Alaska Natives and Arctic Indigenous people fight for rights

Mark Trahant

On the Indian Country Today newscast for Tuesday, September 15, 2020 is guest Dalee Sambo Dorough, followed by Indian Country Today reporter Joaqlin Estus

Mark Trahant 

Indian Country Today

Indigenous people have been fighting for human rights since first contact. On Tuesday's newscast guest Dalee Sambo Dorough explains how one non-governmental organization has been representing the rights of Arctic Indigenous people. The newscast wraps up with a report on one Alaska Native woman who is addressing backlash after she came forward with sexual misconduct allegations.

Dorough is the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, a multinational organization that represents Inuit people on the international stage. This past Sunday was the 13th anniversary of the U.N. declaration on the rights of Indigenous People. Dorough called the declaration instrumental in affirming the rights of all Indigenous people across the globe.

Indian Country Today's national correspondent Joaqlin Estus explains how Jody Potts continues to fight to protect her daughter, who is still facing harassment after her mom came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Alaska's former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott years ago. Potts has a strong message for men who abuse power and she's insisting tribal leaders do more about violence against women. Here are a few of their comments:

Dalee Sambo Dorough:

"Sunday, September 13th was the 13th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly's adoption of the U.N. declaration on the rights of Indigenous people and that international human rights instrument in my view is one of the most comprehensive international instruments affirming the rights of Indigenous peoples across the globe and for Intuit and the Inuit Circumpolar Council."

"It is an important set of norms that we are working to implement in every possible fashion that we can. And obviously the prerequisite right to self-determination is one of the most crucial provisions in the U.N. declaration and we see the significance of that, especially in the changing Arctic that we're facing and our efforts to really advocate for us to have a seat at the table and exercise our right to self-determination and all the issues that are affirmed in the declaration. It's really an important document, not only for Intuit, but other Arctic Indigenous peoples and Indigenous peoples across the globe, especially when we face issues like what's going on in Indonesia now. So I can't say enough about how significant the UN declaration is."

"In the 1920s, the efforts of Deskaheh on behalf of the Iroquois or the haudenosaunee. The efforts, those are really, really significant elements of Indigenous history and certainly as you say, diplomacy, and on behalf of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, myself and other Inuits from across have been engaged, not only in the work related to the U.N. declaration but now an ever increasing set of very different political arenas ranging from the U.N. framework convention on climate change to the world of intellectual property organization to a whole host of other international forums where diplomacy is required because we're not the ones making up the rules in terms of these various different inter governmental organizations but it is crucial for us to play a direct role in all of them, especially those that have greater sense of urgency and significance to us and our communities and potentially impacting our lands, territories and resources."

"I think that what you've said is really important because as you indicated in the introduction, Inuit span national borders and some very significant ones when we think about geopolitics, that border between the United States and the Russian Federation also of course, Canada and into Greenland and the so-called Danish realm. So the issues that transcend borders are significant to us. Not only is it important for our own unity and our cultural integrity but it's important in ways that many don't think about, for example, food security, all of the Marine mammals that we harvest transcend these national borders. And obviously they're not thinking about it, they're not concerned with national borders, but in terms of ensuring our food security and the role that we play in the management of the resources, that's just one example of how significant our issues are when it comes to national borders."

"I think it's really been highlighted in the context of COVID-19 the pandemic and the difficulties that we face in terms of engagement internationally but bringing us together, it's been actually very difficult to consider how to move some of the issues forward and how to really respond to the objectives that were adopted at our July, 2018 general assembly."

"The directives that were given to myself as the chair, as well as the executive council and to the staff of the ICC have just been slowed so dramatically in terms of achieving those objectives and they all transcend national borders. So what you've pointed out is quite significant and I'm sure not only for us, of course."

"Yes, absolutely. Even here in Alaska and I live in Anchorage which is in south central Alaska that smoke that we've seen even over the summer, coming from the Russian Federation has been quite significant but it is also a result of the dramatic and adverse impacts of climate change."

"For Inuit across the Arctic, I don't think that we've even managed to identify the wide array of impacts that we're going to face. Communities are seeing coastal erosion. They're seeing increased vessel traffic, a host of other issues triggered by climate change. And it's unfortunate that at least in the Arctic there's been an uneven response to the issues that we're facing due to climate change. And of course it impacts our environmental security, our food security or cultural security. It impacts everything about us. That's kind of akin to the nature of human rights that everything is interrelated, interdependent, and indivisible. And if you toy with one issue or one area, it affects the whole. And that's what we're certainly seeing in the context of climate change and its impacts, which are more dramatic and happening much faster in the Arctic region and the Antarctic region."

