Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Celebrating Banned Books Week

Yay! What could make me happy to read a list of banned books Alaska Dispatch posted?

A book I've been wanting to read by an author I love is on there - "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie.

Each year during Banned Books Week I try to read at least one of the "most banned" books of the moment. Though honestly, it's not much of a challenge. EVERY good book seems to be banned - I've read five of the top ten in the article!

Sherman Alexie has got to be one of the most well-known Native authors anyways - if not THE most well-known - and I've loved everything I've read by him, even when I've disagreed with it. This book has been on my own list for a bit (and seems to have been on the banned books list for a bit too!) - looking forward to it!

Maybe it's obvious to those who celebrate this week, but there are plenty of books on many lists that have been banned that I don't like, offend me, and that I just plain disagree with. When it comes to Native people in literature, the list of books with stereotypes and innacuracies is MUCH longer than the list of books with accurate portrayals of Native history, culture and people. Yet, I don't deny anyone the right to read them - and we do major harm to the idea that we are a free thinking society by eliminating all that we disagree with.

If you really want to help a child do their best in this world, make sure they are well-taught and have a loving heart, and are able to look at things with an open mind and a critical eye. You don't do this by giving them only that which won't challenge them, won't bring them a new perspective, and won't interest them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Arrest the parents or work with them?

I thought this article by Timothy Aqukkasuk Argetsinger in Alaska Dispatch was great - "Uqaġupta naalaġniuruksraurusi: When we talk, you listen." It's about the recent issue regarding legal action taken against parents for truant students.

While I think there is risk to then excuse some of the parental action (or inaction) regarding ensuring kids are at school, where they might actually be just negligent, he has great points that are almost never addressed. Specifically, he cites examples in which indigenous culture is worked with Western education for success, rather than a power struggle.

In any case, I can only imagine what he proposes is radical and maybe a little scary to some, but what he's really talking about is getting back to how things were done for millenia. I encourage you to read the WHOLE article before judging!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Don't be a tool" - or - Dialogue about racial equity in Alaska

A few weeks ago, I was waiting in my car for my sister to come out of a grocery store, window down, and two young men, both white, were having a loud discussion about race. I tried (not very hard) to not listen, but as I was in the middle of the unnerving project I’ll describe in a bit, bad manners took over. They discussed different racial problems, whether minorities should be “blaming” everything on race, whether affirmative action was right, and one was vehement that the “Native Pride” hats were racist in nature. What struck me was – they probably would be talking a bit differently if I was part of the discussion. Or even if they knew I was listening.

I don’t mean to say they were racist for discussing this, or that they would for sure even curb away from what they were saying. But the nature of racial dialogue in Anchorage is such that with the entrance of a (somewhat opinionated) Native woman into the conversation, I’m pretty sure there would be either a) holding back from all true opinions out of not wanting to stir something up that can’t be taken back, or b) a blood bath.

Okay, I’m SURE we could remain civil. But experience tells me when people of different races radically disagree about race relations in Anchorage, the conversations don’t generally go all rainbows and bunnies.

I began this blog over three years ago, and one of my first posts was about an incident that happened downtown. A group of us, all Native, were downtown for an event, and were suddenly, and without provocation, verbally abused by a loud, angry man. The comments were ugly, and racist. But my concern was not as much the man, but the reaction of our group:

(We were) A group of young, professional Native people, mostly women, who have every right to be proud of themselves and their accomplishments. Our reaction? We lowered our heads, we didn't meet each other in the eye, we dare not look at another person in the crowd, for the shame of it… We didn't yell back, we didn't argue, we didn't console or comfort each other, we didn't talk about.

Aside from the fact that I just annoyingly quoted myself, in three years, I realize I still haven’t answered for myself the questions I was pondering in the post. Why was this our reaction? What can be done?

But a recent experience has made me look at this in a new way. I was invited to participate in a project hosted by First Alaskans – a project to start a dialogue about racial equity. To start many dialogues, actually, in many different communities around Alaska. I went in to be trained as a host of some of these dialogues, with a large group of supporters.

Here’s where my heart rate starts to rise.

It wasn’t actually the group itself that made me nervous. I think partly from posting here over the years, and partly because I just talk about race a lot with friends as I try to answer my own question, I was pretty comfortable the first day we got together. It was a day to share our own stories, our own ideas about race in Alaska.

 As we went around the large circle for several hours, each person taking a turn, it was at times heartbreaking, at times infuriating, at times inspiring. There were many occasions I could relate to the speaker, and many more that sparked ever more questions.

It was the two days after the initial meeting where I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

In a much smaller group, it started getting a little more real about us hosting these discussions, and here’s where I start to have imaginary dialogues, hosted by me, in which I get run out of town or alternately start a proverbial fire in a community that leads to paintballing and race riots (it’s part of my process.)

While we were being trained, I discovered several people had similar fears.

