Friday, February 27, 2009

Former Rural Advisor on the "why"

Great piece in the Alaska Dispatch about former Palin rural advisor Rhonda McBride - actually, it's really just a reponse from McBride about why she left, what that position needs, etc.

When McBride left the position last October, she let it be known that an Alaska Native person should have the position. Palin filled the position this month - I don't know much about the new rural advisor, but he was a big fisheries manager and the Daily News said he "describes himself" as Alaska Native - Aleut. Kind of wierd wording, but whatever. Hopefully, he'll do a job...

From the article:

My defining moment came last summer while on a boat trip down the Koyukuk. One of my fellow travelers, who is an Alaska Native, asked me if I had ever cut fish. And I said, "No. When I lived in Bethel, people always shared their fish with me. They were so kind and generous. So I never learned to put up fish." She laughed and said, "Imagine that. A rural adviser who doesn't know how to subsist." The remark wasn't meant to be unkind, but the power of it was a turning point for me.

Also, in the course the job, I came to meet many Natives who were more qualified than me for the job. Not only do they know how to subsist, but they have degrees from Ivy League schools. There is a generation of leaders coming up that will make whatever organization they join better. Our world will be better for them. They're strong in their culture, wise beyond their years, and so knowledgeable about their professions.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bad timing all around

While perusing the ADN Newsreader, it struck me that two governors had some pretty bad timing when it came to spending they opposed. First, the "uproar" one, Gov. Jindal of Louisiana. He opposes the $140 million in the stimulus bill for volcano monitoring, and was pretty derisive in his address about it.

Although, hopefully, Alaskans would have been as taken aback anyways, a little over half the state has had an impending eruption looming over us for over a month now. There are dust masks everywhere, car filters are being sold out, and anyone planning a trip lately has been all about praying it waits to blow until they are in their warmer destination, or blows now, so all can settle before.

Although we tend to ignore, or not know about, the successes of frivolous things like volcano monitoring, we DO know it could have helped with the Boeing both Begich and Murkowski reference (link below.) And does anyone remember a year, maybe two ago, (was it Augustine?)when the ash plume was such that airlines were diverted, or stopped from flying south (i.e. the rest of the world)? I heard a lot of annoyances, but I don't know of anyone who was REALLY saying, "Ah, I'll take my chances flying through that ash cloud."

It's not like it's infrequent, this volcano stuff. Recent Alaskan volcano activity (steam, ash plumes, etc.) include Fourpeaked Mountain. And Cleveland volcano. And Pavlov volcano. And Mt. Spurr. And Augustine.

Okay, I'm stopping now. My mind is starting to picture all these erupting at once...

Some of those volcanoes were real threats, some of the activity was shown to be pretty benign. But I really LIKE that those volcano monitors were able to tell me which was which.

Sen. Begich and Sen. Murkowski sent letters to Jindal addressing his remarks - Begich emphasizes the need a bit more, Murkowksi the kind of, "We need monitoring, but I do understand where you're coming from." There is a video of Jindal on the bottom, and the volcano monitoring "that we do not need" comes about halfway through. There's quite a bit of reaction about the volcano monitoring, but I'll just include the science-y one in case the reasons are foreign to you as well. Although I'm not up on the science of how they do it - you can be darn sure I'm going to rely on some reassurance from that wasteful volcano monitoring before I get on a plane!

Alaska has wasted its fair share of money before, but this is certainly not one of those times. Besides the immediate benefit for Alaskans, being one of the very few monitoring stations in the country (much less the world,) the information collected and distributed benefits everyone else. But why don't we bemoan the wasteful hurricane and weather monitoring spending, and see just what kind of reaction that gets from the Louisiana governor? He should know better.

The other bit of poor timing was Gov. Palin slashing the budget for vessel tracking. The whole state budget for this particular nonprofit organization. Although it is not a state-run operation, it is nowhere near "not the governments job" for vessel tracking to be happening. The story linked above gives a great example of just how this is used. The wierd timing is that this announcement comes the same day constant "news alerts" were coming in about a rescue going on for a vessel based out of Kodiak.

Fishing is one of the top industries in Alaska, and my grandfather fished every year since he was 13 years old. He went out of his way to help boats in distress, because, as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, fisherman need all the help they can get. Fishing, even as poor as teh prices are now, brings major revenue into the state. Surely we can decide to tighten the belt on it - but not say the state has no business funding this sort of thing!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

These videos are messing with my mind

As I was killing my brain, watching stupid YouTube videos (waiting for tonight's Daily Show to post) I stumbled upon these two videos. Instead of the intended killing of my brain, it is now all warped out of recognition. I would be interested to hear what non-Tlingits think of these two videos. For the record, I think they're brilliant.

Last summer, Progressive Alaska was kind enough to host a BBQ picnic fundraiser so Celtic Diva and I could get to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Diane Benson, after taking part in a debate, drove all the way out to the valley (that's Wasilla/Palmer country) to catch the tail end. While there, she roped me into singing, and asked what I wanted to sing.

At first, we couldn't find a common one we both knew - she is from a different area of Southeast than I. But she asked if I knew the song Tsu Héidei Shugaxtutaan. Of course! If you start singing this song in a gathering of Tlingit people, you're bound to get half of them singing with you! It's best in a big crowd of people stuffed into a gymnasium, or concert hall, but she got me singing a bit of a duet with her. Progressive Alaska posted on it later.

The song translates to (as I learned it) "We once again open this box of wisdom that has been left in our care." Though simple, it is a song of responsibility and tradition.

