December 28, 2014

Alaska Natives and the Land

In graduate school I was fortunate to study under the late Phil Frickey, Professor of Public Law at Bolt School of Law at the University of California Berkeley. My interests in Indian law drew from a research agenda involving the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 and its affects on indigenous relationships to land and water in Alaska. I took both Federal Indian Law I and II, as well as a semester of independent study, from him as he wrote the seminal work American Indian Law, Cases, and Commentary with his colleagues, legal scholars Anderson, Berger, and Krakoff. I found him generously patient with my general fumbling and innocent gaffs, letting me find my way through the nonlinear world of Native American law. Aside from legal study, one of the lessons he taught me was to try steering away from normative statements in my work.

One day after class he invited me up to his office to talk about a term paper. His office was a few floors up, in a converted dorm room, with a fantastic view of San Francisco bay. I sat down and he handed me the giant book Alaska Natives and the Land. I believe another student, a child of an Alaska state politician, gave the volume to Frickey and he in turn loaned it to me, indefinitely so it seems.

Cover of Alaska Natives and the Land
The humongous volume Alaska Natives and the Land composes a 565 page study of Alaska, its people, and natural resources by the Federal Field Committee on Development and Planning published 10 years after Alaska statehood in October 1968.  When open on my desk the work spreads out well over two and a half feet.

After the discovery of oil deposits in Prudoe Bay March 1968, the book served to educate congressional lawmakers about the region's indigenous people as Native leaders and activists labored with state and federal officials to come to terms with settling the issue of Native title. The book includes a marvelous 3 foot by 2 and a half foot foldable map detailing the Native communities within the state. The chart breaks down the regional areas with Native populations by size and by specifying whether the sites are predominately Native in nature (colored blue) or if they are non-indigenous sites with Native populations (red on the map).

Detail of Native community map
The book begins with an overview of Alaska Natives, moves to aspects of village life, to a chapter called Land and Ethnic Relations.

The chapter Land and Ethnic Relations discusses a regional analysis of Native identifications to indigenous territories. Since the book was a way to educate governmental leaders on Native land claims the chapter begins with a set of "pertinent" questions about Native land rights activism, like the query "Was, and is, there a definable dimension of Native ethnic territoriality?" Another intriguing question the chapter puts forth is " Did aboriginal "property rights" exist?" The narrative then argues that its findings, based from the assortment of questions, is that

"In their use of biological community for livelihood the Native people "occupied" the land in the sense of being on and over virtually all of it in the pursuit of their subsistence, but they did not "occupy" the land in any agrarian or legal sense as understood by Anglo-American Jurisprudence." 

Thus four years previous to the passage of the settlement there was an ideological argument against "Native title" even though indigenous actors themselves had been taking to the courts in regard to this matter for decades. In the exploration of the Kodiak region, the book extrapolates on the ways of Alutiiq people based on the Hubert Bancroft's History of Alaska(1886) and Ales Hrdlicka's Anthropology of Kodiak Island (1944), in the thesis that Kodiak Islanders, before the arrival of the Russians, held no reasonable form of government and simply foraged off the land and sea, "consuming anything that can be digested." These two misleading observations perhaps helped lawmakers conclude in the non-recognition of Native title during the time of settlement. 

This small read of the 565 page work lends little justice to the scope and importance Alaska Natives and the Land played in the passage of the land claims settlement and I would encourage anyone pursuing a course of research in Alaska Native geography, law, history, and culture to track down a copy. Also, Alaska Natives and the Land proves a great example of the many books written about areas of the world the US acquired through its various means. I have seen such volumes written on other national colonies such Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

There are a few copies of Alaska Natives and the Land available on Amazon.

November 15, 2014

No University of the Aleut Nation: Thoughts upon hearing an interview with Claudio Saunt

The other day I listened to an interview with historian Professor Claudio Saunt on New Books in Native American Studies Podcast. The conversation between Professor Saunt, the co-director for the Center for Virtual History at the University of Georgia, and the interviewer Andrew Epstein concerned the historian's compelling new book West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, published by W.W. Norton and Company. West of the Revolution examines 9 locations in the Americas amidst the pivotal year 1776, the founding year of the United States, by tracing the stories of people in these places as to contribute a greater understanding of the Americas at that moment in time. The work has received high praise for its creative linkages, being called "bold and inclusive" by Chicago Times reviewer Doug Kiel, among a list of other praises.

