Dillingham resident and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon delivered a keynote speech at 2020's virtual Alaska Federation of Natives conference. Edgmon talked about Alaska Native representation and COVID-19 concerns.
The 2020 Alaska Federation of Natives Conference went virtual this year. One of the keynote speakers was House Speaker Bryce Edgmon
Edgmon began by addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. He is an independent from Dillingham, in Bristol Bay, and he says the pandemic is a personal matter because of the region’s history with the Spanish Flu epidemic.
“As a kid here growing up, I remember walking on Kanakanak Beach which is just a little ways from Dillingham and looking up at the banks; the bluff as it was eroding and seeing caskets, body parts, from Chinese cannery workers who perished from the Spanish Flu of 1918,” he said.
Edgmon stressed the devastation the 1918 epidemic had on the region. He says a quarter of adults in the Bristol Bay region succumbed to the Spanish Flu and almost 250 children were orphaned. He urged all Alaskans to take COVID-19 precautions seriously.
“Think of the Elder out there that needs to be protected," he said. "Or think about the vulnerable person in your village or community with underlying medical conditions that needs to be protected. We can help. I think of the spring whaling hunt where everybody puts a hand on a rope and together, collectively, pull the whale ashore.”
This is Edgmon’s second term as House Speaker. He’s the first Alaska Native to be elected to that position.
Edgmon helped create a Tribal Affair’s Committee to focus on healthcare and Tribal-state compacts, among other things. It’s the first of its kind in the legislature. He was also part of naming the state Finance Committee after former Alaska Native senator and house rep Al Adams who served in the legislature over two decades.
Edgmon is currently working with other lawmakers to form a Village Police Officer working group to address the lack of law enforcement in rural communities. It passed in the House, but didn’t make it to the senate due to the pandemic. Another bill that made it through the House would recognize Alaska Native Tribes as official state lawmakers.
“I really feel like the VPSO bill and Tribal recognition bill would have gotten it to the governor’s desk if we had an ordinary session," he said. "I will do everything in my power over the next couple of years to get those bills back into action and get them to the governor’s desk.”
Edgmon’s leadership team also appointed AFN executive vice president and general counsel Nicole Boromeo to the state redistricting board. The board will decide the legislative boundaries across the state over the next ten years.
Edgmon emphasized that Alaska Natives are the backbone of the state.
“I can tell you that in many key positions both in and out of state government who still don’t grasp the nuances or the characteristics that makes our state truly unique," he said. "They also don’t understand that Alaska’s First People are the backbone of this great state and have been so for hundreds of years.”
Edgmon said he is optimistic about growing state and Tribal government relations by giving Tribes more power at the local level. He said he looks forward to more Native representation in office.
“We will have an Alaska Native governor, an Alaska Native senate president, another Alaska Speaker, we’ll have someone in congress and we’ll have somebody in the U.S Senate," Edgmon said. "I also think when you say state government in Alaska in the future, it’s not going to be just federal and state. It’s going to mean federal government, state government and Tribal government.”
He said more Tribal representation is the best way to address many of the economic and social issues in rural Alaska.
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