Protesters interrupted Gov. Mike Dunleavy’ first address to the Alaska Federation of Natives as the governor was pledging a commitment toward greater collaboration on budgets and additional public safety resources.

About five minutes into his address, drumming and singing soon overtook his speech, prompting AFN Co-Chair Will Mayo to interrupt, bringing a quick end to the disruption.

“I’m sorry I can’t agree with this,” he said. “We have different views. We may approach things differently, but we have a man here who is in a seat of authority and there are ways we can express our differences. When we gather together and we invite somebody to our house, we do it out of respect and we do it with kindness in the Native way.”

Shortly after Dunleavy concluded his speech, Tanana Chiefs Conference Chairman Victor Joseph issued a public apology.

Dunleavy, who faces a recall effort, has come under fire from people in rural communities and at AFN, who believe the governor failed to engage these groups when drafting a budget calling for deep cuts. They also believed he was divisive with his approach, pitting rural communities against urban.

Even the AFN convention program, which featured a two-page budget end game timeline described it as “an unfortunate process.”

But on Thursday, Dunleavy pledged more resources for rural public safety and a promise to be more inclusive with budgeting.

“We all know that budget discussions were very difficult and at times contentious this past year,” Dunleavy said. “I will be the first to say as governor I must take responsibility for my part in this process and I will work hard to ensure the budget process goes much more smoothly this year.”

Afterward, Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said they were encouraged by Dunleavy’s words.

“I heard a governor willing to work with the Legislature,” Edgmon said. "I hope work with the Native community and those statewide, more on an eyeball-to-eyeball basis, which really didn’t take place this past session.”

Giessel agreed.

“You know this last session we did have a lot of conflict with the governor. What I heard him conveying was that he’s interested in better communication, better collaboration with the legislative branch. I’m looking forward to it.”

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