Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where YOU been?

Okay, I got another "We're worried about you!" e-mail.

I haven't posted in two months, and I haven't actually wanted to stop completely, but I did mention before about a big project.

So, the big project is a BOOK. I received funding from an awesome organization to finish my book, and I must say that between the book, the crazy hours at work, andlife, basically, I had no energy for anything else.

The book still isn't finished, but I certainly hope it will be soon. And I'll probably be talking about it soon, too. It has EVERYTHING to do with Native culture, and am going between being excited and terrified about it.

In any case, I do plan on picking up the posts here over the holidays.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pelosi promises on Native health care

From Indian Country Today:

“[W]e cannot ask Indian people to be penalized for choosing to use the Indian health care system,” Pelosi wrote.
“The House bill will ensure that the exemption from the financial penalties is extended to members of federally recognized Indian tribes, and that the tribally provided health care benefits are appropriately protected.”

Many lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, agree that American Indians have already paid for the cost of their health care many times over due to wrongful loss of lands, broken treaties, bad federal policy and other historical injustices imposed on tribal nations.

It's interesting to hear the "health care" buzz words going on at AFN/Youth and Elders conference downtown lately. The Alaska Federation of Natives convention is the largest gathering of Native people in the state, and there is always lots of politics going on.

Energy and economy, of course, are major topics, but in casual conversation alone, I heard so many Alaska Native people talking about health care.Technically, the convention hasn't started yet (tomorrow it kicks off) but the traditional Youth and Elders conference was packed with people talking about health care and what's going to happen. This from a people who, by majority, receive a differentform of health care than the average American.

At the very least, the focus on health care reform has created a genuine dialogue about health care where there was not one before. I can only think that's a good thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alaska Teritorial Guard benefits

If you haven't heard, last week the senate voted to keep the language in the defense authorization act to keep retirement pay to the veterans who served in the Alaska Territoral Guard.

Sen. Begich press release

Sen. Murkowski press release

From Begich:
Sens. Begich and Murkowski introduced a bill providing for the pensions to be restored to the ATG members, but were also successful in getting the language into the Defense Authorization Act. Concern arose after the SAP came out questioning the pensions and stating ATG service was state service and therefore not eligible for computation of retired pay.

I happened upon this commentary about it, and thought it was a great little history about the guard, not to mention some plain facts:

Alaskan Senators Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D) successfully brought forth legislation to restore full retirement pay to the surviving members of the ATG who qualify, and they have sent a letter to President Obama asking him to directly intervene. The fact that this should be necessary is a disgusting travesty. The nation, and the Army in particular, owe a debt of personal honor to these men and women – and an apology.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Territorial Guard issue seems to be a no-brainer

There's an issue that has been going around the ringer for awhile now, but really came to a head last week. Honestly, I'm still trying to make sense of it. It seems pretty simple to me.

Twenty six guys, still alive today, were asked to serve their country in World War II. Okay, so a lot MORE than 26 guys were asked, but I'm talking about these guys (and so is everyone else.) They did. They protected a valuable territory - still too few people know that parts of Alaska were invaded, successfully for a time, by the Japanese. They continued to serve their country long after, over twenty years. They are all old men now, in their eighties, and they've been collecting a (SMALL!) pension for their service. They would like to continue to receive their pension. Twenty six guys.

From the Anchorage Daily News article:

State lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year to fill the pay gap until Congress made a permanent fix, but the White House said Friday it didn't think it was "appropriate to establish a precedent of treating service performed by a state employee as active duty for purposes of the computation of retired pay."

This was a WTF? moment for me. I've been a supporter of the Obama Adinistration since well before it was an Administration. In this, they have it way, WAY wrong.

I've heard stories about these men for awhile now, and always thought it was a pretty neat thing for our men to have done. Even while the Aleut people were being forced to leave their homes by the US Government, Alaska Natives served their country proudly, and bravely. It amazes me, in a time when"No Natives or Dogs" was common, that these men had no hesitation. It was, after all, the home of ancestors a millenia past they were protecting.

I'm not even sure I fully understand the "state" comment - especially since there was no state of Alaska when these men siged up - and wouldn't be for another 17 years. So the state is responsible for the program needed by the federal government, 17 years before the state government would come into existence?

From Sen. Begich in a KTUU report:

"And for us to say to them that we're not interested because someone in the chain of command... said, ‘Well, it would set a precedent,' unless you can find me another Alaska Territorial Guard program in this country, I'd have that debate and I'd say, ‘Maybe you're right,' but there is none," Begich said.

I am frankly baffled by this, and wish someone could explain this to me in a way that seems reasonable. For sixty some odd years it was reasonable to continue honoring their service, but now, suddenly, it would set a dangerous precedent?

It seems to me the only precedent the continuation of the payments is setting is that the federal government will continue to care for those that took care of us, when they were called upon. In the billions we are spending right now on pork barrel this and pet project that, we really can't scrape together 26 monthly pensions for some brave old men the majority of Americans all agree deserve it?

This really is outrageous, and I hope someone wakes up over there soon.


All men (and women) created equal - and able to equally become stupid criminals

I read Julie O'Malley's column (in the Anchorage Daily News) on the Masek sentencing last week, and it's been a point of discussion with several friends. Beverly Masek was an Alaskan representative convicted on corruption charges in the string of corruption investigations, indictments and convictions to hit the state in recent years, the most notable of them being Sen. Ted Stevens. Besides ol' Uncle Ted, I haven't commented on many of them, but Masek's I have, and she still continues to irk me.

Masek is Native, but that part isn't what bothers me either. Okay, that part does too, but not primarily. What bothers me is Masek seems to be so willing to play up the poor Native villager victimhood, instead of truly owning up, and genuinly making a stab at bettering herself. Or as O'Malley put it, "The defense was reaching for heart-strings, playing a cloying victim tune. But it relied on a musty stereotype about Native women I don't buy."

I know many Native women from rural Alaska. Despite whatever past so many of them had, despite what challenges they faced coming to the city, the ones I admire most are the ones who played on the strength of their ties to the village, not excused their behavior with it. They are the ones who took their past and heritage in hand and learned from it, leaned on it, were proud of it - and, actions big or small, could be proud of their present, too.

And let's not forget Ms. Masek signed up for the job. It's hard to sell the victim part when you literally campaigned to get the gig.

The offensive part isn't that she's Native and committed a crime (poorly done crime at that.) If anything, it shows how equally stupid people can be, no matter their heritage. What's offensive is that Masek and these lawyers are leaning on the "weakness" of her rural ties to prove she deserves to be pitied, not punished.

If Masek really believes her ties to rural Alaska created a weakness in her character, and that what she learned and experienced there were the cause of her criminality, I think she does deserve to be pitied. But she's also a criminal, and until she can show a willingness to change, the only thing left to do is punish so her bad example can at least be made an example of what not to do.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Clarification from Obama administration for health care reform and Native population

From Indian Country Today:

Obama administration makes new promise on Indian health

I've been cautious to say anything on health care. As an Alaska Native, I've lived with pre-paid health care my whole life. It wasn't until I was a nanny, and had to navigate quite a bit of Denali Kid Care and doctor's outside of the Native health care system did I start to gain an appreciation for the enormity of the nation's health care problems.

I'm glad to see the Obama administration adjusting the plan to take in Indian health care, and he's already increased Indian health funding by more than has been in years. I'd like to see more details of what the differences are, what health care reform for Native people will look like, what it will look like for Indian Health Services.

A welcome quote from Murkowski in the article:

Later, when discussing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, Murkowski acknowledged tribes have been waiting and working for 20 years to have it passed, saying, “it’s about time for a signing ceremony at the White House.

