President Barack Obama met with Alaska Native leaders on Monday afternoon, shortly after landing in Anchorage for a historic three-day visit to the 49th state. Obama is used to meeting with tribal leaders, typically during the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. But this was a historic occasion — a roundtable composed entirely of representatives of Alaska Native tribes, corporations and organizations.”A number of them I’ve met with before during the tribal summits that we’ve had in Washington,” Obama told reporters after the engagement at theDena’ina Civic and Convention Center. “But this gave me a chance to focus more intensely on specifically what’s happening in Alaska.””They don’t just represent a large portion of Alaska’s population; these are communities that have been around for 10,000 years or so,” the president continued. “So it’s worth paying attention to them because they know a little bit from all that history.”
Tribal leaders raised two significant legal and policy issues during the meeting. One was about land — the Bureau of Indian Affairs has finalized a to a land-into-trust rule that includes Alaska tribes for the first time in decades.The state of Alaska, however, is pursuing an appeal in federal court in D.C. The opening brief was filed last Monday.The second major issue was voting rights. Tribes and advocates like theNative American Rights Fund are fighting to ensure that election materials are translated into Native languages. They also want to make it easier for the state to place polling locations in villages, a proposal supported by theObama administration.