I cannot begin to tell you how these videos turned me upside down with their interpretation of the song and dance. In the first, this artist dances some kind of techno dance (forgive my ignorance) to the traditionally sung song. In the second video, he dances the traditional entrance sort of dance a man would do, but to this techno song.

This is the definition of art. It certainly had an effect on me, using a song and dances, background, etc. that I am quite familiar with in a completely new, yet simple, way. I am interested to hear what people who are not familiar with the traditional song think.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two Tlingit Grandmas.. OR.. Youth is Wasted on the Young

I had the rare opportunity to talk to both of my grandmothers on the same night - they both live in separate Southeast Alaska communities - and am having something of a reflection on youth and Elders.

Much of this is because of the horrified realization my "Grandma J." had that she thinks she might shuffle occasionally. I think it's mostly paranoia. She can outlast me any day of the week. My papa could run me into the ground. But we did get to talk about just how fast you're young... and then you're not. She's very good at motivating me - tonight she talked about when she had that "fire in her belly" to fight the world, run companies and figure out how to create furniture from nothing much.

She's inspiring enough to make me want to head out and fight the fight, regardless if I know what on earth I'm fighting. Just go off in all the directions you care about, and hope something sticks. Which led to her comment, "Boy, youth is just wasted on the young."

There's a chance I might agree. Although I'd like to say I've left all childish things behind me, every once in awhile I have to look back and say, "Why in the world did I just do that?" And there have been more than a few, "Wow. Never gonna get back that five minutes of my life."

Plus, I actually don't want to leave ALL childish things behind me. Only when you're so caught up in a classroom full of toddlers who accept the bucket on your head, "Little Bunny Foo Foo" dance, and horribly off-key singing as fairly natural can you really appreciate the how good the very young have it. And yes, that is EXACTLY when your boss walks by.

My "Grandma R." is yet another Elder that can run me into the ground. Or cook me into the ground, actually. Visiting her a few summers ago, I was struck when she was teaching me a new cake decorating technique she learned from another lady on the island. It occurred to me that these cooking, decorating, deliciousness skills she had been perfecting for the last several decades still weren't done being tweaked. Possibly I overstate her cooking (yeah right) but I noticed that in everything she does, she's always still wanting to know that new technique, that new little trick that makes it that much better/easier/prettier.

Both Grandma J. and Grandma R. have that in common - always learning. Grandma J. has been talking to me a lot lately about the next generation, and what we're going to need to do. Don't really know if my learning curve can keep up with the sheer enormity of it, but it is no cliche to say that I wouldn't have a chance at keeping up if I didn't have their knowledge to draw on already. The whole "respect for your Elders" stuff I used to think just meant you didn't interrupt them and jumped up quick if there were no seats left and they needed one - it's taking on a whole new meaning lately.

Tonight, it was lessons on personal finance, state politics, knowing when to just cook what you're told to cook so the timing is right, and the coolness of family that still gets together for lunch at every opportunity, no matter how far apart they are.

Tomorrow, I hope someone will tackle staying up too late and how to create a weekend to recover from your weekend. Though it's already kind of a bit late for those...


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Palin thinks the youth need to move out of the villages

This post could have easily been titled, "The point at which I lose it."

When I read, and watched, the remarks Sarah Palin made about rural issues to the Kyle Hopkinns of the Anchorage Daily News, I nearly punched the screen. I had to leave my laptop and go fume for many, many hours - talking (venting) with my parents and grandmother and even brother - before I could return and be relatively sure I would not toss my innocent little laptop into the snow for being the bearer of bad news. Even then I couldn't trust myself to post without liberal use of curse words, which I usually try to avoid.

What got me into this murderous, computer-killing rage? Please read Mudflats and The Immoral Minority for more detail, but let me try and summarize some of Ms. Palin's points as she answered questions:

  • Palin thinks youth need to consider leaving the villages.
"Another purpose of the trip today, is not just delivering food for a short-term solution, but to remind those, especially young people, in rural Alaska of the job opportunities that are available, albeit it requires in some cases leaving the village for a short time."

This one is what really infuriated me. The Native people of Alaska have been fighting and fighting for generations to ensure rural communities thrive, thinking up solutions to get especially the young people to stay and contribute to the community. The boarding school times in which young people left "for a short time" were some of the most devastating to these communities. Did we learn nothing about what this kind of thinking leads to? Is there no thought to a real future? Palin shows a lack of the study of Alaskan and American history. So much time and energy trying to salvage these towns and villages from social and economic collapse, and the governor of our state can sweep them aside with one ignorant comment.

What these communities need is infrastructure, jobs in the communities themselves. Ironically, I just got a look at the Indian country provisions in the stimulus bill, and was thinking how forward we've come in our look at what Native communities really need. Maia of Own the Sidewalk forwarded me a link to a National Congress of American Indians page devoted to the Indian country provisions of the stimulus bill. I haven't been talking about the stimulus package becuase the last thing anyone wants is me commenting on anything to do with money. But I was incredibly impressed with the funding set aside for Native country projects.

Basically, it's all about infrastructure in these communities. Energy projects, building projects, roads and weatherization. Things that will not only create jobs and a viable economy in the short term, but ensure a future community exists at all. I don't know about the rest of the stimulus, but in this, they've got it dead on. Why are the only solutions Palin talks about all about getting out of the community? Helping out the oil companies? She throws out something about becoming VPSO's or teachers in your own community - but how can they when the whole youth of the village is now set on leaving? There's no one left to police or teach.

  • Palin's reminder to villages: We're in a cash-based society now.
"because it is a cash-based society right now..." "but in a cash-based society..." "...let people know perhaps what their own experience has been in terms of finding success and being a part of the community, at the same time, having income -- there’s nothing wrong with that."

