Indian Country Today
Alaska’s state House District 40 will have an Inupiaq representative when official results are called. The question remains, nearly two weeks after the election: Who will it be?
Both candidates are 26 years old and have a history of experience in service. Elizabeth Ferguson is running as a Democrat, and Josiah Patkotak as an independent.
According to data released by the state Monday afternoon, Patkotak leads Ferguson by 148 votes. There are an estimated 600 votes still to be counted.
The seat will become vacant in January after Rep. John Lincoln announced earlier this year he would not seek reelection. The House district is Alaska’s largest, spanning more than 146,000 square miles, and includes the North Slope and the Northwest Arctic Borough.
Ferguson, who lives in Kotzebue, has a history of serving her community through elected positions and as a volunteer firefighter. She previously served as a legislative aide to Lincoln and as a member of the Native Village of Kotzebue Tribal Council. She also was director of the international non-governmental Inuit Circumpolar Council.
“Our people lived on these lands that are now House District 40 for thousands of years,” Ferguson said in a position statement submitted to the state. “Our history reminds us of the complex social and economic systems that allowed our people to adapt to challenges.”
Ferguson supports funding education, furthering sustainable resource development and fostering tribal partnerships with the state.
Patkotak lives in Utqiagvik and has served in elected positions for the last 10 years. He currently serves as a board member of Barrow Utilities & Electric Cooperative Inc. and as an assembly member of the North Slope Borough. Previously he held board member seats with the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, a regional tribe, and the for-profit Alaska Native construction company Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation.
“As your state representative I will be guided by our Inupiaq values,” Patkotak said in a position statement submitted to the state.
Patkotak believes in local control and self-determination of resource development and subsistence management. He also supports opportunities for subsistence hunting.
In an October debate on KOTZ News, the duo discussed ballot measures, COVID-19 responses and how the state could better work with tribes.
When asked about supporting a statewide mask mandate, Ferguson responded yes, while Patkotak said no, citing a belief in respecting personal choice and boundaries.
In September, Patkotak announced he and his family tested positive for COVID-19. He is believed to be the only candidate in Alaska to publicly announce a coronavirus diagnosis, according to the Anchorage Daily News. In the debate, he said he and his family have since recovered.
Throughout their campaigns, both candidates have regularly used their social media pages to reach voters and offer messages for supporters. Neither has posted any updates since Nov. 4
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.