Amanda Frank lives in Fairbanks. You can submit letters, op-eds and cartoons for consideration to The Midnight Sun editor, Matt Buxton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Amanda Frank
At the Alaska Federation of Natives gubernatorial debate, Mike Dunleavy began by introducing his wife who is from Noorvik. This is normal, politicians always introduce their families, it makes them relatable and helps them connect with voters. What soon became apparent while listening to Dunleavy though, was he talked about his wife when asked about policy questions that had nothing to do with his family. It’s great to have a supportive spouse, it’s another thing to use that spouse as an example of your support of the Alaska Native community—this is not a policy argument.
This is not a new trend in Alaska. We’ve seen it with Congressmen Young whose late first wife was from Fort Yukon. We’ve seen it with Senator Sullivan whose wife has family from Rampart and frequently talks about his experiences at fish camp. This election cycle, we see it with gubernatorial candidate Dunleavy.
Yet, what I fail to see from these men is any advocacy on behalf of Alaska Natives.
Alaska Native women face the highest rates of sexual violence in the country. Senator Sullivan voted in favor of Kavanaugh, despite the numerous constituents who contacted his office to ask him vote against Kavanaugh’s appointment, amidst credible claims of sexual assault. Congressman Young supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which places an important food source in danger and is in opposition with the tribal members he claims to have close ties to in Fort Yukon. All of these men support President Trump who is open about sexually assaulting women, and support policies within Trump’s administration that place our indigenous ways of danger.
Sullivan, Young, and Dunleavy love to point out their native wives when it benefits them politically. I have rarely, if ever, seen any of them in a community unless it was for some political purpose. Senator Sullivan’s wife is from the Interior, yet, I have never seen them at a potlatch, a fundraiser, a funeral or gathering in Fairbanks. In the interior, our communities are close. We celebrate, we organize, we grieve and we gather together for various reasons. Alaska Native culture is not a monolith, there is no right way to be native. We are just as nuanced as any other culture or community and I am not asserting we have to be a certain way to fit in. What I fail to see, is any participation in our community despite using their marriage to an Alaska Native as political talking point. These politicians do not deserve recognition or praise for marrying a native woman.
Being married to a native person is fine, but it does not mean that you are an ally or advocate for Native people. It is insulting to imply that marrying into the native community somehow gives you any credibility. What makes a good ally and advocate is someone who partners with us with good ideas to help us address the issues in our communities. We want real policy discussions from our leaders, not hyperbole about how you went to fish camp.
I have never seen Dunleavy take any action to advocate or best serve the Native community. On the contrary, he suggested cutting funds to rural schools in favor of regional boarding schools, ignoring the generations of trauma that boarding schools have caused Native people. He has stood at rallies to shut down planned parenthood and advocated to keep sexual education out of schools, in a state where sexually transmitted diseases are some of the highest in the country. In a recent article from NPR, it states that Dunleavy is “the only Alaska state senator of a majority party who in the past 30 years never was the primary sponsor of a law.” The Alaska Outdoor council has endorsed Dunleavy, which is the same organization that actively advocates against subsistence rights. So not only is he an ineffective leader, he associates with groups that would set Native people back.
Dunleavy does not care about the Alaska Native community that he claims to be married into. He is not a friend of our community and he does not have the skills and knowledge to best serve Alaska. To all the candidates running statewide or local, stop using Alaska Native women as your political pawns and talking points. Instead give us real policy arguments about how you will support our community. As Alaskan citizens and voters, we demand this and expect it.