Monday, June 30, 2008

Happy Birthday (State of) Alaska

The 50th anniversary celebration of Alaska statehood - a fitting day to put up a statue of two great civil rights leaders (from the Mayor’s newsletter):

Civil Rights Activists Honored. A sculpture to honor Alaska Native civil rights activists Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich will be unveiled at 1 p.m. today at Peratrovich Park in downtown Anchorage. The sculpture, named Flight of the Raven, was designed by Roy Peratrovich, Jr. to memorialize his parents and their progress for Alaska Native people. The Peratrovich’s were the driving force behind the passage of the Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in America. ‘Through this statue, we pay tribute to the civil rights struggle Alaska Natives mounted against unjust laws and unjust lawmakers,’ Mayor Begich said.”

For the interested, some more about them:

A little biography of Elizabeth Peratrovich

A keynote address by Roy Peratrovich

A (much!) longer paper on the history behind these leaders

Watch out, we're coming to Denver!

Okay, really it's the National Congress of American Indians, and a bunch of other Colorado Native tribes and organizations setting up in Denver. But I will be there too!
After all, it wouldn't be a real party without a pow wow nearby! Or at least some fry bread...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Native patriotism

An interesting article from the Los Angeles Times (reprinted in the Juneau Empire).

On the anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn, it is discussion on patriotism and the seeming "strangeness" of the American Indian tendency to both fight for the U.S. and (some tribes) assert the right to be completely free of the U.S.

"...American patriotism is not something that you simply have or do not. What that flag means to you will depend heavily on how you regard the history behind it...
...genuine patriotism can still take place amid divided loyalties... Non-Indians who attend celebrations like the Little Bighorn anniversary are often surprised by the exhibitions of U.S. patriotism. But for more than a century, American Indians on the Plains have understood that their love of country can contain both their struggles to achieve tribal autonomy and their deeply felt attachments to the United States."

The idea that Alaska Natives and American Indians would be unpatriotic actually surprised me a bit. I'm often caught unawares (naively, I think) when a certain way of thinking is put out as "what everyone thinks" or "many people think" about certain aspects of Native culture and issues.

In the Native culture I grew up in, if there is any group that is upheld with as much respect as Elders, it is veterans. Rare is a large ceremony or big event in which veterans are not honored.

I was honored enough to be able to attend an honor ceremony for Diane Benson's son after he was injured in Iraq. Still, when I think about the war, my "emotional brain" remembers both the great honor and great sadness of being able to shake his hand and try to impart the true meaning of the word, "Thank you" in as few words.

I have discussed, in earlier posts, the Native ambiguity of being "both proud and not proud" of the state, the country. Maybe this is not so rare for Americans - I can really only speak from a perspective I am familiar with.

But I don't know that it should be so surprising that the Native people would proudly bear arms across the world in defense of this land. Native ancestors were doing it long before it was called the United States.

A little bit stunned

After hearing the news of the Exxon ruling yesterday, I must say I could summon no real reaction until very early this morning.

I was only just beginning elementary school when the spill happened, and remember feeling so badly for all these birds and seals I saw being taken in on the news. I lived in Kodiak at the time, and was trying to figure out a plan to go help with the cleanup.

What I could not imagine at the time was that justice would not be served. A childish perspective, I guess, to imagine that the people who were responsible for this would be punished for it. I confess that I am someone who, despite much evidence to the contrary, clings to the notion that we can at least have faith in the justice system.

Different from my perspective as a child, I can now see what a long and lasting impact this has had on the people of Alaska, as well as the wildlife. It has taken the majority of my life, in fact, for the people most affected by this get the justice they deserve. As we have seen, it is no justice at all.

I was quite struck by this bit in a Yahoo article on the announcement:

"It also was about the end of Alaska Native traditions and a subsistence lifestyle for several villages in the region. Because of the spill, many Alaska Natives were forced to stop harvesting seal, salmon and herring roe and move to urban areas, never to return, said Lange, who is part Aleut and Tlingit.

'A cultural link was definitely broken,' she said."

I know the high value of these subsistence items, and the difficulty in getting them in the first place. To have something so reckless and harmful happen to traditions lasting millenia bites at the soul.

It has been part of growing up Alaskan, as I know it, to hear about harmed lives and environment "because of the spill."