No exaggeration. It's been that long. But there was also an interesting comment posted (with many others echoing the thought):

I have been around a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng time; and have been blessed with this lingo many times before. Address the unmet need and I'll open my ears again to listen. Every administration professes their loyalty to NA/AN's. That is good! But they profess to an inadaquate health care system such as IHS. Cut out the expensive middle man-system; fund Tribes directly and fulfill the treaty and executiove order (s) commitment (s). We spend far to much on a system that has never done that well.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ever wanted to write a play?

Just stumbled on this very cool opportunity for Native artists of all kinds.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center is starting an Alaska Native Playwrights Project, in which artists will go through a 5-day writing intensive and 7-month mentoring process to see the story they want to tell put into script form. From the site:

Alaska Native Playwrights Project (ANPP) seeks to identify, teach and nurture Alaska Native playwrights and to establish a repertoire of uniquely Alaska Native plays derived from the rich oral tradition of Alaska’s eleven indigenous cultures and the artists’ own personal narratives.

Ten Alaska Native artists from across the state will be selected for mentorships with recognized professional indigenous playwrights from Alaska and the Lower 48. Each selected Alaska Native writer will participate in a 5-day writing workshop with the professionals, or Teaching Artists, who will also mentor them through the 7-month process of creating a “first draft” play.

The FAQ's also say you don't have to be a writer or performer - they're looking for Native artists of all types to tell a story of their culture. Deadline is October 5th!!

Back in sunlight

So I've been silent (only on here, I gaurantee) for a while, but I've literally been holed up in my apartment, ignoring work, family and friends for the last week finishing up a BIG project. Like, something I've been wanting to do, and planning on, literally since childhood. So, not so much an apology or excuse, as context.

In this time I have also not been paying much attention to the world in general, and there were some surprising things I discovered today, my first day back in sunlight. The most pressing, headline grabbing news of the day?

Obama is trying to indoctrinate children with nazi propaganda.

I try not to comment on every crazy thing that rears an ugly head. But this one literally had me do a WTF? head snap. I mean, really?

Who would have thought Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich would turn out as voices of reason in this insanity?

The funny part is, though I didn't listen/watch, I read the transcript of his speech. Maybe it was different in delivery, but one of my biggest thoughts was, "Wow... this is kinda boring." Obama is an excellent speaker, but maybe not so versed in how to reach the kiddos.

Maybe I'll have to ask some of my younger friends what they thought, but it was fairly dripping in "live up to your responsibility," "do your homework," and "work hard because we're building your future here." He even threw in a whole "when I was your age, this was how much harder I had it" story. I mean, yeah, I believe it, but we're talking the toughest audience on earth, here.

I've seen some very well-meaning parents give similar speeches to their children when I was working with kids, and in most cases saw eyes glazing over, and much focus on trying not to get bawled out by being obvious they weren't paying attention.

Violent revolution, it was not.

I have a hope though, that the kids lucky enough to have resonable parents and teachers, and were allowed and able to see the broadcast, will remember it in some years to come. Much sooner in life than, say, one unnamed raven who sat long hours listening to the values of mathematics from grandparents at their dining room table, eyes glazed in a similar way.

Yes, it was valuable, but I don't know that TELLING kids it's valuable does much good in the present. I imagine a generation of kids, ten, twenty years from now as they are trying to get ahead in their jobs, or reach their own ungrateful children, going, "OH! THAT's what the Obamer was saying!"

Ah well, there were some good messages in it. Maybe I'm preemptively defensive because the last time there was a speech from a president to public schools (George numero uno, I hear) I was a pretty young kid in school and... nada.

Don't remember it at all.

I remember very well the face of the girl who peed on the bus in kindergarten, can tell you the name of the kid who had a Hostess Ding Dong in her lunch box at school - twice - during second grade, and will happily produce the picture book a not-so-famous author came and signed for our third grade classroom. But don't really remember the leader of the free world giving me a message of hope and discipline.

Maybe I was sick that day.

In any case - whatever already! I've read people saying if W. had tried a similar thing, the other side would be just as up in arms, but I'm just not one of them. I mean, I can't stand W., but I would imagine the values and lessons I instilled in children since birth could stand up to one lecture on hard work and doing homework. Really, the guy was still president.

If it gets them to listen to the words "do" "your" and "homework" in a new way, go for it. For that matter, I would make sure to tell them to watch carefully - W. is proof that anyone can be president.

Okay, soap box done. Sometimes, I just can't adjust my thinking to what in world people are scared of now fast enough. This one had my head spinning.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

State Dept. of Education hiring new rural position

Strange, but one of my first reactions to the announcement in the Peninsula Clarion that the state was hiring a rural education director was, "Wow - they don't have that position already?"

I'm glad that some of this is the focus:

In Alaska, rural often means Native, and LeDoux said working to improve Native education will be a significant part of the new rural director's job.

The idea is to help schools in those areas succeed, despite hurdles they currently face, he said.

"One of the missing ingredients is making sure that our indigenous communities are involved intimately in the education of their children," LeDoux said.

Yet by the end of the article, it is highlighted once again why some understanding of Alaska Native cultures is desperately needed in areas have incredibly low graduation rates, in a demographic that is not thriving under the current system. Yet...

"Pre-Western contact, Alaska Native culture had one of the most precision education systems in the world," he said.

"They were able to effectively pass on hunting, religious values, customs, their entire culture, with such accuracy they were able to thrive in one of the harshest environments on Earth."

It may seem nit-picky about the wording here, but this is something important to understand about one of the reasons Alaska Native students can feel alienated in the Alaska public school system - and not just rural.

The above comment makes me want to ask the state commisioner of the Department of Education what he means by "Alaska Native culture." The widely varying cultures across Alaska are not even close to a united single culture. By this, I don't mean nobody gets along. I mean there are completely different lifestyles, values, traditional educational systems, environments - and not by subtle degrees. Yup'ik people were not taught under the complicated political system Tlingit people developed, and Tlingit children were cared for in a totally different way than the very affectionate way Yup'ik children were raised.

In Anchorage, especially, I studied many different units, and was given talks by teachers about the "Alaska Native culture." It is strange to hear how "your culture" is, and not be able to relate at all to the culture they are describing. Native students make up roughly 20% of the Alaska student population, and in many rural communities a much higher percentage, yet are continually treated as strangers, outsiders.

I applaud the effort of this hiring, but even the statement about the position serves to underscore why such a position is needed. It was frustrating to go through the Alaska school system feeling like an outsider, and feeling like very little, if anything, was being done. I hope the person in this position is able to be heard on real, impactful change. Native students in Alaska have proved time and again they can achieve on a broad basis when culture is taken into consideration.


Okay, it's a crappy camera phone pic, and it's nothig of substance, but I went for a really long walk and snapped this mama and baby moose.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Obama Administration in Rural Alaska

I know, I know, this is kinda late. But I was perusing Tundra Drums, and thought this was a pretty good article about the members of Obama's cabinet who visited rural Alaska recently. Interesting to hear their take on local issues. I liked what the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development remarked on:

Toward the end of the day, as the secretaries boarded their plane, a reporter asked Donovan if he thought federal money was being wasted in Alaska.

“I haven’t seen any wasted money today,” he said emphatically. “This is a critical, critical resource for these folks here and we’re going to do everything we can to take care of the needs we’ve seen here today.”

The image above is from this booklet, which does a pretty fair job of spelling out some of the "problems and solutions" in rural Alaska.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time for another talk on subsistence

From Alaska Indigenous:

Early this morning I picked up a piece of news from the Anchorage Daily Newspaper that Sen. Al Kookesh will fight a fishing citation issued by an Alaska State Trooper wildlife officer, on Admiralty Island, Alaska...

