Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday (10-11-22) joined a prestigious roster of people to receive the William Paul, Sr. Award.
The honor was presented by the board and staff of Sitka’s urban Native Corporation, Shee Atiká, in recognition of Sen. Murkowski’s advocacy “for the betterment of Alaska Natives and Alaska Native subsistence rights.”
The award also mentions the senator’s assistance with the Cube Cove transaction – a controversial deal that saw a heavily-logged Native land selection returned to the federal government to become protected wilderness.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is only the twenty-second person to receive the William Paul, Sr. Award. It’s not given on any specific cycle – but only when Shee Atiká has found a worthy candidate. William Paul himself was the first Alaska Native attorney. In 1922, when his mother, Tillie Paul, attempted to cast a ballot in Wrangell, she was denied on the grounds of “falsely swearing to be a citizen.”
The case went to trial, and the court ruled in favor of Native voters. Two years later, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, making all Indians citizens of the United States.
Murkowski reflected on Paul’s legacy when she accepted the award during a lunchtime gathering in the Shee Atiká boardroom.
A few hours later, speaking to reporters following her remarks to the Alaska Travel Industry Association Conference in Sitka, it was still on her mind.
“Some years ago, back in 2016, the Shee Atiká board had voted to recognize me with the William Paul, Sr. Award for contributions for leadership when it comes to civil rights and other areas of promoting democracy,” said Murkowski.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s acceptance of the William Paul, Sr. Award
“Thank you for this recognition. Thank you for really appreciating what William Paul provided not only to the Alaska Native community, but really to help build and shape our state. When you think about civil rights leaders, you think about Elizabeth Peratrovich. But what William Paul did as well, to really advance voting rights for Alaska Natives was extraordinary. He was pretty impressive in his own right: He was the first Alaska Native attorney and the first Alaska Native to serve in our legislature. Clearly a leader within the ANB, but as we think about those instrumental federal laws not only had impact on all Alaskan Natives, but really our our state, ANCSA (the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act) and how he really helped to shape that – there is much to have great pride. And so the fact that I’m being recognized with this award is deeply appreciated. Thank you.”
Among some of the other 22 honorees to have received the William Paul, Sr. Award are Sen. Mark Begich, Congressman Don Young, Mark Jacobs, Jr., and Herman Kitka.
2016 was the year that Sen. Murkowski helped Shee Atiká return to the federal government over 4,500 acres of its selected lands at Cube Cove on Admiralty Island. The Forest Service paid $4 million for the land, but some shareholders were angered enough to call for the resignation of Shee Atiká’s then-CEO Ken Cameron. Ultimately (in January, 2020), the corporation sold back a total of 23,000 acres of timberlands at Cube Cove for just over $18 million. The Forest Service announced plans to add Cube Cove to the Kootznoowoo Wilderness, ending any future prospect of its being logged again.
For Sen. Murkowski, this was a complicated issue: She has spent her legislative career trying to remove lands from the federal inventory, not bring them back. Cube Cove seemed to cut against the grain of her principles, but it also touched on her other priorities.
“My responsibility, I think, as a member of the Alaska delegation is to be working with Alaskans, working with the constituents, to achieve their initiatives that they have put in front of us,” Murkowski said. “And you’re right, Cube Cove was a little bit of a reversal of what we typically try to do, which is take lands out of federal estate and put it into private hands. But I think there was a recognition that with the timber conveyances that were made at the time, this was a matter that needed to be resolved.”
That resolution – as understood by shareholders at the time – included shoring up Shee Atiká’s balance sheet by selling lands that could not be logged again for decades.
And now, won’t be logged again, ever. This past June, the Forest Service released an 11-page preliminary proposal to speed up the restoration of Cube Cove by completing the decommissioning of 214 miles of logging roads, and repairing 153 miles of streams damaged during logging operations.