I think the Kodiak Konfidential blog has it right about dumping Exxon stock:

"I ain't enough of a financial whiz to say for sure, but having that many shares dumped on the market at once might certainly get someone's attention. It'd be poetic justice to reinvest it in renewable energy, and we'd have a clean conscience."

The dip in Exxon stock took yesterday should be only the beginning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not waiting for an apology

I love this story from Reznet. Two Native non-profit groups from Colorado are going to cross the country on bicycles, beginning next May, to raise awareness of government abuse in Native boarding schools in the U.S.

The recent Canadian government apology to First Nations people that survived the boarding schools is a good thing, I believe. But what these organizations are doing makes me proud to be Native. They are not waiting for an apology from the U.S., and are taking charge of their own healing.

"We are going to heal and we are going to take our voice back, never to have our voice taken away again," said Don Coyhis, founder and president of White Bison, in a news release. "We are taking our voice back so our children will have a voice and be able to stand tall."

This is one of the stories that rarely makes as big a headline as what you normally see. And this goes on more than people think. Here in Alaska, Native organizations are taking charge of their own healing from horrible situations from the dominant culture, their own culture, and their own families.

I don't diminish the importance of an apology. Survivors of many kinds of abuse know the impact of an apology from their abuser. No, this absolutely does not, "Make everything better." But it's a beginning.

At the same time, most abused people do not get those apologies. But healing must take place, regardless. Whether there is ever an apology, the Native people of this country and state must grow stronger and healthier. I tip my hat to these organizations for taking those steps.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Native language preservation

I got an e-mail today about a petition for preservation of Native languages, or more funding for the preservation. The National Alliance to Save Native Languages is petitioning congress to increase Native language program funding to at least $10 million - and I think it's a bargain.

If you figure about 200 surviving languages today (the estimates I've seen go anywhere from 170 to 225), this only leaves about $50,000 per year on each language. (Not that it would ever be split up in such a way.)

Even here in Alaska, there are at least 20 languages still up and kicking. I would hope that this winter's passing of Chief Marie Smith-Jones (the last fluent Eyak speaker) would serve as a wake-up call to just how fragile the Native languages are. It may be the first of the Alaska Native languages to go, but it certainly isn't the only one in danger.

I have two historical languages to navigate, Dena'ina Athabascan and Tlingit. Both are in great danger of being lost. I've heard many times that the way you can gauge the strength of a language is by how many children speak it, or how many children are being taught it. I'm happy to say that both of these languages are being taught, mostly, pushed by Native organizations and corporations.

But the numbers aren't good.

For this to be a real effort in which a large percentage of each culture could see true results, there must be combined efforts of the government, Native corporations, and individual cultural groups, including the communities. We're talking community programs, immersion programs, documented material, curriculum, etc., etc. There are efforts already going on, but there is much, much more to do before we have a chance here.

Some notable efforts right here in Anchorage include the new Alaska Native Cultural Charter school set to open this fall. They will introduce a Yup'ik immersion program for younger grades and after-school programs for other languages. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is involved in some language programs, including Dena'ina curriculum.

Here's one of many articles supporting just how important Native language preservation is. Take a look, and then sign the petition!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Native perspective on the 50th Anniversary of Statehood

I read an excellent article in Alaska Magazine today, July/August issue (I couldn't find the same article online, though the print copy is worth picking up if you can find it). It was in their series on the 50th Anniversary of Statehood, called "Left Out?". It looks at the Alaska Native perspective on statehood, and was the first I've heard of a similar outlook to my own.

Ever since all the hubub surrounding the 50th anniversary celebration began, I've been of a few minds. I'm proud to be both American and Alaskan, but this is not without having very mixed emotions to both of those institutions.

The article spells it out in the first few paragraphs. In response to Mary Ann Mills of Kenaitze saying that, for Natives, "Statehood has been terrible":

Plenty of Natives disagree, of course - which is why there's no "there" there when it comes to pinpointing a Native perspective on Alaska's
admission to the union... Alaska Natives remain splintered by regional, political and economic interests. "Most of our people are proud to be Americans, but not proud of the way we were treated," said Mills, coming about as close as anyone to passing judgement on the past 50 years.