Kookesh stated the citation and fine is beside the point of the issue. If Sen. Kookesh follows through with the fight against the citation, then a possible court case might result in a contemporary judicial interpretation or opinion regarding the “rural preference” for subsistence law in the state of Alaska.

From the Anchorage Daily News article:

Megan Peters, a troopers spokeswoman, told the Juneau Empire the party was in possession of 148 sockeye salmon taken with a beach seine net. Each man had a valid subsistence permit allowing them to collectively take a total of 75 sockeye, she said...

Kookesh has a different take. Nine people were at the fishing site, he said. Only four were cited. A 10th person with a permit for an additional 100 fish was delayed.

The net belonged to him, Kookesh said, but it takes seven or eight people to work it. Thirty-eight fish went to the Angoon senior center, he said, and the rest went to 12 different families.

"Every time it goes out it feeds 10 to 15 families," Kookesh said of his net.

I wish the article had a little bit more detail on what is meant between the state and federal management difference. It is an incredibly complicated issue that got reduced to a paragraph or two - though really this needs to be played out in a statewide discussion. A REAL discussion, not the sort of commercial, flier blitz that tends to happen with big issues like this.

Ironic that the fish was going to the same place whether it was the people getting it in the first place, or the fish cops bringing it to them - the Angoon Senior Center. I know of many subsistence nets like this, and fished on them myself this summer, and most of the fish went to elders first, and then various families.

The most frustrating part of all of it is the lopsided management that prevents fish getting to many, many elders and families, for the sake of...? what? Too many trials and studies in which subsistence rights were given up or taken away because that "must be" a big reason fisheries or environmental problems were happening find that is probably not the case. When subsistence was gone, the fisheries or environmental problems got worse or stayed the same. The beluga whale problem right here in Southcentral is a good example of that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Healthcare video debate going for Indian Health Services tactics

Every time I think people like Glenn Beck can't tick me off more than they have, they pull it out of somewhere.

Stumbled on this little bit in Indian Country Today about Glenn Beck comparing Indian Health Service to the proposed health care reform. It is a little bit "one plus one equals a barrel of monkeys", but there is some genuine points made if you can weave your way through the commentary. Anyways, the video:

The thing is, it's not like there isn't a basis for argument here. Indian Health Services is not a good model of a government run agency, even a little bit. It sucks.

What they DON'T say is what pisses me off. Because Glenn Beck just discovered their was a problem with IHS, and would like to use the HUGE underfunding of that program to prove public options can't work.

But who are the people that are throwing road blocks in the way of funding the IHS in the first place? How is it that, despite "everyone" knowing how terribly underfunded the system is, politicians haven't been able to get any money to it? Was Glenn Beck speaking out against Bush when he was threatening to veto the (as yet made law) Indian Health Care Improvement Act last year?

You can't be a part of the problem, and then use the problem as an example of what the other guy is doing wrong. Well, apparently Beck can, I suppose.

From a RezNet article:

About one-third more is spent per capita on health care for felons in federal prison, according to 2005 data from the health service.

In Washington, a few lawmakers have tried to bring attention to the broken system as Congress attempts to improve health care for millions of other Americans. But tightening budgets and the relatively small size of the American Indian population have worked against them.

"It is heartbreaking to imagine that our leaders in Washington do not care, so I must believe that they do not know," Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in his annual state of Indian nations' address in February.

The White House sent out its own video response to some of these allegations, and makes good points as well:

Of course, there is some of the "glossing" as well. I think they are right to say that the two are very different things... VERY. Yet, right away she admonishes those critics who say that Indian health care is not "stable" as just passing on scare tactics. Uh... right. That it is not stable is a FACT. Anyone who went to the old, entirely IHS run, Native hospital downtown can attest to that. Waiting all day to be seen in emergency was not an exception, but a rule.

Alaska is not a great example for her to use as something in which IHS "works," and it is a pretty fine line she tries to weave. It can only work better than down south because the VERY different system we have (not reservation systems, for instance) allows the IHS to be supplemented by Native corps, grants, insurance, etc. MORE than supplementing - the majority of the money in the Alaska Native health system is NOT provided by IHS. And oh- by the way - it is NOT administered by IHS anymore. It's Native run. Soo...NOT so much an example of an IHS system that works.

Obama made a huge increase to the IHS budget this year, and has already made roads to try and make it a better, or at least better funded, system. What ticks me off is that opponents of the one are trying to use a problem they've ignored or spoken out against for years, and hold it up as the other guys problem.

I would love to hear actual debate going on about health care reform, but all I keep hearing is these outrageous, hypocrtical, off-point claims and examples that play on emotion rather than fact. Can't we all agree, at least, that health care is not working in this country? And can't we all agree that changes are definitely needed? And I KNOW we can all agree that the health insurance system needs an overhaul, or I'd like to meet the person who believes THAT system is sound!

Maybe there is a plus side to all this - now that so many media faces and lawmakers have "discovered" there is a problem with IHS funding, and are telling the world about it, all IHS's funding problems will be solved!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crow chief receives Medal of Freedom from Obama: Video

Follow up to a previous post about Joe Medicine Crow, a war hero, war chief, and historian. He received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama last week. Video from Indan Country Today:

Crow chief receives Medal of Freedom

Another video,an interview with Medicine Crow. I liked what he was saying about "enjoying" life in a "blend" between old and new. You don't often hearit put that way, "enjoying the bicultural."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hope for REAL energy solutions in rural Alaska?

I was visiting Southeast Alaska this summer, and had a few discussions about the impact of something like a small wind farm in some of the small communities I was in. Kodiak has a few now, and CIRI is developing some over on Fire Island - I've heard of other either in development, being researched, or already up.

This, of course, led to a discussion on other alternative energy solutions for rural Alaska, and why they almost never happen (prohibitive cost to start up that smal communities can't shoulder, intervention by large companies, too much beauracracy to navigate, etc.) I really believe rural Alaska could lead the way in developing energy solutions for the country, even the world - but there are blockades in the way.

I hope this is a small, maybe bigger, chip in the barrier. From the Juneau Empire, Murkowski "welcoming" (I don't really know what that means, as far as her involvement) two grants totalling over $3 million for hydro-electric projects.

Not huge in the grand scheme, maybe, but huge for those communities. I imagine Juneau residents can tell you what it's like having to curtail their power or face steep bills not so long ago after a power shortage, though I imagine most rural Alaska residents would probably welcome their "steep" bills in leiu of their own. I'm no scientist, or energy expert, so it is easy for me to say "other people" should develop innovative solutions in rural Alaska, but there are hundreds of communities out there prime to be energy alternative guinea pigs!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Native man wants to forgive attackers in hate crime against him

Reporters interviewed Eddie Barr, the victim of the hate crime captured on video and posted on YouTube. What is amazing about this guy is his total willingness to forgive, despite the fear he has now, and the fact that even during the attack, he was only trying to be a nice guy, and then trying to ask them to stop.

From the KTUU interview:

"I smile a lot you know," Barr said. "People I see, even people I don't know. I smile you know, but when they started throwing things at me for no reason that gets scary. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what's going to happen to me."

..."You know I pray for them, though," Barr said. "I'm hoping they'll change their attitudes. I'm hoping when they get older you know they'll forgive me. Maybe I'll forgive them. I already forgive them already."

The Anchorage Daily News has more of a specific play-by-play of what happened. I don't mind telling you that just reading it, I was struggling between disgust, sorrow, and fear.

According to charging documents, Gum and Powers, both white, spewed venom at their victim as they pelted him with bottles and eggs, mocking a Native accent and saying "I want my Monarch (vodka)," while the target of their fury meekly tried to walk away, according to charges filed in court Friday...

The victim stood there, extended a handshake and said, "Please don't bother me."

