ANCHORAGE - Now that an appointee has withdrawn her name to sit on the state Board of Game, Gov. Sarah Palin has the opportunity to undo a wrong done to Alaska Natives, a longtime Native legislator said Thursday.
"It is morally wrong," said Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, a state senator since 1996. "When she gets up and says race is not an issue, it is an issue because we are the user group. We are Alaska Native. You can't get away from that."
Anger began building this week around Palin's three appointees - none Alaska Native - to the game board, which sets hunting and trapping regulations statewide. Those decisions are keenly felt by Natives and non-Natives who rely on subsistence for food in rural Alaska.
It is the first time since the seven-member board was created in 1976 there would be no Alaska Native representation.
Lawmakers didn't want a face-off with the governor over the issue, but there was talk of the "nuclear reaction solution," said Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, a reference to the possibility of not confirming any of the governor's choices for the board to protest her not putting forward anyone who was either Native or from off-the-road system.
Kookesh said Thursday that the fact that former Alaska Outdoor Council president Teresa Sager-Albaugh withdrew her name Wednesday does not necessarily mean that the governor will now appoint a Native to the board. The Alaska Outdoor Council is the state's largest sportsman's group.
"We hope she will take a Native name and make an appointment from rural Alaska," Kookesh said. "That doesn't mean we are going to have a Native on the board and she has not committed to that publicly."
Palin announced Thursday that she would submit an additional name to the Legislature to fill the open seat within two weeks.
The governor said in a news release that Sager-Albaugh stepped aside because of the perceived controversy surrounding the appointments.
"I respect her deeply for putting others before herself in her decision," Palin said.
Frank Bailey, director of State Boards and Commissions, said the governor wanted to submit another name as soon as possible.
He said it is his job to look at candidates and provide the governor with names.
"We certainly go at it and try to be colorblind and look for outstanding members of the community. Having said that we have received a lot of good potential Alaska Native candidates to fill this seat and will be looking at all of those," he said.
The governor last week filled three vacancies on the seven-member board: Sager-Albaugh of Tok, Lew Bradley of Palmer and the reappointment of Ted Spraker of Soldotna.
Paul Johnson of Unalakleet had been the only Native on the board but he was not reappointed after serving an interim two-year term.
Greg Roczicka, natural resources director with Orutsaramuit Native Council in Bethel, said he put his name in for a seat on the board after the Alaska Federation of Natives chose to support him, even though he is not Alaska Native by birth. He wasn't selected.
"There is nobody from off the road system," Roczicka said of the current lineup. "Absolutely there should be some kind of Bush representation on there. It has always been something that is attended to and recognized by governors. I think it was a pretty major oversight."
The Association of Village Council Presidents, which represents 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in western Alaska, released a statement saying that while the governor's appointees were knowledgeable about game resource issues, "there is no one better than a person from the rural area that understands our needs and issues."
The association's Myron Naneng said, "This is a total annihilation of our subsistence way of life to have only 'road system' representatives on the Alaska Board of Game."
Ken Johns, president and CEO of Ahtna, Inc., one of 13 Alaska Native regional corporations founded under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, said more balance needs to be brought to the board.
The last thing the board needed was another person heavily connected to sportsmen and the Alaska Outdoor Council, he said.
Johns said the board should be more balanced, not only representing the needs of subsistence users but non-consumptive users of wildlife as well, the non-hunters who enjoy viewing wildlife more than killing it.
"The game board appointees should be representation of a number of people. There should be some from urban and rural, people who believe in subsistence and provide for local people, and there should be some wildlife people that have a say," Johns said.
Bailey said philosophical diversity is not a consideration when considering possible appointees. The governor is looking for qualified people with the capacity for understanding things such as seasons and bag limits when setting game regulations.
"That is really the focus," he said.