August 20, 2013

(Alaska) Native Seattle and the Northwest: A Primer.

Yours truly and  two Alutiiq cousins
Thomas Michael Swensen, Michael Inga, and Papa George Inga (Woody Island 2006).
“Do you guys know any songs?” I asked the Aleuts.
“I know all of Hank Williams,” the elder Aleut said.
“How about Indian songs?”
“Hank Williams is Indian.”
“How about sacred songs?”
“Hank Williams is sacred” (190-191).
Sherman Alexie "What you Pawn I Will Redeem"

In the Sherman Alexie story "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," Alaska Natives, in the form of Aleut cousins, make an unforgettable appearance. The lead character Jackson Jackson, a Spokane tribal member, meets three Aleuts sitting on a bench over looking Elliot Bay and and they discuss how they arrived from Alaska by boat. As the story progresses Jackson Jackson, looking for his grandmother's regalia, continues to meet up with the three men, until he hears that they "walked on the water and headed north," returning home (193). The term Aleut historically signified at least three distinct groups of people in where is now considered Southwestern and Southcentral Alaska since their obligatory participation in colonial resource extraction during the 18th century. It's come under scrutiny in the 25 years but the name is still commonly used throughout the world and even within Alaskan communities. Alexie's use of Aleut here seeks to highlight the multitude of Indigenous communities residing in the Seattle region as well as lend a hat-tip to the extractive circuits that bring resources to the contiguous part of the nation from Alaska but fail to give the three Aleuts an opportunity to sail home from Seattle.

Seattle, a city named after Si'ahl, or Chief Seattle, a leader of the nineteenth century Duwamish and Suquamish community. Coll Thrush notes that the indigenous people call the area in the Salish language, “dzee-dzee-LAH-letch,” literally means in English as the “Little Crossing-Over Place,” centered on the area now known as Pioneer Square. At the time of “Little Crossing-Over Place” stood beautiful cedar houses whose residents sustained themselves with the local fish and berries and buried their family members “on a bluff overlooking Elliot Bay” (Thrush, 14). The title of this post, "(Alaska) Native Seattle" draws from Thrush's awesome work, Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over-Place. The distinction between Alexie's and Thrush's narratives of Seattle lie in this recognition of Alaska Natives as part of the regional Indigenous community. I would be amiss if I didn't mention the Tlingit crest pole stolen and erected in pioneer square in 1899.

Seattle Underground Tour, Story of the Pioneer Square Crest Pole

Last year I met Tlingit artist Harmony Hoss selling work in Pike's Market. She's from the Beaver clan so I bought this sticker of a Beaver from her, fair and square.
Harmony Hoss Tlingit Artist Beaver clan, sticker.
Alaska Natives can be found throughout Seattle and the Northwest region. To be honest, Washington and Oregon are lousy with Alaska Natives. From lawyers to businesspeople to artists and scholars. In 1971 there were so many Alaska Natives in the region that our 13th Corporation was established in the city of Seattle. My regional corporation Koniag, inc. and my tribe hold regular meetings in Seattle and Portland. There is a Koniag, inc. shareholder picnic next month. Some Alutiiq/Aleut Kodiak Islander visual artists making their homes in the region would be Jerry Laktonen, Vicky Era, and Thomas Stream. Here is a photo of the first meeting of the 13th corporation in the early 1970s. Following that are some art images of seattle-based Aleut/Alutiiq artists.

13th 1st board meet[ing]."Group photo of participants at first board meeting of 13th Regional Corporation in Seattle, Washington. "On steps of the Frye Hotel, Seattle, W[ashingto]n." "Top row left to right: Frank Price, (brother) Jim Price. Second row: Dennis Small, Billy Johnson. Third row: Ray Combs. Bottom row: Mike Stepetin, Virginia Thomas, Robert Perkins, Bert Bauer (Dennis Small's brother)." Billy Blackjack Johnson. Papers, 1923-1997. UAA-HMC-0384 Identifier UAA-hmc-0384-s3-f10-4
"Bird" Kodiak mask, based on old masks in found in St. Petersburg.
Vickie Era Pankretz, "Yuaulik-Searcher"
Thomas Stream "Attitude"
Chris Lukin and Ray Wagner from Port Lions have a rock band N8V based in Seattle. Here's a cool live acoustic clip of them playing in studio at Rez Rock Radio.
N8V on Rezrock Radio October, 2007

Speaking of more Alaska Native music, Portland-based Katherine Paul from the band Genders, formally of Forest Park, plays drums and I like this song and video, "Show Me,"recorded live .