"It's creating what others view as significant opportunities. The shipping states in particular, the real opportunity for increased vessel traffic through the choke point of the Bering straits and that potential impacts or the impacts not potential impacts cause they're happening here and now."

"Another significant dimension to that is the increased pressure that we're going to see just on the basis of defense and national security the issues related to defense and security are often held within the purview of member states but we're starting to see dramatic changes just on the basis of respective Arctic states. And I'm speaking specifically of the Russian Federation and the United States, the need to upgrade their defense and security. And of course they're the non-Arctic states like China, which want to put their nose into what I believe is our business. And so it just means that we have to be ever more vigilant about the rights that are affirmed in the U.N. declaration and our right to participate directly in all matters that affect us, including issues related to defense and national security."

"It's unfortunate from my point of view that we presently don't have the actual implementation of the exercise of good governance in the United States and in the Russian Federation and a host of other countries across the globe and the principles or the elements of good governance are so important in relation to Indigenous peoples and the role that they play in every issue."

Joaqlin Estus:

"So the reason this story is coming out now is Jody Potts, who is Han Gwitch'in Athabascan from Fairbanks wants to protect her daughter. And I'll tell you more about that. The other thing is she wants to get the message across that abuse of power by men is not okay. And then she also wants tribal leaders to step up and do something about violence against women."

"Jody Potts is a dog musher, a marathon runner and she worked in law enforcement. She gave the keynote address in 2017 and she talked about violence against women, which in Alaska is a huge problem. The rate of sexual violence against women here is four times the national average and it's it disproportionately affects Alaska Natives. We're only 15 percent of the population but make up almost half of the victims of violence against women."


"[Jody] came to the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, the largest gathering of Alaska Natives, again as she had in 2017, and in 2018 Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott a Tlingit Indian from Southeast Alaska invited her, asked her to come to a meeting at a hotel. She thought it was with him and somebody else. She went and he asked her to sit down and then told her he was powerfully attracted to her."

"She's a single mother of three. She heard this, she got scared and upset and immediately was thinking, this is a very powerful man. He could damage my career if you know, if I offend him but she walked out of the hotel room. So what happened next was quite dramatic. Word got out that Byron Mallott had done this and he resigned from his position as Lieutenant Governor. He was on the ticket with Governor Bill Walker, they were running for reelection. This was three weeks before the election. So Bill Walker resigned or dropped out of his reelection campaign. And he was an Independent, a Republican was elected. So what happened next, was a right leaning blogger, told a story and said that Mallott had come on to a 16 year old girl and the daughter of somebody who was having an affair with neither of which is true."

"There were enough identifiers in this story that people jumped to the conclusion that it was Jody Potts and her 16 year old daughter and kids actually came up to the daughter at school and said, what happened? You know, what did Byron Mallott do to you? And you know, of course she said nothing. And, people to this day, Jody said, two years later, people have been harassing her daughter for the political fallout from Byron Mallott's misconduct. And so that is the reason, the number one reason, the most important reason why she came forward, was to clear her daughter's name."

"We just had a situation in July and August where the attorney general for the state of Alaska, the person who's in charge of courts and justice and everything like that was caught sending more than 550 texts to a much younger woman. He's married. He talks about his Christian faith and yet the Anchorage Daily News. And I want to give a shout out to the Anchorage Daily News, really. All of this Jody Potts story. And the story about the attorney general came about as a result of just outstanding investigative journalism by the Anchorage Daily News, working with ProPublica with a team led by Kyle Hopkins. They got a Pulitzer Prize for this work. So the the governor learned about Kevin Clarkson's misbehavior but did not fire him, put him on a month, unpaid leave. And then when the story came out and the Anchorage Daily News, he let Clarkson resign, he still didn't fire him. And there's been a lot of criticism about that because of the Me Too Movement."

"The thing is, is that Alaska is a really wealthy state. We have more than $60 billion in savings and yet we can't afford to have law enforcement, we can't afford to have law enforcement in a third of the villages in rural Alaska. And that's one of the reasons why there's such a high rate of violence across the board of all kinds because there's nobody to call. And then if you have to call a state trooper and they have to fly in, it's very hard to gather evidence and prosecute these kinds of crimes when you don't have people right on the spot."

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

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