Friday, September 3, 2010

Changing the way we talk about racism

Interesting piece in the ADN covering a project I'd heard about from a couple people, and saw recently came into more public light. It covers the radio "Cash for Tlingits" incident.

Julia O'Malley's piece in ADN.

Race is not a warm 'n' fuzzy topic at best in Anchorage, and ammunition for even more hurt and anger at worst. If things like this can happen, it does make me a little more hopeful for future taks, though.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nudging my way into existence

Bearing in mind my voice might be echoing in the halls here, I still felt a desire to comment on something I saw in the ADN Newsreader today. Or rather, something the Newsreader brought from the Stop and Smell the Lichen blog.

Nuna Inua starts out, "I do not exist."

It goes on more about how it is her position, her job that does not exist as far as traditional culture. What position is there of "artist" in traditional culture, and how can creating art possibly trample upon culture?

It is something I have struggled with as a Tlingit fiction writer. While engaging since high school in nonfiction forms of publication, it is creative fiction that has my heart. Tlingit culture, I think, embraces the idea of "artist" more readily than what Nuna Inua describes her own culture as being able to define. There is no traditional "artist" who "only" created art for a living, but it was a position nontheless. People talented and disciplined in beautiful carving would supplement their own living by creating commissioned pieces to wealthy folk. This kind of practice goes far, far back in our culture.

But, as my mother said, "There's no such thing as Tlingit fiction."

In trying to recreate ficitonal stories from traditional legend, I now begin to wrestle with how I can do this without "lying" by creating a part that is not true to history, without plagiarism, without taking from what belongs to others. You see, while Native stories are more often labeled as "myth and legend" in educational circles, these stories were passed down for millenia as history. Fact. Only in very modern times has society begun to play with our culture's history as fiction, with little regard to the ramifications.

So, as a fiction writer trying to honor my culture's past, how do I fictionalize it and honor it at the same time?

To be honest, I'm not completely sure that my story isn't going to be rejected outright by many Elders immediately, despite the care I've taken for that not to happen, and despite my own fears.

There are many things in my culture, and I imagine in other Native cultures, that honor the past by "dishonoring" it. Tlingit people have so much complicated protocol, a traditional political and familial system that still weaves its way into contemporary politics and family life - and I love it. But it does present some difficulties for the modern Tlingit fiction writer.

Whenever you see a traditional Tlingit dance group, remember that there used to be no such thing. Everybody danced, everybody knew their clan songs, and they sang them with the clan. The need for, or the entertainment value of, a dance group would be quite strange. Being a member of one, I'm not saying there isn't a need now - but you see how things that are even now considered "traditional" become a little hairy when you talk about how traditional they really are? Yet a culture that does not change is not alive.

I was very intrigued by the inherent questions posed in the blog, because they are things I've long struggled with, and, clearly, I'm not alone in. How do you balance the razor's edge between tradition and adaptation? How do you keep a culture alive if it never changes - yet how much change makes the culture extinct? I like a friend's description of how Alaska Native cultures are in a twilight period between what they were, and what they will become... but it is still a bit bittersweet to think of.
I'm a firm believer that art will play a monumental part in the revival of Native culture in Alaska. So how do we artists, we Native people, we "real human beings" navigate this new realm built on the shoulders of our ancestors?


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy Census Day!!

First question: I've heard this a lot lately, but really, whose idea was it to have Census Day on April 1? I mean - people aren't exactly focused on April 1. They're either too busy scheming, or too busy looking over their shoulder.

That being said, it's still HUGELY important to fill out and send in the census!! No - I don't work for the government. But I do know how directly funds can be affected depending on the census. So I'm poking all my Native peeps many, many times to send it in especially!! It will determine Native health care funds, housing funds, population counts determining legislive power, and MUCH MUCH MORE!!

Okay, that's only the first of many annoying personal PSAs I'll be doing. Just FYI - Alaska is WAY behind the nation in getting their forms back - DEAD LAST.

So other big news:



And - because I didn't explain this fully enough to one person, who thought I was excited about reading a book - I finished writing my first book!

Which is why I'm back blogging. I promised I wouldn't blog, paint, or do a host of other thing until I was done, so I've jumped back on the horse. Incidentally, painting is not as easy to get back into after so long off... little rusty. Hoping blogging will be less so.

So... anything happen in the last few months? :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Elizabeth Peratrovich Day

So I come out of my frazzled and frustrated writing haze to... well, write. But had to give a little tip of the hat to Elizabeth Peratrovich on Elizabeth Peratrovich Day - or the 65th anniversary of the passing of the Alaskan Anti-Discrimination Bill.

For the most part, I'm just going to repost last year's bit, "What is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day?" I do want to add one GREAT way to celebrate the day (or just get a little culture) is to watch "For the Rights of All" - starring Diane Benson. It tells the story much better than I can!

Far too many Alaskans still don't know what is celebrated on this day, so read up and pass it on!

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.