Kodiak Islander Jimmy Amason (brother of visual artist Alvin Amason) plays roots rock music near Seattle and I've linked this photo of him to his CD baby website. I think his mom worked at Krafts. You can also sample and download his work on Itunes.

Storme Webber
Performance artist and writer Alutiiq Storme Webber, with roots tracing back to Seldovia, maintains and forms connective bonds with many communities Seattle and worldwide. Storme has worked with Red Eagle Soaring Native Youth Theater, written the historical play "Resurrection City," about the 1970 occupation of Ft Lawton by Bernie Whitebear & Indian activists that led to the creation of Daybreak Star-United Indians of All Tribes, She has been a fellow at the Jack Straw Writers Program, Writer in Residence at the Richard Hugo House, City Artist with the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. She founder/Artistic Director of Voices Rising: LGBTQ of Color Arts and Culture, circa 2007. She's published in “Beyond Boundaries: Black Women and the Migration of the Subject”, and “Voices Rising: 20 Years of Black LGBT Writing," and appears in the award winning documentary “Venus Boyz." Storme's poem about First Nation's carver John William's tragic killing by a Seattle police officer in 2010 is extremely moving. For some reason Blogger will only allow me to link a video of the reading here, but you should watch it.

Alutiiq people, like Storme Webber, are deeply committed to serving community regardless of where they happen to live. Recently, Alutiiq Sven Haakanson, Jr. took a tenured position at the University of Washington's Burke Museum where he will surely continue work that has proven marvelous and inspirational. A trained anthropologist his accomplishments, like a 2007 Macarthur award and his role as Executive Director of the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak all reflect his ongoing selfless commitment to Alaska Native, and more broadly Native America, culture and politics. His trajectory proves revolutionary in scope. Watching it unfold through the years influenced this S.A.V.E. II graduate to enroll in a community college and somehow complete a doctorate from Berkeley. His work always helped me to believe in myself as a scholar and that I could give beauty back to the world. Here is a link discussing his work further because in truth there could be an entire blog devoted to following his accomplishments.

This short list presents a simple primer of Native Alaska in the Northwest. 

August 13, 2013

Siberian Yupik Historical Narrative and Inupiat Science Fiction

Brand new copy

Native Alaska possesses a wide arrangement of talented artists and writers, including carvers, poets, novelists, filmmakers, performance artists, painters, dancers, and musicians. The Indigenous people from throughout the state have formed a strong cultural archive of work from which at times I have drawn from in the production of my scholarship. This all started for me upon entering graduate school at the University of Oregon in 2003. Amid my first week at Oregon I met with an Alaska Native professor for coffee at a place on Patterson and 13th, across from the Green Duck. At that meeting she gave me a copy of Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers & Orators: The Expanded Edition (2001) edited by Ronald Spatz, Jeane Breing, Patricia H. Partnow(based on an original edition by Nora Marks and Richard Duenhauer, and Gary Holthaus). The collection presents Alaska Native oral histories, in print form, poetry, prose, and even art work. I have used it since that time as an invaluable resource. Over the years my copy has grown dog-eared, bent, as well as scribbled upon and underlined throughout it's over 370 pages. Fortunately at the 2013 inaugural Alaska Native Studies conference at University of Alaska, Anchorage, last spring, the conference organizers provided attendees with fresh copies!