The work entails the global histories of many American groups interconnected by the year 1776. This  includes not only the colonists, who would come to call themselves Americans, but also the original Americans such as the Lakota, the Osage, and the Creek. In doing so, he makes the case for building a history decentered from the incubating nation-state for a more inclusive notion of America. For example, the work accounts the Osages' movements into Spanish controlled parts of the continent and Creek participation in Cuban trade.

In the first chapter "Soft Gold: Aleuts and Russians in Alaska," Saunt traces the history of a small group of Unangax̂ people, whom Russian colonists called Americans, then labled them Aleuts. Here he reads the story of 7 Unangax̂ men whom traveled 2500 miles with Russian funcationaries across the Bering to Eurasia. After their arrival two Aleuts decided to return home with 5 staying on to haul a cache of sea otter pelts another freezing 750 miles to the city of Irkutsk, a Russian border town. This site served as a place where the pelts of both sea otter and beaver could be sold to Chinese merchants. I recommend anyone interested in the imbrications of Unangax̂ people, and global supply chains to read this book.

During the New Books in Native American Studies interview Saunt makes the case for approaching American history in such a way as to place the nation-state along side the rest of American history. "Even today," he observes, "I think so many of us are parochial in the way we the way we imagine North America and of course the U.S. in the broader world." He suggests moving beyond the structure of feeling that American history should be defined solely in regard to the history of the United States. To allow American history to become lodged within that frail framework is "....something" he says, "we all need to fight against." History outside the systems of ideas that manufacture national experience as solitary to the history that took place throughout the continent proves paramount for the study of national history. "In a very practical sense, if we are going to write about American history, " Saunt asserts, "then we need to write about the places the United States took over." In the uncovering of this past comes an understanding that the nation-state fails to eclipse the histories of America that have long gone unnoticed due to the narrative of westward expansion as the dominant paradigm.

Great resource! (found in an Oakland bookstore)
Saunt makes the case for this approach to history by elaborating on just what institutions exist for pursuing this type of work. "There is no university dedicated to the Aleut nation," he tells Epstein, continuing to say, "the resources don't exist." The task and responsiblity to produce this broad American history sits with scholars because, he contends, "Aleut" communities are without resources to support their own research institutions. If one lends a quick read to Barbara Švarný Carlson's "There is No Such Thing as an Aleut" one can see that Saunt's case for scholars to incorporate these complex cultures and histories into American history holds the possibility enriching an already exciting field of knowledge. I think in doing so would help alleviate the formable obstacles many Alaska Natives have with seeing their historical participation in the formation and operation of the United States in Alaska. Moreover, he powerfully declares that, "If its (the project to document American history) not going to be done by the institutions in the United States then its not going to be done." In other words, he's saying that the people known as Aleuts are an important part of the United States and to iqnore their part in history is to do a remarkable disservice to their communities and to the stories that constitute the American past.

Of course "Aleut" people as Alaska Natives are part of the United States and the nation's resources are also "Aleut" resources, but I think he is suggesting that institutions throughout the nation should be supportive of projects and scholars who are pursuing the types of research programs that are inclusive of indigenous people. Speaking to that, as a graduate of Benny Benson Secondary School who went on to do this type of work I can say that countless people have selflessly extended their hands my direction and helped me cobble together a research program and a personal archive of materials. However, according to the work of Professors Alberta Jones and Jessica Bisset Perea there is still plenty of work required to bring Alaska Natives and their programs into the national academy. Yet, there are a handful of Alaska Native scholars sprinkled through the "lower-48" who are doing excellent work. Within Alaska institutions like, University of Alaska Anchorage's Alaska Native Studies Program Kodiak College's Alutiiq Studies Program The University of Alaska Southeast's Native Studies program, and University of Alaska Fairbanks' Cross-Cultural and Indigenous Studies Program are all in the midst of pushing great work forward.

I want to applaud Professor Saunt for writing this book and to New Books for the awesome interview.

