First Lady makes historic visit to Bethel

From left are First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Congresswoman Mary Peltola, Secretary Deb Haaland, Alaska's First Lady Rose Dunleavy, and BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman. photo by Kelly Lincoln

First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden came to Bethel for a brief visit on May 17th, 2023. The WarriorDome was packed with people who came to get a glimpse of the First Lady and to hear her speak.

Her mission was to deliver remarks to highlight the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic investments to expand broadband connectivity.

Welcoming her back onto Alaskan soil as she disembarked from her Boeing C-32 jet on the tarmac were Bethel Mayor Rose “Sugar” Henderson, U.S. Congresswoman Mary Peltola also of Bethel, First Lady of Alaska Rose Dunleavy of Noorvik, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland of New Mexico and a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe.

Dr. Biden visited Alaska before in 2021 when she traveled to Anchorage.

It was chilly and windy on Wednesday when the jet named Bright Star touched down. The presidential motorcade was lined up on the tarmac. Members of the press were also present to take photos of the event from a press corral pen quite a distance from the plane.

At the Bethel High School, many waited for nearly two hours outside to go through airport-style security to enter the gym. Secret Service agents who stoically stood on guard made sure everything was safe for Dr. Biden’s arrival.

Local dignitaries speaking at the event included Mayor Rose “Sugar” Henderson, Bethel elder Nels Alexie who prayed the invocation in Yugtun, Orutsararmiut Native Council President Walter Jim, YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkelman, Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Kimberly Hankins, AVCP President and CEO Vivian Korthuis, and Bethel Native Corporation President and CEO Ana Hoffman who introduced the special guests and gave information about the Airraq Network Broadband project – airraq is the Yugtun word for “a string that tells a story”.

First to speak was First Lady Rose Dunleavy, followed by Secretary Haaland, then Representative Peltola, and then Dr. Jill Biden.

“This is one of the largest tribal broadband expansions in the country. With high-speed internet, you’ll have better access to critical health care, new educational tools, and remote job opportunities. It will change lives. It will save lives,” said Dr. Biden of the broadband project.

And in closing, “I feel so much love in this community today. Love for Bethel and the people who make it home—for the language and heritage that has shaped you— for the generations who stand behind you and live on in your hearts— for the young people who are dreaming a brighter future for us all.”

Dr. Biden was gifted a red qupak qaspeq jacket which she put on. The Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Eskimo Dancers performed for her to close out the ceremony and afterwards she greeted community members and posed for photos before heading back to the airport.

Her next stop was to join her husband for the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Hiroshima, Japan from May 19-21, 2023.