“How do I walk by these people in the store if this goes wrong?”

“My community is not going to like this kind of talk.”

Yet, we’ve seen that positive outcomes CAN come from racial dialogue. A year ago to the week, I posted about First Alaskans’ effort in a pretty public racial dialogue. Julie O’Malley said it best, but in short, there was some ugly racial comments said about Native women over three years ago by two local radio DJs. The reaction was swift, angry, accusatory, and I don’t know that anyone was happy with the outcome.
But an effort when different racial comments were made by different local DJs was... well, markedly different. Instead of anger, education. Instead of calls to pull ads, a call to talk. The outcome? Much, much better for everyone.
Said O'Malley, "And I left the press conference wishing that more conversations about race in Anchorage could end that way. Because we’d all be better for it."

So, my neurosis about being run out of town pitchfork-style aside, after meeting these empowering, strong, open people, after some truly thought-provoking dialogue led by First Alaskans, after voicing my own fears and hopes (and more fears,) I can’t answer a single question I posed over three years ago with any authority. But I have a little more hope that, with talking, with compassion, with incredible patience, we can turn the direction of racial equity in the state.

Though the two gentlemen outside the grocery store already had it said pretty succinctly:

“But don’t you think some people just really hate people from different races?”

“Yeah… if you’re a total tool.”

He probably won’t be hosting a dialogue, but I really want to hear more of what he has to say.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Does keeping Native languages alive even matter? Part 3

I've loved seeing the great comments left by my previous two posts on the question of language revitilzation and extinction. Here's the third installment in this subject I could go on and on (and seemingly have) about, and discussion of the many arguments I've heard against keeping Native languages alive:

"We're all Americans now!" - or "Why do we have to dwell on the past?"

This is possibly one of the more frustrating arguments for me, personally, mostly because it's not an argument with anything except an attitude of "This is how I want it to be" behind it, and not trying to understand what's actually going on.

While the oft-cited "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it" comes to mind, it is a woman who was in the same school my grandmother was that I think of when this is the argument.

You see, I was pretty hard-headed myself about language, only in a different way. I did not think much of my grandparents "giving up" their language. I mean, in exactly one generation, they'd "decided" to give it up. They chose to not pass it on to their children, who in turn could NOT pass it on to me!

But then I heard this woman tell her story, the story of what happened when she went to school. She said what I'd heard before, but I'd never heard it from someone who experienced it, much less someone who experienced it in the same school, at the same time as my grandma. These children, five and six years old, were beaten for speaking Tlingit. They were whipped if they uttered it. Try to imagine yourself at five years old, speaking how you speak at home, and getting hit.

But then she said, "The smart ones got hit the most." And they learned to undo it the fastest.

The "smart ones" - the natural leaders, the ones not afraid to speak out... at least at first. These are the ones most cruelly treated, and the ones who were most dead-set on not passing on that kind of cruelty to their children.

Could you, having gone through this experience, have sent your five year old to kindergarten knowing how to speak the language you were beaten for speaking? I don't know that I would.

It is in this light I remember that the past is not irrelevant. And forgive me if it also brings to mind a certain animated movie in which there may or may not have been big musical numbers with warthogs and hyenas. Remember in the "Lion King" when Simba tells the monkey it's in the past, and the monkey whacks him on the head? Yeah, the past still hurts.

Okay, searing political insight it may not be, but I would hope the next person who talks about forgetting the past or "just being American" keeps in mind how hurtful those comments can be. I'm proud to be American, and I think speaking the tongue that was spoken here for millenia is an incredibly patriotic thing to do. I wish I knew more, I wish I was committed enough to be bilingual, and I don't see how my nation could be anything but benefitted by me and my children and my children's children being the same.

And how can I forget the past that brought me to where I am today? Why would I want to? What's more, why would we, as a nation want to forget that? If it makes you uncomfortable, if it makes you sad, or feel ashamed - fine. It makes me feel those things too. But if we forget the things that make us uncomfortable, we must also forget that which makes us proud, and comforted, and passionate. The brief discomfort I may feel by remembering all the true history of our not-so-distant past is a small price to pay for that.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Does keeping Native languages alive even matter? Part 2

I posted the other day about Native languages and the ongoing conversation I hear about whether it is even of any value to do so. With as many "reasons" as others come up with on how it is not any value, I've split up my own discussion into several parts:

"We're all going to one language anyways"

Whether that is true or not (and it's certainly not happening in anyone's lifetime alive now,) the value of having these languages not only not go extinct, but thrive, is sadly losing potency as the years wear on. This is, quite simply, because each year we're losing more and more people who know what is behind the language.

There are many, many words and phrases in any language that are not simply a way to say the same thing in any language. There are ideas, thoughts, values, philosophies - whole religions - that you can only talk about comprehensively in a certain language. My mom talks about my grandpa (whose first language was English, I might add) who would struggle to impart a Tlingit philosophy or value he learned growing up, but would throw up his hands with a, "There's no way to say that in English!"