November 4, 2014

Slow Violence Across the Land and Sea: An Alaska Native Environmental History

On Tuesday November 11th at Colorado State University I will be giving a talk as part of the Native American and Indigenous Studies colloquium for Native Heritage Month. The next day on the 12th Ketchikan's own Emily Moore will also be speaking on "Art in the Time of NAGPRA: Innovative Possibilities for Native American Art in Museums." Other speakers also promise exciting talks. Check out the post below.

My talk Slow Violence Across the Land and Sea centers Native history as a way for connecting United States and Russian activities in Alaska. Each nation's industrial extractive pursuits in the region have led to a extended timeline of devastation, from the 18th century extinction of Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989. Moreover, Indigenous compulsory participation in this centuries long violence as impressed flexible labor makes visible an Indigenous geography, a first space, that is fundamental for understanding how Russian and United States endeavors compose one long history in the Great Land.

November 3, 2014

Celebrating Native Heritage Month With A Talk On November 10

On Monday November 10 between 5:30p.m.-6:30p.m. at Colorado State University as part of Native Heritage Month I'll be speaking about the work I do here with a talk entitled “The Alaska Native Studies Blog” 
The Alaska Native Studies Blog began in the summer of 2013 as a platform for exploring Native Alaskan research in a public sphere. While there are many incredible scholars pursuing work in American Indian Studies the topic of Native Alaska is one that greatly calls for more exploration. Even though Alaska Natives possess 40 percent of the nation’s tribes and over 200 other quasi- sovereign entities we are underrepresented in the academy. The blog has been useful in publicly exploring Native history and culture as well as making connections with scholars who share this interest.


October 18, 2014

An Interview with Elaine Chukan Brown: "Claim the Blessing of Every Challenge"

A View of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews Website
Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews ( composes a thoughtful and stirring website by Aleut and Inupiaq writer and artist Elaine Chukan Brown. Berkeley's renown Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant describes the quality of work achieves "a new standard for wine reviews." The site consists of personal interviews with vintners, winery tours, and of course thorough wine appraisals articulated in the most delicate prose. Along with this, she provides drawings that involve the wine she reviews, often she illustrates the complex nuance of a particular wine by picturing the literal things that vintage taste like. Due to the success of her work in the field of wine, Imbibe liquid Culture Magazine chose her as one of the 75 People to Watch in 2014.

Elaine Chukan Brown was born in and raised amongst a Native fishing community in the Bristol Bay region of western Alaska where she learned Native traditional ways and values. Following in the family business she began set netting at 9 years of age and was in operation of her own fishing site by the time she was 13. After graduating from high school she double majored in philosophy and english at Northern Arizona University graduating with honors and there upon entered graduate school at Mcgill University in Quebec, Canada. In 2010 she was appointed the prestigious Eastman Fellowship at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where she continued to write and think about Native issues. Cambridge Scholarly Press, Fulcrum: An Anthology of Poetry and Aesthetics, Letters to the World: An Anthology, have published her scholarly works. Then turning her interests from higher education Elaine Chukan Brown formed a career with Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, based in Sonoma, California. Her writing on wine and wine culture has been published in Wine & Spirits, World of Fine Wine, Men's Health, and San Francisco Magazine, among others. She graciously agreed to an interview here on Alaska Native Studies Blog, below.

"A wine drawing philosopher with a heart of gold."
Question: Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews enjoyably showcases your writing as well as your knowledge of food and wine, yet you also include your artwork. I think your drawings give the blog a disarming and personal feel. Was including artwork on the site part of the plan all along? How did you develop your style as an artist?

The work I'm doing now in wine actually originated as only drawings. The writing didn't really start on my site until after I'd fully left academia. When I decided to leave my academic career I needed an outlet that was different than the purely intellectual work I'd been doing in philosophy, so I started drawing and making comics. I just needed something completely different. Getting trained as a philosopher is so thoroughly intellectual that it was easy for me to almost go too far following an idea trail in my head like I'd gotten lost in another world. It felt hard to come back to have more normal conversations sometimes. Drawing became a way to calm that down, to relax that intellectual center in my head, and help me feel more human again. At the same time, I am someone that thirsts for that thorough going study that I found in philosophy so I need the writing too. Writing for me is a way to learn, explore ideas, synthesize thought, and connect all at the same time. So, now I go back and forth between the writing and drawing.