Does she think the village people are trading beads? Seriously, the amount of times Palin talks down to rural people in these remarks is nauseating. Attention Palin: The people of rural Alaska are INCREDIBLY aware that we are living in a cash-based society! My guess is more aware than Palin. What little money is trickling in has not been spent on Neiman Marcus clothing and $60 phone calls. THERE IS NO INFRASTRUCTURE = THERE ARE NO JOBS.

Regardless of the governor's solution to have the youth leave and find jobs, maybe even a better solution is to get the state working on a viable plan of creating jobs in the community. If we had a little leadership, Alaska could be the most forward, technological marvel of how to get both energy solutions and indigenous populations working to better, not only the state, but the nation. The resources out in rural Alaska are incredible, and instead of promoting that, we are currently squandering it and giving it away. In this case, the human resources are being encouraged to leave.

  • As our leader, Palin is not going to make an example of what to do in this situation.
"It’s a scripture that says, 'let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing.' If you’re going to do a personal charitable effort ... what we do personally to support and tithe and offer assistance to some of these missions, I’m going to keep that to myself."

This comes right after she's chastised the leadership of these communities to do a better job of making an example of themselves. The inability of this governor to not practice what she preach continues to astound me. Why invite all these reporters to see you off, handing out food, if it's not to show them how "you" are helping? The only possible wayI can read this is, "I didn't do anything, so don't ask."

  • Palin learned about this situation from the media, not from actually listening to the people of her state.
(Lt. Gov. Parnell) "Frankly, the first weekend that this particular regional hardship hit the web from Emmonak, both the governor and I tried to get our there and we were hampered due to weather."

I will say it again - this problem did not just spring up six weeks ago. Not only has this been generations in the making, the whole last year Native leaders, state leaders, corporations, people in the communities have been speaking out, warning about this, and even asking for help before it "hit the web." I've posted this before, but I want to reiterate how far in advance the governor had to prepare for this, and did nothing:

In May, the Bristol Bay Times reported on rural residents calling for emergency relief and to declare an energy diaster.

In early August, the Anchorage Daily News reported prominent Native leaders directly talking to Paling about these problems, and the solutions that including building infrasctructure.

In early August, even USA Today noticed the problem and reported on it, referencing data showing just how bad it could get from a study done in May.

In late August, Sen. Murkowksi held a meeting about the crisis, and urged residents to stay in their communities (report by ADN).
"I urge you not to give up your way of life, your culture and your connection to the land and move into urban areas. We will find a creative way to beat this," she told Bethel residents...

In September, Sen. Begich (then Mayor) and Anchorage School Superintendent sent a letter to Palin (from ADN) regarding the migration from villages to the city due to high energy costs. Palin refuted high energy costs had anything to do with it, later.

In October, Native leaders continued their call for an energy emergency declared at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention (reported by the ADN). Of course, Palin was busy campaigning and may not have noticed.

In November, Indian Country Today did a story highlighting the Alaska Federation of Natives resolution to the energy crisis and village migration, as well as the incredibly poor response from Palin.

In late December, Indian Country Today reported on the dismal reaction of the Palin administration energy crisis, focusing on the rural subcabinet formed.

"The Rural Subcabinet formed by Governor Sarah Palin in response to what many consider a crisis in rural Alaska has reportedly met, but specific information about their activities has been difficult to find..." "The group has no fixed meeting time and the date of their next meeting is unknown." "...As of Dec. 8, the AFN had apparently heard nothing about actions or meetings of the subcabinet..."

Of course, this is only in recent months. This stuff goes back years, as far as addressing the real problems. Not to mention the other villages that have had true emergencies, including Adak. Once again, I point to the Alaska Native Commission Report done in the 90's that point out both problem and solution. Palin should think about reading it.

  • Palin blames the villages for the probem, not the policies, restrictions and initiatives she can do anything about. So don't ask.
"Some of these areas … they may need to see some change in leadership within the community, also." "...And in some of the communities I would say that perhaps new leadership would help provide solutions."

After stewing all night, I woke up this morning to a phone call from Celtic Diva. She and Mudflats pointed to an article in the Alaska Dispatch, praising Palin for "speaking from the heart" and being "thoughtful" about solutions for the communities.

You can only be thoughtful if you've met with the people from the communities and listened to them. Palin is calling for a change in leadership - with who? What are these leaders doing wrong? Who are they? When has she talked to them? And she gave NO solutions except to say these youth should think about leaving. So the solution is "leave the village"? She can't be a spark to "real dialogue" when she's never taken part in a dialogue! The dialogue has been going on, but Palin doesn't care to be part of it.

The article was also preemptively defensive about the race card being thrown at Palin. As if Palin needs to be a racist to make ignorant remarks about the state of rural Alaska. Personally, I believe Palin is willing to be pretty racially equal about throwing rural Alaska under the bus. For that matter, she's screwing us all equally in her painfully obvious stab for national attention. I didn't agree with the remarks about Ted Stevens at the time (don't think the guy was racist, just wrong) and it is interesting to note that the only people to bring up racism with Palin's remarks have been the people of the Alaska Dispatch.

To be very clear - Palin's remarks aren't racist. They are ignorant of the real issues, display a willingness to decide what is right having never had the dialogue, and take us back about 50 years in the struggle to maintain thriving rural and cultural communties. But in ignorance, she's being quite equal.

Once again, Palin offered no solutions to these problems. She talks about them getting jobs, but not about training, or the availability of them. Does she think every Native youth has a father on the slope and the governor willing to write a letter of recommendation to get them that job? It's really not that easy. It also displays an incredibly poor grasp of the situation. Some of these families are paying $2,500 a month just for their oil. Getting a job on the slope doesn't fix that problem, and it will continue to be a problem.

