- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) For decades, the rural Alaska Native vote went to Democratic presidential candidates. Native delegates at this week's Democratic National Convention say those votes are still loyal, but recent elections indicate the party's hold on the Bush may be slipping.
"Just about every community you go to in rural Alaska, if you ask where their loyalty lies, they'll say the Democratic Party," said Andy Ebona, a Tlingit Indian from Juneau.
Mr. Ebona, along with fellow Natives Matthew Nicolai and Nancy Barnes, proudly proclaimed their heritage Wednesday as Alaska cast its votes for Vice President Al Gore.
All three credit Democratic presidents and lawmakers for Native advances from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 to federal recognition of Alaska tribes during President Clinton's first term.
"They done what they said they would do," said Mr. Nicolai, who wore traditional Yupik kuspuk to the convention sessions.
Rural Natives have rewarded the party with loyalty at the polls, although the state as a whole has backed Republicans.
"Clinton always grabbed rural Alaska, all the way from Barrow to the Aleutians," Mr. Nicolai said. "Urban Alaska always votes Republican, each election there's a color coding."
However, Mr. Clinton's victory over Bob Dole in the Bush in 1996 was narrow.
Dave Dittman, an Anchorage pollster and political consultant who works mostly with Republicans, said Democrats' hold on the Bush is unsure.
"There was a time when southeast and the Bush were solidly Democratic," Mr. Dittman said. "Dole beat Clinton here two to one, and if you look at the Bush I think you'll find he broke even out there."
Mr. Dittman traces the beginning of the shift to the Native claims act, which set up for-profit Native corporations endowed with land and money. Later, he said, some Natives became disenchanted with national Democratic policies on the use of oil, minerals and timber on federal land.
"The national Democratic Party has worked directly at counter interests with a lot of the people in rural Alaska," Mr. Dittman said. "Much of the Bush is up for grabs."

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