Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed House Bill 123 into law Thursday, marking the first time Alaska’s state government has formally recognized the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes. The bill doesn’t impact the legal status of Alaska tribes, but serves as the first formal recognition of Alaska’s Indigenous people.
Also signed into law Thursday was a bill sponsored by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, under which tribes can apply to establish a State-Tribal compact school.
The signings were part of a four-hour-long lineup of speakers at the Thursday event, which was hosted by the Alaska Federation of Natives at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. AFN President Julie Kitka called the legislation’s “formal recognition” provided by the legislation a “historic step” for a successful relationship with the state government.
“The cultural survival of our Indigenous people is dependent on our ability to maintain our values, practice our traditions, and maintain freedom to live our lives well with dignity and respect for each other,” Kitka said in a Thursday press release.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy called the bill “a significant milestone” for Alaska and called the lack of formal tribal recognition until now “an oversight in history.”
“I’m glad this is being rectified today,” Dunleavy said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, called the measure “long overdue” in a statement provided by the governor’s office.
“I hope today is looked back on as the beginning of a new chapter of collaboration and partnership between the State and Alaska’s Tribes,” Zulkosky, who is Yup’ik, said in a Thursday release from the governor’s office.
First Lady Rose Dunleavy, who is Iñupiaq and from Noorvik, called Thursday’s signing “important.”
“Today we are recognizing our whole person as Natives,” the first lady said. “We’re recognizing the important role that tribes of Alaska play in our past, our present and our future. Our history and culture is also Alaska’s history and culture.”
Thursday’s full event can be streamed on the Alaska Federation of Natives Facebook page.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.