Again, she shows us she hasn't really looked at the situation. One of the men who sent a letter from a village just after Nick Tucker's letter was brilliant in displaying what they are trying. From Kongiganak, he talks about three projects that have the potential to help out the community. Yet:
The school project, AMI, told us that they will hire only 10 people from our village and the rest will come from the lower 48...about 20 out of state workers. We have many certified carpenters, welders, plumbers, electricians, and equipment operators that only a handful will work in these projects. What is wrong with this? Our legislators say that these projects are supposed to give our villages jobs and the people from Alaska.

Despite Palin's assertions that this is not the governments problem, this has everything to do with government. Lack of support for energy projects, restrictions on subsistence, laws about fisheries and over-fishing... The short-term problem is hungry kids and no heat. But the short-term problem could have been avoided completely by addressing these long-term solutions that Palin has been unwilling to even look at, much less be part of a dialogue about.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Finally! Funding for Emmonak through the BIA

From the Alaska Report:

BIA Announces Emergency Funding for Emmonak, Alaska

Traveling to Bethel with U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today, Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) regional director for Alaska, Niles Cesar, announced the BIA will provide emergency financial assistance to help residents in Emmonak struggling with the price of fuel...

"I am extremely pleased that the BIA has answered Senator Lisa Murkowski and my request for assistance to help these residents get through the winter," Sen. Begich said. 'This is not a long-term solution, but it’s a step in the right direction. I am hopeful the State of Alaska will step in and help solve this for the future."

Sen. Begich arranged the meeting in Bethel today and asked BIA officials to go with him. Cesar said the assistance may range from $400 to $1,000 depending on a person’s income.

Wierdly enough,the Anchorage Daily News reported Palin just announced she's heading out to a few villages (finally) with evangelist Franklin Graham:

Rep. Ramras (who has been involved in a little bit of a verbal battle regarding rural assistance lately) commented:

"I applaud her for following in the footsteps of what Alaskans and nonprofits and churches have already been doing over the last four to six weeks," he said Thursday. "I think she's setting a great example for the next wave of giving."

Interesting - the residents of one of the villages she's visiting (Emmonak is not one of them) say they only learned about it today (she's there tomorrow) and aren't sure what she's going to do, except probably hand out food.

The ADN also printed Sen. Murkowski's speech to the state legislature. Some excellent comments regarding Native issues, and even a little shout-out to bloggers!

Every day we hear more tragic stories from communities in the YK Delta that are suffering from a triple whammy. Bad salmon runs, high energy prices, and an early freeze that prevented the second fuel barge from landing. These communities are flying fuel in at prices that force some in their villages to choose between heating oil and feeding their families.

Suffering in silence until someone writes a newspaper article or posts a blog about what life is like this winter. Suffering in silence in the hope that Hugo Chavez and CITGO will donate stove oil to those in need.

It is unconscionable that our Native people would have to depend on the charity of a South American dictator for their heating needs. But it is also unconscionable that they must continue to depend on expensive diesel to power their communities. We need to find a permanent answer to rural Alaska’s energy crisis...

Alaska is also home to more Native people per capita than any other State in the union. The federal government has a special relationship with the first peoples of the United States. It is a trust relationship with Alaska Natives as the beneficiary.
That relationship drives millions of dollars in federal Indian program funds to Alaska Native institutions which have become household names in ourcommunities...

These institutions hire Alaskans and purchase goods and services in the Alaska economy. Along with the Alaska Native Corporations they have emerged as important economic engines in urban Alaska as well as our villages.

Our Alaska Native health system is exemplary in many respects... Yet we still have so many challenges. The rates of suicide in our villages and throughout Alaska are alarming...

The health disparities between our Alaska Native communities and the rest of America are striking in nearly every respect. Consistent with the special relationship between the federal government and our first people, the United States has an obligation to adequately fund federal Indian programs. In this respect they have fallen flat. I have called upon new administration to do better. Much better.

Here, here! Although not explicitly said, I'm hoping much of this reference is about the reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. It has been stalled in D.C. for TWELVE YEARS now. It passed through the Senate last spring, waiting for the house, and Bushie kept threatening to veto. No biggie. It's just Native cancer and AIDS issues at stake.

There was actually TONS of Native/rural references in Murkowski's speech. I always fight against agreeing with Lisa Murkowski, because she can drive me a little nutty, but she has been paying attention to rural Alaska and Native issues since she got in office, including holding meetings in rural communities back when few others oustide the Native community were paying attention to the problem.

She doesn't seem to be following her father's footsteps with some Native issues (and that's a GOOD thing.) If Palin where to challenge her seat, I think I would find myself voting on the republican primary ticket to make sure the one with intelligent ideas and comments about Alaska Natives issues (something besides fluff about treasuring the culture) runs against whomever is on the dem ticket.

What a weird time for rural Alaska news...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A month into the Obama Administration, and there are now officially some problems.

Okay, okay. Yeah, there were problems before, and it was never going to be perfect. But this one quite alarmed me from

Obama administration to fight Indian preference case

If you don't know, Indian preference (at least this case) is saying that the first try at jobs that "directly and primarily" relate to Native programs - mostly in the Bureau of Indian Affairs - go to qualified Native people first. The Obama administration is appealing the court decision of last year to lift the restrictions of the Bush policy, opening up more positions to Indian (we call it Native) preference. Regarding the Bush/Reagan policy that was overturned:

In court papers, the union said only 17 out of 550 positions at the agency were covered by Indian preference under the restrictive policy.

Many of the top positions in for the BIA, and other Native agencies, were filled by non-Native people.

