Alaska Gov. Bill Walker issued an official apology to Native Americans on behalf of the state at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention held in Anchorage on Thursday, per KTVA 11 News:
“As the 11th governor of the state of Alaska, I apologize to you, Alaska’s first people, for the wrongs that you have endured for generations. For being forced into boarding schools, I apologize. For being forced to abandon your native language and adopt a foreign one, I apologize. For erasing your history, I apologize. For the generational and historical trauma you have suffered, I apologize. This apology is long overdue. It is but one step in hundreds more to go on this journey towards truth, reconciliation and healing.”
The apology was the first of its kind from a sitting Alaskan governor. It might top the list as far as these things go, though that’s not saying much.
The United States as a nation offered its apology to Native Americans back in 2009. But that apology was tucked away on page 45 of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act and wasn’t highlighted by President Barack Obama at the time. The apology was initially supposed to be a standalone bill, started in the Senate by Republican Sam Brownback. Brownback’s apology was specific in singling out the government’s responsibility, citing “past ill-conceived policies by the U.S. government,” whereas the final version found in the appropriations legislation came “on behalf of all people of the United States.”
Other state and local governments have offered official apologies in the past five years for centuries-old massacres and injustices committed against tribal nations—in March 2014, the mayor of Eureka, CA, apologized to the Wiyot Tribe for the Indian Island Massacre; later that year, in December, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper offered an apology on behalf of the state government for the Sand Creek Massacre.
Thursday night’s apology was another step by the Walker administration to mend the relationship between the state government and the Alaskan Indigenous population. Under Walker, the state has worked to provide tribal citizens with more autonomy and financial resources to provide and administer health and educational services for themselves. Unfortunately, the apology wasn’t the first thing on many people’s minds heading into the evening, thanks to a recent, suspiciously vague controversy that blew apart Walker’s administration.
On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Bryon Mallott, a Democrat, suddenly resigned, with Walker’s staff citing only “inappropriate comments” that Mallott made. In Mallott’s place, Walker tapped Valerie Davidson, an Alaskan Native who was, until last night, the head of the state’s Department of Health and Social Services. Upon Davidson’s appointment to the lieutenant governor’s chair, she became the first Native woman to hold statewide office in Alaska history. The Yup’ik tribal member received a standing ovation as she took the stage to deliver the keynote address:
Then Davidson wrapped her speech with a seal call:
Meanwhile, Mallott’s resignation still remains a mystery, at least publicly. Based off Walker’s comments when addressing the resignation, the move appeared to be in response to a conversation Mallott had with or about a woman, per KTVA 11:
“As lieutenant governor, his wisdom and values have shaped my thinking,” he said. “What we do after the fall is what defines who we are. Byron did the right thing owned up to his mistake and he resigned.”
Walker then redirected his speech away from Mallott.“To all the women who have come forward abut mistreatment in their life, thank you,” he said. “You are brave; you deserve respect; you deserve to be believed we are listening. We will only fully heal when every woman in Alaska is treated with respect.”
“I want you to know that Alaskans deserve the highest standard of conduct by their elected officials,” she said. “Respect for women and the dignity of all Alaska is our responsibility. These last few days have been tough for all of us, but today is a new day.”
If you know anything about the events surrounding Mallott’s sudden resignation—more plainly, if you know what the hell he said that was so awful he had to resign three weeks before midterms—drop us a line.