Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that he will propose legislation that recognizes tribal authority over education in their communities. He made the announcement last week at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention in Fairbanks.
Sandra Kowalski, an Inupiaq from Kotzebue and Buckland, sits on the Alaska State Board of Education. She says that this announcement is just the first step.
"The state of Alaska and tribal entities need to create a framework around the master agreement, the financial mechanism all those other component pieces that make up in total the tribal compact and that has not been developed yet. And that’s part of the next step, is to engage and provide feedback as we have these dialogues and discussions across the state to help us inform this tribal process," Kowalski said.
In this case, a compact is a formal agreement between governments that defines what role each one plays to provide services. Together, the State of Alaska and tribal governments will craft a framework that supports the kind of education that tribes want to have.
"It could involve a lot of education and culture activities with Elders in the community, and really helping our children form an identity that’s around our community that they come from that’s strong and positive," Kowalski said.
Dunleavy said that he intends to introduce legislation in the upcoming session to help craft that framework. Tiffany Zulkosky is a Democrat who represents District 38, which includes Bethel, in the Alaska House of Representatives. She said that she’s ready to work with Dunleavy, but she urged him to give tribes the resources they need.
"I think it’s awesome and a step in the right direction to talk about expanding the role of tribal compacting within the state of Alaska, but I think it’s really important that it’s not just cost-shifting and is not just putting the burden of providing state services on communities or tribes," Zulkosky said.
Tribes have expressed frustration with the Dunleavy administration over his budget proposals. One example came during his speech at AFN on Oct. 17. Protestors interrupted the governor with drumming, and dozens stood up and turned their backs to him while holding a single fist in the air. Some held “Recall Dunleavy” signs.
At the AFN convention two years ago, then-Gov. Bill Walker and his administration signed a first-of-its-kind agreement called the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact, which gave tribes more control over their children. The Walker administration prioritized consulting with tribes. When the former governor appeared at the AFN convention yesterday, the crowd greeted him with a standing ovation. But negotiations over funding the child welfare compact have stalled under the Dunleavy administration, and Zulkosky says that she hopes Dunleavy understands how important funding the compacts are.
"It’s imperative that the state provide the resources to accompany these compacts that will make tribes successful, because it will benefit Alaska and Alaska will be successful," Zulkosky said.
Meanwhile, the Alaska Department of Education is preparing the next steps. Joel Isaak, a Dena’ina Athabascan, is the tribal liaison for the Department of Education.
"The next steps are seeking the public engagement, the relationship building. Compacting in education is a new thing in Alaska, so there needs to be a lot of that relationship building quickly," Isaak said.
Isaak says that tribes should start voicing how they want the compact to look like within their community as soon as possible. For more information, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.