It was great to see the book going into more hands because the collection introduced me to many exciting Alaska Native writers but in this post I want to funnel it down to the work of Susie Silook and Fred Bigjim. Susie Silook is a visual artist and writer whose incredible gifts of storytelling always seem to draw from Siberian Yupik heritage, modern histories of colonialism, and more than slightly touch on the realities of the present. Though she succeeds in telling stories through bone and ivory as a carver, the way her writing connects traditional culture with the contemporary Native experiences proves astounding to me. Three written works appear in Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers & Orators, the short story, "Anti Depression Ulimaaq," and the poems, "Uncle Good Intentions," and "Adventure in Chinatown 1958." Each fearlessly builds narratives that concern histories formed at trying times and these pieces include themes such as racism, family relationships, and the uncanny federal policies directed at Native people throughout the 20th century. One for example, involves the history of eugenic policies enacted by the United States upon the people of St. Lawrence Island. In 2001 she was involved in the group show "Ceremony of Healing: Expression Concerning Violence Against Alaska Native Women." Silook joined other Alaska Native lady artists like Diane Benson (also featured in the book), Helen McNeil, Susie Bevins, and Sonya Kelliher-Combs to confront the ongoing harm being done to Native women. Perhaps Susie Silook will allow me to interview her for the blog? You can read more about her and the "Ceremony of Healing" show at:

Fred Seagayuk Bigjim is an Inupiat writer included in the Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers & Orators collection I want to mention. The two pieces included in the collection are, "Ballet in Bethel," and "Gaslight." Yes, the "Gaslight" is a lonely poem concerning the old Anchorage bar on 4th avenue. "Ballet in Bethel" confronts the imposition of Western cultural art practices among Alaska Natives. Bigjim has published broadly across genres but right now I am reading a 1999 science fiction novel by him called Plants. 

 Signed copy! 

This book concerns a journalist investigating a downed satellite in South Dakota where upon he befriends American Indian medicine men and their "plants" that could disrupt the free flow of telecommunications.  Aliens, as the back cover details, also have "plants" on earth which monitor all developments. Without giving too much away, I would say that anyone who has read Almanac of the Dead, by Leslie Marmon Silko, and remembers the Inupiat elder who can control radar systems through a television at a rest home, would very much enjoy this novel. Right now, I have an article submitted to American Indian Quarterly which reads the historical aspects of his work Letters to Howard: An Interpretation of the Alaska Native Land Claims. Anyone interested in Alaska Native history and literature would find his work an enthralling read.

August 1, 2013

The Russian River and Saint Peter the Aleut

Last weekend I was in Sonoma County, California conducting research for a book project. Driving along the Russian river to Fort Ross California State Park one is drawn to making comparisons of the area with Alaska. Two hundred years ago the Russian American Company operated a colony on the grounds of the coastal Kashaya village of Metini. Countless Native people from the Alaska region (and elsewhere) made their homes in the village. The journey to Fort Ross includes some time spent along side the Russian river.
Russian River, California
The Russian river in Sonoma always makes me think of the Russian river in Kodiak. If one cares to look, Alutiiq history is rich in California. In Petaluma, there was even a country-and-western-themed bar named "Kodiak Jack's," which closed July 2012.

Here is a photograph, from my personal collection, of some Alutiit out having a cold one near Kodiak's Russian river in the 1960s.

Fort Ross' reconstructed Russian national military architecture made of fine redwood proves beautiful. I greatly enjoyed walking the grounds as the morning fog lifted away. Whenever I am there I can't help but to examine the horizon out in the pacific and wonder what my ancestors thought when they were here 200 years ago. Also, Pushki (Heracleum maximum) grows in Sonoma. There was a festival at Fort Ross last weekend and outside the tiny remade Russian Orthodox chapel at the Fort a representative from a local parish stood next to a small table of icons. She spoke to visitors about the history of the faith in the region. Any parishioner of Russian Orthodoxy would be struck by the chapel's humble interior. 

The table was free of a St. Peter the Aleut icon. Peter was a Kodiak Islander who was murdered in the area two hundred years ago and canonized in the Russian Orthodox church by St. Herman back in the nineteenth century. With his veneration occurring around 1865 he was the  first Native American saint. As of 1980 he became the patron of San Francisco, strangely enough. In his History of California Hubert Howe Bancroft argues that St. Peter was more or less a myth. Other scholars such as Raymond A. Bucko have asserted that there is a case for believing St. Peter existed and the story of his death is quite plausible. A brief summary entails the Californios capturing a party of Alutiiq hunters. As a captive, Peter refused to renounce his faith in the church, a resistance for which he lost his life. An account written by Simeon Janovsky attests to Father Herman, upon hearing about the death, apparently "stood up before an Ikon reverently, made the sign of the Cross and pronounced, 'holy  newly-martyred Peter, pray for us!"