I know preference is a hot-button issue for some, and it can easily be likened to affirmative action. There are similarities, but some of the differences are that Native preference is regarding only jobs that serve Native people, and you do HAVE to be qualified. I'm an hesitant advocate for Native preferance, though I've certainly disagreed with some of its outcomes.

The idea that a majority of non-Natives should be directly in charge of the decisions of Indian country is frustrating, though. As Bob Poe, quite intelligently, I think, reminded us in the Alaska Dispatch, here in Alaska, the majority of people working for Native corporations (nearly all of which have Native preference) are not Native. Even the programs that entirely (federally mandated) serve Native people, the majority of workers are not Native.

I do think Obama (and his administration) need to rethink fighting this right out of the gate, especially since he is a proponent of affirmative action in the right context (merit based). Why is one of the first fights going to be about this anyways? The specifics of the appeal aren't out yet, and I am VERY interested to see this justification.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day?

After a long session of lawmakers debating civil rights in Alaska, one senator posed the question:

"Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?"

A poised and eloquent Tlingit woman answered him:

"I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights."

Elizabeth Peratrovich, and her husband Roy, were tireless workers in the fight for civil rights in Alaska. They were also pretty darn successful. In part because of this statement, and the rest of Elizabeth Peratrovich's speech, the anti-discrimination law got passed.

The uber-short version from yesterday's Juneau Empire:

It was in 1988 that the Legislature designated Feb. 16 - the anniversary of the signing of Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 - as a holiday honoring Peratrovich. She was instrumental in securing passage of the bill that outlawed racial discrimination in Alaska. The Alaska Act pre-dated passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 by 19 years.

The first time the speech of hers really hit home was a few years ago at the Alaska Native Heritage Center's celebration of the day. Diane Benson did sort of a one-woman performance of the speech, and some "thoughts" of Elizabeth, that was very moving.

At the celebration the Heritage Center was having this year (Saturday,) one of the Heritage Center workers, Loren Anderson, had some pretty inspiring (yet low-key) things to say about the our continued journey:

"Is prejudice gone in Alaska? We know that's not true..."

"Will you take some lumps for speaking up? Sure. But if you see that leadership opportunity, take it."

Today, I had a meeting regarding reconciliation and Alaska Native/non-Natives in Alaska. I couldn't think of a more fitting day to meet, or to begin this new venture. I'm excited!

A few more bits on Elizabeth Peratrovich:

A speech of Fran Ulmer (then Lt. Gov., now U of A chancellor) about Elizabeth Peratrovich.

From the Alaska Native Sisterhood's page on the day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Will you be my Tsimshian Valentine?

I trekked over to the Alaska Native Heritage Center this beautiful Valentine's Day, as they were having their annual celebration of Alaska Native civil rights. Monday is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day (I'll be explaining that tomorrow!) and the Heritage Center once again brought up the Tsimshian dance group Git Hoan from Washington.

If you get a chance to see this group, GO. They are a great example of traditional culture adapting to modern society. And they're GOOD. Really good. The leader is David Boxley, a master artist originally from (new) Metlakatla, Alaska. Boxley was one of the key people in this wonderful revival of Tsimshian culture in Alaska, and now the world.

The pic beside this is a close up of a raven mask. Boxley carves most (if not all) of the group's masks, half the reason to go see them!

One of the dances they did seemed so ironically appropriate for Valentine's Day. These pretty women represent the evil land otter spirits. In Tsimshian culture, the young men will see the land otters as pretty women, and young women will see them as handsome men. So the women here are giving their "come hither" hands to the audience, and to groups of hunters, and even a shaman.

But at the select moment...

They turn into the evil land otters, and take the hunters back to their cave! The dancers slip on the masks to represent the transformation. It is definitely a dance you have to see in person. The hunters especially really ham it up when they get (willfully!) caught by these pretty young ladies.

But then a very powerful shaman comes along...

And they are defeated.

Happy Sweetheart's Day.

Tlingit culture has similar monsters, the Kushdakaa. They are also evil sea otter spirits, and are the ones responsible for all the lost hunters at sea, among other things. I'll tell you, I grew up hearing about them, and you don't generally put much stock in them, as far as being afraid.

That is, until you are around a fire on the beach at night with a bunch of other Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida people all talking about what silly stories they are. Then you start hearing noises, and all of a sudden you're a believer...

One of the things coming back in Northwest Coast culture is transformation masks, and Boxley is one of the best at it. For most of the song, you're just impressed with this great big mask this guy is hauling around. Then...

... it transforms!

As they said during the performance, for as "theatrical" as they get, this is all traditional. They used to have some really crazy ways of doing masks and things that moved, or were just huge.

Another audience favorite was the story of Mouse Woman. Here, the evil cannibal giant is roaming around.... (He really frightened one of the children in the audience!)

Wise Mouse Woman tries to warn the hunters, one by one, of the evil cannibal giant, but they are foolish, and do not listen to her. The giant kills and eats them.

Boxley: "Mouse Woman knows what men will do."

But this girl is wise, honors Mouse Woman, and listens to her advice. When the evil cannibal giant comes for her, she is prepared, and is not killed.

Just one more story of girls rockin' the boys... :)

Here is Boxley performing the "Spirit of the Potlatch." I thought it quite appropriate.

See, the Tsimshian people of Alaska were "immigrants" of sorts to Alaska. They moved from "old" Metlakatla in British Columbia to "new" Metlakatla following a missionary, Father Duncan, in the late 1880's.

Part of following him meant giving up culture, giving up the old ways, old customs. There were no potlatches for nearly a hundred years (though there were some "underground" ones.) In the 1980's, Boxley put on the first Tsimshian potlatch, and has been instrumental in the remembering of this culture.