Both proud and not proud. Something I can certainly relate to. More than just a political stand the state took that citizens could disagree with, statehood itself was another time in which the Native people were forgotten. Despite efforts at the time, there is virtually no representation of Alaska Native people in the documents, seals, etc. This was still the time of constant discrimination and segregation.

But I also wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I am proud of the way that the Alaska Native people handled so much of civil rights, land rights and the overnight (literal) switch to corporate Native-ness. There is much to bemoan, but, in all, the same people who survived and thrived in this great land for millenia still survive and thrive today.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Heading to Denver

Celtic Diva announced the "Blue Oasis" team heading to the Democratic National Convention on her blog today, and I'm proud to report that I'm part of that team. Celtic Diva has already helped me out quite a bit with my blog, not to mention being the "last straw" to get me moving with a blog at all. To be able to report back an Alaska Native voice from the convention is a huge opportunity, especially at such a historic convention to begin with.

I want to really focus on issues and topics important to the Alaska Native people. This election is historic for many reasons, but one I am most excited about is the focus on the Native people of this country. The campaigning in Indian Country is one thing, however, it's what happens after November that will really be important.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who crossed the Potomac River?

Very cool event today on the Potomac River. No, it's not George Washington - it's the Tlingits!

I actually spotted it on Channel 2 News first.

Sealaska Corporation donated a full-size canoe to the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C., and today it was launched in the Potomac. I don't imagine the Tlingit people launched too many canoes in the Potomac in centuries past.

I've been to the museum once a few years ago, and would loveto go again. We could only spend about an hour there, and it wasn't nearly enough.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Follow up on Canadian boarding school apology

Here's an interesting page on the reactions from the Canadian government apology for the boarding schools.

Although I am not as familiar with the Canadian Native boarding school issues as Alaskan, much of what the survivors are saying rings very true to what I've heard here.

I will say, I used to think differently about what happened to these generations. Without any understanding of what happened, it was difficult for me to understand why the generations before me "let" so many things go, like language, cultural elements.

Then I was in a class, and our instructor, a woman who attended a government school during the 30's and 40's, began talking candidly about her experience in the school. I realized I'd never heard even family members talk about this time in their life.

The stories she had were profound, and something she said really stuck with me. She was talking about her first days in the school, and the first time somebody got hit for speaking in Tlingit. She said (not verbatim), "The ones who really picked up on it quickest, the ones who stopped speaking the quickest, were the ones who got hit the most."

She also talked about not wanting to pass that kind of pain onto her younger siblings, cousins, and eventually children. My perspective really changed after hearing her. Given the same situation, facing abuse and constant shaming, I doubt very much I would have reacted differently. I also have some doubts I could have walked through it with as much strength, dignity, and a drive to make it better as so many of these generations did.


Joan Hamilton passes away

Sad news about Joan Hamilton.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Obama, come to Alaska!

Great article (and argument!) for Obama to come to Alaska, campaign for himself and Begich, from the Huffington Post.


60 years as an "almost" monument

Interesting article on the Crazy Horse mountain sculpture (supposed to be much bigger than Rushmore) turning 60, and still not finished. I've never seen it, but would love to get a chance.

Another good article from last year about Mt. Rushmore vs. Crazy Horse, and some interesting connections between them.

I would actually love to take a road trip across the Lower 48, visiting some really interesting Native American sites and events, including:

Navajo National Park
Wounded Knee
Gathering of Nations
Institute of American Indian Art
National Museum of the American Indian
Chief Joseph's grave

Does anybody know any more? I haven't spent much time in the Lower 48 to know good sites to visit. I thought about Little Big Horn, but I've heard that much of it is a monument to Custer.

My true dream vacation would be a long road trip visiting these sites and much more of this country. Who's with me!?

I'll buy the food, you buy the gas.


Monday, June 16, 2008

P.S. Where's our summer?

I was checking out the "Native Vote" Web site, and noticed (since its big and bold right there on the first page) that Alaska is one of the "targeted Native Vote states" listed.

This election has been historic in its targeting of Native issues and the courting of Alaska Native and American Indian vote. I am excited (eager!) to find out just what the Native people will do in this election.

Here's one of the past articles done about the Native American vote this election.

