Connecting Alaska to the World And the World to Alaska
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tribal Health is Source of Sovereignty - Davidson

Tanana Chiefs Conference

The Tanana Chiefs Conference's Annual Convention continues today (Thursday) with elections and presentations. TCC's provides health care and social services to more than 14,000 people living in Interior Alaska.

Like so many other organizations pivoting in the pandemic, the tribal non-profit moved its 2020 conference from March to October last year. Yesterday, delegates from 42 Interior villages gathered in person at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks and online to hear reports and speeches.

The physical meeting is closed to the public, but is being live-streamed on the Tanana Chiefs website and on TCC's Facebook page.

The theme this year is "Resiliency and Renewal," which was emphasized in the keynote speech by Valerie Nurr'araaluk Davidson. Davidson is president of Alaska Pacific University but took leave just three days ago to be the interim president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

“Having a robust tribal health system helps all Alaskans. You know, these incredible vaccination rates and the incredible availability of vaccines in Alaska to anymore 16 years of age and older? Tribes did that. You did that.”

Davidson complimented Tanana Chiefs Conference members and delegates for their resilience during the pandemic. The nonprofit vaccinated anyone living in villages it serves, and as a public service, TCC is now providing vaccinations to anyone in the Fairbanks area.

Davidson said it took courage for villages to close their borders and airstrips to prevent the spread of disease. She said when villages took control, it gave the rest of Alaska a lesson in understanding tribal sovereignty, which she said should be learned outside the healthcare realm as well.

“I know folks who work for the state and who work for federal agencies are also watching, and as you’re in your meeting, and you are meeting with the “stakeholders.” I want you to remember that tribes are not stakeholders. Tribes are sovereign governments, and they are on equal footing.”

Davidson was Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services in the Bill Walker administration. She is credited with expanding Medicaid and negotiating the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact.

But she also has long experience as a national policymaker on Native self-governance. She called on non-Native allies to change systems to make sure diverse perspectives are present and diverse voices are understood.

“As you are doing your work, take a look around you, and ask yourself, are the people that you were meeting with representative of the people that you serve? Or, as I say, does everyone have the same haircut? (Laughter.) And if everyone has the same haircut, you’re doing it wrong.”

Davidson was the first Alaska Native woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor of Alaska in 2018.

The convention continues today with passing resolutions and election of the borad of directors. This afternoon leaders will honor frontline workers who made it possible for TCC to administer more than 10,000 vaccinations in less than 60 days.