I'd studied art history, photography, and sculptural arts before but hadn't really focused on drawing. I didn't think I had any talent for it. Leaving my academic career felt like such a huge risk, why not draw? In comparison, drawing was no risk at all. So, I started drawing and in the midst of that came up with the idea to draw wine tasting notes, instead of just writing them. It turned out no one had done wine comics like that before, so in coming up with the idea and doing them I accidentally opened the door to my career in wine.

Question: Does your Alaska Native upbringing contribute to your work on Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews? With this question, I mean to inquire if your interests in food and culture found ignition by growing up with an Alaska indigenous subsistence lifestyle?

There are so many ways the work I do now depends on how I grew up. Alaska is the most untamed landscape of the United States. Sonoma, California where I live now is basically all farmland but even that feels like living in an urban center compared to the remoteness of Alaska.

Alaska is full of incredible smells too from all the plants, animals, earth, changing seasons… There is always some slight wind. It's always full of smells. Growing up I was always walking around smelling things. I wanted to know where the smells came from. I found out later my uncle did the same thing. They used to call him Nose.

The various foods I grew up with too are irreplaceable. You can't find muktuk and seal oil in a restaurant; a few countries do have dried fish though. I don't get to eat those foods anymore.

Losing all those scents, and my Native foods by leaving Alaska made me voracious for scents and flavors elsewhere. Traveling to study food and wine culture around the world is the only way to fulfill that. There are so many scents in a glass of wine. Sometimes I have to take a break and just live in them.

Question: Your journey from Native fisherwoman to scholar to entrepreneur is the stuff of harrowing novels, can you speak to this fascinating trajectory? How does a young woman go from mending gillnets in Western Alaska to pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy in Quebec, Canada?

If I'm really honest, there is nothing easy about the trajectory my life has taken. Being Alaska Native for me includes a very high level of responsibility. I don't get to choose just for me. The choices I make are also always about meeting the demands of what it took my ancestors to get me here. I have only ever succeeded at anything because first my family made it possible. In the midst of that though I've made really unusual choices. There aren't many Natives working in philosophy. Try to find another Native with a wine cellar (besides my sister. She has one too.).

Philosophy and wine are both things I chose because somehow they're reflective of who I am. At the same time, they are so outside what my family has done before me that I work even harder at them, focus even more in order to ensure they're not selfish choices. I guess I don't quite know how to answer your question except to say that I am very driven to do well by those that came before me. Anyone with this much luck better work that much harder to earn it.

Question: Why did you turn from a career in higher education to the entrepreneurial work of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews?

Pursuing my graduate education in philosophy, and then going on to teach and research was deeply important to who I am. I am continuously grateful that goal was fulfilled in my life. It taught me so much, and made me a far better person. It also put me in contact with Native students, and Native communities around the United States and in other countries in a way I didn't have prior to becoming an academic. I reached a point though where I recognized if I stayed in academia I would become someone I couldn’t admire. I don't mean that this is true of anyone else in academia. I mean that it could not be a healthy life for me in the long run. The training I received from it is irreplaceable but for me to continue in academia would have meant living an imbalanced life. When I realized that I also realized I had to leave it. The decision was not hard to make. Once I recognized it was right, the decision was already made. But such a complete change is hard because it means everything else in your life is different after, and you don't know what that is going to look like. You'll always be facing something new.

What I do now happened somewhat accidentally. Like I said I needed an outlet so I started drawing, and then came up with the idea to draw wine tasting notes. I had already been studying wine before that point. After leaving academia I didn't know what to do instead because I had given myself so whole-heartedly to my career in philosophy it was not an easy change. But I had decided to draw, and just kept drawing, and then eventually was writing about wine as well, and by just sticking to it over time it built into what I do now. It is still quite hard because I am always scrambling to have enough income, and because I push myself very hard. At the same time, every day of it feels like a miracle because I sort of can't believe I survived so much change and turned my life into this feast for the senses, meeting people whose work I admire. I give thanks every day for all of it even the hard parts. My promise is to claim the blessing of every challenge. That's how I thank the people that got me here, my family.

Quyanaasinaq, Elaine Chukan Brown for agreeing to the interview.

