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2010 Alaska Federation of Natives Speech

October 21, 2010

By The Honorable Sean Parnell
Governor of Alaska

 

Good morning. I’m deeply honored to speak with you today. Out of respect for this assembly, I’ve asked my Cabinet and senior staff members to be here today. Would you all please stand? We’re pleased to be here to meet with you and to make Alaska government more accessible to Alaskans.

During this convention, we honor the past, engage the present, and cast visions of hope for the future. As we do so, it is right for us to honor a man who spent his life serving Alaskans and paving roads of opportunity.

Please join me in a moment of silence as we honor and remember Senator Ted Stevens.

Thank you. Senator Stevens set a high standard for Alaskans – putting others first and fighting for Alaska. His legacy of service benefits us today and will benefit future generations. In Ted’s memory, I named November 18 “Ted Stevens’ Day” – as that was the senator’s birthday.

Most of us have a story – or many stories – about him and we want to preserve his legacy for future generations. If you have a Ted Stevens story that demonstrates his character, his humor, or his service, I invite you to write it down and share it with the world. You can submit it to a commemorative website. This will be a temporary portal through which we can preserve the legacy of Ted Stevens for future generations. We will share your stories with Senator Stevens’ archive collection.

Today, I’m so pleased to be with you – this impressive cross-section of Alaska’s family. And I’m happy to have part of my immediate family here with me, my wife, Sandy – Sandy, would you please stand? We’ve been married 23 years, and together have raised two daughters, who are 18 and 16.

In Alaska homes, a new discussion is starting to take shape around educational opportunity. Let me read part of a letter that appeared in a local newspaper to show you what I mean. The writer said,

“…imagine our surprise the other night, when our son said he wanted to go to summer school to earn an extra math credit, to qualify for the governor's scholarship program…

“When Governor Parnell first floated the proposal, we said as parents, "You know, with a little more effort, you could easily bring your grades up and get this scholarship."

“Since that discussion, our son's grades have begun to improve. A coincidence, perhaps. But his interest in earning four math credits made us realize that the prospect of a scholarship is indeed a carrot…”

If our young people are already talking about this opportunity, we know they can be inspired to stay in school and earn these scholarships.

The Alaska Performance Scholarships are new and will be first offered to Alaska’s high school graduating class of 2011. Alaska Performance Scholarships are available to every student in Alaska. No one is left out.

Every Alaskan high school student can push themselves a little harder, take a few more classes than graduation minimums, and earn performance scholarships ranging from about $2,300 to $4,700. If they can’t take more courses in school, they can do so online. And we will ensure more classes are available in rural Alaska.

The Alaska Performance Scholarship can be used in-state at Alaska certified job training programs and Alaska universities.

While making more courses available to rural students is important, equally so is making sure they have a safe and warm environment in which to learn. Early this spring, I traveled to Alakanuk, Kipnuk and Napaskiak, three schools high on a list of rural schools in need of repair or new construction.

Then, I joined with legislators in putting rural school construction needs on the same level for funding as schools in other areas of Alaska. Together, we established a formula for rural school construction that works together with funding for other areas of the state.

Turning now to a more difficult topic… Too many of our young people fail to recognize their own value and reasons for living. Our families deal with the grief and despair after loved ones take their own lives. Alaskans grieve with you, pray for you, and seek answers.

On a State level, we’ve added funding, increased access to counseling, and increased suicide prevention training at every level for local emergency response efforts.

These increases in suicide prevention are necessary and beneficial, but they are not the sole fix to a very difficult problem. While there are no easy answers, I believe there are a few simple truths.

The first is this: EVERY Alaskan has value, promise, and potential. Hear me on this: Each person in this room has immeasurable value.

Second, the despair that leads one to take his or her own life – that’s a deep heart issue – not one that can be easily or simply solved through programs and funding.

Indeed, despair and hopelessness thrive in secret; community caring and accountability flush them out into the open. Each one of us has the ability to extend love and healing more effectively than any program can.

