Wednesday, July 30, 2008
But one thing always gets brought up eventually, and that is the idea that "if they want to be traditional, then they need to go back to bows and arrows." One less enlightened man a few weeks ago put it as needing to go back to "making fires out of caribou dung."
Now, I will confess something. This is something that many Native people struggle with. There are many expectations about what you should be as a Native person, from without and within.
Be traditional - not "too traditional" - assimilate already! - just be "American" - why don't you dress in buckskin?
Some of the irony of the situation is that from the non-Native crowd, there is a constant mixed message. Native corporations are the most open to vicious attack for their successes - how dare they succeed? Yet corporations are the government requirement, not the Native neccessity. Hate comments about "needing to go back to the village" can be soon followed by "if things are so tough in the village, then move out!" Even the well-intentioned, friends and colleagues, can encourage this sort of dichotomy by having expectations about what a Native person should be, versus what they are.
But this kind of confusion is not something exclusive to non-Natives. This is maybe most confusing within the community. Be proud of your culture! But be more American this way... Learn your language! But don't think you're better just because you can. How come you don't know your culture? But your Western education should come first.
It's not always as clear cut as saying it so, as few few things are. It can be as subtle as a supervisor asking a group of us what we would do if an Elder gave us a very expensive gift at work. My look of panic was not the only one. You don't dare refuse a gift from an Elder! But this is not Western corporation practices.
The idea that you must succeed in two worlds is not new, nor is it going to go away anytime soon. But we can get rid of this cut and dry vision of what it means to be a "traditional" Native person.
It does not mean going back to "bow and arrow" days. If this is what someone really wants, it goes both ways. Not every great invention came from the Western mind. In fact, I'll make the next person who says this to me a deal - I will start encouraging the "old days," no snowmachines, no rifles, no electric heat - if they will fulfill two requests. Two requests for a whole lifestyle here, it's a good deal.
First, the agricultural products that we had in the "old days" are our and our alone. That means we own the patent/license/whatever to tomatoes, potatoes, turkey, rubber, chocolate! No Hershey's syrup. No peanut butter and jelly, because no peanuts. And it might literally mean the shirt off their back, because no cotton.
Second, if we don't receive the benefit of Western invention, we take back the benefit of our invention. Here in Alaska alone, that means no kayaks, snowshoes, moccasins. Not to mention popcorn.
Now, this isn't a serious claim, it is only meant to highlight the absurdity of demanding people "turn back the clock". I don't want to take back tomatoes (especially since the Tlingit and Athabascan people didn't have a lot to do with that) and I don't think that my wanting to honor my traditions means I need to do away with the Internet.
Bottom line is, the learning and invention and benefit went both ways. We were not a "primitive" people, who would never have survived without Western intervention. But the history of American would be much changed - in fact quite a bit briefer - with the knowledge and skill of the "First Peoples."
As to what a good "traditional" Native person is, the minute you spot one, let me know. The most honorable, respectful Native people I know drive cars and speak English as good or better than traditional languages. It is their drive to keep traditional lines open, to remember the values of ancient times and apply them to a modern world that makes me - and others - admire and respect them.
Our ancestors did not sit and dream of a world in which everything stayed exactly the same (despite some TV movies that say otherwise). They were innovators themselves. They dreamed of children, and grandchildren, and grandchildren's grandchildren that were healthy, that knew the Earth for what it was and respected it, that treated others with respect due to them. And this is how we respect them - by pursuing just that, fighting for it, expecting and hoping that it will come.
Stevens, older, not younger, is indicted. Not a surprise maybe in that it was going to happen, but certainly in the timing (more on that later). But in the middle of all this, the only thing being reported was an earthquake - in which nothing happened. Nada.
Over a hundred caribou are slaughtered up north, and left to rot. Despite the onslaught of Native-hate this brought out, I can't tell you what this feels like as a Native person. Being taught respect for animals - especially the animals you hunt - is no joke.
