First lady Jill Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visit Bethel
Bethel was the site of a VIP visit yesterday, when the first lady of the United States of America, Dr. Jill Biden, and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, both came to town, mainly to tout a telecommunications project funded with federal infrastructure money. A part of Bethel Regional High School was secured to receive the dignitaries.
Biden and Haaland touched down in Bethel, Alaska at 5:39 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Biden exited first, waving to reporters as she stepped outside the plane onto the mobile stairway. The wind was strong and chilly, with temperatures in the high thirties. It had snowed earlier in the day.
Biden and Haaland were greeted by three Alaska Native women: Rep. Mary Peltola, First Lady of Alaska Rose Dunleavy, and Bethel Mayor Rose “Sugar” Henderson.
Biden, Haaland, Peltola, and Dunleavy got in vehicles and made their way to Bethel Regional High School. Along the way the motorcade was greeted by members of the community along the side of the road.
When the motorcade arrived at Bethel Regional High School, Henderson and other Bethel leaders spoke to the crowd. Hoffman, president and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation, spoke, as well as Dunleavy, Haaland, Peltola, and Biden.
In Biden’s speech, she referenced her last visit to Alaska, where she received her Yup’ik name.
“I had the opportunity to visit the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage, where I met Valerie Davidson, the president of the consortium and a daughter of Bethel. And through Valerie and her team, I got to know this incredible state a bit better,” Biden said.
Biden stated that she understood the connection to family, tradition, and the natural world, as well as the importance of subsistence. “And yet, I also learned about the challenges you face, and how communities in rural areas like this one often feel unseen and unappreciated for their unique contributions to our country.”
Biden touted the Biden-Harris administration’s work to invest $100 million in the region to bring an affordable, faster, more reliable internet to Alaska through a partnership of BNC and GCI extending fiber-optic cable inland from the coast of Kuskokwim Bay.
“This is one of the largest tribal broadband expansions in the country. With high-speed internet, you’ll have better access to critical health care, new educational tools, and remote job opportunities. It will change lives. It will save lives,” Biden said.
After the speech, there was a performance from Ayaprun Elitnaurvik students and Biden was given a qaspaq, a traditional overshirt. The color? Red, white, and blue, of course.