Friday, January 16, 2009

To address some of the commentary

To see people all around the nation band together to help out a village in Alaska is a wonderful sight. Donations of food are being flown in, cash donations have come from around the world. The media, and blogger, attention has had the effect of poking a stick in the side of the State, and several prominent Alaskan politicians and leaders have spoken out.

(My previous posts about Emmonak, #1, #2... Mudflats on Emmonak... ADN on Emmonak.)

Of course, with the good, must come the less savory. As I watch the story unfold, and try to do what I can, I must also address some that which goes on that doesn't help at all - and in fact can make it more difficult. That is, people spreading around ignorance.

The blatant racism toward Alaska Native people is not new to me, yet I cringe (and I imagine many other Native people as well) when Native issues are brought up in public. Why? Because you get to hear so consistently comments about just how unproductive, deceitful, lazy, greedy, and probably drunk Native people are. Comments like this on ADN, regarding how Native people (in general!) squander all their money:

"In the future the State of Alaska should hold the PFD's for all native households and only issue them out in monthly amounts."

I wish people who made these remarks knew how each one feels like a punch in the stomach.

I don't know why this person feels the government should hold back money from me, and give it to her freely, only handing it to me like an allowance for a child. I admit I've never learnt the lesson my grandma tried to teach, and dismiss such people as ignorant, and move on. I wish I could, but they are EVERYWHERE. On the Internet, much more so.

So here are a few of the more consistent issues I see coming up. Mind you, none of them are new... just revisited for this issue.

The people got themselves into this mess through their own negligence/ ineptitude/ greed/ laziness (etc., etc.) so don't waste your own food/time/money.

I address this first, and I hope it is not taken as me agreeing with it, because there is too much evidence that it certainly is not true. But even if every word of that were true - when your neighbor's house is on fire, you don't go twenty rounds on whether it was their own fault or not. To expland on the metaphor, take the recent fires in Anchorage. I suggest the next fire that happens, the fire department only respond if the owners can prove they didn't cause the fire in any way. A little child might be hurt in the process? No matter. These people need to learn.

As for if it really was Emmonak's fault or not, please, PLEASE look at all the evidence before making this judgement. I can gaurantee there are people in Emmonak who don't handle their finances well, or at all. I gaurantee there are people who have bought things like expensive toys, alcohol, cell phones. But look at the whole region. For that matter, look at Rural Alaska as a whole. It is not thriving, and it has not been for years. There is a reason for this other than every single person in that region sucks at handling their money.

The native corporations should help.

They should, and they are. Most of the social services come from nonprofits, however, and they... you know... DON'T MAKE A PROFIT. And "the corporations should help" is not code for "the government that serves me doesn't have to serve people who belong to Native corporations." Many times this is said by people who have no idea what they really do, other than, "They hand out tens of thousands of dollars to all the Native people." Example: This past year, I finally became a shareholder (not all Native people are - most under 40ish aren't shareholders.) My check this year? Just over $150. No, not a thousand - $150. I do not belittle what I got - but to suggest this is good enough to live on is laughable. It literally did not buy me three tanks of gas for my car. In the village, it would buy much less. Other corporations give out more, but most don't. Look at the landless 13th Regional Corp. - it literally shut its doors and went belly up this year. In other words - you have to know what you're talking about before making this argument.

Didn't these people live off the land for thousands of years? Don't they keep talking about this supposed "subsistence lifestyle"? Why don't they keep doing that, and stop whining about needing money and electricity?

This is really one of the more frustrating for me to hear. First - okay, I'll take you up on your proposal. But you know, to truly live off the land like we did a thousand years ago, we have to have ALL the land. A thousand people absolutely cannot live off of twenty square miles of land. There was a reason people were so spread out, and much of it had to do with needing x amount of land to support x amount of people. Not to mention that to support yourself completely by the land is a full time job, and would require that all those gaming laws and limits be dropped. So yeah - if the state of Alaska, private businesses and citizens, and federal government are willing to give up all land, all laws, I'm willing to start talking about requiring everyone live "like they used to."