Sadness and disgust are doing a little battle for prominence in my emotions over this, and I can't help but think what this says about the people - looks like young men/boys - who did this. What were they taught? Where did they go so horribly wrong? Did they have no respect for their village? And if they were Native men, did they have no respect for their people?
On top of that, McCain has lost his mind. I generally don't like the negative talk about the opposite side, much less giving his ad more mentions, but McCain made me absolutely crazy today. Let's put a picture of Obama up with Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton, and call that responsible and mature debate. With serious problems going on, worldwide and local impact being felt all around, this is how he chooses to show us what he's made of.
When questioned about the ad, McCain's campaign even laughed about it, calling the ad one of the most "entertaining" things he's seen on TV. Entertaining! This from grown men! Despite being considerably "more experienced" than Obama, as he likes to point out, this is one of the most immature attacks I've ever seen.
But the kicker isn't that he's insulting Obama - he's insulting Obama supporters. Surely people can't be trusted to select a candidate based in his merits as a politician and man - we must all have been seduced by his personality to mindlessly follow him around, despite his A-plus intelligence, well-thought out plans, proven ability to lead and organize, and a few dozen other leadership qualities.
On McCain's count, a running list of Obama's crimes:
He talks about hope too much.
He talks about change but doesn't have real plans (please disregard all his published plans.)
He's too young and "healthy" (today's message from the campaign complains about the fact that Obama expected healthy foods to eat. Dare he!?)
He's too popular.
Serious accusations, each. Well, I know that after eight years some of these things are hard to recognize in presidential material, but some of us actually think those are, you know, GOOD to have in a candidate. I'm not the most politically savvy, but Obama appears to be practicing DIPLOMACY.
We could use some in our leadership, and McCain, you've shown what we can expect from you.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
In a word - no.
And I'd like to add, if this were true, the college loan office wouldn't be calling quite so much.
All the background about why these corporations exist in the first place is incredibly rich and complicated, and most Native people my age don't know half of the history, much less the general public. I took a semester long class on the subject, and we barely scratched the surface. But here's an attempt at boiling a huge, generations-long battle into a few sentences:
The 12 original regional corporations were created in 1971, under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA.) The act is what it sounds like, the settlement of Alaska Native Land Claims, although that's a much tighter package to wrap it in than what it encompasses.
Every Alaska Native person born before the act was passed in 1971, and met the qualifying amount of Native blood, was eligible to apply as a corporation shareholder. All those born after the date (like yours truly) can not be original shareholders, and (until last year) could only receive shares through inheritance or gifts. The original funds were a legal exchange between Alaska Native people and the government, payment for land. The corporations invested in many different ways. Now, all the regional corporations - there are now 13 - as well as the dozens of village corporations, have different ways of distributing dividends, if they get one at all.
But I can gaurantee one thing - very, very few corporations are distributing big checks. And ALL of what any shareholder may receive is dependant on how the corporation operated during the year. If they invest well, the shareholders do well. If they do poorly, you see my point...
This is not an attempt to rehash what you might know, but it is an extremely common question, or assumption, about Native people and corporation checks.
Did I leave anything out?
"As a Native American and an active Democrat, I see two important facets of my life coming together," said Frank LaMere, Chair of the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) Native American Caucus. "In one month, there will be talk of Democrats, Republicans, politics and polls. However, I offer that the Creator cares most about heart, commitment, and those who will give voice and care for the people, and who will change things in our country."Image from DNCC www.demconvention.com .
Saturday, July 26, 2008
For instance, what is the real situation of the "Native alcoholism problem?" Do Natives really get free health care? What makes a Native person "traditional?" Why is subsistence such a big deal? Does every Native person get a bunch of money from the corporations? For that matter, do they all get a bunch from the government?
