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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
Supporters of a bill to make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages organized a 15 hour sit-in protest at the Capitol on Sunday. Their dedication paid off early this morning, when the measure passed the Alaska Senate on an 18-2 vote.
House Bill 216 passed the Alaska House of Representatives last week, 38-0.
It now heads to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.
Dozens of people of all ages and races, many wearing their Easter finest, gathered in the hall outside Sen. Lesil McGuire’s office. The Anchorage Republican and chair of the Senate Rules Committee had the power to put House Bill 216 on the Senate’s calendar. But with end of the legislative session looming, the bill’s supporters worried it was getting caught up in last-minute, behind-the-scenes politics.
The group started their vigil just after noon, singing, dancing, and playing drums, and talking about why Alaska Native languages are so important.
“Our language is everything. It’s the air we breathe. It’s the blood that flows through our veins,” said Lance Twitchell, a professor of Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast.
HB 216 would add the state’s indigenous languages to a statute created by a 1998 voter initiative, which made English the official language of Alaska. While the bill is largely symbolic, Twitchell said it’s important to recognize all languages as equal.
“That’s all we want is equal value,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with standing up and saying that. It takes a lot of courage to do that. And it takes a lot of something else to try and go against that.”
Many elders who attended the sit-in recalled being punished as children for speaking their first languages. Irene Cadiente of Juneau said her teachers would hit her with a ruler when they caught her speaking Tlingit.
“Sometimes I wonder when my hand hurts, is it on account of me speaking Tlingit?” Cadiente asked. “My hands were rulered. Is that why it hurts? I never forget that.”
Cadiente said she’s proud that her great grandchildren are now learning to speak the language.
Heather Burge, a student in the Native Languages program at UAS, said she didn’t understand how HB 216 could become controversial.
“We should be at the point where this should be a non-issue,” Burge said. “But it’s still scary to some people, which is a little disheartening. But hopefully we can get past this.”
After the group had been outside McGuire’s office for about 30 minutes, the senator’s Chief of Staff Brett Huber announced the bill would be scheduled for a floor vote. McGuire later made an appearance of her own.
“We just got the bill, so we’re going as fast as we can,” McGuire said. “But it’s nice to see all of you. Thank you for coming, and thank you for your passion. I know you have support.”
It was 3 a.m. by the time the measure finally reached the floor.
Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, who’s Inupiaq, said the bill would not have made it through the legislature without a groundswell of support.
“The elders, the youth, Native and non-Native,” Olson said.
Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, took responsibility for the delay in getting the bill to the floor. Coghill tried to explain what he hoped to achieve last week when he proposed amending the bill to create a new category in statute for “ceremonial languages.”
“I thought if you had them in that place of honor you would aspire to them and honor them,” Coghill said. “Where if you put them in this place, they’re more likely to be under tension that I think would be harder to get to the honor and easy to get to divisiveness.”
Coghill said he was an apologetic no vote. He added that he would be willing to own up to it if he ends up being proven wrong. Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, was the other Senator to vote against the bill.
After the bill passed, supporters gathered outside Senate chambers to embrace each other and shed tears of joy. Twitchell summed up the feeling with a Tlingit phrase.
“We succeeded. We obtained,” Twitchell said after first saying it in Tlingit.
The bill explicitly says the official language designation does not require the state or local governments to conduct business in languages other than English. But Twitchell said putting them in the same part of the law builds momentum for future generations of Native language speakers.
If Gov. Sean Parnell signs the bill into law, Alaska will become just the second state after Hawaii to officially recognize indigenous languages.
Here’s the Sunday, April 20, 2014 edition of Algo Nuevo con Dave Luera — Something New with Dave Luera. If you have questions, comments or music requests for host Dave Luera, send email to algonuevo [at] alaskapublic [dot] org or post your comment at the bottom of this post. All tracks played are listed below in the following format:
- Song Title
- Artist Name
- Album Title
- CD Label
Dia Tras Dia
Mi Musica, Mi Orgullo
Dime Que Si O Dime Que No
Mi Musica, Mi Orgullo
World Class Records
Feel the Heat
Cruzin Chicano Blvd
Aguita De Melon
Los 15 Grandes 2013
El Baile Grande
Tony Ham Guerrero Remembered
The Legacy Tour
This is My Song
The Legacy Tour
On the Right Track
Contigo A La Distancia
El Golpe Traidor
Jose Guadalupe Esparza
Recuerdos Con Mariachi
Los 15 Grandes 2013
El Baile Grande
Dreaming of You
Al Hurrican Jr.