To explore Elaine Chukan Brown's Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews please visit ( or find it on facebook at

October 11, 2014

"Our Americans:" When Unanagan people first met the 2nd Kamchatka Expedition in 1741

Petropavlovsk, 1741 Drawing by naturalist G.W. Steller of Avacha Bay, circa 1741.
In September 1741 an Unanagan community of the eastern Aleutians met a Russian-chartered exploratory venture that traveled on two ships, the St. Peter and the St. Paul. Nordic sailor Vitus Bering commandeered the party across the waters from Siberia to the Americas on a wayward course that brought them to Mount St. Elias from Icy Bay, Alaska. In returning to Russia the ships traveled southwest, spotting Kodiak Island. A fierce storm separated the vessels and Bering's St. Peter anchored along Bird Island in what are now called the Shumagin Islands, a cluster of 20 islands in the Aleutians East Borough southwest of the Alaska mainland. Crew member and naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller described that "unexpectedly and without searching, we got to see Americans." The crew of the St. Peter were weary and suffering from malnutrition and had hopes of finding quality food. Between their party and the shore of one of the islands they spotted two kayakers signaling them with hand gestures. Two months previous to this meeting and unbeknownst to the St. Peter crew, the St. Paul had made momentary contact with Native people along the southern coast of Alaska. The commander of this arm of the expedition Aleksei Chirikov sent two parties of men ashore, neither returned to the ship.

Steller accounted in his journal of the meeting, "We had just dropped anchor when, from the cliff lying south of us," he wrote, "we heard a loud noise, which at first we took for the roaring of a sea lion... But soon we saw two small boats being paddled from the shore to our ship. We all awaited them with the greatest eagerness and utter amazement to mark most carefully the boats’ mountings, shape, and design." Below is a rendering of the of one of the Americans drawn upon Stellars return to Russia.

First described as "Americans" when encountered by Steller, this is an drawing of "An Aleut in his baidarka," published in 1744.
"When they were still half a verst away," Steller continued, "the two men in the boats, while paddling steadily, began to deliver a long, uninterrupted oration to us in a high-pitched voice, not a word of which any of our interpreters could understand. We took it for either a prayer or a conjuration, the incantation of shamans or a ceremony welcoming us as friends." The meeting evidently proved to be an exciting one for both groups.

"As they paddled closer and closer, shouting continually, " Steller continued, "they began to speak to us to us with pauses between statements. But since no one could understand their language, we beckoned them with our hands to come closer without fear. But they pointed their hands toward the shore to signify that we should come to them there. They also pointed to their mouths and scooped up seawater to signify that we could have food and water with them."

Castle Rock, Shumagin Islands
Steller, an indigenous Koriak interprter, and 10 members of crew took a craft to the shore, meeting them. Due to the rocky nature of the shoreline 3 crew members waded ashore to congress face-to-face with the Americans whilst the others remained in their craft. Meeting about 9 Americans the group exchanged gifts, hoping they would supply the crew with well-needed sustenance. The Americans treated the crew members with great respect and signaled that they lived just over a hill and that they encouraged the others to join them ashore.

 Bendel Island, Alaska. Looking south from Taylor cabin on Bendel, showing valley grasses, tillable land, and surrounding hills. ASL-PCA-386 Identifier ASL-P386-26
One of the Americans paddled over to those in the craft and the crew members gave him a cup of brandy, of which he drank and rejected into the sea. They in return presented the sailors on shore with iron colored paint and whale blubber. Steller recounts that the Americans tried to keep the crew members as they tried to leave as well as holding on to the line of their boat that tied them to the shore. Scared to be pulled by the Americans the crew shot their guns into the air to scare them. The islanders quickly let go while the crew members on land ran into the drink, coming back to the boat.

"As funny as it was to behold their dismay," Steller wrote of this, "it was yet more curious that they all stood up again and scolded us that we had repaid their good-will so poorly." Many of the Americans waved their hands to as to wish them to be gone as they made their way back to the ship. Just as they arrived a rain began that lasted throughout the night. While the crew bunked in the dryness of the ship,"Our Americans," detailed Steller, "lit a fire on shore and made us think about this night what had happened."

