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. 

1 comment:

  1. I am honored to be in such wonderful company, and to be linked with my people and the land of my Ancestors. Many thanks to you. My Grandmother is smiling.