On Tuesday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Valerie Nurr'araaluk Davidson was sworn into office in Anchorage to replace Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who resigned earlier in the day.
The circumstances surrounding the reasons for former Lt. Gov. Mallott's surprise resignation have yet to be fully made clear. But Lt. Gov. Davidson's service as the state's second-in-command is well worth noting. She is the first Alaska Native woman to serve in statewide office in our young state's history.
Lt. Gov. Davidson is eminently qualified for her post. She has served in Gov. Bill Walker's Cabinet as Director of Health and Human Services since 2014. That post capped multiple decades of service dealing with Alaska Native health issues. She also served as chairwoman of The Foraker Group, as chairwoman of the Alaska Commission on Children and Youth, and as a member of the Alaska Health Care Commission.
The ascendance of an Alaska Native woman to the top tier of our state's government is auspicious, regardless of the circumstances that presaged it. It is also long overdue. Although it took 59 years after statehood for an Alaska Native woman to hold the lieutenant governor's office, the legacy of strong Alaska Native women making strides on Alaska's political scene has existed for much longer. It stretches from Elizabeth Peratrovich's fight for Alaska Native civil rights, leading to the passage of the territorial Anti-Discrimination Act, to Ahtna elder Katie John's historic lawsuit establishing subsistence hunting and fishing privileges, to Tara Sweeney's appointment as federal Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, and now to Lt. Gov. Davidson.
Lt. Gov. Davidson has celebrated her heritage, including her Yupik name — Nurr'araaluk — on her business cards, and she has promoted representation and inclusivity for Alaska's indigenous people. Her efforts and example will no doubt encourage others to come forward and help lead our state.
The story of Alaska Native women and their accomplishments on the statewide stage is just beginning, but one more chapter was added Tuesday. It will not — and should not — take another 59 years for the next step forward.
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