But really - WHY DO WE NEED TO DO THAT? I believe the people making this argument are the same people who, depending on the circumstance, also wonder why we can't learn how to just "be American." Get respectable jobs, speak "proper" English, learn to drive a car for Pete's sake. It's either/or. There is a push and pull for Native people of needing to maintain that cultural image, and yet prove you can be a productive citizen in the modern world.

Why don't they band together and help each other out?

Uhh... they are. I honestly don't even understand these comments. Please show me all these people who aren't. Every single family the man interviewed was in pretty rough shape.

They need to move out of the villages.

This is part of that push and pull. The need to stay and maintain the culture of millenia past vs. modernity and "don't stand in the way of progress." As if Native people in the city are faring that much better anyways. There are more opportunties for jobs and schooling, yet so many of the crime rates go higher. Is loss of culture and family, ties that go back, quite literally, to the ice age, an acceptable loss to gain city life?

Rural Alaska needs to stop asking for stuff - they are subsidized like crazy.

Let me say this. Everything worth anything in Alaska comes from Rural Alaska. Please think on that. What are our biggest state moneymakers?

The obvious - oil?

Rural.

Tourism?

Rural (No, folks, the tourists don't save all their lives to see Anchorage. It's just a convenient stopover.)

Fishing?

Rural.

Logging?

Rural.

Mining?

Rural.

My mother pointed out a comment in the ADN addressing this. How true. Rural Alaska gives and gives. The resources are taken over and over - most of them nonrenewable. The people who get the big bucks from these Rural Alaska resources live in Anchorage, live in Texas, live in England. By and large, even most of the jobs created by these industries do not go to Rural Alaskans. They go to people from Outside. I think Rural Alaska has given its share.

I'm not trying to pour cold water over a fire that needs to burn, but it appears to me this is all these kind of comments do in the first place. I certainly don't believe everyone in Emmonak has acted perfectly, but I don't for a second believe everyone else NOT in Emmonak has either.

I just hope that the people that are so hateful about helping don't lose a job, have expensive medical problems, have a house burn down, or have anything remotely tragic happen to them. They might then have to be subjected to scrutiny of everything they've ever bought, why they didn't save more, whether they should have had that many kids in the first place, and a judgement of whether they deserve help at all.

I did a little of what I could for the people in Emmonak. Not because Emmmonak needs help more than the next village. Not because I dug into their finances and deemed them worthy enough. Not because, despite the "obvious" sins of the parents, the children should at least get some food.

They asked for help. They needed help. They are human beings. That is all I need to know.

22 comments:

Katherine Lee said...

Thank you for your commentary. The callousness and ignorant hatefulness of some people commenting on the situation sickens me.

Iaato said...

This is an excellent post, Writing Raven. Your comments on the urban-rural tension mirror the same dynamic that plays out on a global scale. First, your point about carrying capacity is excellent.

Didn't these people live off the land for thousands of years? Don't they keep talking about this supposed "subsistence lifestyle"? Why don't they keep doing that, and stop whining about needing money and electricity?

This is really one of the more frustrating for me to hear. First - okay, I'll take you up on your proposal. But you know, to truly live off the land like we did a thousand years ago, we have to have ALL the land. A thousand people absolutely cannot live off of twenty square miles of land. There was a reason people were so spread out, and much of it had to do with needing x amount of land to support x amount of people. Not to mention that to support yourself completely by the land is a full time job, and would require that all those gaming laws and limits be dropped. So yeah - if the state of Alaska, private businesses and citizens, and federal government are willing to give up all land, all laws, I'm willing to start talking about requiring everyone live "like they used to.


The scary thing is that the reason none of us can live like we used to is that all of us are living over carrying capacity, due to the joys of the last ancient rays of sunlight--cheap fossil fuels.