One of my favorite dances - the Raven song. Besides being a beautiful song, these three ravens move just like ravens, and at a certain point in the song they all raise their beaks and click the moving masks like ravens do.

The first pic in this post, above, shows the close up of the masks.

The Tsimsian people have four clans - Raven, Eagle, Wolf and Killer Whale. All Tsimshian people belong to one of these clans.

In the Tlingit culture, we have two "moieties" sort of like the Tsimshian clans - Raven and Eagle. The Canadian (interior) Tlingits have a little bit different system. All (Alaskan, anyways) Tlingits belong to either the Raven or the Eagle moiety, and then each belong to their mother's clan after that (dozens of them) and then come the houses and crests.

Guess whether I'm Raven or Eagle? :)

This was a beautiful song by the women, no dancing, no drums, only their voices and little clacker-rattle type things. It's called, "Our Hearts Are Happy." I still have it stuck in my head...

David Boxley (pictured in the black and tan on the left):
"It's the culture, it's the feelings in our heart, why we're here, and why you're here. We're all doing the right thing."

Davie Boxley, David Boxley's son. I think this guy is going to be a real powerhouse in Alaska Native culture. Here he performs the Chief Headress Honor Song to open their performance.

A local Tsimshian Elder, Frances Haldane, is honored, and given a gift of a bentwood box full of eagle down.

Another of the beautiful transformation masks. Boxley encouraged the audience to use their imaginations with this killer whale song, and it really is beautiful. Part of why this group is so successful is because they really do things the old way - moving like the animals they are representing. You feel like you're watching a pod of killer whales during this song.

The killer whale mask transforms.

Below, their traveling song, before they leave... for the first time! They got encored. Or rather, the crowd shouted "Git-Hoan! Git-Hoan!" until they burst back in. And I mean burst! It was no subtle encore. The encore song was a song all Southeast people could get into. It is regularly used as the Entrance to Celebration in Juneau, where literally thousands of dancers gather and parade through downtown, singing it ("Haa, haa hawei! Haa, haa HAWEI!"). Half the crowd was singing along with them, and we would have stayed longer, but Boxley ended that notion. "No more - I'm tired!"

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I knew I knew that cowboy

Okay, so I FINALLY figured out where I "knew" Ken Salazar from.

Okay, no I never met the new Secretary of the Interior. But as I was trying to track down confirmation for the rumor I heard that he was going to be heading to Alaska soon, and saw a pic of him in his hat, I had the lightbulb ding.

When Celtic Diva and I were in Denver, Salazar was everywhere. I remember THAT. But he first caught my attention when he did what I thought was a very respectful and poignant welcome for the convention week by honoring First Americans. The pic is of the "official" welcome for the convention, just after a parade led by these Native dignitaries of the area. My post of the day remarked on this cowboy and Indian presentation: The senator reminded the audience that Native Americans have been at the forefront of America for centuries, including more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Yes, that's me quoting myself.) I had remarked at the time that it was pretty cool Native culture was being honored so prominently - the Native American touches were quite noticeable in Denver the whole time - but this opening was the most traditional, and Salazar's words the most respectful. For those that don't know the Sec. of the Interior oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs - how this guy has treated Native people/culture/issues in the past is of great importance! Although I'm sure Salazar's main reason for trekking up to the Great North is oil-based, I'm sure he will be finding time (read: he BETTER find time! :) ) to look into the BIA activities up here, and Native issues in general.

Mystery solved. All I had to do was read my own blog!

Wierdly enough, it was the UK Guardian that I finally found confirmation that Salazar would (soon?) be heading to Alaska:

He promised to hold four regional meetings - in Alaska, near the Gulf, along the west coast and the east coast - to gather opinions from governors, environmentalists and energy industry experts.

While I was hunting, however, I came across several interesting articles regarding Native issues and/or Alaska. My brain was fried today from work (actually, a coworker!) so my contributions are meager, you can check out some of the very exciting happenings in Native issues lately!

Bit from an older Alaska Dispatch article about Mark Begich being a "breath of fresh air." Although kinnd of an article about conservation and environment, the Alaska Native implications are pretty clear in the contrast of Stevens and Begich.

A Huffington Post story that humanizes some subsistence and oil issues - by Ricki Ott.

New York Times article about remembering the Indian nations. From the National Congress of American Indians President''s state of Indian nations address:

“When the President says that Indian nations are a priority for his new Administration, I take him at his word,” Mr. Garcia said. “With all my heart, I believe this is the true and right thing to do. I hope that, as the President says, the waiting is over, because Indians have been waiting a long, long time for the government’s actions to meet our own.”

Monday, February 9, 2009

Obama, Palin, and other Native news

For as much as I probably won't even know who the guy or gal is, I've been biting (proverbial, at least) nails to find out who Barack Obama will appoint as his senior Native American policy advisor.

After a tip from the overworked Dennis Zaki, I was happy to discover Michelle Obama confirming that the appointment will take place soon - in the next few weeks.

From RezNet:

Obama to name top advisor on Indian issues

and from Indian Country Today, the announcement of another historic appointment:

Standing Rock Sioux member gets key White House post

The White House announced Feb. 6 that Jodi Archambault Gillette has been named as one of three deputy associate directors of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. It is a historic appointment, as no other American Indian is believed to have ever held the position.

I was also appalled that I had neglected to read Indian Country Today for some time, my favorite Native news site. I found lots of interesting nuggets, including one bright, shiny one about Palin:

Palin candidacy shone light on Alaska Native issues

I was, at first, ready to take umbrage against the inference here. WTF? Palin didn't shine nuttin' on nobody but herself, especially not Native people! But then I READ the article. It helps sometimes.

