ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — U.S. Representative Mary Peltola, the first Alaskan resident to serve in Congress, was hailed a hero on Thursday as the Democrat delivered the keynote address at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage.
Those who attended the largest annual gathering of Natives in Alaska showered her with standing ovations, candid songs and gifts, including a bolo tie worn by her Republican predecessor, the late Don Young.
Young’s daughter Joni Nelson handed the tie to Peltola, saying it was a transfer of the mantle to her. The surprise presentation came after Young’s grown children joined Peltola onstage 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 complete Young’s term. Those three, along with libertarian Chris Bye, are fighting for a full two-year term in… the November elections.
Another of Young’s daughters, Dawn Vallely, later said onstage that her father would have been pleased with the results of the special election, won by Peltola.
Nelson wore the white beaded tie — featuring the state of Alaska in blue beading — onstage, but removed it from around Peltola’s neck as she greeted the family.
“Oh my god, this means the world to me,” Peltola told The Associated Press of receiving Young’s signature bolo tie.
“I ran on continuing Don’s legacy,” she said. “I really think we wouldn’t be the state we are without his leadership and the service he’s provided for 49 years, and I want to keep it that way.”
Another emotional moment occurred when a group of delegates to the convention spontaneously began to sing to her. When they were done, another group began to sing, followed by a third group in the cavernous convention center in downtown Anchorage.
Peltola, who is Yup’ik, said the songs were important because they contain “all their prayers and their songs of strength, faith, love, hope, unity and wisdom”.
On lighter moments, several delegates to the convention posed for selfies with Peltola.
Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.
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