A Tlingit teacher I had talked about one word - just ONE word - in Tlingit, "Eetoowoo" (and yikes, I think I just hacked up that spelling!) It is translated in English as "sorrow." But I can still hear her voice as she tried to explain what it really meant - it was more than sorrow. It was a deep, deep sadness that the whole body, the whole being, was involved in. Not a word, or even meaning, we have in the English language. I still don't know what she meant.

I've heard people say they can experience a culture by visiting it, by attending a dance, by reading about it - therefore why not just all speak the same language as the language isn't a part of it?

But culture isn't about attending a play or viewing a piece of art. It literally makes up who a person is.

If you think language isn't important to a culture, I challenge you to learn another language fluently. Use this language, and only this language, to your children, and forbid them to speak English. Then tell me the stories your father told have the same weight. Tell me the songs your mother sang to you can be passed on. Tell me the jokes you've giggled at since you were in high school translate to this language, and your favorite books make as much sense. I gaurantee you MUCH will be lost. Even if you're able to capture big chunks of it, there's no way to translate a whole culture into a different language in one generation.

Now try and think of this as a large group of people trying to do the same thing. Values, stories, philosophies, songs - we've already lost so much. But if we can literally speak the same language as those who can still teach it before it's too late, it won't all be gone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Does keeping Native languages alive even matter?

The threat of extinction for many (nearly all) Alaska Native languages has received some attention lately, much do to the release of an updates Alaska Native languages map.

I'll leave some others (here, Talking Alaska) to talk about the why and what is going on.

What I get concerned with, whenever this topic comes up and the inevitable backlash of negative commentary, is the idea that the languages should be kept alive at all. Honestly, the idea that it was acceptable, or even preferred, that these languages go extinct was foreign to me until about the age of 15. That was the first time I heard a rant from a peer on "preserving" English as the only American language. Despite the fact that ironies abound when talking about "preserving" the native language of the land (English? Really?) - it is an all-too-common sentiment I've heard expressed.

Other reasons I've heard for letting it go - it's natural selection for it to go extinct, children who learn another language other than English first struggle with learning at a pace with others, there's no value to having different languages, we're spending too much on trying to save languages... though all too frequently the argument just boils down to "we're all American now! Why do we have to dwell on the past?"

I want to address each of these reasons, so I'm going to address a different one each day.

Natural Selection - or "All cultures/languages change"

The above statement is true. Languages and cultures change, and a sign of a dying culture is one trying not to change at all.

But an organic evolution is quite different than a forced extinction. Ask some dinosaurs if they would prefer to evolve into some birds over a few thousand millenia, or if they would like a meteor dropped on their heads. To put it in more human terms, would you prefer to grow out of your job and get promoted, or would you prefer to be fired?

For the most part, what happened to the Native languages of the Americas wasn't a natural evolution. What happened was traumatic, invasive and left no room for real adaptation. In both cases above, true evolution happens over a longer period of time and there is a chosen adjustment to changing environments - choosing what is deemed "better". And in both cases, asteroid or firing, a forced change is fairly terrible to experience and "only the strong survive" doesn't neccessarily apply. Too much of that depends on chance and what the invasive element chooses.

I had a great Tlingit teacher who talked to us about a common Tlingit expression I heard growing up. When someone says "Gunalcheesh" (thank you) - the response is often "Ho ho!" (you're welcome.) I really did hear this often.

What a surprise to learn it didn't mean what I think it meant over 20 years later! "Gunalcheesh ho ho" actually is one phrase, and is used to emphasize the thank you - like "Thank you VERY much." There is no phrase commonly said, traditionally, to respond to thank you, as there is in English. But the "young kids" as she said (she meant my parents generation!) were changing this, and this new kind of word was emerging.

To a language, she said, this is a great thing. It shows the language is alive, and adapting. The "young kids" were choosing to change this on their own, because it suited the younger culture more, and it brought two languages together.

THAT is "natural selection."

What happened here was trauma. It was forced change. It was not an evolution, but something ripped out by the roots. This isn't an effort to place blame, but to emphasize that there is nothing "natural" about being beaten for speaking a language, or being told to speak a foreign language in your own home. It also isn't totally extinct yet for all the languages. And until it is, why would we ever prevent those from fighting that fight?

Next: Is there any real value to knowing these languages?

Monday, May 2, 2011

"I've never killed a man, but I've read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction."

So sayeth Mark Twain.

The war on terror isn't over. I feel a bit strange celebrating anyone's death. And nothing happened today to make 3,000 lives that were lost on 9/11 come back.

So why do I feel a certain satisfaction knowing one mass murderer is off the streets?

