Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Uncle you will never know

Dear JJ,

I know at 3 weeks old you won't remember anything- but today you lost an uncle. Not an uncle by blood- but an uncle by honor.

Today Senator Ted Stevens died in a plane crash in Alaska. He served in the United States Senate for Alaska from 1969 to 2008. He was given the title of being your uncle for a very simple reason: he wanted to give back, especially to those who had the least.

You are 1/8th Athabascan (Alaska Native) - your grandfather (my dad) was the first Alaska Native with a doctorate, and your dad has served on some Alaska Native organizations. But the reason I was able to become a doctor, the reason I was able to serve as Chairman of Cook Inlet Region, Inc (CIRI) and as a board member of the South Central Foundation, and on the Joint Operating Board of the Alaska Native Medical Center - is because of Senator Stevens.

He was a powerful man in Washington, D.C. - and many will say what he brought to Alaska, in terms of billions of dollars was his legacy. But among Alaska Natives -- he gave us a vehicle where we could restore our dignity.

In health care alone- where we had a hospital in Anchorage run by the federal government (the Indian Health Service) - he brought legislation to allow it to be run by Natives. Because of that the health care model we have is the envy of all American Indians. In Primary Care - patients are able to be seen almost any day, and the health and well being of our people is better because of the leadership in South Central -- but that leadership could not have thrived without the hand of your uncle.

Alaska Natives were not just given a handout- under the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act - they were given a mechanism to do more. And when Cook Inlet Region, Inc (CIRI) - where your dad served on the board, was able to give to all of its shareholders that had 100 shares a tax free check for $50,000 -- we owed that to Senator Stevens.

That is a lot. And think about this, son -- the Alaska Natives, when Senator Stevens went into office - in 1969 - the state was 9 years old (your dad was 11) -- and Alaska Natives were the poorest group of Alaskans, and the least likely to vote.

Ted Stevens was your honorary uncle for one simple reason- he embodied what we think is important in life: your life is not for you, but for others -- it is measured not in what you do for yourself, or your friends, or important people -- it is measured by what you do for those who have the least. We have a duty to give back, son -- and your Uncle Ted, who reached a pinnacle of power, never forgot that. As a result- a lot of our blood cousins are able to have great health care, are able to compete in the Western world.

So, you may not read about him until you are older. You may read a bit about him in the history books - but always remember-

Your Dad and your Mom are going to be proudest of you when you give back.

We love you son,