Alaska Natives Commission
About the Commission
The Alaska Natives Commission (the joint Federal-State Commission on Policies and Programs Affecting Alaska Natives) was created by Congress in 1990 at the urging of Alaska Native groups. The Commission's undertaking was jointly funded by the federal government and the State of Alaska.
The idea of creating a high profile, authoritative commission emerged from the Alaska Federation of Natives' report on the status of Alaska Natives, A Call to Action, published in 1989. AFN's report was precipitated, in large part, during a visit to Alaska Native villages the previous year by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs.
When Congress created the Commission, it was directed to conduct a comprehensive study of the social and economic status of Alaska Natives and the effectiveness. of the policies and programs of the United States and of the State of Alaska that affect Alaska Natives.
The Commission also was directed to conduct public hearings and to recommend specific actions to Congress and the State of Alaska that might help assure that Alaska Natives have life opportunities comparable to other Americans. The Commission was to accomplish its work while respecting Natives' unique traditions, cultures, and special status as Alaska Natives.
In addition, the Commission was to address the needs of Alaska Natives for self-determination, economic self-sufficiency, improved levels of educational achievement, improved health status, and reduced incidence of social problems.
The first meeting of the Commission was held in February 1992. Within months, staff had been hired and five task forces had been named to gather information on economics, education, governance, health, social and cultural issues.
Mary Jane Fate of Fairbanks and Perry R. Eaton of Anchorage were named co-chairs of the Commission. Other Commission members included Johne Binkley of Fairbanks, Edgar Paul Boyko of Anchorage, Father Norman Elliott of Anchorage, Beverly Masek of Willow, Martin B. Moore of Emmonak, Frank Pagano of Anchorage, John W. Schaeffer, Jr., of Kotzebue, Father James A. Sebesta of St. Mary's, Walter Soboleff of Tenakee Springs, Morris Thompson of Fairbanks, and Sam Towarak of Unalakleet. Francis E. Hamilton of Ketchikan served on the Commission until her death September 28, 1992.
Nine regional hearings were held by the Commission, including: Fairbanks, Bethel, Nome, and Klawock in 1992; and Barrow, Dillingham, Kodiak, Kotzebue, and Copper Center in 1993. In addition, statewide hearings were held during the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention October 14-17, 1992, and October 14, 1993.
Task forces held special regional hearings, and among them were: Social/Cultural Task Force hearings in Ft. Yukon; Health Task Force hearings in Emmonak, Alakanuk, and Hooper Bay; three separate Governance Task Force hearings in Anchorage as well as criminal justice hearings at the Hiland Mountain/Meadow Creek Correctional Center in Eagle River and the Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai; and Education Task Force hearings in Sitka and Angoon, including a special session at Mt. Edgecumbe to gather testimony from students.
In all, about 500 Alaskans from 82 cities and villages provided oral testimony to the Commission during the 16 months over which hearings were held. Several hundred additional people submitted written testimony for the Public Record.
The Final Report
The result of the Commission's two-year study is a three-volume Final Report designed as a blueprint for change regarding the way in which the federal and state governments deal with Alaska Native issues. Though the report is not all-inclusive nor entirely exhaustive, it does within the pages of the three volumes touch specifically on those issues in contemporary Alaska Native life that Alaska Natives, themselves, have identified as being among the most important.
The Commission also published the 260-page Federal and State Catalog of Programs Affecting Alaska Natives, which contains information about the multitude of governmental services available to Alaska Natives and Alaska Native tribes. The catalog is available at the Library of Congress, the National Archives in Anchorage, the Alaska State Library (Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau), and various public and university libraries throughout the state. Also available at these same repositories is the body, in verbatim transcript form, of public testimony gathered by the Commission (seven volumes total).