Well, it might be pretty obvious, but I am satisfied. Whatever that says about my humanity, I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure it says a lot about my American nationality, in any case! I don't buy into vengeance, much, but I'm pretty big on justice.

I hope one of Obama's points wasn't lost, as it was what got me pretty emotional:

"Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores."

I don't think the country has remotely forgotten, and I certainly haven't. I've traveled to both New York City and D.C. this past year, and 9/11 is something that can't be missed. I noted how often, in our NYC tours, the "Before 9/11" and "After 9/11" came up. While it was a turning point for the country, and it's certainly changed the way I travel and what I think of government, it is a daily change for New Yorkers. It is in their face every day. I hope they know the rest of us haven't forgotten.

And in D.C. I went to the Newseum, where they have a section dedicated to 9/11. I wasn't prepared for how emotional I would get there, seeing the twisted antennae, learning of the lost journalists and media workers, and remembering watching from across a continent as the towers fell.

An article on New Yorker's reactions and gathering at Ground Zero.

"Others chanted 'Obama got Osama' in a scene overflowing with patriotism and happiness after President Barack Obama announced the death of the man who planned the terror attacks that scarred this city."

An article on the reaction from some troops.

“You can take a deep sigh of relief and say we can see a tangible result of the war on terror,” he said.

There's no real conclusion to this post - nothing is "over." But a mass murderer is gone, and I hope there can be some satisfaction for the families that, if there loves ones cannot be brought back, at least there is at least a small amount of justice for those lost.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

EPA to review Pebble Mine (highlights from Mudflats)

Mudflats had an excellent post about the EPA's involvement in Pebble Mine, and the federal government's involvement with Alaska in general.

It's always amazed me how much Alaskans (and especially Alaskan politicians) can rail against the federal government, yet many, MANY times the involvement of the federal government was neccessary to stop the overreaching of the state and state politicians. In any case, Ms. Muckraker says it much better than I:

In towns with no indoor plumbing, fuel at more than $10 a gallon, and communities where schools can be hundreds of miles apart, it’s understandable that Alaskans find it difficult sometimes to “go with the flow” and let those bureaucrats in DC legislate what we do on the tundra from an office in a white marble building thousands of miles away... What would make us frontier-minded, libertarian, get off my lawn Alaskans actually thank a federal agency?
If the relationship between Alaska and the federal government can be described as misunderstood, the relationship between Alaska Native people and the federal government can only be summed up as, "It's complicated."

Where federal intervention in Native issues was the Big Bad Wolf only a few decades ago, federal intervention is coming to the point of being the best option for some Native issues - like subsistence.

As Muckraker says, we can only wait on what happens with the science, but here's hoping...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Making a difference for Alaska Native suicide prevention

Saw this story in the Frontiersman, pretty cool.

Palmer man leads fight against depression

There's a very powerful message here, and it's still amazng to me when I hear this kind of thing:

Pagaran admits that, “I myself was ashamed to say I was Alaska Native until I was 25 years old, and I grew up in Alaska,” he said. “I would tell people I was oriental, Mexican — anything but Native. I believed these lies like so many other people do. Our message is not only hope, but also (bringing) that identity to help people realize that when God created us, he didn’t create any mistakes.”

I can't say I've ever felt ashamed to be Native - I only ever remember being proud. But I've heard it from many people, and it hits really hard.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Ugly" Native prayers?

I must admit, I'm still not used to the amount of ignorance people can come up with when talking about Native people and issues.

I read this excellent article from Indian Country Today about a blessing Dr. Carlos Gonzales, Pascua Yaqui, gave for Rep. Giffords.

At first I was wondering if there was really such a wide negative reaction to a simple Native prayer given. But even Googling the blessing and the video above, I came across some truly ignorant and hateful people talking about his pagan, wierd, ugly prayer (namely conservative bloggers and Fox.)

Hearing Fox News analyst Brit Hume dismiss the blessing as, “most peculiar” was disturbing, but not surprising for anyone who monitors how Indians have been treated in mainstream media coverage. Syndicated columnist and ever-present TV commentator Michelle Malkin live-blogging, “Mercy,” and complaining that Gonzales was “[babbling] about two-legged and four-legged creatures” was rude, but it was far from unfamiliar. Several conservative websites, including Power Line, which described the prayer as “ugly,” were outraged., another right-wing news site, interviewed Gonzales, and in its write-up, offered a snide report that listed the word “blessing” in quotes and made mention of the fact that Gonzales had used the word “creator” but not God—an apparently unforgivable offense.

Seriously? Yeah... Listen to the prayer. I gaurantee it's nothing shocking.

I was honored to spend the last week in the company of a variety of Native people from all over the country. Daily, usually two or three times daily, the groups would offer prayers, smudging, and traditional ceremony. I participated in most, not totally understanding most ceremonies. They weren't my tradition. There were others who opted out entirely of participating in the ceremonies, as they didn't believe in them, or didn't want to participate in a spiritual activity they didn't understand.

