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.