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How we can make Alaska a more respectful and caring place

  • Author: Melanie Bahnke, Dawn Jackson, Elizabeth Medicine Crow, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz
  • Updated: May 7
  • Published May 7

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Dear Alaskans,

The truth is that we humans have incredible potential that we often fail to live up to. We are imperfect, but always aspire to improving ourselves as people.

A freshman legislator in the Alaska House of Representatives has demonstrated to this fallibility by pushing his hate-based agenda since taking office – against black Alaskans, Alaska Natives, and Alaskan women, so far. While some of his behavior since taking office has caused some concern, most of us can agree that he crossed a line this week when he verbally abused the women of Alaska, specifically targeting our sisters who live in village and rural Alaska.

We call out this behavior for what it is: egregious, racially disparaging, shockingly misinformed, and inflammatory statements made at the expense of Alaskan women, specifically, Alaska Native women who live in villages, just to advance his political agenda.  We won't accept hate speech from an elected official who, as a leader and representative, should be expected to set the highest standards for behavior.

First, let's clear something up right now, 'rural' and 'village' are not acceptable code words to insinuate or make otherwise indefensible, racially derogatory comments about Alaska Natives. It is unacceptable to make assumptions about an entire group of people based on your suspicions of one person's behaviors—that behavior is called racism.  We see it for what it is and it needs to stop.

Second, we want to acknowledge the good work already underway by his peers in the Alaska House to hold him accountable.  This is a great starting point and both the House Majority and Minority should be applauded for their ongoing efforts to address this.

And, third, we invite all Alaskans to be equally involved in helping to hold this freshman legislator accountable, but also in moving forward to a place we can truly utilize our diversity and cultural strengths to make Alaska what we all know it can be.

Let's discuss some solution-oriented actions. An apology, while not enough on its own, is a starting point. If made sincerely, an apology combined with a commitment to actively participate in a series of dialogues and healing convenings, along with an effort to make amends to Alaska's women, would be powerful.  First Alaskans Institute stands ready to help in this regard as it has done in the past.

Legislative censure may not be enough, unless it also comes with real consequences, but should be considered. His minority Republican caucus may decide to expel him for behavior which will not be tolerated by his colleagues. This would result in his losing coveted positions on the House Rules and Ethics Committees as well as aides which support his work. Expulsion should be demanded by any Alaskan who feels it is necessary.  He swore an oath to uphold the Alaska and U.S. Constitution, and the laws of this country, and so perhaps, he may voluntarily resign his elected position.

As our shock is wearing off, we are rolling up our sleeves to get to work on how we, as Alaskans, and as elected officials, can ensure that Alaska is a better and more respectful place. We welcome all Alaskans to take action and stand in solidarity with our women no matter where they live.  Here are some ideas on actions you can take:

While this freshman legislator has failed to live up to Alaska's highest aspirations and its roots as an Alaska Native place, he can apologize and make amends if he agrees to fully participate in these processes for as long as it takes.  But we know it is not just him who struggles with these issues, and we welcome all Alaskans to participate in a movement to end the belief that some humans matter more than others. We invite you to join us in doing the hard personal, institutional and systemic work to put away racial inequity and hatred against women.

The Alaska of the future deserves it, and our present demands it starts now.

Melanie Bahnke of Nome is president/CEO of Kawerak  Inc. Dawn Jackson is executive director of the Organized Village of Kake. Elizabeth Medicine Crow is president/CEO of First Alaskans Institute. She is originally from Kake and now works in Anchorage. Rep. Ivy Spohnholz represents East Anchorage in the Alaska Legislature. 

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