From this moment would begin the 273 year history of Alaskan Indigenous experience under the territoriality of Russian and United States governance. In doing so, Native people would be brought into a wholesale extractive economy that would touch the lives of every community in the region that would be known as Alaska.

The islands have since been named the Shumagin Islands after one of the crew members, Nikita Shumagin, who reportedly lost his life to scurvy and was laid to rest on one of the islands.

Georg Wilhelm Steller, Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742. Trans. Margritt A Engel and OW Frost. Standford, 1988. 97-102

August 14, 2014

"America's Ambassadors of Goodwill:" Cherokee Will Rogers and Wiley Ford in Alaska, 1935.

Will Rogers standing on airplane wing while Wiley Post signs autographs in Fairbanks, 1935.
Humorist Will Rogers once noted about life, "We are all here for a spell; get all the good laughs you can." In 1935 the public knew Cherokee writer and performer Will Rogers as one of the most famous, smart, and jovial celebrities in the world. Born in 1879 of a distinguished Native family in Cherokee Nation, Rogers went on to pen over 4,000 newspaper articles and star in more than 70 films. Coming to international fame through performing as a cowboy in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway in New York, he went on to be one of the nation's trusted analyst on American political life.

Rogers, with lariat, in his 20s as a Vaudeville performer.
As a young man Rogers held a thirst for travel. Leaving Cherokee Nation, and Oklahoma, in his early 20s he worked as a ranch hand in South America and Africa. Later returning to the United States he enhanced those cowboy skills and learned to become a trick rope performer, working at circuses and traveling shows. By 1916 he had transformed his career from basic physical entertainment into one that involved much political satire. Within 2 years of changing his act he was heavily involved in films, starring in a host of silent and talking movies.

WIll Rogers JWS12778
With adages such as, "Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else," or "An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh,"his wise comments could prove to be light-hearted and in good spirit. Rogers however could also delve into more politically directed expressions like, "Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for," and "Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock." Though in his newspaper columns he did assert some racially controversial language once or twice, Rogers proved to be a thoughtful  and well-meaning voice for an adoring public. At the time, he was one of but a handful of people in the world whose life was developing into what we know today as that of an internationally known celebrity. One could think of him as somewhere between Mark Twain in the nineteenth century and Stephen Colbert in the twenty-first.

Will Rogers in Fairbanks, 1935. ASL-P67-137
His love of travel continued as his fame rose to new heights. Through the 1920s and 30s he spent years circulating through the United States, Asia, and South America, hosting dinners and lecturing on political issues. Upon what he learned from these experiences he once joked, "A humorist entertains, a lecturer annoys."He was also a committed social activist and worked for countless fundraisers for humanitarian causes, like Bob Hope. In 1935 he and his dear friend pilot Wiley Post set upon a tour from the United States west coast up through Siberia, scouting out a possible international mail route. Rogers used the trip for material for his newspaper articles.

"Wiley Post poses for a photograph just before taking off to resume his solo flight round the world. The Winnie Mae has just been repaired after hitting a rough patch of tailings at the airstrip in Flat, Alaska and crashing." (circa1933.) UAF-1998-129-3
Roger's friend, the celebrated pilot Wiley Post was the first person to fly solo around the world. Texas born in 1898, he fell in love with planes by the age of 15 after seeing one fly through the air around his hometown. Intending to become an military pilot, World War I ended before he could finish training, and from there he returned to Texas where he worked in the oil fields. In the conclusion of a brief term under incarceration he also went to work in a flying circus. Losing his right eye amidst an accident when in the oil fields, an insurance settlement allowed him to purchase a plane. He joined traveling air shows and this work is believed to be the way Post and Rogers came to be close friends. As time went on, Post avidly sought to advance the field of aviation as a whole. Post always flew higher and further into the sky. In fact, he is credited for locating the high altitude air currents known as jet streams that are now used by planes in everyday travel as highways. During his high altitude experiments, technicians invented many prototype pressure suits. A quick google search of his name will reveal some interesting inventions he wore as he tested how high he could thrust into the sky.