Gum replied, "If you touch my sister, I will cut you," the charges say. Powers pushed the man again, and, at Gum's direction, kicked the man in the behind. After Gum threatened to kick him in the head, the man protested that he wasn't dumb.

"You are dumb," Powers said, according to the charges. "You're a f-----g Native."

I was eating dinner with a couple of friends last night, and neither had heard about this incident yet. One was Native, one non-Native, and the reactions were interesting when I was telling them about it. The non-Native friend was shocked, and disgusted. The Native friend made a face, gave a sigh, and ate her food in silence.

Not that this is indicative of everyone, but I don't think there's any Native person I've talked to yet that's been shocked. Most seem to think it's disgusting, but inevitable. Although the stories report the "past incidents" of this as being in 2001 and before, I know these are only the "incidents" that have been caught. What the reports don't mention is that most of those attacks, this one included, were only caught because the idiots committing the crime videotaped the attacks. I gaurantee that for every incident on tape, there are hundreds of incidents committed with the victims remaining silent.

I've had racially charged hate spewed at me in this city, without provocation, more than once (I think this is the only incident I've talked about on the blog), and downtown is probably the most unsafe place to be Native in Anchorage, at least in regards to outspoken, public racism. And no - not in a single case was I drunk, homeless or even speaking my mind, three states in which, many times, people seem to think that a Native person must have been "asking for it," and the crime, while regrettable, is understandable.

Anecdotally, I know this kind of thing happens much, much more than is reported. I am not speaking of racially charged crimes in which there is provocation - groups revenging on groups, or people abusing each other. I'm speaking of people who are literally walking down the street, shopping at a mall, sitting down to eat that are attacked, both verbally and physically because of their race. Although I'm sure this happens to many races, the dozens of examples I have are from Native friends and acquaintances in this city, and my own experiences. The things these people were yelling at Barr are disgusting - but I can't tell you a single one I haven't heard myself.

I went on a walk today, and I've got to tell you this was on my mind. This is the first long walk I've gone on alone in quite a while, and I hated the fact that when a car slowed down near me, I turned my face, so maybe they wouldn't see I was Native. I am normally pretty proud of my heritage, and family might be able to tell you I can adventure in strange cities alone with great (probably reckless) abandon, and not think about my own safety (yes, I am VERY unwise this way). So why is it when I walk down a street alone in Anchorage, I don't want people to see my heritage because I don't want a paintball shot at me?

I feel discouraged today, because this seems to be the same old thing, and so many don't even see it as a widespread problem.

Video of interview with the victim, Eddie Barr:

Friday, August 14, 2009

APD arrests two in hate crime against Native man

From the Anchorage Daily News:

With their video camera rolling, a young white couple threw eggs at an Alaska Native man and kicked him, slinging slurs in what appears to have been a racially motivated assault, police said Thursday. During the attack, the victim held his hand out trying to shake the hands of his aggressors, police said...

The pair threatened the man, threw things at him and used racial slurs, police said. They pushed and kicked the man, police said. He didn't fight back, just asked to be left alone.

I honestly don't understand that level of hate.

And, "He... just asked to be left alone."

I'm having a problem grappling with the mindset of people who approach a man who has his handout in friendship, and then treat him so sub-humanly.

One of the first posts I did on Alaska Real was my own experience with hatred while walking downtown, and why I hate going downtown, being fairly obviously Native. My experiences were certainly nothing compared to this man, but I avoid downtown because I have a very reasonable fear something exactly like this could happen, for no other reason than I look the way I look.

I often wonder just how much of this is going on - the physical attacks anyways - and not getting reported. This man certainly didn't, and it sounds like police have reason to believe there is more from this couple. This isn't the first attack on Native people downtown caught on video, nor is it the most heinous.

The irony is when I keep hearing the refrain that "racism isn't a problem in this town."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Native economy essay reminder - $10,000 for six winners!

(click on image to make bigger)

Just a reminder that this contest put on by the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), partnered with the National Congress of American Indians and Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, has a deadline of Sept. 15 - just a month away!

SIX Native winners - three Alaska Native and three American Indian/Native Hawaiian, from what I understand - will win $10,000! From the Web site:

We invite all Native individuals or collaborative teams to submit their 500-1,600 word original written work addressing one or more of the following questions:

1. How can the Native community best participate in the process of economic renewal? What unique contributions can we make to help jumpstart the US and international economies?

2. Are you confident that economic growth will be restarted in 2009/2010? Describe your views on how the economic recovery will take place.

3. How must our economy change to fully recover from this economic crisis? What additional steps do President Obama and the Congress need to take to make these changes happen? How can Native Americans step up to help make these necessary changes and build sustainable economies?

A chance at $10,000 for 500-1,600 words? Seriously, folks, pass the word! I've done about half a dozen versions of an essay, myself. Not a strong writer, but have some good ideas? Partner with someone who is a good writer, but just needs the idea, or research!

I'm starting to sound like an ad, I know, but I think this is a great thing AFN is doing. They've been doing some interesting things with business idea prizes and things in the last few years, and this kind of sounds like an extension of the spirit of that - Native ideas on business, economy and the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama Administration supports Native Hawaiian self-governance

I'm a little surprised this isn't getting more play in the news, but it would mean huge changes for the Native people of Hawaii if it were to pass. From RezNet:

Sam Hirsch, deputy associate attorney general for the Justice Department, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Thursday that the department "strongly supports the core policy goals" of a bill allowing for self-governance by Native Hawaiians. Once established, the new government would negotiate with the state and the federal government over which assets the new government would own.

Though in none of the 200+ years of U.S. dealings with indigenous people is there a shining example of how it can be done right, I must confess I've never quite understood how, legally, morally, logically the Native people of Hawaii cannot be considered similar to Alaska Native and American Indian "tribes" (I use the term loosely, because up here, at least, "tribe" is only ever a government classification and never something used to describe any of the people groups outside of federal/state government terms.)

Of course it is complicated, but also silly to me the argument that Native Hawaiians have a "different" history from "Indian tribes" of the mainland. Of course they have - but it's only a statement made by someone who groups all Native people on the mainland of North America the same.

Although I belong to a federally classified "tribe," I can gaurantee you my people's history, with the U.S. government or otherwise, doesn't look a thing like that of the Crow tribe's history. Outside of being treated pretty poorly, there are little similarities, and the differences are at least as great as the difference in the Native Hawaiian history and any other federally recognized tribe.

The articles (one also from the Honolulu Advertiser) don't mention any real possibilities for passage of the bill from the Senate, but it is good to hear that it has support from the White House all the same. I would love to hear where each of the senators stands on it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Native achievement gap closing.. work to be done

From the Juneau Empire:

The trend statewide is positive for Native students, said Eric Fry, spokesman for the state Department of Education and Early Development. Eighty-four schools statewide failed to meet requirements among the Alaska Native population during the 2007-2008 school year. That number fell to 79 last school year.

And then compare:

Statewide test results show significantly lower scores for Alaska Natives. Only 57 percent of Native children read at grade level compared with 89 percent of Caucasian students. In math, 50 percent of Native children are at grade level, compared with 78 percent of Caucasian kids.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Native American Supreme Court Justice up next?

Interesting poll from US News and World Report - 50% surveyed would like to see the next Supreme be a Native American. As we (hopefully) have our first Hispanic Supreme shortly, this would be great to see.

Respondents chose racial diversity over religious diversity or difference in sexual orientation. A whopping 50 percent of those surveyed said they would like to see President Obama choose a Native American for the Supreme Court if the president got a second selection. Nineteen percent said they would like to see Obama appoint an Asian and 16 percent an African-American justice. Only 13 percent hoped to see a gay or lesbian justice as Obama's next pick. And coming in last, with 2 percent, was a Muslim justice.

