I am as appalled as other Alaskans by Ron Somerville's comments at the Oct. 7 State of Alaska Board of Game meeting ("Somerville apologizes for offending remarks," Nov. 2) stating that Alaska Natives were missing from the meeting because "there must have been a run on free beer or something."
A Nov. 14 Letter to the Editor in the Anchorage Daily News proclaimed that Somerville "may have some personal political beliefs, but they haven't overridden his stewardship of our wildlife" and that his remarks were "meant in jest and should be taken as such."
We can never get into other people's heads or hearts to know without question what their true intensions were, we can only listen to their words. Each of us is prone to saying something we regret at least once in a while. I accept that making mistakes is part of being human. But generally when people are sincerely sorry for what they have done or said, then they provide a sincere apology.
Somerville apologized by saying "I don't think I have to, to be honest with you, but if that's what happened and someone took it wrong'' ... An apology is our one true chance to right a wrong, to clarify what we really meant if we said something that offended someone. But Somerville did not provide a sincere apology. He gave a weak excuse.
In one respect, Somerville's poor apology was far worse than his original remarks, because he had time to think before making his apology. When he was apologizing, he was not trying to break the tension of a difficult meeting with a room full of people. He knew that many in the Native community were upset about his remarks since the day of the meeting. He had several days to think about what he had said and to explain to Alaska Natives and Alaskans that he was sorry for his actions.
When questioned about his reaction to the uproar in the Native community, Somerville stated that Natives are "really just trying to divert attention" from the Game Board's efforts to redefine rules for the Nelchina subsistence hunts. Actually Mr. Somerville, the Native community is really just upset that someone in a position appointed by the governor is using public meetings to perpetuate close-minded stereotypes of Alaska Natives.
Those entrusted to hold power in a meeting should use their power to ensure that everyone's voice is heard and to encourage open and objective decision making. Public meetings should not be used as a forum to share disrespectful remarks about specific groups of people.
Intended or not, Somerville changed the dynamics of the public meeting with his remarks. It was no longer a safe environment for Alaska Natives to voice their opinions. Similarly, his "jokes" likely affected other board members and the audiences' perceptions of the value of the public testimony being shared by Alaska Natives.
Appointees to state of Alaska boards and commissions must be held to a high standard. The public expects them to provide objective and insightful oversight of Alaska's resources in a respectful, ethical and non-biased manner. We expect more, as we should, of elected and appointed officials and often, we have nothing but their words to guide our impressions of their leadership and help us to decide if they are representing us in a fair and equitable manner.
As all Alaska Natives and Alaskans should, I question whether Mr. Somerville is the right person to lead the Board of Game.
Shauna Hegna is the Deputy Director of the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP). Originally from the Kodiak Island community of Port Lions, Hegna and her husband are now raising their family in Chugiak.