Unfortunately, there is very little data to go on in voting for candidates with strong Native American issue backgrounds. There are statewide politicians I can support, because of their stand on issues they must face, but on a national level, it is a very easy demographic (historically) to ignore.

Let us just hope what Sen. Obama says will soon come to pass:

"We've got to make sure we are not just having a BIA that is dealing with the various Native American tribes; we've got to have the President of the United States meeting on a regular basis with the Native American leadership and ensuring relationships of dignity and respect."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I've advanced to 1995 at least

I just watched an ad for a showing of "The Net" with Sandra Bullock, and wow - what amazing technology! I remember all the computer stuff being pretty high tech when that came out, and she's using floppy discs.

The encouraging part of all of this is that I have at least accomplished some of what Sandra Bullock accomplished 13 years ago. IMing, saving files, logging onto Web sites... not so much the running from people who want to kill me or capturing bad guys in their web of lies and high-techery.

I heard a rumor (from a guy who came up to train some of us at work) that we're pretty connected in Alaska. I checked out some of the statistics, and it does look like we're doing okay. We rank 1st in percentage of the population with access to the Internet (of all 50 states and D.C.) and 2nd in percentage of the population with a computer in the home. I guess remoteness does have its benefits.

With this in mind, I am ever more encouraged to represent the "most connected" state well. First things first - learn how to operate a MySpace page.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Indian boarding school apology

Powerful news in Canada today – I found it hard not to get choked up reading their words. Below is the Vancouver Sun article.

Premier welcomes apology as aboriginal leaders gather in North Van

Catherine Rolfsen and Doug Ward

Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Language story from Bethel

Here’s an interesting story from yesterday’s Anchorage Daily News.


It’s about a case from Bethel against the state of Alaska about providing Yup’ik voting material in both Yup’ik and English. The state is against it, saying Yup’ik is historically not a written language. The Native American Rights Fund and ACLU are bringing the suit.


The interesting part is comment the lawyers for Bethel say – they say that Bethel is fine with what they are doing now, with translators.


I wonder what the residents of Bethel are saying – and who is it, exactly, that began this?


My own two cents aren’t exactly remarkable – but if that region’s language has been Yup’ik for the last few millennia, and it is still the first language spoken in Yup’ik homes, why wouldn’t the government be doing everything possible to make sure that language is encouraged? I could send them the few hundred studies done on just how important maintaining a language is if they still doubt the facts.




Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Two Alaska Native sites to visit

Celtic Diva and I are going to meet, and she is mercifully going to help me with my sad lack of knowledge on most things to do with the Internet. Until then, I want to at least share two of my favorite – or at least most-used – sites on all things Alaska Native.

Alaska Native Knowledge Network

The Alaska Native Knowledge Network is a project of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Although Fairbanks is past the limit of what I am able to survive during the winter, UAF is a great supporter of Alaska Native people through education, research and publications. The school itself has an “Alaska Native studies” major, which even U of A Anchorage doesn’t have, as well as the Alaska Press. Many, many Alaska Native publications have been published this way, including many of my favorites (that’s a later post!)

The site is chock full of educational materials, essays, curriculum and more. It is a constant reference for me. The downside to the site is that I never know where I’m going. One things leads to another with no seeming rhyme or reason, and I don’t know how to get to half the stuff I stumble on, once I’ve left. But it is worth checking out, and if you have any interest in Alaska Native culture, issues, or even language, this is a great place to start.

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Yes, I’m biased. Sealaska is my “home” regional corporation, and I am an unabashed lover of all things Tlingit. But the Sealaska Heritage Institute Web site is a great resource, one I turn to again and again. It has all its publications for sale, Tlingit language books, Haida and Tsimshian gear.

But the best parts of the SHI site (I think) are in its “Language Resources” section. They post curriculum they are developing, interactive on-line language learning games, print-outs for language card games, and much more. It is a model for other Alaska Native corporations can be promoting (language!), and getting better all the time. As a Tlingit woman, it doesn’t affect me as much, but the biggest downside to the SHI site is that it is pretty much Tlingit-centric. They do have Haida and Tsimshian parts to it (the other two major Southeast groups), but it’s primarily Tlingit.

One more thing I love about Alaska...

I was at an event today in which a Yup'ik group I know danced at. One of the little girls in the group, still in preschool, got hungry during the performance, so her mother gestured to me in an amazing feat of sign language that looked like dancing.