But guess what? They were able to do it respectfully. They didn't believe those who had different beliefs, and different customs, were inferior, or ignorant.

It's amazing to me that in 2011, this issue of respecting beliefs still comes up. I have a faith that no one can take from me, and I'm not threatened by those who don't share it. Learning about others' beliefs and traditions doesn't threaten or take away from my own - it enriches it.

I know I should be immune to the many, many times I've heard Native ways and traditions, even art, described as crude or backwards. But I'm not. I don't believe the Catholic across from me, though I don't share most traditions, is of a rudimentary mind. I don't believe the Muslim beside me has a lower I.Q. I'm not sure why it's so acceptable to think the same of my culture's traditions, but it is.

In the meantime, I'm encouraged by the time I spent with so many of my Native brothers and sisters down south. Learning about them changed me, spending time with them was a humbling experience.

Haa Shagéinyaa x’atuwóos' haa shagóoni has du latséeni haa too yei anga.oo.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Native 8(a)

I've been traveling and am completely exhausted, so won't wax much of an opinion, but this ADN article was pretty thought-provoking regarding Native corporation contracts. Not the most objective ever, but I do hope it's making ALL sides think a little bit about what's going on:

Outside companies share Native contracts
NO-BID: Subcontractors out of state often get bulk of work.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

The state of the (Native) union

The state of the Indian Nations address was today, and no, it won't be as remarked upon or debated as much as the other recent state of the union address, but it's worth a view or read.

THEN go check out our own senator's congressional response.

Watch live streaming video from ncai at

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lots of Alaska reality

I've been wondering how this show I've been hearing about has been going, Flying Wild Alaska, about the Tweto family. Anonymous Bloggers has a great little summary.

I must admit to being a bit hooked on Ax Men, though, on the History Channel. Especially after their cliffhanger episodes with the missing logger from the town I was born in (I kept looking for my auntie's house.) Though, really, the crazy southern loggers are hugely entertaining.

Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, innumerable Alaska survival shows... I'm glad we get to show off a state I love living in, but I'm happiest when it's portrayed accurately and honestly. Alaska doesn't need any glitz and glamour thrown in. There's enough beauty, drama, life and death without hauling in some more.

Which shows do you think portray Alaska honestly?

I haven't seen all of them - I want to know!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sundance Film Fest Native Showcase

All right, I wanna go to Sundance!

From Indian Country Today Media Network:
"Native Films Showcase at 2011 Sundance Festival"

Including the Inupiaq film "On the Ice"!

I actually knew about On the Ice, but didn't know Sundance actually had a Native Forum going:

"The Native Forum is a cluster of events for the international indigenous film community that includes panel discussions, filmmaker discussions, and networking opportunities for indigenous filmmakers to share their expertise and experience with each other and the independent film community."

Very cool!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Speaking of great ideas from rural Alaska...

Last night I "vocalized some frustration" about not recognizing the good things in and coming from the Alaskan villages - including encouraging the youth toward leadership and building the communities up.

With serendipitous timing, I was forwarded this (also from the Tundra Drums) about a great opportunity some smart, hard-working kids have to go to New York City, and win huge resources for their school... and they're from Kokhanok village. :) Using math, science and creativity, they came up with an idea, a solution to a big problem Alaska is having. The Tundra Drums:

"They answered three questions about how math and science can help the local environment and landed among the top 50 entries from all over the United States...
The next challenge to win that trip to New York and possibly a great deal more in prizes requires getting enough votes."

Most other schools have a leg up on votes simply because they have much larger population to draw from. Which means - go check out the video and VOTE! It's a great, simple idea that could have a huge impact.

Go Kokhanok eighth graders! You make Alaska proud!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tired of the "someone should do something" approach to the villages

I read this opinion piece in the Tundra Drums today, and it was frustrating from the outset. Not because a lot of it isn't true, but because it's the least original thing to say about villages.

"We've entered the Native Dark Age. Everything that used to be good, strong, and healthy about Alaska Native villages is gone or fading."

It's the same perspective and complaint I've heard again and again and again. How bad things are, how bad they're going to be. How good things used to be (only to be interspersed with how bad things used to be.)

But this fatalistic view is a big part of the problem. And telling everyone a single, small thing they should do to start fixing everything wrong is enormously unhelpful. Why will having talking circles be the beginning of a revolution? Maybe it will be, but you're hanging an awful lot on something that is easy to say failed if it hits a small snag (and doesn't actually address most of the real issues in the first place.)

It's also enormously short-sighted. Instead of being frustrated with young people who text, why not embrace the new skills and technology being learned? Why not take exactly those things and use them as a tool to improve the community?

