As rural communities begin to shake off the remnants of a record-breaking winter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development – along with several sister agencies – held the first of several Alaska Tribal Collaboration meetings in Bethel on Friday, April 13.
In a state home to nearly half of our nation’s federally-recognized tribes, President Obama’s mandate for federal agencies to “engage in regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration” with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes carries with it particular importance.
Fifteen tribal representatives and a handful of their non-profit partners from throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, gathered at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center for a day-long session with representatives from Rural Development; Natural Resource Conservation Service; Farm Service Agency; Housing & Urban Development; Small Business Administration, and the Denali Commission.
Friday’s conversation focused on housing; utilities; food production; land management and economic and community development. The needs, many said, are great and the opportunities to address them at times feel out of reach.
Designed to foster a two-way conversation, the collaboration meetings seek to strengthen the government-to-government relationship between Alaska’s first people and agencies intended to deliver federal programs in ultra-remote villages. And who better to help enhance program delivery than Alaska Native communities who have thrived for 10,000 years?
“Our way of life will always be here,” Moses K. Peter of Tuluksak Native Community stated. “We are not going to move away from our villages. We will never do that. It’s our birthplace. We have the right to live in our village, no matter how many hardships we may have.”
It was evident during this first meeting that discovering long-lasting, sustainable solutions to rural Alaska’s most unique challenges is on the horizon and collaboration is the first step in the right direction.
A meeting for Bering Straits tribes will be held Friday, April 27, at Old Saint Joe’s in Nome; and for Southern Southeast tribes Friday, May 4, at the Ketchikan Indian Community in Ketchikan. A website has been created to provide on-going information about this project at: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/AKTribalBlog.html