"Will Rogers, Wiley Post, and two other men." "Four men stand on a dock; man wearing a hat is Will Rogers; man with eye patch is Wiley Post." ASL-P384-1263 In Fairbanks.
On August 15 1935, shortly after leaving north from Fairbanks, Rogers and Post lost their lives when their plane crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska. The tragic event marked a horrid loss for their families and for general public who looked towards these two in admiration. For both had lead extraordinary lives in taking part in the construction of the the globally-connected world we now take for granted on a day-to-day basis. 

 Rogers and Post in Fairbanks August 1935.

Wiley Post's work in advancing aviation as an effective means of travel contributed to how airplanes would become an important thread tying together the modern world system. In the 20th century Alaska pilots were greatly esteemed among Native people since most villages and towns required air service for the transportation of goods and people. In fact, I can recall an elder once proudly announcing that his grandson, who was 13 at the time, would someday be a pilot. One could make the case that air travel has played an important role in the making of Alaska as one region and as a naturalized part of the nation. That is, those of us from Alaska know the great distances we have to travel between the town, village, or city were are from and the contiguous part of the United States. When I was growing up Fairbanks and Juneau seemed just as distant from Kodiak as Seattle or Tokyo. In this way, airplanes have very much allowed towns and cities like Kodiak, Fairbanks, and Juneau, each sitting in a distinct geography, to form what would be known as one region, Alaska. Then of course air travel has served as a way for people from the contiguous part of the nation to grow familiar with the state. I do have an Alaska Native colleague who does research into aviation's role in Alaska and I find the field of inquiry very exciting.

Will Rogers (in Alaska), exiting a Lockheed Orion on floats. ASL-P289-041
Will Rogers' level of fame surely set a precedent for those who came after him. He belonged to a trailblazing cohort of performers who started their acts on vaudeville stages only to get involved with the new industries of radio, TV, and film that would transformed their entire profession. Roger's was also a Cherokee Indian writer and performer, one of many who would rise to the level of celebrity in American life. His influence can surely be seen in the work of Cherokee performers like Keely Smith and James Garner. Below is a photograph of a monument erected in honor of Rogers and Post in Point Barrow, Alaska. The airport there is named in honor of the two them.
"View of memorial stone to Will Rogers and Wiley Post who died during an airplane crash at Barrow, Alaska. Inscriptions on memorial reads: "Will Rogers and Wiley Post, 'Americas ambassadors of good will,' ended life's flight here August 15, 1935. This stone was taken from the same quarry as that used in buildingOklahoma's memorial to Will Rogers at Claremore Oklahoma U.S.A." and "In memorial of Brother Will Rogers. Top of the World Masonic Club K.C.B.D. 1058. -1945." AMRC-b85-27-953

August 1, 2014

"Helping Ease America's Energy Crisis:" The Thirty-Seventh Anniversary of Alaska's First North Slope Crude Shipment

The archival news footage above shows the christening of the Arco oil tanker in Maryland. On 1 August 1977, the Arco would be the first ship to voyage from Alaskan waters carrying a load of crude from the North Slope. At a cost of 8 billion dollars the Trans Alaska Pipeline, beginning at the North Slope, was built to connect oil fields in Prudhoe Bay to meet with tankers such as the Arco in a port in Valdez, Alaska. Due to the nature of the Alaskan regional geography, as you can see below, the pipeline runs a serpentine trajectory south through central Alaska.

The news footage touts the Trans Alaska Pipeline and the Arco tanker as helping ease a great energy crisis in the United States that emerged due to an embargo placed by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). According to the historical record, the embargo was in response to US aid to Israel during a war in 1973. By the following year the barrel price of oil increase four times its pre-embargo price to 12 dollars.

In the winter of 1973–74 gas station owners placed signs like this up.
The ban on trading oil (and its drastic price gouging) gave rise to concerns for the United States' national energy security. "What if the United States ran out of gas?" It was this political climate that allowed for the investment of building the pipeline infrastructure across the Alaskan terrain. Oil coming into the national supply from Alaska, it was thought, could surely strengthen energy security.

"View of oil drilling operation at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska at beginning of Trans-Alaska Pipeline." AMRC-b90-14-3-38
In Northern Alaska among the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields the crude would be placed in the pipes to cross down through Alaska. Above is a photograph of where the pipeline originates. The oil from Prudhoe Bay has supplied approximately 20 percent of the nation's oil supply over time.