Now, I have been impressed by village and tribal leadership stepping forward to lead communities toward healing through openly addressing these issues.

For example, in Bethel, I joined a hearing convened by Senator Murkowski to hear from affected family members and communities. We heard from those who attempted suicide as well as those left behind. As we listened, we heard and better understood what brought them to that place. And we committed to partnering with them to foster hope and opportunity and root out despair.

A few days later, I encountered an amazing thing. At Kotzebue High School, I was warmly greeted by about 20 youth leaders. They quickly engaged me in discussion about how they were helping out at school. They said they had been trained since sixth grade to identify and deal with bullying, suicide prevention, and other issues.

I am so grateful for and proud of these youth leaders. Clearly, community members, school leaders, and family members have invested significant time in mentoring and training them on how to look out for others beyond themselves. That kind of training, among our young people, will reduce the incidence of suicide, alcohol, and substance abuse.

Finally, to truly combat despair, we must offer real hope, real opportunities. We must affirm our people’s heritage, purpose and future. And to do that, we have to come together.

No longer can we endure discrimination or any division based on race. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: EVERY Alaskan is entitled to respect and dignity. We’re made of the same stuff, crafted by the same Maker… ALL created equal, ALL come from beautiful and diverse cultures.

Last year, I spoke with you about every Alaskan’s right to safety. I introduced a comprehensive initiative addressing the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault through increasing law enforcement; providing more funding for shelter and survivor services; and through funding primary prevention and education.

This year’s budget included funds to hire 15 new Village Public Safety Officers. I will continue that commitment until every village that wants a VPSO has one.

Consider this: in 2008, Alaska had 47 filled VPSO positions. In 2011 – in the space of just three years – we will have 101 filled VPSO positions.

We’re also addressing VPSO housing. My administration partnered with Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to secure a one million dollar grant for VPSO housing in rural Alaska. So far, three units are scheduled to be built: one in Akiak, one in Igiugig, and one in Sleetmute.

Without public safety, our villages cannot survive. And, today, more people are safer in rural Alaska than when I last spoke here.

Meaningful work leads to village survival. And job training opportunities provide the path to good jobs. For instance, the Pipeline Training Center in Fairbanks, which will graduate its third class in November, is helping meet the demand for pipeline workers.

The Department of Labor is expanding the Alaska Construction Academy. The Department of Natural Resources is expanding its first-of-its-kind Core Driller program for jobs in mining. Labor and DNR are partnering to train Alaskans in Tok for the next firefighting season.

The state has also taken positive steps for rural Alaskans dependent on our fisheries. We provided economically feasible ways to buy more efficient engines for family fishing vessels to save fuel costs. We’ve extended tax incentives for processors who invest in the economic value of Alaska’s fisheries.

For fishermen on the Yukon struggling with low returns, we’ve funded sonar improvements and other research to ensure accurate fish population estimates; and we’ve requested fishery disaster relief, which means Yukon fishermen will receive direct payments and funding for net replacement.

Where resource development is concerned, making Alaska more competitive is one of my top priorities. And my commitment to you remains the same: I will never trade one resource for another. Any decision to approve or deny requests to explore or develop Alaska’s resources should be based on sound, current science and local consultation.

I realize how critical affordable energy and consistent fuel access is for rural Alaska. We are in our second year of Fuel Watch, and we’ve connected with all 194 rural Alaska communities without winter road access to fuel deliveries. We were able to assist a number of communities, such as the city of Noorvik, in finishing their loan requests, and assuring funding was approved and fuel received.

As a result, at least 95 percent of communities off the road system have either received their winter fuel supply, or are on a regular delivery schedule. And we’re working to make that number 100 percent.

We’re working to get community revenue sharing checks and other program payments to assist in purchasing fuel. What’s more, the 2010 PFD checks went out to ALL Alaskans on October 7 – the first time checks have been mailed as early as direct deposits. This, too, helps Alaskans prepare for the cold winter months.

