Alaska Native groups seek seat at table for ferry talks

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JUNEAU, Alaska Native groups in Alaska want to participate in a group established to solve ongoing problems with the Alaska Marine Highway System, an official said.

The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood have requested representation in the marine highway Reshaping Work Group announced in January, The Juneau Empire reported Friday.

The administrative order by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy that created the group called for representatives from the Marine Transportation Advisory Board, Aviation Advisory Board and Roads and Highways Advisory Board, two state legislators, a representative from one of three maritime unions, and three members of the public.

The failure to include the Native groups was “not a snub to any group or any particular folks or location,” Dunleavy said.

Increasing the group beyond its current nine members could impede effectiveness, the governor said.

“We’re trying to get something that’s actually going to produce a product the state can get around and support going forward,” Dunleavy said.

The marine highway system is the primary link to the outside world for many Native communities in Southeast Alaska, said Paulette Moreno, Alaska Native Sisterhood grand president.

“I understand the numbers, and I know they’re working through the numbers,” Moreno said. “But there also is an effect on our cultural activities, on our spiritual strength, because of the decreases in ferry service.”

The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood requested two work group seats in a Feb. 18 letter to the state Department of Transportation.

The board appointments had already been made when the letter arrived, said John MacKinnon of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commission.

“This group was put together weeks ago,” MacKinnon said on Feb. 19.

Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said any future involvement by the Native groups would be up to Vice Adm. Tom Barrett, the chair of the work group.

Barrett could not immediately be reached for comment.