My mother pointed out a comment in the ADN addressing this. How true. Rural Alaska gives and gives. The resources are taken over and over - most of them nonrenewable. The people who get the big bucks from these Rural Alaska resources live in Anchorage, live in Texas, live in England. By and large, even most of the jobs created by these industries do not go to Rural Alaskans. They go to people from Outside. I think Rural Alaska has given its share.

Your point about urban centers benefitting from the extraction of natural resources in rural areas is the same dynamic that has been happening between the US and poorer countries over the past 30 years. The US outsources dirty industries and takes advantage of dirt-cheap wages and semi-slavery labor in other countries, and the money is funneled to the wealthiest urban dwellers. You make excellent points here, thanks.

Lady Rose said...

great post - I added a link in my post about the situation.

I've made my donation and helping to spread the word in my neck of the woods.

ravenstrick said...

Perfect.

In this post you have stated most eloquently all of the things I have ever tried to explain/express to the many ignorant people I have encountered in my lifetime.

The other one I just love is when they insult your culture and your people to your face, then add "But we don't mean you." Like hell you don't. I am my people and my people are me.

-ginf

WSW said...

Thank you, Writing Raven, for your perfectly eloquent commentary.
For several days now I have been agonizing over how to word my thoughts on this for my blog - to better inform the Southeast AK readership... Now I think I will just add a link to your post from my blog and that ought to say it all.

Ishmael said...

Bravo. You give the best counter-arguments to these racist urbanites I've ever heard.

Keep up the great work!

glvvlg said...

Thank you soooo much. I hope people continue to read what you just wrote here, it should be more easily accessed. I will try to forward this to myself.
glvvlg

KaJo said...

I've been trying to make some of these points for several days now at the ADN comments section under the article describing the Emmonak/rural Alaska situation -- but if I were to say some of these Rouge Cou are thick headed, it's an understatement.

Worse yet, they keep popping up like Whack-a-Moles saying the same thing over and over again, like they're too lazy or stupid to read through the comments from Page 1 on, where a ton of information like you just posted here is there for the reading!

Aaaarrrggghh.

indy_girl said...

When my kids don't understand how other children can be cruel, I have explained, "there will always be people who are unkind to others. You will meet them all your life, even when you are a grown up. The challenge is to look past their small-mindedness and be a bigger person than they are."

The ugly comments you have heard about the native Alaskans are from the same kind of small-minded, ignorant people. They may never change....fortunately it is still possible for the rest of us to make a difference and move this planet forward, in spite of their sniping and apathy.

Keep up the good work. Please be reassured, there are many, many more people out there like you....the complainers just get more attention because they have bigger mouths.

Johnny G said...

Very well put, on an issue that is never well put up with. I have always thought all Alaskans should spend some time in rural Alaska, not just hunting moose from an airboat, but actually in a village. A little time in the Vill does wonders for perspective.

But for those who can't or won't, please keep writing.

Star the wonder pup said...

This will get troll rated, but what the hell.

I gave my hundred bucks, and hopefully it will help feed a child, but I doubt it. It is much more likely that it will line the pockets of an utterly corrupt "native american" official.

I grew up on the rez, bros, and it ain't pretty. I got a PhD, moved to Berkley, retired to Florida, and never looked back.

There is no inherent right to subsist in the tundra. None,zip, nada, be it pre or post european. Romantisize all you want; life was nasty, short, and brutish.

Star the wonder pup said...

This will get troll rated, but what the hell.

I gave my hundred bucks, and hopefully it will help feed a child, but I doubt it. It is much more likely that it will line the pockets of an utterly corrupt "native american" official.

I grew up on the rez, bros, and it ain't pretty. I got a PhD, moved to Berkley, retired to Florida, and never looked back.

There is no inherent right to subsist in the tundra. None,zip, nada, be it pre or post european. Romantisize all you want; life was nasty, short, and brutish.

Kate said...

Great post. Thank you.

Gryphen said...

Hey Writing Raven.