Some of them are really just questions of cross-cultural communication. I was speaking with a friend recently, about a coworker of hers that was upset over something a Native man had said, she felt it was extremely rude. When we heard about it, it was easy for us to see he was actually being very formally polite, it was a total cultural difference.
In any case, beginning tommorrow, I would like to begin addressing many of these issues. Now, I don't mean all of what I say is what "all Native people think" - that's an unrealistic spot to put anyone in. But many of these issues just aren't addressed in print, and many times they can make it uncomfortable to ask about.
All that being said, I hope people will post or e-mail their questions, comments and opinions.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
This is exactly the kind of thing I've talked about with some friends and family. The expectation for Native people to address the Native issues (and we are!) The article cites what Obama said in an address to mayors:
''Change,'' he said, ''comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.''
This attitude was actually very prevalent when I heard what the plans for the Obama Rural Alaska outreach were. It was impressive to hear plans for a campaign that didn't just involve getting this guy elected - it is set up to build a system in which communities are more involved, more organized for an Obama administration. A full-time gig, not just an effort for three electoral votes and we're done. Point being - Obama is not the one who is ultimately going to make the changes in our community. We are.
I don't exactly subscribe to all the words Cosby used, but it is striking that a man so known for finding the humor in situations says, "When you walk around the neighborhood and you see this stuff, that stuff’s not funny. These people are not funny anymore." And so much of it isn't.
Clearly, we need a little inspiration, a little kick in the butt, a little hope. It is still amazing to me that Obama is still attacked for talking about hope. Hope! My word, if we can agree on anything, can't we agree we need a little hope? There's no way to really know what these candidates will do once in office, but my money's on the one with a good plan and a little inspiration.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
The Team Blue Oasis BBQ Fundraiser was riddled with... adventure. The "just get through it" kind of adventure. But also some great people, good discussion, wonderful food and a big black dog.
Despite going head to head as an event with the Women's Caucus Debate in Anchorage (we were Valley bound), more than our fair share of unforeseen events, and some unpredictable weather patterns, a bunch of people showed up who were incredibly encouraging, and incredibly generous. We also most awesome "volunteers" ever, and a gorgeous house and lakeside backdrop.
After the debate in Anchorage, Diane Benson showed up, energized and ready for some of Celtic Diva's good cookin'. After some good discussion, she also tried on the button blanket we're auctioning, and I somehow got talked into singing a Tlingit song with her (way NOT my idea - if you heard me singing, you would understand). It was one of my favorite songs - it would have just been much better as a Diane Benson solo.
We are much closer to our fundraising goals, thanks to everyone (and HUGE thanks to Phil Munger for allowing the invasion of his home... and his cooking... and his major energy...), and Denver is seeming much closer!
Friday, July 18, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
This comes on the same day that a Wasington Post/ABC poll shows Obama ahead by 8 points.
"Our men and women in uniform have accomplished every mission we have given
them. What's missing in our debate about Iraq - what has been missing since
before the war began - is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq and
its dominance of our foreign policy. This war distracts us from every threat
that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our
security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the
resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any
measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy
for keeping America safe.
"I am running for President of the United States to lead this country
in a new direction - to seize this moment's promise. Instead of being distracted
from the most pressing threats that we face, I want to overcome them. Instead of
pushing the entire burden of our foreign policy on to the brave men and women of
our military, I want to use all elements of American power to keep us safe, and
prosperous, and free. Instead of alienating ourselves from the world, I want
America - once again - to lead. "
The Iraq situation is only one of many things Obama touches on in this speech - it's worth reading in full. In fact, what we're being distracted from in continuing with Iraq is what he focuses on more:
"For all of our power, America is strongest when we act alongside strong
partners. We faced down fascism with the greatest war-time alliance the world
has ever known. We stood shoulder to shoulder with our NATO allies against the
Soviet threat, and paid a far smaller price for the first Gulf War because we
acted together with a broad coalition. We helped create the United Nations - not
to constrain America's influence, but to amplify it by advancing our values.
