villages.
The senator's recent remarks on Alaska Native village sovereignty have provoked strident criticism from the Alaska Native community and its advocates. More than 200 Alaska Native villages are federally recognized sovereigns, and Stevens considers that too many for any federal process to deal with.
His rider on law enforcement funding favors a state organization for Alaska village law enforcement. Though Shikora would not discuss it, his proposed rider on housing takes a similar approach, consolidating funds at the regional level for more localized distribution to Alaska Native villages, according to accounts in the Anchorage Daily News. The National America Indian Housing Council did not respond to a request for comments.
In an interview broadcast on Alaska Public Radio Network, Stevens strongly implied that the higher birth rate of Alaska Natives compared with other Alaskans is another of his reasons for resisting village sovereignty. Shikora said the remarks as they later appeared in print were "taken out of context," the context of a larger discussion on Alaska Native sovereignty. She did not elaborate.
Through Shikora, Stevens denied ever using the word "breeding," usually reserved for livestock and other animals, in his remarks on the higher Alaska Native birth rate. Initial accounts of the interview bear him out. The word in its incendiary phrasing - "they're breeding faster than we are" - first appeared in an editorial in the Anchorage Daily News, apparently as an imagined attribution to an imaginary right-wing talk radio commentator "warning against the Native hordes." Other news outlets picked up the phrase. The Anchorage newspaper has published a correction. The editorial calls on Stevens to apologize for his comments on sovereignty and the higher Alaska Native birth rate, while insisting the senator is not a racist.