Alaska Natives celebrate their 1st Congresswoman, Mary Peltola

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, the first Alaska Native woman to serve in Congress, received a hero’s welcome Thursday when the Democrat delivered the keynote address at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage.

Those attending the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives showered her with standing ovations, spontaneous songs and gifts, including a bolo tie worn by her Republican predecessor, the late Don Young.

Young’s daughter, Joni Nelson, presented the tie to Peltoli, saying it was her passing of the mantle. The surprise presentation came after Young’s grown children joined Peltola on stage as she paid tribute to Young, who held Alaska’s only seat in the House for 49 years until his death in March.

Peltola defeated Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich in a special election in August to end Young’s term. The three, along with Libertarian Chris Bye, are running for a full two-year term in the November election.

Another of Young’s daughters, Dawn Vallely, later said on stage that her father would have been pleased with the results of the special election in which he defeated Peltola.

Nelson wore a beaded white tie on stage – depicting the state of Alaska in blue beads – but took it off to put it around Peltola’s neck when she greeted the family.

“Oh my gosh, this means the world to me,” Peltola told The Associated Press about receiving Young’s Bolo tie.

“I kept going with Don,” she said. “I really don’t think we would be the country we are without his leadership and the service he provided for 49 years and I want it to stay that way.”

Another emotional moment came when a group of convention delegates spontaneously sang for her. When they finished, a second group began to sing, followed by a third group at the Anchorage Convention Center in a cavernous downtown.

Peltola, who is Yup’ik, said the songs were significant because they contained “all their prayers and their songs of strength, faith, love, hope, unity and wisdom.”

In lighter moments, several delegates at the convention posed for selfies with Peltola.


Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska contributed to this report.

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