(Applause) Thank you, thank you so very much. I can’t help but reflect that almost 50 years ago we formed AFN. It was at a critical time in Alaska’s history…at that point a very brief State history. In 1966, Alaska had been a state for just seven years. The state was rapidly involved in selecting its 104 million acre statehood grant from the federal government
Prudhoe Bay had been discovered. We knew that there was huge change in the air – the federal government’s involvement with Alaska lands had been static – but was taking on a new importance nationally. And as Willie Hensley said in a conversation just yesterday, if the Alaska native community did not act then, we may have never had the opportunity to do so again: to obtain, and retain lands, in our own possession, while ceding lands to the state and to the federal government.
It’s been a journey. I remember in those days traveling to villages and hearing the passionate direction from village leadership across the state. They said, “Save the land for future generations”. I remember meeting after meeting to develop the full range of opportunities that are before us today. We all knew we were standing on the shoulders of others. Leadership that for all of the, literally hundred years before, those early days and years of the 1960’s had been saying the very same thing: “Save our lands for future generations”.
They were on a journey after first contact with western civilization that we are still on today. My journey has been a journey in many ways within AFN. Having served as president of this organization, having sat in a small conference room that I’ll never forget with Don Wright and others writing AFN’s constitution. Over the years, we were dealing with every issue, with every opportunity, that the Alaska Native community has had to address. And a number of years later we began to realize that if we, as Alaska Natives, were to achieve our place in Alaska, fully recognized, respected, and cherished, that we had to reach out to the larger community and cement those relationships ourselves. It is the first reaching out of a hand that begins a dialogue and an ultimate result of healing and the gaining of respect, and the gaining of understanding, and the gaining of recognition, and the gaining, ultimately, of coming together as Alaskans.
I have always had this belief that looking to the future of my children and my grandchildren, fifty years from now they and their children would know who they were as Alaska Native peoples, as Alaska Native individuals. But more importantly, they would be a part of a seamless, one Alaska. An Alaska in which we celebrated one another…both for our personal achievements but more importantly for being a quilt, a coming together of many different Alaskas into a powerful…and really…more strong, more resilient, more transparent state because we came together. And we will get there! We will get there.
And so, a couple of years ago, when I decided to run for office, it was not necessarily about achieving that office, it was about another step in the journey that all of us are on to make a better Alaska. And AFN has helped shape that story.
In Fairbanks at the AFN Convention in 2013, I had the opportunity at the AFN banquet to ask another candidate to come up on the stage with me and join in a song of celebration of the event as the convention just concluded. His name was Bill Walker…and that relationship forged at AFN in 2013, led to us to being able to know one another…to recognize that here were two Alaskans that cared for nothing more than making Alaska a better place for every single one of us. It didn’t matter from where you came, it didn’t matter your economic or social circumstance, but what we all wanted was a better Alaska so we could have better health. We wanted a better Alaska so that all of the services, all of the public policythat government is responsible for reaching out to us, and embracing us, as opposed to us having to find our way to a government that was becoming more and more unresponsive. And so we made common cause.
And in my personal journey, I have to say this: I’ve worked with many of Alaska’s leaders over the years. I’ve had the opportunity to serve in the State cabinet; I’ve had the opportunity to sit in the Governor’s office; I’ve had the opportunity to be on boards of very large corporations. But what defines me as a person is my service and involvement with my own community of Yakutat. To be known as the clan leader of Kwaash Ki Kwaan Raven people in Yakutat is my center. The relationship with my mother who spoke Tlingit in a wonderful and eloquent way is always in my mind. And to ultimately bring together her world and the world we are in today and the world we will live in tomorrow has been at the center of my being. And I want you to know that when I made my decision to join my campaign for governor with that of Bill Walker it was because I recognized in this man someone, who from a very different place in Alaska, but from and of Alaska, carried the same dream, the same aspiration; to bring Alaskans together, to allow us to work together, all across the state. To listen to every Alaskan, to reach out to every Alaskan, to look at every issue by asking this question; is it good for Alaska?
(Governor Bill Walker joins Lt. Governor at the podium. Applause)