Look back with me at one more promise I made at last year’s AFN convention. Last year, I pledged to you that my administration would support and empower Alaskans who speak out against the evils of domestic violence and sexual assault.

On March 31 of this year, we partnered with you on Choose Respect events held in 18 communities across the state. Many of you here participated in your community’s event, and I thank you for being bold and taking a stand for what is right.

From Barrow to Unalaska, we came together. Alaska Native and community leaders, non-profits, law enforcement, state, local, and federal officials, leaders from the business community, faith community, and educators – ALL united against abuse in our homes and communities.

I spoke with a mom of two sons, ages 11 and 12. She said her children saw the Choose Respect campaign and wanted to know more. The mom said that we “gave permission” for her to talk about a difficult subject – about why she had to leave their father after he abused her. She thanked us for bringing the issue into the light so she could talk about it with her boys – how they could choose respect; choose authentic manhood; and choose to be a different kind of father and husband when they have their own families.

When we speak out, we impart courage – we give permission for moms like the one I described to empower their children to set a different course. We cannot passively stay silent – for silence kills the spirit; it steals the very life and hope of our people.

Today, I challenge you to participate in or host a 2011 Choose Respect event in your community. Last year, we had 18 communities involved: This year, I challenge 40 Alaska communities to host Choose Respect events on a single day in the spring of 2011. We can break the epidemic, if we work together.

At this time, I’d like to introduce two important members of my administration, both key leaders in next year’s Choose Respect campaign. The first is known by many of you: John Moller, my Rural Affairs Advisor. The second is Katie TePas, who joined my office in June as Alaska’s first Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. John and Katie, will you please stand?

I encourage you to get to know these members of my team, and to stop by our booth for more information on how to get involved in Choose Respect 2011.

Before I close, I want to do something a little different. I want all the men in the room to stand up – I’m asking you to get to your feet, and stand with me. Look around you – because this is OUR time.

As men, we were made to be strong, made to use our strength for greatness, to protect and defend our families and our communities.

There is a battle going on in Alaska today – a war waged against our families, marriages, and cultures.

Will YOU answer the battle cry? Will YOU rise up and be a warrior for the survival and future of our people and communities? Men – will YOU stand together with me and Choose Respect?

Thank you, you can be seated. The effort to end domestic violence and sexual assault is not about one convention, or one day, or series of events. It is a continuous effort, and we will not stop until we end the epidemic and every Alaska home is safe.

Ensuring Alaska’s students have greater educational opportunity; providing job training opportunities and meaningful jobs; providing safe homes and communities for Alaskans, and committing to Choose Respect – ALL lead to village survival.

Many here are familiar with the term “Qungasvik”… Yupik for “communal house” or “communal gathering.” It is a place and time to come together to share wisdom, cultural traditions and values, face challenges, pray, and share the warmth of community and friendship.

My hope is that this convention will be for you a qungasvik. As you discuss the future of our state and people, as you tackle issues facing Alaska’s villages and indigenous cultures and search for ways to survive and thrive – I urge you to take these discussions back home with you. Include your friends and families, and challenge them to help initiate positive change. When we gather together into the qungasvik, we can better move forward as a people.

2010 Shirley Demientieff Award

It is my pleasure to conclude with a tradition we started three years ago – announcing this year’s Shirley Demientieff Award winner, an organization which shares Shirley’s passion for and my administration’s focus on protecting and promoting respect for Alaska Native women and children.

Founded in the early 80’s, this organization takes on the social issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. They are, “Calling out the Alaska Native men, the values of the Warriors in the days of old, where they would fight to the death to save their children, wives, families and village!” They have worked and led aggressively to understand and meet the needs of the Alaska Native Community, to rid homes of pain and fear, and to free survivors from shame and isolation.

Thanks to them and their parent organization – Southcentral Foundation – many Alaskan communities are once again growing and thriving. Please join me in honoring the 2010 Shirley Demientieff award recipient… the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative! Accepting the award are Katherine Gottlieb and Max Dolchok.

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