This nice woman posted this on my blog because she said she was unable to post here:
The Persons saying all the terrible comments are of the Palin perspective...remember at her rallies, "kill him" and "Terrorist" and she stood there saying nothing!
Palin and their "Dark Christian" ilk are racist and don't believe Native,Black,Asian,Hispanic, etc. non- "Christian"are "like them". So you get these utterly stupid clueless comments. Please ignore them. The Videographer that the anonymous bloggers, got donations for him to come and donate for fuel and food will be there and Show the world how Gov. Grifter doesn't do her job. There is nothing on the official SoA website nor at the Wasilla church she attends. Please know the evil small minded people are the minority (thank god) and no-one(who is sane,caring) believes them, and we want to help out our fellow man. Also people are emailing PEO about this also.
Hope is coming. Bless you all!

BTW her name is Crystalwolf aka caligrl.

Keep up the good work. This was a great post.

later said...

It was known in July that these communities were going to be hit hard! Why weren't plans made then given that this situation could have been predicted by the AK powers that be. NOTE in this article that their ability to capture salmon was curtailed by the state. I'm saying that it should not have been held back to maintain the salmon population, but the state KNEW this was comming down the pike.

http://www.ktuu.com/Global/story.asp?s=8644925

Writing Raven said...

Thanks all, for the comments, encouragement, and shared disgust at some of the OTHER comments.

I was actually in the middle of addressing each of the stated issues in a series - REAL Native myths and Legends - when SARAH happened. I abandoned it during the campaign, but I am going to start it up shortly.

KaJo - I gave up trying to comment on ADN a long time ago. In real quick time, it's not even discussion - it's arguing with hateful nonsense with people who don't want to hear another view. Much love for trying, though! You have a stronger stomach than I.

ravenstrick - I like that one too! In high school, I had to sit through my classmates (some of them minorities themselves) discussing "which race was the best looking." Although the best was a toss up, they all agreed that Native people were definitely the ugliest. They literally couldn't understand why I wouldn't accept their explanation that I was not included in that finding. You know, just my whole family is ugly, everyone I was raised with, all my ancestors... Guess I was being too sensitive.

Star - I'm sorry you had that experience, but certainly not everyone has the same outlook. And certainly Alaska villages are very different from reservations. With the exception of one island in Southeast Alaska (quite far from the tundra) there are no reservations at all. And whether there is an inherent right or not to subsist on the tundra (of which I'm sure you can guess my own feelings) there are LEGAL rights at the state and federal level - some of which are still being fought for. I don't believe I am romanticizing things by saying there are good people out there along with the bad, and that people who are trying to cling to the culture with bare nails should not be given even more weight on their backs.

Gryphen - thanks for forwarding that!

later - I don't even want to say anything about the salmon and fisheries because that could get VERY long. I'll just say I agree wholeheartedly, and there will certainly be a post on that later!

Everyone - I want to reply to all individually, but I'm afraid the refrain of "It's nice to know I'm not alone in thought and emotion" just gets a bit tiresome to hear. So thanks.

Writing Raven said...

This was actually sent to me by Harley via e-mail:

I've been heartened to see the attention this story has gotten over the last few days. I've been working on rural Alaska and Alaska Native issues for 30 years. I'm a nonNative from Alaska, but it didn't take long to see the situation in rural Alaska. A place where they still care about others and where they work hard to hold onto there lands and resources. This situation is just the latest in a long list of situations, but it is the one that has caught fire and is spreading around the world. The world will judge us as Alaskans by how we respond to this situation. And yes many have given money and that is great and greatly needed, but there is more there. How many of us have had thoughts like some of those mentioned in this post and elsewhere. We all have. The difference is that some of us look at our thoughts and see the problems and work to improve our thoughts. How many have looked at the folks outside the rescue mission or on 4th street and thought those thoughts. Alaska is only 60 years from segregation and the signs that said "NO Indians or Dogs". Our state has come a long way, but it has a longer way to go. Not only do we need to band together to help Emmonak. We need to band together to change our state. We need to make sure the state government serves rural Alaska as well as it serves urban Alaska. We need to make sure our politicians know that we expect them to make sure ALL Alaska prosper. And we as Alaskans need to realize that none of us can be safe and free until all of us are safe and free. We need to use Emmonak as an organizing opportunity, there are food and heat issues to be addressed but more importantly there are social and cultural issues that need to be addressed. That can only be done when good people stand up and demand it and say we will no long accept people being treated like this. As we stand on the eve of Obama's inauguration and his hope to bring all Americans together, we need to bring that ideal, here to Alaska. We need to respond as Alaskans, not Alaska Natives or nonNatives, but as Alaskans. We need to rediscover our humanity.