It goes over the sort of talking points Palin had, but then gets into the real issue - Palin never addressed "Native issues" in the remotest sense of the phrase, excepting the negative impact she had on subsistence issues. The front the campaign wanted to show about how "forward" they were on Native issues was paper thin:

But soon came the other side of the story. ICT reported in mid-September that Democratic Natives in the state were raising allegations that Palin’s leadership has been harmful to Alaska Native subsistence fishing and hunting, tribal sovereignty and Alaska Native languages.

I wish the article was about ten times longer, to really get into it, but it presented a quick scope of just how much of the talk is... well, talk.

Palin never substantially addressed the issues in the press, and, in the end, even some former American Indian supporters of Palin were not swayed by arguments that she is pro-Alaska Native.

Uh, yeah.

Although I think, no matter the numbers, an executive should pay attention to everyone on their watch, I might remind you of a few numbers. America is roughly 1% Native American/Alaska Native, and Obama is doing pretty good in his first few weeks of office. Alaska is 20% Alaska Native, and in over 2 years its been cold shoulder after cold shoulder.

Another bit about Obama and his inaugural address.

"Words matter"

Let me be clear on this one - I do NOT agree with the arguments raised by the statement Obama made in his inaugural address, that he was somehow referencing Native tribal lines when he was talking about tribal lines coming down. I also do not subscribe to statements such as:

“Indigenous populations should be offended by this, just as we should be offended by the celebration of American patriotism exhibited during the inaugural festivities, and just as we should be offended by his recent denial of America as a colonial empire.”

Bleh. No, don't agree at all. I understand the arguments, but if I could have, I would have been in D.C. on Feb. 20, freezing my butt off, waving my American flag proudly. I was a little disappointed he didn't mention Native Americans again in his address, but (unless I'm wrong?) he didn't really address race. He addressed FAITH when he talked about Christians and Muslims, etc., but I don't know that race or nationality (other than the obvious) was addressed. I was pretty please with his earlier mentions of Native Americans, such as election night. I also think they're reading something into the mention/nonmention that's a little out there.

ICT also had an opinion piece addressing the inclusion of $2.8 billion for tribes. Woohoo! I think the author worded it well:

I have to admit I didn’t believe federal legislators would seriously consider including tribes in the bailout package, but the fact that they have speaks to the sea of change that has occurred in American politics.

This is new territory for Native people, a land of opportunity we had all but given up on as myth.

Like a freshly sober alcoholic who’s lived too long devoid of hope, I’m still waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me. But I’m fighting to suspend my disbelief and have some faith that change is on the horizon.

Go us!

It really does feel like this - anything is possible.

And speaking of all that "hope" and "change" jazz, I hope you're keeping up on the updates about Emmonak and Dennis Zaki's footage that's been looping through CNN, even the CNN front page, where it was the most popular story of the day! I couldn't word it better than Mudflat's post, so I'm just going to direct you there, and leave a little byte of hers (okay, so it's a LONG byte, but it's GOOD!):

But this state has proven that we can rally without the help of our Chief Executive. Alaska is not defined by the person sitting at the helm, alone. Alaska and its people have many friends inside and outside of the state who use the tools they have, to do what they can. Cold hungry children do not care about political parties, or whether it will look like someone is promoting government handouts which might hurt their conservative image on the 2012 campaign trail. They are just cold and hungry. And not all bloggers are sitting in their parents basements in pajamas making up stories. Some of them have done more to help those cold hungry children than their governor.

I am glad that most of the bloggers who have been championing this cause are
. And I’m glad Rep. Jay Ramras is a conservative. I’m glad that churches are getting involved. I’m glad that those without religious affiliation are getting involved. This is what bipartisanship looks like. This is our ‘team of rivals’. This is what happens when people stop thinking about politics and start thinking about people.

More Emmonak coverage on CNN

Two more CNN clips using Denniz Zaki's footage. The word is really getting out to the world now!

Also on the Emmonak news front:
Anchorage Daily News on Ramras/Palin fight over village aid. And no, Palin STILL has not addressed this issue in any relevant way.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dennis Zaki's Emmonak footage on CNN

Dennis Zaki of went to Emmonak a few weeks back to film - sent there by generous donations from YOU! His footage has already hit KTUU (local Anchorage) but the first of it is now being used by CNN. Dennis says CNN plans to do multiple stories.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

From Raven's mouth - Ups and downs in Native language news

Yea! First thought when I saw the headline in the Juneau Empire about the Sealaska Heritage Institute's language revitalization efforts. In recent years, I've been noticing an awesome push from SHI - and Southeast in general - for language and cultural programs, education and emphasis.

The article doesn't goo too in depth with what the specific methods are, but I have a bit of an idea. I was happy to discover that my OWN Tlingit teacher, the woman I learned (part of) the traditional Tlingit introduction from (it's LONG guys... seriously long...) subscribes to this.

See, for the first month of class, we barely looked at words, we just did sounds over and over and OVER. We repeated everything she said, in this crazy order she wanted done. She wasn't really concerned about us getting the textbooks at all - some never did. For the first month, seriously, I questioned her teaching style, and whether any of us were going to learn anything.

After a month, she suddenly began teaching us sentences - not short, little words - she went straight into the introduction, a good 15 minutes if you're doing it right. And... we got it! By doing things her way, it literally got drilled into our heads to correct pronunciations, order and inflections. We could then more easily "self-teach" because we had the groundwork already.