Don't know how scientific this survey was, but sounds good to me!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Begich gives maiden speech, introduces Inuvikput bills. Love it.

I was really expecting a sort of typical, "Let's drill!" sort of focus, not because that's what Begich tends to do, but when an Alaskan politician gets in front of the U.S. Senate, that's kind of what I expect. Okay... not really fair, but it was a pretty long time, with a pretty big spotlight, to have the floor, and I think it's awesome that it was about the Arctic - preservaton, responsiblity, focus on those most affected in the regions. He mentions drilling, but in the light of needing more responsibility, including ensuring safe drilling in the first place, and ensuring those in the region aren't affected, and protection if they are.

He uses an Inupiaq word to describe the package of bills - Inuvikput - and really gives an awful lot of attention and focus on Native and rural issues and impact. Worth a listen to:

There's more details on some of the bills on Shannyn Moore's page, including:

Arctic OCS Revenue Sharing Act – Alaska Natives who have subsisted on marine mammals and other arctic resources for thousands of years would bear the direct risks of increased commercial activity in their waters. This bill directs a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas development – the same share Louisiana receives from drilling in the adjacent Gulf of Mexico – to the State of Alaska with a percentage of those funds directed to those most affected.

Arctic Health Research Act – People of the Arctic suffer from increased rates of alcohol abuse, diabetes, high blood pressure, and death from injury and suicide. This act would initiate a study into the mental, behavioral and physical health problems in the Arctic, institute an Arctic health assessment program at the Centers for Disease Control and create an “Arctic desk” at the National Institute of Health that was called for in 1984 but has never been established.

Yes - this is EXACTLY why I voted for Begich!!

He also mentioned something about a bill he is still considering giving - something that got tabled - on an Arctic advisory council:

Begich said he is considering introducing an additional piece of legislation focused on providing the people of Alaska's Arctic with more of a voice in the decisions affecting their lives. The bill would establish an Arctic Regional and Citizens Advisory Council, modeled after similar councils which successfully operate in the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet regions of Alaska. At the request of the North Slope Borough mayor, Begich said he held off introducing the bill pending further discussions with the people of Alaska's North Slope, as well and industry and regulatory stakeholders.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Native war chief to be honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom

I was really intrigued with this man's story, after reading the article on Reznet. Joe Medicine Crow will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in America, from Obama on Aug. 12.

A 95-year-old Crow Indian who wore war paint into battle beneath his World War II uniform and later became an acclaimed Native American historian will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom next month...

In 1939, Medicine Crow became the first of his tribe to receive a master's degree, in anthropology. He is the Crow's sole surviving war chief, an honor bestowed for a series of accomplishments during World War II including hand-to-hand combat with a German solider, whose life Medicine Crow spared.

There's very few people I read about in the news, even celebrities, politicians, etc. I admire that as soon as I hear about them, I think, "Man, I hope there's a book about him." But even just reading his Wikipedia page and a other things on the Web makes me want to know more about Medicine Crow. I don't know much about him or his culture (Crow,) but he sounds like he's tried to live his life bravely, honorably, and with a most difficult mix of tradition and adaptation. At the very least, it sounds like a very intriguing story. Thank goodness he's also an author!

He's receiving the medal along with a prestigous, mixed group, including Ted Kennedy, Stephen Hawking, Desmond Tutu, Sidney Poitier, Sandra Day O'Connor and Harvey Milk.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Activity on Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay region

One of the more controversial state issues is the Pebble Mine, a potential copper/gold mine in Western Alaska - also the heart of one of the biggest salmon fisheries. Bristol Bay residents - Native and not - recently spoke out on the project, by way of a lawsuit saying the only public notice given on the Pebble Mine was by way of an Internet notice. Anyone who has spent time in even semi-rural Alaska knows the immediate problem that allows.

From the Arctic Sounder:

Cotton said the only public notice provided in several years of exploration was a “courtesy notice” posted on the Internet early this year and not mailed out, nor published in a newspaper. The notice doesn’t even mention Pebble by name, he said. Many in the region do not have access to Internet so they didn’t see the notice.

“The people in the region have reached a breaking point,” Cotton said.

Dillingham resident and Native elder Bobby Andrews spoke about protecting the natural resources because the concerns reach far into the future not only for him as a subsistence user but could also impact all users.

He said people in that region, especially concerning issues as water or mineral extraction, do not necessarily have the computer literacy to keep up with orders issued online by the Department of Natural Resources.

This should be interesting to watch where it goes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alaska Native leader speaks out on Palin

Saw this in the ADN Newsreader today, originally from the New York Times. Willie Hensley, a prominent and VERY well-respected Alaska Native leader wrote an op-ed that landed in the Times, aptly titled "In Alaska, Qiviters Never Win." The "qiviters" is a play on a an Inuit word for... well, quitting.

From the article:

In short, Alaska had a governor who had the stature within the state, nationally and internationally, to deal with our problems. She could have used her position to find solutions to the high costs and financial insecurities of our far-northern state. Instead, she abandoned her role as the state’s leader in midstream, making her the only governor in our state’s history to "qivit" in the true sense of the word, at a time when we need strong leadership.

It's actually a great article on the history of this state, and endurance of ALL its people, and worth the read.

Phil Munger over at Progressive Alaska also had a great post today about the voice of Alaska Native people, highlighting Hensley and other Native leaders.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Alaska Native contract senate hearings

What with all the Palin news, I haven't even attempted much Native news updates. But there's a whole lot going on, especially in D.C.

Senate hearings on Alaska Native contracts (from the Anchorage Daily News)

Probably one of the most publicized Native news pieces is regarding the Alaska Native federal contracts. In short - many Alaska Native corporations are using a small-business administration program that allows for preference to minority-owned businesses. U.S. Sen. McCaskill is trying to create big reform, saying that the corporations are abusing the program.

It is hard to say where I really stand on this - I can see both sides. There are Alaska Native corporations I don't really think can be called a disadvantaged business, and I think competition should happen (some of the contracts are given without.) Yet my fear is what happens with most things regarding Alaska Native corporations - they are all painted with the same brush. The Alaska Native corporations that are raking in the money are an incredible minority. Many are really struggling - one of the 13 regional corporations looks to have gone under. What's more, the Alaska Native corporations that are succeeding take constant flak for their success. Can we all turn around and make Kaladi Brothers justify their success at every turn? My guess is it was smart business practices.

I don't know enough about the current laws to see where reform is needed. It seems like fair should be fair - a business that is disadvantaged should hold the same weight in a bid as another business that is disadvantaged in the spirit of the program. If that's not happening, things should change. They should define just who they are trying to give help to.

One thing many don't understand about Native corporations is that they are not run at all like regular corporations. What other corporations are required to give 70% of its natural resource profits to "competing" companies if they aren't doing well? Can you imagine if Conoco Philips were required to give 70% of its profits from oil to Exxon when Exxon had a bad run? Yet all the big (13) Native corporations are required to do this, or at least the ones doing well.

And the money doesn't all go to line pockets of "all the wealthy Natives." I'm sure enough of it finds its way to corruption, as in any major business, but I would wager most Native corporations people see on a regular basis are actually non-profits. The money goes to health care, social services, cultural programs, scholarships and justice programs.

Coca-Cola and Microsoft get major kudos when they give a small percentage of their profit toward college scholarships and building a wing in a hospital. I challenge anyone to look at just how much the for-profit Native corporations have spent on the non-profits - health care, justice, culture, housing, you name it. What's more, they are expected to do this, and little recognition is given, or at least, certainly not the same recognition as a non-Native corporation.

