FAIRBANKS—U.S. Sen. Mark Begich took the stage at the Alaska Federation Natives’ annual convention on Friday in Fairbanks to highlight the Alaska congressional delegation’s dedication to Alaska Natives as well as the remaining work on public safety, tribal justice and resource development.
Begich, a Democrat running for re-election next year, highlighted the need for an agreement for the federal government to start sharing revenue from off-shore drilling with Alaska and its communities.
“We must have revenue-sharing from the developments in the Arctic,” he said. “If there’s going to be development there, Alaska—and I mean village corporations, regional corporations, communities and tribes—needs to benefit from resources of our oceans. Not just the state of Alaska. With the all due respect to the state, when they get all the money, they don’t necessarily trickle it down.”
The Democratic senator also took an opportunity to sound off on state politics, taking a swipe at Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and calling on him and his administration to take strides to recognize tribes.
“I’m glad he’s reaching out to this arena, we need to make sure tribes in this state are recognized,” Begich said. “I have been a long supporter of making sure subsistence is in the constitution of this great state.
“It is good to make speeches, but it’s better to take action.”
Begich also took the opportunity to support Parnell’s potential Democratic opponent, Byron Mallott, a leader in the Alaska Native community who took the stage the day before.
“If Byron Mallott wins, he will be the first Native American elected to a governorship in this country,” Begich said to raucous applause from the audience.
Federal health law discussed
The federal Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid would spread coverage to more than 40,000 Alaskans, including between 12,000 and 15,000 Alaska Natives.
That is according to Valerie Davidson, the senior director of legal and inter-governmental affairs at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, who spoke at the Alaska Federation of Natives gathering Friday.
“Over 40,000 people would be enrolled in Medicaid,” she said. “It would generate $1.1 billion in federal revenues to the state of Alaska. It would create 4,000 new jobs with associated wages of $1.2 billion.”
However, Gov. Sean Parnell has so far declined to agree to the expansion, which would eventually shift some of the cost of the expansion—about 10 percent of non-Native Medicaid enrollees—to the state.
Davidson questioned the rejection, saying that the state takes money for road and airport infrastructure.
“You know why? Because that is important infrastructure to this state. Guess what? Health care is important infrastructure to this state, and Alaska Natives deserve health care just like everybody else.”
Davidson urged Parnell to consider caveats that other states, like Arizona, have built into their acceptance of the law. She said Alaska could yank the expansion if the feds change the terms of the deal.
Young: Boost wildlife production
Alaska Rep. Don Young encouraged delegates to think “outside the box” with ideas like corn-fed caribou and methanol-powered villages during his convention address Friday morning.
Young addressed AFN on his 80th birthday by video from Washington, D.C. As he sees it, the problem of decreasing hunting and fishing returns can be solved by producing more animals.
One source of inspiration is in the Lower 48, where deer flourish in agricultural lands.
“There is food for them that’s not supposedly natural,” he said. “Corn fields, soybean fields.”
Young also recommended fish and game management be handed over to Native corporations, earning applause from the audience.
On the subject of energy, Young said there’s an underused fuel that holds great potential for Alaska villages.
“It’s called methanol. It’s captured from carbon, the air that’s supposedly been bad and moving our climate and making sure that it gets warmer,” he said. “In fact, chemists have decided they can capture it (methanol) and turn it into gasoline.”