The Alaska Native people of history were experts of adaptation. They ability to take and create "new" technology, like halibut hooks, unique stands for whaling Turnagain Arm, and, eventually, steel and the written word - I'm proud of the history of entire cultures not only accepting change, but welcoming it. It's in our blood to adapt to whatever the world gives us, we just need to reach in and own it.

"The Fourth of July used to be so much fun, but now I don't even care when it arrives; same with Christmas, Easter, and other holidays. Long ago, when the elders were here, I used to be crazy about the holidays; now I'm not."

The irony here is, how long have the Native people of this land celebrated the 4th of July as a day of independance? Why was this change in culture acceptable - and why are new changes unacceptable? An old "good" thing about Native ways seems to be the celebration of Easter. But how long has this tradition been going on? A mere breath in the life of Alaska Native cultures.

I admit to fighting despair when it comes to culture. I admit to being afraid that I'll never know my full protocol, and to missing how the 4th of July used to be. You can't look at our history honestly, and not also feel a great deal of sadness, and grief.

But it is more frustrating to me to hear the same complaints and same negative view of entire cultures said over and over again in not very new ways. Because guess what? It doesn't help a damn thing.

I gaurantee you the most heroic, most respected, most loved Alaska Native leaders in history were not the ones who pointed out the wrong, but lead the change. I gaurantee you they were the leaders who inspired youth to be better, who adapted to the situaton as best they could, who fought what wrong they saw with all their might, but didn't give up on living when they lost the overwhelming battles. In fact, I could name a few dozen Native leaders in the past few decades alone who have been this kind of leader.

Here's a thought: instead of telling the young cousin in the village there's no more "moral" people where he lives (which has to include him), encourage the growth of the morality he has in him. Instead of making a sweeping comment about there being no hard workers left in the village, come up with an original idea about jobs in the village (and I know more than a few "hard workers" left in the village to discount that generalization).

Instead of telling a village full of people that the last people with good hearts are almost dead, I challenge you to find their good hearts. They do have good hearts, and it is more sad to me that you're missing out on that than anything.

You'll get a lot of people agreeing with you when you talk about all the bad. But you'll get a lot more done when you help grow the good.

I've met, talked with, and loved too many good-hearted, loving, smart, capable, excellent Native people both rural and urban to believe the sweeping judgements and despairing totality of this article. And they are not the exception.

While you're praying for a miracle to change everything, I challenge you to also pray for God to open your eyes. To believe there is a great deal of hope and brilliance and good things yet to come out of rural Alaska is not naivety, or ignorance, or futile - it is the only way things are actually going to change.

Someone certainly should do something, and that someone is me. I'm doing something. Daily, I'm surrounded by Native people who are also commited to doing something.

As trite or cliche or used as all the terms may be, there's a reason they're said so much. If you're not part of the solution, and you're not actively engaged in supporting the good things going on, get the hell out of my way. You do no one any good with your tired complaints, and I have a lot of work to do.


Drum Practice

This has been making the rounds. Very cool, self-described "quirky" Tlingit piece of animation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Native issues in perspective

A little collection of opinion on Native subjects, and Native opinions on "everybody" subjects.


So, the first one isn't new, but I just found it, so it's new to me! I've seen different versions of this "Native American and immigration" joke, but it pretty much sums up how I feel about immigration today - and why I don't think many Native people (at least not up here) feel very strongly against "modern-day" immigration. Kinda too late now!

Are we a nation doomed to be violent?
An excellent piece in Indian Country Today by Mark Trahant, regarding the Arizona shooting:
"Let’s use this tragedy as the call to civility. When political rhetoric goes too far, say so. Seek out those disagree and praise them for their ideas, then politely dissent. We must praise those who agree to disagree. We need to make the politics of hate absolutely unacceptable."

Sanitizing Mark Twain classics
I've seen this in the news for a while now, and have tried not to roll my eyes every time. For those that haven't seen it, there's a new edition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer that eliminate the usage of words like "injn" and the big N. A bias, maybe - big Twain fan - but I came across this (long!) American Indian analysis focused more on taking out the "injun" references, and got pretty engrossed. While the huge post is great as a critical review and summary of the passages that include the word, I thought the comments below it were very well thought out as well. A few excerpts:

"Taking out the stinging words, sugar-coats and white-washes some of the nasty bits of American history. It pretends those words were not used and some ancestors were better human beings than they really were.

Who exactly is the sanitized edition for? Obviously, not for American Indians and African-Americans."

"Just as my dad was a product of his times, that's the way I think we should read Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn--as products of their time, with language of the time."

