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.