Los 15 Grandes
El Baile Grande
Cumbia Del Sol
Cumbia Del Sol
Muneca De Papel
Little Joe Y La Familia
Rosa Maria Se Fue A La Playa
En La Cantina
Rip Em Up Productions
Borracho Por Ti
Un Nuevo Camino
New Village Records
Por El Amor De Una Mujer
Texas Sound Band
Cierra Los Ojos
Cuni 52 Records
Audie Y Zentimiento
Que Sepan Todos
En El Amor
La Mula Bronca
Sabor De Las Vegas, Nuevo Mexico
The Music Album
Que Se Salga De Mi Mente
El Corrido De Felipe Angeles
Sabor De Las Vegas, Nuevo Mexico
The Music Album
Dime Que Me Quieres
The New Variety Band
Reproches Y Caricias
Un Dia A La Vez
Click to listen to the full audio story:http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/birding-final.mp3
Today we’re gearing up for the birding season. Townsquare 49 contributor and bird enthusiast Zac Clark says Anchorage will see a big flux of birds in the next two to six weeks. He calls this time of year the glory days, but it wasn’t long ago when Clark couldn’t have cared less about birds.
“My supervisor at work had talked about birds many times before, and had I sort of brushed him off like ‘yeah, that’s for nerds, what are you talking about birds for?’,” Clark says.
That all changed about four years ago, when Clark bought a house near a green belt. “I’d wake up in the morning around 6:30, with the sun shining, and I’d hear these great songs every day. Next thing I knew I got sucked into this whole new hobby,” Clark says.
Today Clark is taking a stroll around Goose Lake. He says even though the birds are still fairly scarce, it’s never too early to hone your skills.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got to get your Alaskan bird sounds album. Just play that on a loop when you’re driving to and from work so you can practice your ear birding skills,” Clark says
But we’re not hearing anything. I’m worried we might be in trouble.
“No we’re not in trouble, but it is awfully quiet out here. It’s still frozen over, and hasn’t opened up yet for any of the water birds to start making their way here,” Clark says.
Then, almost on cue, we hear something in the distance. “Ah, some Canadian Geese over there,” Clark says.
According to Clark, all you need to bird is a pair of eyes and ears, but for those who are really interested, he suggests a few basic items. A pair of binoculars, a field guide, and his favorite, a birding app. “It has the benefit of not only being able to search by color, shape, size, region and time of year, but it also has songs. So if you hear a song but don’t actually see the birds you can at least play their song back and hear what they sound like,” Clark says.
And that reminds Clark of the final piece of equipment you’ll need; some headphones.
“You have to be careful with this. When you’re out in the field you’ll want to have an ear bud in so you’re not playing it out, because the birds will hear this and respond to it. So people think it’s a good idea to play it to draw the birds in, which you will, but often times you’ll stress out the birds because they think someone is in their territory,” Clark says.
But Clark says it’s unlikely someone will scold you for doing it. After all, the birding community is a generally polite and welcoming one. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hardcore birders out there.
“Well I haven’t been to one, but they do daily competitions. The Anchorage Audubon does something called the birding “smack down” at Potters Marsh. You get a team together and you spend a few hours, and then whoever finds the most species wins the competition,” Clark says.
But on a quiet day like today, there aren’t that many species to find. Just the occasional bird to remind Clark why he loves being out here.
“The great thing about it is you’re out hiking, walking around Goose Lake. Right now we’re watching some Magpies fly around with nest material. You just see these birds moving around, and it doesn’t cost you a penny,” Clark says.
The Legislature did pass the Governor’s liquefied natural gas pipeline participation plan.
The House voted 36-4 on the measure Sunday. The Senate later voted 16-4 to agree to the House changes. Senate Bill 138 would set state participation at about 25 percent in a project also being pursued TransCanada, the Alaska Gas-line Development Corp., and the North Slope’s major players. It would allow the project to move to a stage of preliminary engineering and design and cost refinement.
It also would allow the state to negotiate project-enabling contracts but they would have to come back to lawmakers for consideration.
Because the Legislature did not meet its midnight deadline, three citizen’s initiatives are expected to be moved from the August primary to the November general election.
