The senator sat down with KDLG to discuss veteran services and his comments on the proposed Pebble Mine.
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan travelled to Dillingham over the weekend to meet with veterans, city officials and community leaders. Sullivan met with KDLG’s Tyler Thompson to discuss a bill that provides Native vets and their families a chance at land allotment and his comments on the latest developments to the proposed Pebble Mine.
Dan Sullivan: “What I really want to tell our veterans here in Dillingham is thank you for your services. We had a new bill called the Mission Act, that provides our veterans the ability to go to Alaska Native health organizations, clinics, the hospital here – whether they’re Native or non-Native and have the V.A. pay for that. We just had a really important bill we’ve been working on – this as one of my top priorities the president signed it into law recently. This is the Alaska Native Equity Allotment Act for our Vietnam veterans. A lot of our Vietnam vets went overseas, served their country and when they got home they were told they could no longer apply for a Native allotment. They missed the deadline.That’s outrageous. They’re serving their country and then they don’t get treated well because they’re Vietnam vets in the first place. Then they’re told they can’t apply for their Native allotment?
Thompson: Other than the fact they were fighting a war overseas, was there a reason they didn’t have a chance to apply?
Sullivan: That ability to apply was extinguished in 1971 when the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act passed, so you could no longer apply individually for an allotment. Well 1971, think about it: We had all these veterans, overseas not just serving in Vietnam but Germany, in Korea, other places and there was no internet, nobody knew they were going to miss this chance to apply. They got home and they said, ‘Oh yeah that Native allotment where your family had been hunting and fishing for generations – you can’t apply anymore.’ That was horrible; injustice and we fixed it. It’s going to take some time to implement it but the law got passed it was my bill, we’re very excited about it. It was nice that the president of all the legislation he was signing – he highlighted – he said Alaska Natives who served in Vietnam the injustice to you has finally been rectified by the bill I'm signing today. Pretty special.
Thompson: So, now moving on, I would like to ask what your reaction was to the proposed restrictions to mining in Bristol Bay?
Sullivan: Well look, so what I’ve been doing – so my view on Pebble has very much been there’s a high bar here. We can’t trade one resource which we know is this incredible salmon fishery – the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the planet earth – we cannot trade one resource for another. Science, not politics, is what needs to drive the decision which the Pebble Partnership is trying to get with this 401 C. permit issues (sic). So I’ve encouraged the EPA, the Department of Interior and others to get out to the region and listen. That’s what I’m doing on this trip. You may have seen the head of the EPA, was out here in the Bristol Bay just a couple weeks ago. I’m reading through and I encourage others to read through the huge documents from the EPA, from the Department of Interior. They are taking it seriously and to be honest they raised very serious concerns about that draft EIS. I think in part that was because the EPA decision maker – the general council – heard from people in the region. They’re looking at different comments and studies. They initiated what they said, they elevated this process to what’s called an Aquatic Resource of National Interest, they’ve only done that I think 11 times ever. So Ii’m readinfg through that, the state had significant concerns and so did the interior. The burden of proof is on Pebble and the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] – that science supports their claim, that they can develop this project without harming the world class fishery. That’s, by the way, what state and federal law require. They have not met this burden at this time. These concerns must be addressed if possible for this project to be able to move forward. I’m going to continue to closely monitor it and continue to listen. That’s where we’re at right now.
Thompson: One of the more recent stories I read was about your support for a lot of domestic violence legislation. Tell me a little bit more about that and how it applies to Alaska?
Sullivan: From the time I was attorney general ten years ago, with our then governor, we spearheaded the Choose Respect Campaign. We launched this campaign to raise awareness. We did public service announcements – Real Alaskan Men Choose Respect. We did pro-bono legal summits to increase legal services for victims and survivors. We increased penalties for perpetrators. But we need to do more, I have a number of bills that we’re calling the Choose Respect Initiative. One is with Sen. Kamala Harris of California that would provide essentially a right to counsel for pro-bono volunteer lawyers, but through more funding from the federal government for victims. So think about this, Tyler, it’s kind of a horrible thing to think about but it’s true: If there’s a perpetrator, say a guy committing a violent crime, a sexual violent crime like rape. That perpetrator gets a right to council, a sixth amendment right to council under the U.S Constitution. That’s what the Supreme Court says is required under the U.S. Constitution. But guess what the victim gets? Nothing. Nothing. Well I actually think that’s just wrong. Now maybe, you can’t change the constitution over that. But my bill would change the law over that and say there should be a sixth amendment statutory requirement for those kind of victims to get legal help. Because a lot of people think the prosecutor is the victim’s lawyer. The prosecutor is not the victim’s lawyer. The prosecutor is looking out for other things. We’re hopeful it’s going to get passed this year. I know a lot of people in Dillingham are, in some of the meetings I’ve had; I know Robert Samuelson for example has been a great leader in this. But the men of Alaska need to stand up and say, ‘hey, enough.” Especially the young men, I always say to them, you guys need to be the ones to change the culture. And we can do it, but we have a long way to go.
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