"Now is the time for a new era of international cooperation. It's time for
America and Europe to renew our common commitment to face down the threats of
the 21st century just as we did the challenges of the 20th. It's time to
strengthen our partnerships with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the world's
largest democracy - India - to create a stable and prosperous Asia. It's time to
engage China on common interests like climate change, even as we continue to
encourage their shift to a more open and market-based society. It's time to
strengthen NATO by asking more of our allies, while always approaching them with
the respect owed a partner. It's time to reform the United Nations, so that this
imperfect institution can become a more perfect forum to share burdens,
strengthen our leverage, and promote our values. It's time to deepen our
engagement to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, so that we help our ally
Israel achieve true and lasting security, while helping Palestinians achieve
their legitimate aspirations for statehood."
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Celtic Diva invited me to a veteran'sgathering last night, and Diane Benson was the guest of honor. It was eye-opening to hear her talk about some of the issues, though mostly she talked one-on-one with each of the guests. Tempted as I was to jump in on some "Rural vs. Urban" discussion, Ms. Benson had it well in hand.
I think the highlight of what I heard from her was the idea that elected officials need to be accountable, and understand, what they are voting for. That so many times politicians will vote on an issue without regard to the true, real life, real people affects - and that this needs to change.
I've heard her speak before about Native art, as an actress, etc., but never in person, as a candidate. She brought up some pretty good points that I'm going to let stew a little...
Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis, but Kodiak Konfidential, Progressive Alaska, and others have also posted it. From Celtic Diva's post:
(The Prince William Sound Regional Citizen's Advisory Council received the attached photo and following text from David Janka.)"The photo was taken on July 1, 2008 at Smith Island in Prince William Sound. Residual 1989 Exxon Valdez oil in subsurface sediments.It doesn't look done to me."--DJanka
Saturday, July 12, 2008
I watched my friend's children today, two girls -5 and 3 and a boy - 6 mos. The main activity the two older kids wanted to do was make a cake (this is actually almost always what the older girl wants to do - that and put on make up.)
We made the cake, the girls helping my brother, and at several points the older girl made sure that we all knew this cake was for her mother - her mother's birthday in fact.
Now, her mom celebrated her birthday 7 months ago, but this doting daughter looked at me a bit like, "Why are you telling me this information?" when I pointed out we might be a bit off on the timing.
As the cake baked, the girls wrapped presents. And by presents I mean they wrapped wrapping paper inside wrapping paper. It is apparently the unwrapping that makes it special - no need for presents. The older girl has actually done this before, wrapped paper in paper and given it as gifts. We thought she might be pretending the paper was something else. I really felt like an idiot when I asked her what it was.
When their parents came back, we frosted the cake (the two colors they chose to make were pink and pink) and they timed things how I think they should be done now - they served the cake and THEN we sang happy birthday to their mother. Note the half-served cake above. Their mom was endlessly pleased (note sarcasm) with half a dozen people making her blow out the candles as we sang to her not even remotely on-key.
It didn't matter how many times we talked about the fact that it wasn't her birthday, it did not dissuade these two. Without gobs of presents, without balloons, without a bunch of other kids, without... well, an actual birthday, this did not stop the excitement of celebrating their mom.
As they were leaving the three-year-old girl stopped at the door to cry, "That was the best birthday party EVER!"
Friday, July 11, 2008
"Both presidential candidates need to understand that Indian country is not one
homogenous group, but comprised of distinct nations. Furthermore, that each
indigenous nation has a unique and historical relationship with the United
States. From there we can begin to build the future of our relations moving
forward into the 21st century."
It also echoes some of my own thoughts after last night's meeting about Rural outreach of the Obama Alaska campaign.
I was actually pretty encouraged by the "plan" in general - really empowering local people to make the change themselves - so often not the approach taken with Alaska, much less Rural Alaska. They mentioned a few things that really reflected the idea of above - that the local communities are unique, and that no campaign in Chicago can come in to say what's best for everyone in each community. But together real, big change can be made for the better.
