Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A little bit of history in these historic times

When I ran to the bookstore this weekend, my dad asked me to pick out a book for him using a gift certificate he'd received for Christmas. "Anything Tlingit." (You kinda get the general vibe of our home education?)

This, I thought, would actually be harder than it seemed. Though I think there should be row upon row of Tlingit books, apparently large bookstores are limited to what people have published. There are a lot of Tlingit books, but very few that we do not own between us, and those would more likely come directly from a corporation or nonprofit.

I was pleased and surprised to see a book by Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer, and Lydia Black. The Duaenhauers are THE publishing authority on Tlingit people (Nora, is herself, Tlingit), and are two of the people I've never met that I admire most for the work they've done. I THOUGHT, between my dad and I, we owned every one of their major works, but I was happy to see I was wrong. I didn't even have to look for another book.

It's called Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká: Russians in Tlingit America, The Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804. Okay - they aren't all exciting titles (though some of them, I think, have simple, beautiful titles.) And just the following day, the Anchorage Daily News prints an article that the book has already won a prestigious award.

The education of the real history and contributions of Alaska Native people is very close to my heart, and this is one of those events (technically two) that I wish everyone knew about. I am looking forward to reading the "real" story myself. The battle of Sitka is something I have only ever heard from (non-Native) books and oral family history - including one transcription of an auntie about an ancestor who was orphaned at the battle. From the ADN article:

The Tlingit view of the war, extrapolated from oral histories and supporting written documentation, is understandably different, more complex and probably more credible. It's a story of invasion, resistance, betrayal, siege and a brilliantly executed strategic retreat followed by campaigns of attrition that led eventually to a long-lasting business arrangement that proved beneficial to both sides.

One of the big fallacies of Alaska Native history is that the majority of us were ever a conquered people. This differs strongly from what happened in the Lower 48. Although the Aleutian Islands were hit pretty hard, you would be hard-pressed to find villages in Alaska that are NOT on or near traditional grounds.

There is a strong argument (which I subscribe to) that the sale of Alaska from Russia to American was illegal, because even the Western laws of the time stated you must have control of the land you are selling. Russians had control of very little of Alaska, and the sale was akin to "Well, we say we own Antarctica and no one that matters to us is arguing about it, so it's for sale." Up until very close to the sale, Americans were actually saying the same thing. American businessman and even the government put up strong arguments that, since the Russians had no control over Tlingit people, and the Tlingit people maintained their traditional territory, Tlingits were a soveriegn people. Of course, this attitude changed once the sale was on the table.

I digress. But this is certainly an interesting piece of history I hope others will be interested in also. A few other pieces of Alaska Native history I hope to extrapolate on later in "Did you know?" form:

Did you know...

- that a Native woman was arrested in Nome for sitting in the white section of the theater, prompting forward Alaskan civil rights, years before Rosa Parks made her courageous stand a bit more south?

- the Native people of Barrow fought an unjust law with the infamous "Barrow Duck-in," successfully, and with exactly what it sounds like?

- that the Japanese were not the only American group of people forced into camps during World War II - that Aleut people were also forced out of their homes by the U.S. government, and many, many died for it?

- that the U.S. Navy bombed three Tlingit villages after it "bought" Alaska, one so unfairly it prompted the American people of the time (who were still in the "kill 'em or move 'em" phase) to question it and react with legislation?

- that the first man to reach the summit of Denali (known to many of you as Mt. McKinley) was an Alaska Native man?

There is a rich, surprising, interesting and endless history of Alaska Native people well worth delving into.


Maia said...

Muktuk Marston wrote an account of the Nome movie theatre segregation struggles that you can read here.

Writing Raven said...

Thanks - this is pretty neat. I have only ever seen this in textbook-type articles, never a personal account!