I look the girl through the buffet line - it was really more of an appetizer line - and she picked out the things she wanted. She couldn't see into the basket with a variety of crackers, so I just asked her if she wanted a cracker.

That was mistake number one.

I took out a rectangular cracker. She looked at me and furrowed her eyebrows - shook her head no. I took out this wierd, papery looking cracker.

"A round one."

I took out a round, wheat-type cracker. She absolutely looked at me like I was an idiot.

"That's not a cracker."

For the life of me, I couldn't satisfy her cracker-craving one by one, so I took the whole basket (to the pleasure of the woman waiting for us) and brought it down so she could see. She looked at it real carefully, and then just said, "Where are the crackers?"

"Those are all crackers!"

"No, crackers are in a blue box."

It dawned on me that she was talking about Sailor Boy crackers - pilot bread! At four years old this child had learned one of the most important lessons of being Alaskan - the only cracker is a Sailor Boy cracker!

The Humble Sailor Boy Pilot Bread

The "First Alaskans" magazine ran an article several months back, addressing the rumor that the company making Sailor Boy crackers wasn't going to make them. They talked to the company - based in New Hampshire, and they reassured Alaskans that these valuable items would still be made. That article further went on to explain that, while the company was based in News Hampshire, 90% of the Sailor Boy crackers made their way to Alaska.

I had a similar experience years ago. While setting up for a church event, we set all sorts of snack goodies for kids to grab while they were waiting. We had fruit snacks and juice boxes, chocolate chip granola bars, bags of chips. The first kids to come in came were two little Native kids. They spied the table, ran right over - and grabbed the pilot bread.

Truly, I love this state!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Native education

My mom posed a question to me that I thought pretty interesting - "Is Native education as bad as they say it is?"

This recently got some attention in the Anchorage Daily News. Only 1 in 10 Native students who begin at UAA graduate. While I don't think education for Native people is that great, I reject the premise that everything is all bad.

There was little attention given to the fact that UAA is just bad with education period. It only graduates about a quarter of its students, compared to the national average of something like 56%. If the headline was something more like, "Bad educational institution is even worse for most at-risk students", I may have given it a little more credibility.

I would like to see the numbers of how many Native students are attempting college now, compared to 25, 50, 100 years ago. The numbers might look a little more positive. Or how many Native students graduated from college compared to five years ago? Ten? Twenty? I'm not talking the average after they began - how many actual Native students graduated? How many before?

Here are a few facts about Native education:

In just three years, the number of Native college graduates taking physics/chemistry courses in the nation doubled.

In ten years, average Native American SAT verbal scores improved ten points, math scores improved 18. The average across the nation for all races was 9 and 14. Native Americans improved at a "better than average" rate.

In six years, Native Americans in full-time educational positions doubled. Native Americans earned over twice as many degrees in science and engineering in 2002 as they did in 1991.

Mount Edgecumbe, an Alaska Native boarding school in Sitka, was the first high school in Alaska in which all of the students who took the new high school qualifying exam passed. In addition, this school's graduates enter college at a rate of 90%.

I'm not saying that Alaska Native and American Indian education is great, or even fine. It needs serious help. But report and celebrate the successes in public, as the failures are certainly displayed. Let's give it a little time. Let's keep pushing education and culture and positive encouragement. We don't have to hide the truth, or say something is great when it so obviously needs help. But to throw numbers out into the open and say, "They mean this" without the full picture is irresponsible.

I work with great professional Native men and women. This Spring alone, three of those I knew graduated with master's degrees. Four graduated with bachelor's degrees. Nearly everyone I work with is engaged in obtaining some form of degree, and I was certainly the odd one out this last semester for not going to class. Last fall, when I was taking 12 credits and working full-time, I couldn't utter one complaint - everyone around me was doing the same, but with children.


Begich ahead!

The unbeatable just might be beatable! Mayor Mark Begich (D) of Anchorage is polling at 51% over Sen. Ted Stevens (R) at 44%. Not so long ago, Stevens barely even campaigned in a state that would never vote for anyone else. Alaska has voted him in for 40 straight years.