BSNC Resident said...

I'm from Stebbins and I travel there often, and let me tell you that both the good and bad comments are true. I see my uncles drunk often or showing off their new toys, but still complain. I also help my dad out in the summer hauling wood and my parents hardly ever used their stove oil this passed winter. So don't sit here and tell me about how "poor" people in the region are. Its time the gov. stop hand feeding and enabling us. JC, we are not poor people we are self sufficiant when we, just like any culture can be. Don't feel sorry for us.

AKPetMom said...

People can be so ignorant sometimes! I quite frankly would not like to go back to living like my ancestors did 1000 years ago! Wow imagine being in Britain, or Germany or Wales 1000 years ago when it was medieval times and everyone suffered and infant mortality was 50% and 42 was considered "old age". There's a reason that the industrial revolution happened; because people wanted a better life. Who are we as Americans to "purchase" Alaska and then tell the rural people that they should just "live like you always have". American chose to bring Alaska into the arms of America. That means people in rural areas became exposed to the same standard of living that the WASP culture brought to the state. Just as europeans desired a better life and achieved it, now rural people of Alaska have seen the light and seen a higher standard of living. Why tell anyone that they cannot be part of the great American dream?

AKPetMom said...

People can be so ignorant sometimes! I quite frankly would not like to go back to living like my ancestors did 1000 years ago! Wow imagine being in Britain, or Germany or Wales 1000 years ago when it was medieval times and everyone suffered and infant mortality was 50% and 42 was considered "old age". There's a reason that the industrial revolution happened; because people wanted a better life. Who are we as Americans to "purchase" Alaska and then tell the rural people that they should just "live like you always have". American chose to bring Alaska into the arms of America. That means people in rural areas became exposed to the same standard of living that the WASP culture brought to the state. Just as europeans desired a better life and achieved it, now rural people of Alaska have seen the light and seen a higher standard of living. Why tell anyone that they cannot be part of the great American dream?

Gecko said...

I am Lakota Souix living in Missouri right now. I also live out of a van on a regular basis. While I will donate money to the villagers, I think I'm in a position where my comments on this issue are appropriate.

First of all, there is ice all over the place outside my RV, a small trailer I bought for $2500, to live in. There won't be any quick trips to the grocery store for days, and in any case there is nothing I need to get. I plan ahead and buy nutritious foods in bulk. I buy whole foods, not manufactured haole food. There is no "fry bread" here.

My food consists of fresh greens and herbs that I grow indoors in a well-insulated room, and a huge stash of dehydrated beans, potatoes, and other vegetables. I have a large store of organic brown rice, quinoa, chia, sunflower seeds, almonds, millet, flax, beans, and more.

My "grocery list" has never included disposable diapers or minute rice. I have seen the wish lists and the grocery lists of the village people and all I can do is shake my head. Why are you educated people not helping your brothers and sisters by teaching them a better way? Nobody is going to get ahead on nutritionless imported jelly, minute rice, crackers, and salted meats.

What is going on? There has to be a better way to feed the first people of Alaska. While you cannot go completely back to the old ways of subsistence living, you can use what was good and supplement your lives with something better than trucked in manufactured plastic food.

I'll tell you this. My family never lived on a reservation. We assimilated early and still hold the traditional family beliefs that make us strong. We didn't have to hold onto useless beliefs to be ourselves. If it isn't working, fix it!

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