Monday, September 28, 2009

Territorial Guard issue seems to be a no-brainer

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

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

From the Anchorage Daily News article:

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

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

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

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

From Sen. Begich in a KTUU report:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Clarification from Obama administration for health care reform and Native population

From Indian Country Today:

Obama administration makes new promise on Indian health

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

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

A welcome quote from Murkowski in the article:

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

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

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


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ever wanted to write a play?

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

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

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

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

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

Back in sunlight

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

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

Obama is trying to indoctrinate children with nazi propaganda.

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

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

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

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

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

Violent revolution, it was not.

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

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

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

Don't remember it at all.

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

Maybe I was sick that day.

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

State Dept. of Education hiring new rural position

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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