By Sophie Minich, CIRI president and chief executive officer
Every year, federal, state and local governments make decisions or pass laws that affect Alaska Native people. Subsistence rights, educational funding, development of Native-owned land – so many aspects of our lives are impacted by decisions made at one level of government or another. It’s easy to get frustrated with lawmakers when the regulations they put in place don’t reflect our Native values.
Whether you live in Alaska, where Alaska Native issues are frequently debated, or in the Lower 48, it’s important to remember that you have a say in whether and how laws get made. When you cast your vote in primary and general elections, you help determine the future not only for Alaska Native people, but for your community, as well.
In Alaska, the primary is coming up on August 19, followed by the nationwide general election in November. Alaskans face a lot of big voting decisions. Two of our congressmen, Senator Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young, are up for reelection. Three Republican candidates will compete in the primary election for a chance to represent Alaska in the U.S. Senate. All 40 members of the Alaska House of Representatives, as well as 14 of Alaska’s Senate seats, will be up for reelection. Not to mention the gubernatorial race, in which Alaskans will select from seven candidates to determine who will govern our state for the next four years.
Additionally, primary voters in Alaska will be asked to approve or reject Ballot Measure 1, which makes significant changes to the oil and gas production tax. CIRI, along with five other Alaska Native corporations, formed a coalition to advocate against Ballot Measure 1. As I stated in last month’s newsletter, CIRI’s involvement in the No One on One effort is based on our belief that repealing the current oil tax structure will be bad for CIRI businesses and hurt the Alaska economy.
Regardless of your individual positions on issues and candidates, I encourage every CIRI shareholder and descendant of voting age to make sure they are registered to vote, then put that voting power to work by showing up at the polls on Election Day. Participating in primary and general elections is our chance to let our elected officials know what issues are important to us.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But I’m just one person. What difference can a single vote possibly make?” You might be surprised to discover that, more than once, one vote has made all the difference in an election. For instance, in 1960, less than one vote per precinct elected John F. Kennedy president of the United States. In 1994, 1.1 votes per precinct elected Tony Knowles as governor of Alaska.
When you cast your vote, though, you also have the potential to become part of a larger voice. According to the Get Out the Native Vote movement, the Alaska Native people constitute about 14 percent of the adult population in Alaska. If all Native people voted during a normal turnout year, roughly 25 percent of the electorate at the polls would be Alaska Native. This voting bloc has the potential to be more powerful than the Republican, Democratic and non-partisan vote.
For those shareholders who live in Alaska, you can find more information, including how to register, at www.elections.alaska.gov/. For those living outside Alaska, I encourage you to inquire with your appropriate state agency to ensure your vote can be counted.
In the meantime, you can cast a vote of a different kind by submitting a nomination for the CIRI Shareholder and Elder Shareholder of the Year Awards. Every year, we honor shareholders who have shown dedication to Alaska Native culture, heritage and communities. So many CIRI shareholders have made incredible contributions to Alaska Native people, worked to preserve our culture and passed traditions and knowledge on to others. Let’s celebrate their work!
In addition to the Shareholder and Elder of the Year Awards, we’re also taking nominations for the Youth Recognition Award. There’s an entire generation of CIRI shareholders and descendants who are already making strides toward becoming tomorrow’s Alaska Native leaders, and we want to honor them.
The criteria and the nomination form for each award is on the CIRI website. I encourage you to nominate a shareholder or descendant who you feel deserves recognition this year.