AFN notebook: Alaska Natives and health care, and children speak out

Julia O'Malley

FAIRBANKS -- Notebook from the Alaska Federation of Natives' convention:


Valerie Davidson, senior director of legal and intergovernmental affairs for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, urged Alaska Natives to look into their options for health insurance. Natives have access to care through the Alaska Native medical system but the cost of their health care is only half covered by federal money, she said.

Under the new health care law, Natives can apply for insurance though the insurance exchange and may qualify for subsidies, she said. Otherwise, they must apply for a lifetime exemption from the individual insurance mandate, she said. If they do not, they will have to pay a tax penalty of close to $700 per adult and $350 per child.

Davidson also made a case for expanding Medicaid in Alaska. The federal government has made money available to expand coverage but Alaska has not taken advantage of the money. Gov. Sean Parnell has not decided whether the state will accept it. Davidson said that the expansion would provide coverage to 41,000 people, many of them Native. She said it would bring $1.1 billion into the economy and add 4,000 jobs. It would require some state investment over time, she said, but the investment would be minimal compared to the gains for the state economy. All U.S. taxpayers are paying for it, and Alaska should get its share, she said. People who object to the Medicaid expansion don't seem to have a problem using federal money for projects like roads and runways, she said.

"Health care is also an important infrastructure for our state," she said.


One of the most emotional moments of Friday's conference was a presentation by children in the Tanana 4-H Club. They came onstage holding signs that described problems in their families, including "My dad's suicide," "Alcohol and drugs" and "Molestation, rape and disrespect."

The children had given their presentation at the Elders and Youth Conference and were asked to come back, their leader, Cynthia Erickson, said. One of them had given an anonymous interview to the Juneau Empire after the Elders and Youth presentation in which she talked about being molested by a family friend.

Erickson, a staffer to Alaska Sen. Donny Olson, told the audience that the days after their first presentation had been hard. There had been a negative reaction from people back home. Because of that, some of them decided to change what they said in their second presentation, she said.

A boy described losing family members to alcohol-related accidents. A girl talked about the impacts of her father's suicide on her family. Another girl described her parents' problems with alcohol. All of them began to cry as they spoke.

"I'm not here because I hate my family," said the little girl holding the sign about molestation and rape.

"We need to change. We need to evolve out of this," she said.

When they were done, the crowd rose, applauding. An elder walked up to the microphone and said she was putting a $100 bill on the stage and invited others to join. An enormous line formed that extended to the back of the room. Within 20 minutes, a large pile of cash sat on the stage.

People also lined up to hug Erickson and the children. Some were scheduled to fly back to their village that night, she said. Others, she said, weren't going back.


The Anchorage Museum was at AFN with historic photos of unidentified people from rural villages, looking for clues to help identify them. There were 440 photos organized by region on the museum table and a chair for elders.

"Often one photo identification will break open a whole collection," said Sara Piasecki, the museum's photo archivist.

People crowded around the table for most of Thursday and Friday. The museum has 500,000 historical photographs, many donated by individuals, she said. Some of them can be viewed online at


AFN delegates heard from U.S. Rep. Don Young and Sen. Mark Begich on Friday. Young's message came in the morning via a pre-recorded address. He focused on managing wildlife for abundance.

"Let's look at producing more animals," he said.

He also talked about stabilizing funding related to Alaska Native health care.

Begich gave an address in the afternoon, telling a personal story about his father, Nick Begich, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, who died in a plane crash when Begich was 10. Begich said that when he visits villages, people remember his father and tell him things he didn't know about Nick Begich's political work.

Begich touched on Medicaid expansion, asking Parnell to support it. He welcomed Parnell's remarks Thursday about expanding the jurisdiction of tribal courts. He said that he and Young were working on a change in the law that would allow traditional foods to be served at federal facilities. And he gave a nod to Byron Mallott, a candidate for governor.

"If Byron Mallott wins, he will be the first Native American elected to a governorship in this country," he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is scheduled to speak at noon Saturday.

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