Looking forward to the next few months!
There's been a lot of to do in mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) media lately about the "greening" - a whole lot of very negative press (one from the Washington Post today). Some of it's for the "color" guidelines they're using for the food, others for the big push towards reducing the carbon footprint of the convention itself.
Are people seriously mocking the efforts of those who are actually trying to encourage environmental responsibility, water conservation and good health?
The Post article in particular mocked the "color" guidelines for the caterers - that they choose a "rainbow" for each dish. Maybe it's news to them, but I worked in early childhood for several years, and this is exactly how they try and teach both parents and children how to balance meals. I think we can all see that blasting the public with percentages and ounces ("chemistry", the article says) hasn't exactly worked out for a healthier America. As a memory device, the color guidelines are much easier to remember.
I'm excited to go to this convention, and am happy to see that the DNCC is devoting so much effort to both health and the environment. This is exactly how people should approach big change - lead by example.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I think there's something really funny going on in my district. At the caucus, when all five million or so of us showed up, we were the dead last district to be able to actually divvy up and vote. We watched several other districts "fan out", and when we finally went up there to vote, it was still chaos (albeit, very fun chaos!) One of the "regular Joes" in the district finally took charge and sorted us all out. Using some very fine charting sensibilities, we were finally organized and all accounted for. More than a few commented, "Man, I'm voting for that guy!"
Tonight, another take-charge organizational situation. Although I'm not sure it was neccessary this time, one of our group (no, not any official capacity) took charge once we were (again) the last group to be gathered together, and split us off into volunteering sections.
We seem to be both slow and control freaks. But really fun!
Other than that, it was nice to hear what the campaign has planned, and why they are focusing on Alaska. They are really making it a battleground state, and judging from those at the event, McCain is really going to have do some fighting if he wants to have a "red" Alaska.
One thing lacking? Native representation!
Where were my Indigenous peeps?! (I promise if you show up, I'll never say that again.)
There really was a noticeable lack of Native people at the event, and I sure hope to see more in the coming months. With over 40,000 right here in Anchorage, we can really be a force in this election. But we need to show up!
I was able to talk to Alaska campaign director Kat Pustay a little bit about the Native turnout. She talked about the rural outreach they're doing, and was pretty encouraging about just what they could do.
I also talked to Liz from OurTime 2008. They're a non-partisan organization really focused on getting people involved, getting registered voters. She was also pretty encouraging to talk to, and mentioned a big effort - as well as Native participants - on their part toward Native Alaska.
In both cases though, there was a cultural gap mentioned, one I hope we can reduce well before election time.
Monday, July 7, 2008
The Anchorage Daily News is going to drive me insane.
On Sunday, the Juneau Empire chose to run this headline:
Sealaska seeks resolution of land claim
It’s a story about Sealaska trying to resolve the land claims from 37 years ago. I don’t think Sealaska has to be held up as doing everything right (Without actually knowing the whole story, it sounds like there are some questionable decisions going on.) But here’s the headline ADN decided to run:
Sealaska’s proposed land grab raises worries
Not that the tone ADN consistently uses with Native corporations is anything new, but really. Same story, but ADN editors went with a much catchier headline, only a little more biased. And just to make sure I wasn’t steeping in paranoia, here are just a few definitions of “land grab”:
“The term ‘land grab’ is almost always used in a pejorative sense to describe a hostile or unfair real estate transaction.” (WiseGeek)
“...the seizing of land by a nation, state, or organization, esp. illegally, underhandedly, or unfairly.” (Random House Dictionary)
Not that you need a definition to see the difference.
I don’t think Native corporations have always treated the land Native people paid for as they should. But in no way does the upholding of a legal transaction that should have taken place in 1971, or shortly thereafter, make for a land grab.
