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Rep. Millett: Delaying Alaska Native language bill for AFN conference not political timing

As one of the co-prime sponsors to House Bill 216, the Alaska Native languages bill, I wish to express my respectful objection to Alaska Dispatch columnist Dermot Cole's Sept. 16 opinion piece. I am a legislator, but more importantly, an Alaska Native. My family has loved ones who were subjected to oppressive measures to stamp out their cultural identities. Joining other Alaska Native legislators, we spoke in committees, advocating fiercely to overturn the historic wrong of the persecution of our Native languages. On the final day of session, after months of hard work and powerful testimony from Alaska Natives throughout Alaska, I stood proudly with Alaska Natives from across our vast state as the Alaska State Legislature took a historic vote -- a vote that honors the first peoples of our land.

Mr. Cole implies that the enactment of House Bill 216 was delayed for purely political reasons. This is simply not true. I and others who sponsored this bill expressed our view to the governor's office that the Alaska Federation of Natives convention was the optimal time for the bill signing. The governor's office had come to the same conclusion. To say that the timing is somehow a matter of "political opportunity" is not only cynical but insinuates a complicity in colluding to cheapen this moment, which is objectionable and wrong.

This is a joyous occasion; Alaska is only the second state in the nation to pass such a law. Countless Alaska Natives had a role in this accomplishment. We strongly supported having this historic legislation signed into law at a venue where as many Alaskan First Peoples, and Alaskans, could be together to celebrate. The Alaska Federation of Natives' annual convention, given the size of attendance and its importance, is the most natural venue for this ceremony.

The convention is fittingly held after our boats from the fishing season have been hauled out and our weapons from the summer and fall hunts have been put away, with the meats cleaned, the berries picked, the fish jarred and packaged. The convention is an opportunity for us to celebrate all our harvests, including those of our collective legislative efforts.

This is an election year, and some will perceive this event as "electioneering." However, this is something far more important. Rather than having our languages honored from a desk in an office among a select few in Juneau, we culminate this story in our home, in our gathering among as many Alaskans as possible. Our languages survive when we take ownership of them, and that is happening all over Alaska in amazing ways. This is another example of taking ownership of our words and our culture.

I respectfully ask all Alaskans to pause for a moment and reflect on the many Alaskans, from all ethnic and political backgrounds, from all walks of life, who came together in this tremendous movement. Let us please not mar what is a historic moment because of who is running for office. The preservation of our languages, our cultures, is far greater than that.

Charisse Millett serves in the Alaska House of Representatives as a Republican representing District 24, which covers eastern portions of South Anchorage and Hillside.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com.

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