I'm glad they are doing it, and I do expect Native corporations to spend substantial amounts on Native health, welfare and culture. I just hope that people realize these contracts aren't given, and then every Native person in Alaska is walking around with a fortune in Native dividend checks.

To be transparent about my own tie to this, I have received exactly three checks in my life from my corporation - the largest sum was enough to pay two months car insurance, the smallest two tanks of gas. I don't happen to think there's anything so wrong with that - I would rather the shareholder money go toward building up tradtional language programs or funding college (I HAVE earned scholarships, and would prefer those any day!) than paying my bills... Of course, I'm not struggling with outrageous heating costs and children to feed, so I have the freedom to say that.

I'm glad both Sen. Begich and Sen. Murkowski are fighting the good fight on this. Although I'm sure reform is on its way, I have a hope that it will be fair, instead of a retribution, or favoring some other side. Don't know that that is how it will turn out, but with the many voices I've been hearing about in D.C. speaking out about this, and two senators, there's at least a chance... right?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A good day or Alaska... hopefully

In under an hour, Palin will no longer be our governor. Hallelujah.

I have no idea what her plans are after this, and the only way this could be a bad thing is if she decided she still wanted to run for office. If she wants to do some entertainment/newsy thing, go for it - I don't care. It would be easy to turn her off and ignore her - something I can't do while she's making (or, more likely, not making) huge decisions that will affect me and everyone I care about.

This Juneau Empire article did a great job, I think, of explaining some of the "ethical dilemna" Palin faced (or, again, didn't face) and is leaving us with. Basically, a great big mess. It really goes into the ethics complaints issues, and exposes all the PR lies about them from the Palin camp. Ironic that the BULK of the money the state is being made to pay on these "frivolous complaints" is from the complaint Palin filed against herself.

Palin's claims, from the article:

Those claims are contradicted by records released under the Alaska Public Records Law and interviews with administration and other sources. They show a pattern of the Palin administration using public resources and the state's ethics laws in an effort to block and discredit both frivolous and credible charges made against the governor.

Is this the "ethics reform" she was talking about accomplishing?

But as much as, yes, she's abanding the post with tons of unfinished business, and I STILL can't figure out what she was talking about on all her administration's "accomplished," I'm still glad she's leaving. It was pretty likely she was going to leave those things unaccomplished anyways.

From the other big newspapers around the state:

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on the state vs. national access Palin's given, and her "open access" fail.

The Anchorage Daily News pondering some of the questions around why she's leaving. Might be because NOBODY believes the "Why can't you people believe it's totally atruistic?" defense Palin has given.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Palin's (predictable) problems

No exactly shocking today to hear that another of the ethics complaints against Palin have been found to have merit. Interesting, though.

Here's some of my favorite Palin postings of the past few days:

Shannyn Moore with "It's not Sarah's fault... just ask her."
When it comes to taking responsibility for her failures, Sarah Palin is completely unaccountable. Her finger is always pointed at the most convenient scapegoat. Last fall, I said she was George W. Bush with lipstick; nothing is ever her fault. With her resignation, she has set a new bar for blame.

From the Fairbanks Daily News-miner, "State's oil review stalls," about a few of Palin's unfinished projects.

Describing the project, which would cost $5 million and take two to three years to complete, Gov. Palin said, “no such system-wide risk assessment has ever been conducted on this complex system.”

Two years later, as Gov. Palin leaves office early, the risk assessment project is in shambles.

And, for the musical folk, a bit of theater:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Alaska Native view on Palin resignation... and what's next?

All right, so it's only a little bit of a view, but this Indian Country Today article does a pretty good summation of Native issues and Palin.

“To vacate her position early is pretty concerning. It leaves questions about her character – but maybe it will turn out to be a good thing for Alaska Natives.”

But when it comes to Parnell, the soon-to-be governor of Alaska - big ol' question mark. I'm not getting my hopes up that he'll be any better with Native issues, but I've certainly been surprised before.

While I was reading up on this, I spotted another nice little article from a New Mexico Independent blogger taking a vacation in Alaska. It was a pretty interesting view from an outsider looking in on Alaska. If nothing else, I appreciated her setting the record straight on at least one thing:

The people in Wasilla were nice. But as much as I tried, I could not find anyone else who talks all twangy like Gov. Palin. There is no Wasilla accent — that is all her, baby.

All right, all right - there was more substantial observations too. But that accent of hers bugs me. I'VE lived in Alaska all my life, and don't know anyone who talks like that!

I would love it if more media and outside commentators spent even a little time in Alaska before talking about us. From most people I've talked to from down south, and my own brief forays to the Lower 48, it IS a very different place.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Arctic tribute to MJ

Whatever your feelings about Michael Jackson, I believe history will still show him as one of the most influential artists of our time. If you think on nearly all the biggest names of music, painting, literature, etc., there were some incredibly striking personal issues, problems, whatever that history easily forgives and forgets, embracing the body of work. Like it or not, Michael was an icon of our times, and historians a hundred years from now will use him in descriptions of this era, just as Mozart and Van Gogh are used to describe their own era.

Here's a video I saw on the national news coverage of today's services - an Alaskan tribute from Toolik! (And what Alaska tribute would be complete without monster mosquitos?):

Monday, July 6, 2009

Still not sure what to say about Palin

I've been back on dry land for a few days, trying to catch up on the Palin news after my own personal "media blackout." But to be honest, I still don't even know what to think about Palin quitting office.

First reaction, disbelief. Second, glee. Third, WTF?

Despite Palin's claim she "gave her reasons," uh... did you hear any? I mean, I heard a bunch of things thrown out there, but not really. Is she going to run in 2012? No idea (but sure hope not.) Is it because of some looming scandal that's going to break? Wouldn't surprise me.

She spent a lot of time blaming the media, but that's the wierdest part to me. I mean, I know it's been a strategy of hers since the beginning, despite her hypocritical and ironic trashing of Hillary Clinton about "whining" over the media. But quitting because the media is too mean?

Even more ironic, in her rambling statement, people are "naive" to think the media isn't hard on her. Isn't she even more naive to think that doesn't come with the territory? If you think running for Vice President of the United States isn't going to get a million people examining and commenting about every hair on your head, I'm sorry ma'am, YOU'RE very naive. I'm sure it's hard, and I'm sure I'd hate the same, but that's the reason I never ran for PUBLIC OFFICE.

In any case, I suppose I'm with the rest of the country in waiting for her reasons, and seeing what comes next.

And in case you haven't seen it, I thought Shannyn Moore's interview - and their dscussion - on Countdown was excellent. The whole Palin segment was pretty good, including the bit with the Vanity Fair writer. If you haven't seen THAT article, make sure to check it out too!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Real Native Myths and Legends - Revisited #4

I'm going to be out of Internet access for a few days. I'd like to start revisiting somethig I paused when the Palin stuff came out last fall - "Real Native Myths and Legends." I started it because there's so much stereotyping, misundestandngs and common beliefs about the Native people of Alaska, and America in general. I meant the posts to shed some light, as well as start some conversations, or even some questions. I'm going to do some new posts about this, but first, since it's been so long, I'm going to be reposting the old ones to revisit.

Real Native Myths and Legends #5 - Free money for Natives from Uncle Sam - August 17, 2008

I've heard this one again and again - tons of money from the U.S. government being thrown at Natives for "all their problems." But this kind of comment (from a comment thread) is what keeps cropping up:

"...if you fill out some forms, prove you are an indian to a certain degree,
each year you get a certain ammount of money from the government."

Really? Nobody told me about this program (and where can I sign up?)

I think this is a combination of confusion about land held in trust by the government, Native corporations and... well, not knowing what they're talking about. Unfortunately, most of the argument on the other side is, "The government treated them so bad, so don't they deserve it?" It's not about giving one group money because they were treated poorly. At all. There is little understanding of the complex issues here.