Sanitizing the MLK message
This is from an interesting blog I follow, Newspaper Rock ("Where Native America meets pop culture"). Although I don't fully agree with this opinion (that might be a reprint itself?) that we (and specifically Michelle Obama) shouldn't be so "service oriented" on this day, it made me think pretty differently about it. Worth a read!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Alaska Native news roundup

A few topics/stories I've seen making the online rounds:

A Yup'ik Swan Lake
Too cool! The Alaska Dance Theatre, Alaska Dance Theatre School, Alaska Native Heritage Center and Eugene Ballet Company are collaborating on a revision of the classic Swan Lake ballet with Yup'ik storytelling and dance. I used to be skeptical of these kind of attempts, but several years ago I went to the Anchorage Symphony's collaboration with Native hoop dancing and flute music - AWESOME PERFORMANCE. I'm ready to see more mixin'! I hope it runs longer than this week!

Native corporations sue over polar bear decisions
This is being reported many places, and I'd love to see some polling of the region. For Pebble Mine, for instance, BIG difference between whether the people of the region support it, and the corporations of the region support it. I don't have a very informed opinion of this, outside of the documentaries and talking heads, but I certainly lean toward long-term wildlife preservation over immediate wants of commerce.

Lots of talk about Alaska Native suicide numbers
So, it seems like nothing new - the Alaska Native suicide rates are still horrible. I've even heard people talk about not bothering putting any more resources into stopping suicide if it doesn't seem to change the numbers. ADN has reported on it in multiple ways, the most recent a little revisit of their "People in Peril" series from 20 years ago. KTUU has done a few segments in just a few days, Alaska Newspapers, and many, many more, mostly due to the state's annual report that recently came out.

But let's not stop trying. IIt may seem like "the same thing over and over again" over the past 20 years." But over the past few years, I've been looking at research and case studies in suicide, especially suicide in indgenous populations. Here's the news I hope people also pay attention to:

1) The "science" of trying prevent suicide at a mass level is very, very new. Or rather, the only way it was done before not very long ago was through religious belief (suicide as a sin, etc.) The "answer" was never going to be simple, quick, or gauranteed the first, second, or hundredth round out. Twenty years may seem like a long time to be trying, but in the life of a disease, is but half a moment.

2) Is there a cure for cancer yet? I don't see anyone saying, after all this time, and all this money spent without a cure, MUCH longer, and many more billions spent than suicide prevention, that we should give up on our attempts at preventing cancer.

3) Suicide is not as simple as people would like to think. It is hugely misunderstood, and it is truly a disease, as are the many underlying factors leading up to it.

Make an MLK Day resolution

Okay... I haven't got the best track record of volunteering ON Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I try and pick a few organizations or projects each year, but, though I love the concept, haven't yet taken my day off to specifically volunteer.

This year, success! I will be volunteering tomorrow, but I'm also adding something else - a commitment to both direct impact, and monetary donation throughout the year.

Lately, I've read up on some pretty selfless people who have literally given up everything they have to serve others. I also talk and work with people every day who work way beyond 9-5, who could be making much more money, because they are working toward a cause they believe in. It puts some perspective to my "money problems."

Today I'm getting paid not to work, in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work in this world. The least I can do is make a commitment to give a little more this year, and with a little more thought.

In any case, I encourage everyone to think of something, commit to something, today. In the spirit of Dr. King, is there something small, or large, you can put into motion today? There are mountains of volunteer opportunities out there. A few off the top of my head, as ideas:

  • Put together a care package for a soldier or platoon. As easy as getting some tolietry items, snacks and socks in a small box! I did this on recently, and it's kinda fun! :) There are some things to remember, so go to the link for organizations that have suggestions.
  • Spend some time with an Elder. There are plenty of organizations out there that could use more people to JUST VISIT. Really - no skills needed!
  • Commit a random act of kindness. Sure, sure, heard it before, but just trying browsing the stories on this site dedicated to the subject and resisting the urge to go out and commit one! From shoveling the sidewalk for your neighbor, paying for the person behind you in the coffee shop, or "over-tipping," a very cool site.
  • Use- or develop- your sewing or craft skills for charity. This site shows you how to make pillowcases into cute dresses for African girls. If you like to craft, there's a charity out there looking for your skills!

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Who is winnng the Tucson murderer PR blame game?"

I came across this article that I thought was an excellent summary of the Arizona shooting communication situation - "Who Is Winning the Tucson Murderer PR Blame Game."

Clearly, right, left and center are talking about it, and many people I've talked to have had strong opinions - usually strongly pro-Sarah, or strongly anti-Sarah (we ARE in Alaska.) Not many undecideds in this one. But the article, talking purely about the overall messaging of the sides in this, does a pretty objective - and good - job of outlining what, essentially, a pretty toughspot to get out of, messaging-wise.

But really, the biggest problem I think the right, as a whole, will have to get over is to defend this clear fact:

"The conservative establishment has a gigantic infrastructure through organizations like the Media Research Center with multi-million dollar budgets all based on the premise that negative ideas put out through the media corrupt a culture and cause long term problems, even where there isn’t a direct casual relationship between any one trouble teenage mom and a specific MTV reality show. So it’s a bit disingenuous for conservatives to make the claim that all the right wing militaristic rhetoric flowing from conservative talk show hosts and politicians can have no effect."