I'm not even totally sure how she did it, but by not doing things the way you're taught you're supposed to do them, we got it. It's been a few years, and I can still rattle off this long introduction with no problem.

The article mentions a few against-the-grain kind of teachings that I can see how they would work:

"One of the difficult things is to convince people to not use the printed form too soon," MacDiarmid said. "A lot of people were trained in literacy, and so there's this inclination to introduce the printed form of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian to the kids early. And in this process we are trying to pull them back from that."

It was interesting to me to read this literally minutes after reading about the continued struggle in the Bethel area to get the language voting help, and the ugly comments about Native languages that always follow stories like this in the ADN. I wish people would actually take a look at the numerous studies to see what multiple languages and cultural relevancy does for a child's education.

To me, this SHI curriculum looks like an incredibly smart mix of Western idea and traditional teaching. I've written recently about the "either/or" mentality of one is good, so the other must be bad. I love my culture, and hope it will thrive for another ten millenia, but that does not also mean I can't see what other cultures bring to it.

A friend once compared cultures who must meet as a marriage. In a marriage, if the two people really come together "as one," some things will certainly be lost. But what you gain in the meantime is something very beautiful and strong also. But if the couple comes together with each determined to not give an inch of themselves to the other - call it compromise, joining, whatever - much is lost. Not to mention a pretty bad marriage.

The trick is trying to not get totally lost in the other person - in this case one culture not getting lost in the other. I don't believe one culture has to swallow up another, and I adamantly believe the Native people and cultures of Alaska have a whole lot to give the world.

P.S. The above is a picture of my button blanket I use for dancing. Sometime I'll tell the story of it...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Figuring out the problem

There was a great editorial in the Anchorage Daily News, written by a teacher from Bethel.
She addresses the breakdown of family as being the real problem:

What is killing our Native cultures is not our schools but the breakdown of our families.

I agree with much of this, but I think this is also one of the "either/or" kind of views. Either it is the outside world, or it is the family that is hurting/can help. Either it is my control, as a parent, over my children's lives, or it is TV/video games/school.

Although people don't like to think so as much (doesn't make for a very passionate stand) the truth is somewhere more in the middle.

I especially disagree with her statement:

It is true that the curriculum doesn't reflect Native ways -- and it shouldn't.

Schools should not, as she says, be teaching hunting to children. Unfortunately, what happens then is these children who grow up in a hunting culture are taught in ways they can't relate to. My dad, for instance, says when he was a kid, they used to play that game, "Red Light, Green Light." Only they didn't know why they had to be those colors, there being no stoplights in the village he grew up in, so they'd change them up. "Purple light! Orange light!"

I'm not saying children should be sheltered from all information - but certainly relevancy in what they're learning is important! Why does a child care about being able to calculate how fast a train is going if the smoke is going this way? Has that child ever seen a train? We are reinforcing again and again that the outside world is much more important than their world - and then wonder why they all want to leave.

Maybe they will care more if it is taught in a way that is relevant to his life. The small word problems like that end up being the most important daily influence of a child's education - why not make them reflect a child's life?

I don't think you can hijack an entire curriculum and only focus on a minority of students. But here in Anchorage, if nearly 20% of the student population is Native, could we try and make even 10% of the curriculum more relevant to culture? This doesn't mean you make the whole class learn to make sealskin drums (though what a treat!) It means that the lessons you are teaching anyways are taught in a way that honors the culture you are teaching to.

I have a Yup'ik friend I respect a great deal as a person, but especially as a mother. She is raising her son to speak Yup'ik, living in Anchorage. When I asked her if she used both languages at home (when her son was still a baby) she said no. He was going to learn English from the environment no matter what. She would speak to him in Yup'ik, and just by growing up in Anchorage, watching TV, going to school, having friends, he was going to learn English.

She was totally right. No matter what she did in her own home, he is now fluent in both, and has no problems, in school or at home, jumping between the two, and excelling in life. OR - the family was entirely bent on one outcome, but the culture was powerful enough to be just as much an influence. Family cannot be the only answer. It is the most important one, but to ignore the influences of the past and present is seriously hindering the solution.

Dennis Zaki of did a recent video interview of a teacher in Emmonak, who addressed relevancy in the classroom, showing the child how things relate to his life.

Outside of school, it is somewhere "in between" as well. Although I am happy that the issue of family is addressed, I also think that outside influences have not gone away. The effect of what happened in the past have been crippling, as a people, and we cannot just shrug it off. Although my greatest admiration goes to those who, in spite of it all, are making meaningful, healthy triumphs in culture and education, I'm afraid to say that, by and large, it is more the exception than the rule.

I would encourage everyone to read Harold Napolean's book, "Yuuyaraq: The Way of the Human Being." Napolean - not at all a model of what we should be, as Native people, examined, in prison, why the Native cultures can be this way. In short - the spiritual and mental crippling that occurred, and why that occurred.

What I don't mean is that everyone has an excuse. People choose whether or not to teach cultural ways to their children. People choose whether or not to drink. People choose, if their parents have not taught them, to learn things as adults.

But here's where it becomes more complicated. Sure, it's a choice. I used to be pretty critical of elders who did not teach, or know the Native language. Why aren't they teaching us? Until I heard the first hand story of just what happened to this generation if they tried speaking their own language. Humiliation, pain, violence, and all because the Native people's words were "dirty" and they were "worthless." Would you knowingly bestow that pain upon your children?

In other words, entire cultures did not, in one generation, decide simply to stop teaching and learning these ways. There were reasons behind it. To ignore these reasons and simply say, "Heal thyself" is not only unrealistic, but going to do a lot more harm than good.

I think blaming anyone else is useless. But you cannot fix the problem if you don't know where it started.