This is another area in which it is easy to get mired, and I really hate mentioning things that seem so small. After all, why should the “slight” difference of wording be so upsetting? Why should a few different words on a headline make any difference?
I happen to have a healthy respect for the responsibility of the media, and the Anchorage Daily News knows very well what “slight” differences in wording make. People read headlines. Many people will only read headlines. Sensationalism in any form gets people to read the story more, gets more newspapers sold. But for those that only read the headline, Native corporations (once again) come out on the wrong end. The headline sets up the whole tone for any article.
If you really want to see the difference in reader reactions, read the ADN (
I would love to talk about the actual issue more. It is not something I am completely resolved on myself. But it is difficult to focus on real issues when the repeated attention of
Again, I don’t think the Native corporations are all angelic. But they certainly aren’t the devil incarnate either. There are many corporations, serving a diverse people in a completely unique circumstance, and were formed as a requirement from the government. It is frustrating, not to mention a bit ironic, that the Native people are so frequently vilified for being successful at what they were required to begin.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Register to vote, or register someone else to vote.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Native Americans will elect our next President
Obama courts American Indians
McCain courts The Indian Country vote
Dems reach out to Native Americans
The history that this election is making, just in having these candidates at all, has been done and redone. The closer historic dates get, the more "rah rah" I can get about so much regarding history. But it's still worth a moment of pause on the 4th to look at just what's happened across this land since 1776. Not all good, but certainly not all bad.
Overdone sentementality or not, it is a nation full of invention and creativity, as well as shame and horrific acts. But I can appreciate, most of all, the willingness for change. A country that not really all that long ago found that the only good Indians were dead ones, that black men belonged in cotton fields, not presidential elections, and women didn't deserve the vote, much less a shot at an office, can find itself on a much different path. Wherever "there" is, we're not there yet, but we've got a history behind us that proves we're not just capable of injustice, but of acknowledging the injustice, and righting the wrong.
Okay, American cheerleading done for now. On the 5th I will bemoan the economy as I fill up my gas tank, shake my head in disgust at yet another elected official fighting corruption charges, and work towards electing those that will not require my relatives head back to Iraq.
But the 4th I will reserve for spending time with family and remembering why I believe it can all still change.
And hot dogs.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
It's about "Indian time" - a time I've heard about since... always. I usually actually hear about it when everyone shows up late (and I do mean everyone!) I've had friends who travel a bit say that it's not something particular to Natives, that many cultures (or just people) have this sense. I liked what one of the women in the article said:
''More and more, I am convinced Indian time is just 'human time,''' said Native
poet Sondra Ball of New Jersey. ''Humans were not meant to keep exact times. We
were meant to live within the confines of seasons, light and dark, and our own
body's rhythms, which are not the same from day to day or from year to year.''
"Human Time". I like it.
When I asked my dad if he thought there was Indian time, he said there was, but he hated when it was used in a negative context (like to simply describe being late all the time). That Indian time just means not early, not late - it's the time when everything is ready. It's when everything is just right.
That's more a concept I can gel with. I always thought it was kind of funny that whenever I had a party, my roommates and I could determine when everyone was going to show up within 15 minutes of when they would. We named the times for when people showed up - from "Joe time" at 15 minutes early to "J.R." time at three hours in. But it all worked.
This has been true for nearly every Native cultural event I've attended, and it does not mean everyone is late. In fact, you have to plan for coffee being there an hour or so early, for those that show up then. You don't neccessarily start when it's supposed to start. Well, pretty much never. But within an hour or so. In fact, I went to a potlatch a few months back that began three hours after the scheduled time (and had already been rescheduled just the day before to begin three hours before that!) But nobody really expected it to be starting much earlier than when it did.
The point is (I suppose), the time was right. If people showed up at the potlatch (which was a memorial/honor potlatch) expecting it to start much earlier, there was no stress about it beginning so late. When the time was right is when we began. Human time.
So - how many of you are on "Indian time"?