Tara Katuk Sweeney, former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, focuses on collaboration in Alaska’s bid for U.S. House seat
The death of Congressman Don Young has left an Alaskan seat vacant in the United States House of Representatives. Forty-seven candidates – four of whom are Alaska Natives – are running in a special election to take the first primary pick for the interim seat. The top four candidates will then present themselves in a ranking vote which will determine the winning candidate.
Indigenous News Online and KNBA, a Native-owned and operated public radio station in Anchorage, Alaska, worked together to reach the four Native candidates running for the special election. Of the four candidates, one responded to our interview requests: Tara Katuk Sweeney (Republican).
This interview has been edited for clarity.
KNBA/Indigenous News Online: Alaska is a large state with complex natural resources, environmental conditions and many communities. What issues or problems would you prioritize?
Sweeney: My priorities are Alaska’s priorities. And as one of the 435 members of Congress, it’s important to build relationships within Congress so that others can help promote Alaskan issues. For my campaign, I focus on a strong economy, strong workforce and healthy communities.
Former Rep. Don Young had a reputation for crossing party lines to champion and support measures that impacted Alaskans. How would you cross the aisle or work on bipartisan or non-partisan issues?
In our travels through Alaska, we have heard from so many people who are fed up with the divisive nature we see in politics today. There is a lot of political fatigue there. And my approach to leadership has always been to focus on collaboration, bringing people together so that we can work on areas where we have commonalities. I would bring the same kind of approach with me to Washington DC, building relationships and creating the networks and Alaska brand ambassadors within the United States House of Representatives. You need these relationships to accomplish policy initiatives for Alaska.
Congressman Young was great at working across the aisle and building those relationships to support issues that were important to our state.
If there was a bloc of voters who were inclined to vote for an Indigenous candidate, why should they choose you over the other three candidates?
I would say my experience. I am a small business owner and former business leader in the Alaska Native Corporation community.
I also served as the 13th Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the US Department of the Interior.
My professional background sets me apart from all the other candidates in this race – all 47 of them. What I bring are the 20 years of advocacy I’ve spent walking the halls of Congress on issues important to Alaska, advocating for laws, and working with our delegation and other leaders in Alaska. State to propose policies to the delegation.
In addition to this advocacy and my understanding of how legislation is crafted, I also understand from the executive side how to implement laws passed by Congress. These experiences are what set me apart from others.
How can the office benefit rural and urban Alaskans equally and equitably? And how will you balance these competing interests?
This is a very interesting question, and I want to come back to the narrative. Words are important and framing issues in this way, in my view, creates unnecessary division.
My campaign is all about bringing people together and about collaboration. It’s important to remember that the elected official from Alaska travels to Washington DC to represent all of Alaska, not just the people who voted for the candidate, not a specific precinct.
It’s about balancing shared viewpoints and voices that want to be heard. I go back to my style of leadership, and that is to lead people. I want to hear from the people of Alaska. I want to hear their views on political issues that impact their lives and use that information to make an informed decision.
I grew up in rural Alaska. I understand these challenges. And I think that perspective helps shape the types of decisions I make and how I make them. But my goal is always to be inclusive.
As the planet heats up, international communities view the leaders of the melting Arctic as having a front-line responsibility for a more sustainable environmental and economic future. How are you going to get the level of resources our former House Representative got and redirect them to a sustainable future for Arctic Alaska?
Congressman Young has been so effective in raising the necessary resources for our state. I have this circumpolar arctic experience. I helped lift the Arctic Economic Council from its inception. And so I have experience working in the Arctic, and with other countries, on responsible, long-term investments in our region. The only constant we know is change. And as Alaska Natives, the one constant we have ever experienced in our communities is change. And so I’m ready to help move Alaska’s federal interests into the next phase.
As we begin a new chapter in our Alaska delegation, I stand before the voters of Alaska to be judged on my experience and commitment to this state. I think as we look to a more sustainable environmental and economic future, that we need to unleash our energy production and focus on our energy resources here in Alaska, as far as our national security is concerned, but we We also need to make room for conversations about the impacts of climate on our communities.
We see that our hunting, fishing and gathering cycles start later or earlier. And migratory routes are impacted because of climate change.
We need to have these conversations. As I look to a more sustainable future for Alaska, it’s going to bring all of us with those perspectives, again, going back to that collaborative approach of bringing people together, sitting at the table, having the conversation so that the voices of Alaska are heard, so that our elected leaders can make informed decisions about the policies they need to decide in Washington DC
What would you put on your office walls if you were elected?
Congressman Young put all the animals he probably shot on his walls. I have personal impressions that I adore. Sonya Kelliher-Combs is one of the artists that comes to mind. It’s a beautiful atikluk that she framed and I definitely want to take it with me. I want to display my family and heritage on the walls to share the beauty and diversity of Alaska with everyone who walks through the doors.
Do you have a short statement that best sums up why you’re running and what you hope to accomplish with Alaska as General Representative?
I focus on a robust economy. We are a resource-rich state. And those resources are everywhere you look wind, solar, hydro, oil, gas, critical minerals…we have those resources.
I also focus on a strong workforce, which is everywhere. We must provide the appropriate types of succession planning to train our workforce across the state.
The other pillar of my campaign focuses on healthy communities. No one should have to wait days for the police to show up. And that’s something I learned when we were traveling across the state, doing listening sessions on Operation Lady Justice, Missing and Murdered Native Americans.
No one should ever have to carry human waste in their hands. I had to do this growing up – I certainly understand the value of a bucket of honey.
And we shouldn’t have four or more generations living under one household, and COVID has certainly highlighted the need for additional housing across the state.
And one thing that’s close to my heart is that Alaska shouldn’t lead the nation in fentanyl deaths. And we see that across the state.
My campaign is focused on the future, and there is tremendous potential for Alaska, and how we are harnessing it through public policy. Effective leadership is important, and my experiences working to educate members of Congress, while in the private sector and during my tenure as Assistant Secretary, I certainly understand how to develop policy and implement it.
I believe Alaska needs a leader whose vision is to promote the development of our natural resources and create space for climate discussions to maximize our strategic location in the interest of national security and to advance the infrastructure necessary for our most remote communities. to access improved mental health, education, health and business resources and services.
Alaska’s special election primary is June 11 and the special election is August 16. After the special election, there is a general election on November 8. This will be Alaska’s first election with ranked choice voting.
Read a Native News Online article published by KYUK about Congress candidate Mary Peltola here.