Anyone looking at this objectively may come up with different conclusions about the "real reason" this happened - but who can say, with a straight face, the guns and violent rhetoric and not-so-veiled threats should continue as they have?

Alaska Native corporation descendants

"At what point in our growing population do we draw a line that would further disenfranchise our descendents from benefiting from ANCSA? This very important issue needs a well thought out process by all Alaska Natives so that our descendents can benefit from ANCSA in perpetuity."

I thought this was a pretty relevant issue brought up in the Cordova Times. As an "after born" myself - an Alaska Native born after 1971, and therefore ineligible to be a sharholder of a corporation - I found it irrelevant to get involved in my corporation for most of my life.

My corporation is now one of only two (I believe) corporations that voted on allowing descendants of original shareholders to become shareholders themselves. So for the past two years, I have been a shareholder allowed to vote, receive dividends, and have gained a little interest in the company. What was interesting at the time, I believe the corporation expected a flood of descendants signing up to become shareholders - but that ddn't happen. Or at least not to the extent they expected. I think they didn't consider a few things:

1) Alaska Native people my age have never been allowed to do much with the corporations. If my corp didn't vote on the descendant issue the way it did, I would not have any say in what happens with the corporation. Quite honestly, I'm still not a decisive factor in the decisions, but I do get to vote on board members and (I hope) other decisions.

2) I don't think corporations have done a great job showing shareholders or descendants why they should get involved, and why ANCSA is so important to keep improving. The people involved in the original settlement know the before and after for Alaska Native land claims. I've lived my entire life in an Alaska with ANCSA. Why does ANCSA matter to me?

3) Shareholders are spread across Alaska and the United States now more than ever. A huge percentage of any corporation's shareholders doesn't live in the area it is based. I don't. How is my corporation relevant to my life?

4) We seem to be in a state of having the issues "settled." But land was yesterday's push. How can what was settled then be brought into help today's issue. I know corporation's will have different views on this, but I believe they have an absolute responsibility to address the welfare of their people, including culture, social issues, health, and more. By this, I don't mean to say that they don't. I think my corporation in the last decade has done an exceptional job focusing on culture.

5) It's not just about the money for shareholders. And don't get me wrong, I've seen shareholders from other corporations mae it all about the money. The corporations should be allowed to be corporations and make money - and seeing the success of Native corporations be railed against in the general public simply for doing what it was created to do is no small frustration. But first, I'd like to show people MY dividend - the last one I got from my corporation. As a hint, I could fill up my small car twice with the funds - my friend with her big truck couldn't. Don't get my wrong, I appreciate that much. But when I'm asked why I struggle to pay for college when I have Native money rolling in, I'd love a little perspective on the "rolling in" amount. There are a few corporations doing better, but the larger majority of corps are doing about what mine is, or worse.

What I mean is I don't believe my generation is looking to my corporation primarily for personal dividends. I want my corporation to operate every day thinking about culture, thinking about our health, thinking about the next hundred years and Alaska Native people thriving, and giving to the world community.

I want my corporation to work hard to invest the money it makes well - it is a corporation. But I also require it to consider what the land represents to my people - health, life, culture, history, future. The land we lost was settled for what the corporations now have. Agree or don't agree on whether it was a good or bad thing - it is what it is. Money is not a good enough replacement for me for culture and life and a future lasting longer than myself. I hope, in the coming years, I see ever more development from corporations encouraging and supporting just those things.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Step in the right direction?

I liked this little bit in the ADN I just read, as it is part of, what I hope, are some moves in the right direction.

I don't know if I even need to repeat the dismal statistics regarding Alaska Native people and suicide. The news has been out there about the bad numbers for years. Suffice it to say, there are far, far too many Alaska Native people dying each year in a 100% preventable way.

I don't know that anyone has really taken the reigns on this yet, as far as the mass organization it will take to coordinate the communities, people and organizations needed to make a real impact, but starting with talking to people who have actually been there is a big step I think has been overlooked.

The taboo of suicide is such that the people who have experienced the feelings, experienced the attempts, are rarely the people asked to be involved in helping other people like them. We usually hear from family members who have experienced the fallout - maybe a little scared to talk to people who will admit to actually attempting suicide. What do we say to them? What do we do if they still feel that way? Who do I call?

We seem to be leaving the help for this situation up to "the professionals." While there are great resources to use, it's not "somebody else's job" to talk to people who are feeling depressed, feeling suicidal. There are great resources to use and point to, but, while definitely point out metal health and hotline resources at some, or many points - I gaurantee the help they might feel if they use those resources is nothing to the help you can give them by stopping and listening. You don't have to counsel, you don't have to know what to say to them.

I'll get off the soapbox, but I encourage everyone to think about what you'd do if presented with a suicidal loved one, and to read up on the signs someone may be suicidal.