Some tribes in the Lower 48 do receive trust money from land agreements between the U.S. government and their individual tribe. This is not the government giving money to the poor, victimized Indians because of past misconduct on behalf of the U.S. It is NOT reparations. It is NOT welfare. I believe some groups in Alaska do as well, though in a different sort of set up.

I must be honest in saying that I do not have first-hand knowledge of land trust/trust fund agreements between the U.S. and tribal governments, simply because it is not at all a part of my life. As far as I can tell, it is not a part of most Alaska Native people's lives either. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act made things very different in Alaska. If the confusion is about Alaska Native corporation money, I responded to that here. In any case, the government is not just handing out money to Native people for no reason.

When it comes to land trust issues, there is still quite a bit wrong with the system. Okay, so that's an understatement. There has been a bit in the news recently about land trusts - mismanagement on the part of the U.S. Nearly 30 years ago, the Saginaw Chippewaw wanted to see about changing their investments, and brought in the president of the First Nations Institute, Rebecca Adamson, to look at it. A memorable quote from when she started looking at their land trust situation:

At a council meeting, she reported back to the tribe as follows:

''I have good news and bad news. The good news is, you can do better than the BIA at investing your trust funds. The bad news is, so could a chimpanzee.''

Now, the ruling 26 years later was that the U.S. government mismanaged the land (Gee, didn't see that one coming...) After various numbers were thrown around in the decades long court battle, a federal judge decided that 121 years of mismangement amounted to an award of $455.6 million. This is where, I think, people hear the numbers, and go, "Wow, they're getting a lot of money from the government!" - discounting that it's not the governments money in the first place.

But there were 500,000 plaintiffs. So 121 years of mismanagement means $455.6 million goes to 500,000 plaintiffs. You do the math on that.

The other assumption of that is that the Indians don't "deserve" the money. It's past - it's history. But pushing aside the fact that this is one of the few cases that the U.S. government is holding to (with fingernails) the treaties agreed upon (read - lawful contracts,) the length of time that has passed isn't (or shouldn't be) a factor in deciding whether it's "really still their land/money" to have a say in. It's not about deserving it or not - it is rightfully theirs. I don't think Paris Hilton "deserves" all her money just because she's a Hilton - but I won't dispute the fact that she lawfully has a right to it.

Using the logic that it's ancient history, can we discount the government's claim to the White House? I mean, they claimed that land hundreds of years ago, and the clearly nomadic lifestyle that the family that lives there every four to eight years means they can't sustain that area, right? Unless the residents can prove they have a right to live there, I'm all for going in and claiming it. Or at least the West Wing.

Yes, it's absurd. It's just as absurd to think that just because something is an historic agreement means it is less valid today. The times I've heard something like, "Just because my ancestor killed your ancestor doesn't mean you should get something better than me."

Well, I've never gotten anything out of that deal, and I would like one person to point out the time that the U.S. government has EVER awarded a profit to a Native person because of the acts of the U.S. government hundreds of years ago. The government hasn't even conceded anything wrong was done in the first place - it isn't ready to start handing out money to make everyone feel better.

The U.S. government did not pay for my car. Or my college education. Or my groceries. In fact, in the awkward relationship between the U.S. government and myself, I've given it a pretty good portion of the money I earn, every paycheck. In return, the government paved the roads and built some schools.

It's an ok deal - I do enjoy being able to drive places, and though public schools are demonized, I thought my experience was pretty good. All I ask is that the government remember the agreements made for the land those roads and schools were built on - and the people the agreements were made with. Then we'll get along just fine.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Real Native Myths and Legends - Revisited #3

I'm going to be out of Internet access for a few days. I'd like to start revisiting somethig I paused when the Palin stuff came out last fall - "Real Native Myths and Legends." I started it because there's so much stereotyping, misundestandngs and common beliefs about the Native people of Alaska, and America in general. I meant the posts to shed some light, as well as start some conversations, or even some questions. I'm going to do some new posts about this, but first, since it's been so long, I'm going to be reposting the old ones to revisit.

Real Native Myths and Legends #4 - Indians and Eskimos - August 12, 2008

Indian. Eskimo. Native American. Tribe. Clan. People group. FirstNations. First Peoples. American Indian. Indigenous.

It's dang confusing sometimes, I know, and I've grown up with allthese terms. I have some sympathy for every (non-Native) friend I'veever had who has worked up to (usually unsure of how to approach it)asking me, "So… what do you call yourself?"

There are actually many different forms of this question, but it boilsdown to, "How on earth do I say what you are?" I know there are thosewho will argue we should be "color-blind" and not look at a person'sculture. I disagree. I think we should honor and celebrate a person'sculture, we would be robbing them of a huge part of who they are notto – we just don't have to judge a person by their culture. It's alsojust a reality – having to define someone's background is not goinganywhere.

Kind of reminds me of a discussion I had about this topic in highschool, and my "African-American" friend was asked how to address hisrace. He said, "We're 'Black' now. But I'll let you know if itchanges."

If you ask the government, they would consider me from the "Indian"people group (as opposed to "Eskimo" or "Aleut". On a federal documentI am "American Indian or Alaska Native." On my Certificate of IndianBlood, I am from the Tlingit "tribe."

If you ask me, I will tell you I am Tlingit or Alaska Native,depending on where I am and who you are. I will not say the Tlingittribe – no such thing. There's also no "Tlingit Nation". I won't tell you I am Indian – as far as I'm concerned, Indians are from India. Iwon't tell you I'm Native American, and I won't tell you what tribe I'm from – as far as I know, I have no tribe.

Much of the problem stems from trying to group an entire continent'sworth of culture into one identifiable group. Even here in Alaska, thecultures are incredibly diverse. I have a Yup'ik friend that I share values and experiences with as an Alaska Native woman, but when itcomes to so many other cultural values, she seems to be speakinganother language (though, often times, she quite literally IS speakinganother language.)

There is also the problem of Native people only just being able todefine how they were called by the general public in the lastgeneration or two, and so it seems quite changeable, and no two peopleagree on the perfect way yet.

Last year at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO,) one of theassistants came to get our dance group, "We need the Indian groups!" Adozen sets of furrowed brows and he quickly answered, "Hey, if I haveto be Eskimo, you have to be Indian!" Fair enough. Point is, even ourown institutions are outdated in the terms we use.

But all the background and why and how aside, there still remains theissue of, "What do I call you?"

The simplest answer I can say is, "Just ask."

I have often wondered if this is not a very "polite" thing to do outside of Alaska Native cultures. Maybe the sensitivities of being PC or a Western etiquette – but generally when I am asked it is with anembarrassed tone, usually an apology. A "I'm sorry if this is rude, but…" Recently, a friend of mine described a non-Native woman who was offended when a Native woman asked her race.

Although I am generally loathe to group such diverse cultures into one"group think," my own experiences in my culture and other Nativecultures in the state is that the first thing you want to do is get toknow someone's background. As an example, a dialogue of me meeting another Native person:

"Nice to meet you – so where are you from?"


"That by Fairbanks?"

"Bethel area."

"Cool – you know John James?"

"Yeah, he's my cousin."


And we switch. I threw in my own lack of geographical awareness inthere for realism. But basically, I now know where he's from (and can deduce his 'people group' from that,) and who his general family is.

Actually, if it were really real, we would find out all the differentpeople we know and/or are related to in common. Many times we will askand talk directly about what racial background we are from.

In short, the "polite" or friendly thing to do in the culture I know is to introduce and let your own background be known. Many Native people who are born in urban areas will identify themselves as being"from" whatever village or rural area their family is from. I was delighted to meet a man "from Klawock" last Summer, very near where I was born, but then he said, "Oh – but I've never been there." I have a feeling as more and more Native people are born in Anchorage, thiswill become even more common.