The switch would happen because of a constitutional rule requiring a 120-day waiting period after a legislative session before an initiative can be put to a vote. It would affect ballot questions to slow down the proposed Pebble Mine, to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and to hike the minimum wage. The rule does not apply to referenda, so a measure to repeal the new oil tax law would stay on the August ballot.
The rescheduling of initiatives is expected to help the anti-repeal effort, which the oil industry has sunk millions of dollars into. That’s because the initiatives are expected to bring more liberal-leaning voters to the polls, and that increased turnout will no longer affect the primary.
This dynamic also triggered an ugly political fight in the Legislature, when a bloc of House Republicans passed a minimum wage bill earlier this month to preempt the initiative entirely. Republicans and Democrats accused each other of trying to game the elections, and initiative sponsors came out against the bill out of concern that the Legislature would quickly gut it.
While the House majority pushed their Senate counterparts to move the minimum wage bill through, they were met with resistance. The two bodies then engaged in a standoff, with each chamber holding unrelated pieces of legislation hostage to get leverage. But ultimately, the Senate did not back down.
Rules Chair Lesil McGuire said early Monday morning that the minimum wage bill is officially dead.
“The votes aren’t there. The votes haven’t been there all year.”
McGuire says some members of the Senate Majority oppose the bill because they see it as meddling with elections, while others simply are not in favor of the policy and believe it could have negative economic consequences.
With the addition of the initiatives, the November ballot will be especially packed because of the U.S. Senate race and the governor’s race.
All session, legislative leadership had promised to gavel out early, to be home in time for the Easter holiday. That didn’t happen. In fact, the Legislature did not gavel out at all. With the House and Senate struggling to make a deal on education, lawmakers are forced into extra innings.
By 1 a.m., the second floor of the state capitol had erupted into chaos. The Legislature had blown its midnight deadline, with the capital budget still in committee and debate yet to begin on a sprawling education bill.
The halls were crowded with lobbyists trading gossip, staffers pumping out amendments from copy machines, and dozens of advocates chanting and beating drums after the Native languages bill they were supporting had been held up in the political crossfire (it later passed).
Unless you were part of the Republican leadership team huddled in a closed-door strategy meeting, you were left guessing as to what was going to happen and when you were going to leave the building.
And that applies to lawmakers, too, like Democratic Reps. Chris Tuck and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.
TUCK: Tonight? Well, tonight’s over, you know that? It’s morning. Depends on how many people speak under special orders. *laughter*
KREISS-TOMKINS: That’s what you call 1am humor.
When political leadership finally did emerge, details were scarce. Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill had blown up because of a disagreement over education funding. The House had put extra money – about $75 million per year – into the base student allocation, which enshrines it in the formula. The Senate’s version increased the number to $100 million. But the boost comes outside the BSA and is only guaranteed for three years, which has disappointed education advocates.
When Senate President Charlie Huggins emerged from the meeting, he ran straight to the bathroom before reporters could surround him. And when he emerged, details on the education plan were scarce.
BOB TKACZ: What’s the problem? Why are you guys hung up so much?
CHARLIE HUGGINS: There is no problem.
TKACZ: Well, it’s past midnight. You’re not done. You were going to get done 48 hours ago, Mr. President.
HUGGINS: Well, we’re waiting on the House. As soon as we get them lined up, we’ll be ready to go.
The House and Senate stayed in session until dawn, tending to the logjam of bills that had built up during the stalemate between the two bodies.
The House passed a popular crime reform bill, a bill that would allow a $250 million power plant at the University Alaska Fairbanks, and a bill that would seal criminal records that did not result in a guilty verdict. The Senate passed a measure requiring more public information on state regulations, and legislation to extend the senior benefits program.
But the education issue remained unresolved. Finally, at 4am, the Senate decided it was time for everyone to go home. Senate Rules Chair Lesil McGuire said it just made more sense to give people some rest before debating one of the session’s priority bills.
“The concern that we had was it’s not good decision making when people are tired,” said McGuire. “We have older members, and you can just kind of see people’s energy levels lowering, and you’re not as sharp as you would be.”
Lawmakers will be coming back in the afternoon, on the 91st day of the legislative session, to take up the education bill again.
After winning Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” Kastle Sorensen and her “Kastle’s Kreations” food truck have turned Alaska’s cupcake scene upside down.
Video and Story: