Wolf Song of Alaska News


3 Alaska Native Groups Hope Ron Somerville Will Be Sent Off

Game Board:  Governor-elect Sarah Palin will ask Somerville to resign if he's still on the board after she's sworn in on December 4

Alex deMarban / Anchorage Daily News / November 14, 2006

Alaska Native groups from three different regions are pressing the outgoing governor to boot Ron Somerville off the state Board of Game.

Three organizations, including the Association of Village Council Presidents, have sent Gov. Frank Murkowski letters saying Somerville should go.

"We feel his blatant disregard for Alaska Natives is his sheer expression of racism and insensitivity," wrote AVCP president Myron Naneng Sr. in a letter dated Nov. 8. AVCP represents 58 tribal governments across Southwest Alaska.

Somerville, 69, a former state biologist who has a long history of angering Natives with outspoken views on subsistence, implied that three Natives absent from a recent Game Board meeting were off drinking beer.

Alcohol is a sensitive topic in Native villages, which have high rates of alcohol abuse and related crime and social ills.

"Alcoholism is no laughing matter in our region," Naneng wrote to the governor.

Somerville, reappointed to the board by Murkowski last year, was recently elected chairman by the rest of the panel. His term is scheduled to end in 2008.

Murkowski spokesman John Manly said the governor hasn't seen the letters yet. Murkowski returned to the office Monday after two weeks of traveling, including a weekend trip from Denver to Salt Lake City in a vintage railroad car the Alaska Railroad Corp. refurbished and plans to use as an executive car in Alaska, Manly said. Earlier, Murkowski had been on a trade trip to Asia.

"We obviously want to take it seriously, but the fact is we're trying to launch a special session (on same-sex benefits)," Manly said of the Somerville complaints.

Gov.-elect Sarah Palin said Monday that she will ask Somerville to resign if he's still on the board after she's sworn in Dec. 4.

"I'd talk to Mr. Somerville and I would hear his side, because that's a fair thing to do, but recognizing that this issue would cast a cloud over the work of the board, I'd counsel him to voluntarily step aside," she said.

The other letters to Murkowski came Monday from the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp, representing about 1,000 members primarily in Southeast, and from Ahtna Inc., the Glennallen-based Native corporation representing communities in the Copper River area.

Dewey Skan, Native Brotherhood president, wrote that Somerville's statements were "racist."

"Get rid of him ... " wrote Ken Johns, Ahtna chief executive.

In an interview earlier this month, Somerville apologized but added that he didn't think he needed to.

"If I offended somebody, I'm terribly, terribly embarrassed by that, if it was taken other than as just a way of breaking the tension, and I apologize for that. I don't think I have to, to be honest with you, but if that's what happened and someone took it wrong ..." he said at the time.

A phone call to Somerville on Monday was not immediately returned. The Game Board is meeting in Wrangell this week though Wednesday.

In the Oct. 7 Game Board meeting, Somerville called on three Natives to speak. When they didn't show up, he said, "There must have been a run on free beer or something."

To the next Native speaker who was present, he said: "Don't like beer, Donna?"

The Alaska Federation of Natives, the state's largest Native organization, passed a resolution in October asking the U.S. Department of Justice, the Alaska Human Rights Commission and the state ombudsman to investigate Somerville's remarks.

That request has not yet been made, said Nelson Angapak, AFN vice president.

Somerville has been under fire from the Native community before.

In 1991, Gov. Wally Hickel wanted to appoint Somerville commissioner of Fish and Game, touching off a statewide flurry of protests by Alaska Natives. The fish and game boards rejected the appointment, and Somerville eventually served as a deputy commissioner.

Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at ademarban@adn.com.

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