I believe the Tlingit people have elevated introductions to an art. My Yup'ik friend is fond of telling me that "Tlingits complicateeverything!" Maybe true, but there are some pretty solid reasons behind it.

Do you know that scene in "Lord of the Rings," where the trees are talking amongst themselves all day, and when they finally talk to the Hobbits, you find they've only just introduced themselves? I believethat this must have been based off of a traditional Tlingit celebration. You introduce pretty much your whole background andgenealogy. Basically, when I begin my speech, you should know my name(or names,) my parents, my teachers, my grandparents and great-grandparents, my moiety, clan and sub-clans, where I am from –or my family is from, and where I live now. And that's the short version.

Although I cannot tell you what all Native people would like to bereferred to as – even between my siblings and I this would vary – I can tell you it doesn't hurt to ask. Of course, basic politeness applies here too. I don't suggest a "So what's your racial make-up?"or questions at times that would be ethically inappropriate - job interview anyone?

A few tips:

-Start with asking where they are from. It wouldn't hurt if you knew(in general) where people groups were from.

- Don't ask anyone if they are "Eskimo." Really. I mean it. The few people who are okay with being identified by others as such will let you know in good time, but this will lose you more respect than it will gain. And don't assume because one person of that background prefers to be called "Eskimo" the next is. A friend and I will joke around, calling each other "Eskimo" and "Indian," but I made a mistake thinking I could joke like that with another coworker - she did NOT appreciate being called Eskimo, although from the same background as my friend.

- As an Alaska Native person, the above also applies to the word "Indian." From what I understand, in the Lower 48 this can be a pretty common identifier, but not so popular up here.

- Don't attach a "tribe," "clan," "nation" or other grouping word when asking. I get asked a lot if I am from the Tlingit tribe, or what tribe I am from. Federally, this is correct. There are people groups in the U.S. which embrace the word. But no Tlingit person I know identifies themselves this way. Likewise, there is no Tlingit clan. I DO belong to a clan, as well as a house and a moiety, but the same will not be true of every Alaska Native culture.

Basically, just see how the person identifies themselves, and treat them with respect. You do not have to do things "traditionally" - most Native people do not address or introduce traditionally, unless in a formal setting, and do not expect that of you. But to "gain friendsand influence Native people," showing a respect for their individuality as a person, and within a culture, will go far.

Real Native Myths and Legends - Revisited #2

I'm going to be out of Internet access for a few days. I'd like to start revisiting somethig I paused when the Palin stuff came out last fall - "Real Native Myths and Legends." I started it because there's so much stereotyping, misundestandngs and common beliefs about the Native people of Alaska, and America in general. I meant the posts to shed some light, as well as start some conversations, or even some questions. I'm going to do some new posts about this, but first, since it's been so long, I'm going to be reposting the old ones to revisit.

Real Alaska Native Myths and Legends #3 - What's a "traditional" Native? - July 30, 2008

The news about the slaughtered caribou brought out the usual - anti-Native hate, calls for an end to subsistence and "special rights", I don't know how many upstanding citizens dragging alcohol into the mix - something not mentioned in the case thus far, except by those spewing ignorance.

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.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Palin Resigns, Writing Raven stuck on Ferry.

This special edition brought to you by Writing Ravens mom, as Writing Raven really is stuck on the ferry in Southeast Alaska. She got the shocking news before us and as usual she called and told us to turn on the tv. I managed to see the breaking news live on CNN, as Palin annnouced she will be stepping down as Governor at the end of this month. For more new on this announcement continue check the Alaska Blogs to the right. Writing Raven will update as soon as she gets to dry land.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Real Native Myths and Legends - Revisited

I'm going to be out of Internet access for a few days. I'd like to start revisiting somethig I paused when the Palin stuff came out last fall - "Real Native Myths and Legends." I started it because there's so much stereotyping, misundestandngs and common beliefs about the Native people of Alaska, and America in general. I meant the posts to shed some light, as well as start some conversations, or even some questions. I'm going to do some new posts about this, but first, since it's been so long, I'm going to be reposting the old ones to revisit.

Real Native Myths and Legends #2 - Native Corporation Dividends - July 27, 2008

The first of this series is a pretty easy one to answer. Do all Alaska Native people receive big checks from Native corporations?

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?

Real Native Myths and Legends #1 - July 26, 2008

Some conversations lately have led me to begin a series on "real Native myths and legends." I don't mean the kind of "myths" that are actually historical and spiritual stories. I mean the common misunderstandings, fictions, or just plain ignorance about Native people and culture. Some of the misunderstandings Native people believe.

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.

Monday, June 29, 2009

On the new fishery panel

From the Dutch Harbor Fisherman: New fishery panel aims to hear rural voices

From the article:

The seven-member committee will meet with Native and tribal leaders, including in rural areas of the state that have traditionally had little involvement in federally managed fisheries, said Duncan Fields. The group is planning an initial meeting in Anchorage this summer, though no date had been set last week.

"The committee isn’t so much about advocacy for rural Alaska as it is for outreach to rural Alaska,” he said.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fresh snow. Yeah.

My friend was driving through the pass today on the peninsula, and caught this:

She said it was snowing on them up there, raining crazy hard just a few minutes out.

I swear if that snow comes any closer, I'm going to lose it. We all went one year without a summer - no dice on snow this summer. I refuse.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


This is a special request from Dennis Zaki of the Alaska Report. The coverage is neccessary, and Dennis is one of the few - usually the ONLY - person reporting it. Not only is he getting the story, what I've seen of his work is more accurate and at the heart of the situation than anything else. Dennis' coverage has ended up on major news outlets, including CNN, and his work has gone a long way to getting this story out to people who don't have any other way of finding out about it.

Take a moment to look at the information, including this article from the Tundra Drums, and please, if you can, support his work!

Dear readers,

It is a matter of great urgency that I be in Emmonak ASAP. The Federal Subsistence Board has called a meeting with the Emmonak tribal leaders and residents to discuss the Yukon's king salmon subsistence and commercial fishing crisis. At the State meeting last January, I was not allowed to film. Residents later told me the State did not want that meeting on film.

The people of Emmonak have been prohibited from commercially fishing for early run King Salmon. Alaska, the feds, and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council have chosen the marginal benefit of a few commercial pollock fishermen from Seattle over the livelihood of the villagers of Emmonak, and others of Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The fact is indisputable that the salmon bycatch of Seattle's pollock fishermen is the direct cause of the steep and devastating decline of king salmon in the waters of Western Alaska. However, few, if any, of our state's government officials have the courage to bring up this topic on the record, presumably due to the fact that they would be championing the "hapless" Natives (not a new concept in our history) over the strong, wealthy, lobbyist-backed (non-Alaskan) pollock industry.

What this intolerable situation needs is to be brought to the attention of the American people, even as it is being swept under Alaska's political rug. A few months ago, when the heating fuel/food crisis in Emmonak first surfaced, I flew there with my camera and interviewed the victims of the crisis. My filming gave their plight national exposure on CNN and other national outlets. I want to follow up the story and do it again.

We cannot let this problem just fade away as if our fellow Alaskans mean nothing. This is not just the problem of the villagers of Emmonak. As Alaskans, this is our problem just as much as it is theirs. (See: Lack of King salmon in the Deshka River, Ship Creek, Bird Creek, Kenai River, etc., etc.) Help me get to Emmonak to do something about it. The trip will cost $1080. That is $720 airfair and 4 nights in the Emmonak hotel.

Dennis Zaki


UPDATE: You did it! Dennis got all the donations he needed for the trip!