Alaska Natives generally vote Democrat, but have had a long history of voting for Stevens because of how much he’s done for Native people. While I disagree with just about everything else he does, his advocacy for Alaska Native issues has many I work with a tad concerned. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “Well, I think we should have a new senator, but what happens if he leaves?”

All that being said, bring on Begich!

He’s shown himself to be good with Native issues, as well as many others, and pretty practical. Under his wing, even the White House recognized Anchorage as a “Preserve America” community – mainly for the efforts to promote and educate about the local Dena’ina Athabascan heritage. I think there’s still much for him to prove, but he hasn’t given me any reason to doubt he’ll step up to the plate once on a national stage.

My first writer's block

As I've researched blogging, and been reading other blogs, the subject of writer's block, or not knowing what to say has come up quite a bit. I find myself all too quickly in this mode, something surprising to someone who (friends and family assert) ALWAYS has something to say.

But it is not a lack of words that stays my typing. It is too many questions. Surely we have always been taught that writing begins with stating your subject, laying out the proofs and support of that subject, and coming to your conclusion. At least, in my sometimes-Enligh major, writer, reporter, editor life, this has been the case. But the most common encouragement I have found touted in Web site after blog after book is: Write anyway.

So here are the questions, questions without answers or solutions:

* The issues are many, and I want to take them all on. If I try to tackle too many things I would like to do, will I be a jack of all trades who does everything, but none of it well? Adversely, if I focus on that one important thing, will I miss all those others that need attention?

* Will the country really be all right? I might cry with elation and hope if Obama is elected, but is hope gaurantee of worthwhile change? If McCain wins, I might cry for a whole different reason, and will we just be looking at four, or eight more years of Bush-ism? I've now spent my entire adult life under a Bush America. Will I be able to give his policy all of my twenties and not move to Canada?

* What on earth is up with Hillary?

* If I bring up Native issues, am I just rehashing what nobody wants to hear about? Will I be one more voice that, like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, will spend precious time projecting without a gaurantee of succeeding in anything?

So, questions I have many, answers I have few.

When all else fails, go to a quote of someone wiser:

"Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day."

-Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

I look forward to "some distant day."


Sunday, June 8, 2008

On a lighter note...I feel old.

I had a "Back in my day..." moment today, and thought I might share it with the world. Granted, I was born in the 80's and even Generation Xers are all older than me, so taken with a grain of "get over it" -

I gave a five-year old I was watching a toy to play with as we began a decently long drive. I thought she'd like it - it was a little plastic bear, like the kind from school sandboxes, and she's really into animals. I used to love playing with an uncle's miniature animal collection when I was small (Here's the back in my day...) so I was actually a little proud of passing the torch.

Her response to all 20 seconds of playing with it?

"Hey - the batteries in this are broken."


An Occurence

I was downtown this afternoon with a small group of acquantinces, all of us with a Native heritage - downtown for a Native event. As we waited for a straggler, we paused on a grassy hill and sat with our smoothies. I enjoy being with this group, many of them with an even more sarcastic streak than I have, and we were laughing about something. Just as we busted up about some comment made, a man walking by stopped and glared at us.

"Who do you think you are?" he started shouting.

We sat stunned for a moment, as it was clear he was addressing us.

"Go back to your villages - you are so worthless! Go laugh at yourselves!"

I'll let you imagine some of the other words sprinkled in there, including the last remark as he stomped off - "F_in' Eskimos."

This was not the worst Native-speech I've been privy to, but it's pretty close. I don't believe the man was drunk, and all I can imagine happened to create this reaction is that he believed we were laughing at him as he walked by. Not that even that excuses such blatantly racist remarks.

What really concerned me was not the man. I don't think all the arguing in the world will help a man like that, and - though of course upset myself, angry, emotional - intellectually I know there is little else I can do for a man who would be so disrespectful and hateful except to ignore.

What concerned me was our reaction, the reaction of those I was sitting with. A group of young, professional Native people, mostly women, who have every right to be proud of themselves and their accomplishments. Our reaction? We lowered our heads, we didn't meet each other in the eye, we dare not look at another person in the crowd, for the shame of it. All we managed, as we rose to our feet knowing we all just wanted to leave, was one softly said comment of, "Geez, wonder what's with that guy?"

We didn't yell back, we didn't argue, we didn't console or comfort each other, we didn't talk about.

It took several hours of cooling off (no outward reaction certainly does not mean no internal one) to really start thinking about the reaction (or lack of one.) Not until I was home and slowly stewing did I think about past reactions. I have never been with a group of Native people - or even mixed group - in which there has been discrimination and hate thrown at us that there has ever been any reaction except exactly what I experienced today. Shame and silence.

This has not been my experience as an individual. If it is me and someone else - no audience, no others with me - I can be quite forceful, sometimes diplomatic, but I always address it. I think many non-Native friends would be quite surprised with my reaction today - but at the time it seemed the only thing to do.

I don't know what this says about the cultures I love so much, about the shame that was so overpowering that this group I know to be strong, independent and many of them involved in Native advocacy were brought to our knees when confronted with very public shame?

I have wondered about cultural ties. Although I cannot speak for others' cultures, only that of which I was raised, the Tlingit culture holds public shame to be the ultimate punishment. Back in the day, it was literally worse than death. Could culture be the reason we were so silent?

I also wondered about the the frequency of such occurences making it "just the way we react." There is a reason I stay away from downtown, and though parking is one factor, another large factor is that I am much more likely to encounter comments like these in downtown Anchorage than in any other area. I have frequented a downtown bar exactly two times in my life, exactly half the times I have been inside a bar in my life (three of those times the week I turned 21), but I still worry while downtown that, if I were to trip, would people think I was just a drunk Native? If I walk near a bar, will people think I just came out of it? If I laugh too loudly, or speak too boldly, will they assume I've just downed a bottle of Jack?

Yes, I see the frequency of looking at what people think. But I still worry, much because of encounters like this one. Has the frequency of such hate, especially in Anchorage, taught me the "best" way to react - i.e. that any other way is futile? React back and you're just an ignorant Indian. Talk about it to those around you, and you only increase the anger and hurt, with nothing left to do about it.

I have no real answers here, just a lot of thought sparked by an experience that is, unfortunately, not the most uncommon of my life. It is just simply not the attitude of those that I cannot control that concerns me. It is my own attitude, and the all-too-typical reaction of others I know experience it, that concerns me.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Little Bit of Research

I've been looking at blogs on and off all day, and though my head hasn't quite stopped spinning, there are some things that definitely struck me when looking especially for Alaska Native sites and blogs - there just aren't that many.
Oh, there are useful sites, but pretty sparse, and just not that many Alaska Native blogs. The majority I've found to be geared towards "Native American." I get blank looks sometimes when I say that Alaska Native and Native American are very different, but the difference between Yup'ik and Tlingit is great too. Don't get me wrong, there's strong connections as well.
But so much of my past is rooted in things like the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood, Russian exploration and the unique cultures of the state I love so much. If there are readers, by the way, who know of a good one, please let me know!
Not that I've figured out how to work that particular feature yet...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A shot of encouragement

I read an article this morning, and it finally pushed me over the edge. It was a good edge, though. Or at least a good place to fall to.

As a young Alaska Native woman, I've found it difficult to find "me" represented even in the citizen-driven World Wide Web. Researching what the Web has to say about Alaska Native health care or Native corporations can become a painful experience. The sheer amount of ignorance and hate that abounds is staggering.

Which is why, when I read the paper, I was so gratified to see something of the voice of sanity. Linda Biegel, known to the Web through her blog "Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis", was chosen as Alaska's blog for the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Her Community Voices column in the Anchorage Daily News talked about her difficulties with racism accusations once the blog choices were announced.

What I expected to read was a lot of defensive attacks and assumptions, but instead, she actually looked at both sides. I didn't even agree with everything she was saying, but there was truth in the writing, and an openness to other's ideas. But what hit me most was with her last paragraph: "I want to be part of the solution and I want to find more writers of color to be contributors to 'Blue Oasis,' especially Alaska Native writers. Alaska's diversity needs to be better represented in the blogosphere."

I had been playing with the idea of a blog for quite a while, but between arguments about, "Oh, the vanity!" and "Could I really find enough to comment on?" the encouragement and challenge posed really struck me. I believe that "Alaska's diversity" needs to be represented, especially the Native voice, but what on earth was I waiting for? No, I certainly won't be the solution to all ills, but it's one of those proverbial small steps, and I'm a leapin'.