Above one can see where the crude 800 miles later after running through the pipeline where it joins the crew of a tanker about to ship out towards a refinery, perhaps in Long Beach, California.

Above is a copy of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (43 U.S.C. 1601 et sec). As the largest historical land settlement between the United States and an indigenous people this public law extinguished (in theory) all further Native claims to ownership of land. In doing so the settlement was to clear the way for oil field development, by releasing subsurface rights to state and private ownership, without possible confusion on which party owned the rights to subsurface materials. The nation's energy crisis in the 1970s was solved through the concerns for energy security combined with the Settlement's regulations over subsurface mineral ownership.

July 16, 2014

Yukon Gold Rush: "This Is What Really Brought Alaska to the American Map," July 17, 1896.

On july 17, 1896, The ship the Portland docked in Seattle with a hull filled with gold. This marked the reopening of the American Frontier, one which Fredrick Jackson Turner previously declared closed at the end of the California Gold Rush. The clip above features the former senator Ted Stevens discussing the history of this second gold rush and its impact on how Alaska would come to be known in the United States and Elsewhere.

July 12, 2014

Alaska Punx, Indigeneity, and the Captain Cook Monument at Resolution Park

The Clyng-Onz "Environmental Song" a clip from Bombshelter Videos on Catch-22
Alaska Public Access TV, 1986.

When I was a youngster in Kodiak I loved watching Bombshelter videos, hosted by Anchorage punk Bill Bored. Bomb shelter, airing from Alaska in 1984-1986, was a punk program shot from public access television in Anchorage by Frank Harlan who later also joined the Anchorage local punk band the Clyng-Onz. Harlan aka Bill Bored also ran the zine"Warning," a number of which I have collected in the last few years. In this video he is the one dressed as a metal head sitting in front of the tent. I became interested in Punk at about the age of 11-12 from hearing it around Kodiak. In the 70s and 80s the town of Kodiak held an "open port" allowing entrance of international people and items into the country without the sort of strict laws and fences one sees now at the Kodiak ferry dock. What this boiled down to for young punx and metal heads was access to all types of music! Bombshelter Videos allowed me to further explore the music I was hearing around my hometown.

1986-ish, yours truly, upping the punx with a Corrosion of Conformity Eye-For-An-Eye T shirt.
(Wearing it at a time when they were still totally hardcore. Life is posers.)
Later as a teenager circumstances required that I move northward from the Kodiak Archipelago to Alaska's largest city, Anchorage, the home of Bombshelter Videos. Anchorage sits on the south-central coast of the mainland and,  as you can see in the photograph below, is lined by the beautiful Chugach mountain range on one side and the waters of the Cook Inlet on the other. Last May I was back in Anchorage on business and a friend lent me a bike, allowing me ride out along this shoreline on the Tony Knowles bike trail to Earthquake Park. This photograph was taken from around Earthquake Park.

View of Anchorage
When I moved there in the 1980s the city held a thriving punk scene and there were two parks in the city's core that punx found imperative for meeting at as to congress with one another. An important one is behind the Egan Convention Center on 4th Avenue and E Street now known as the Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich Park. The other is Resolution Park, named after one of the ships commanded by British explorer Captain James Cook. I still remember being fresh from Kodiak and skating for first time along the sidewalks of downtown Anchorage and coming upon these two places.

If you look straight up from "Delaney Park" (just above) to a drawing of a round building, you'd be seeing where Peratrovich Park Park sits in downtown Anchorage. If you look to the top left corner you'll see Resolution Park near the curve in the railroad tracks and the front of the train.
"Governor Gruening (seated) signs the anti-discrimination act of 1945.Witnessing are ( r.) O. D. Cochran, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Edward Anderson, Norman Walker, and Roy Peratrovich." ASL-P274-1-2
Peratrovich Park draws its name from 20th century activists Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich, two Tlingit Alaska Native civil rights workers whom fought tirelessly to end discrimination against Native people throughout the then Alaska Territory. Elizabeth Peratrovich, was born and raised in Alaska and met where Roy, also Tlingit, at college in Bellingham, Washington. They returned home to Alaska and as a couple, they joined a territorial movement, to end segregational Jim Crow style practices. In 1945, their efforts paid off when the state legislature passed the Anti-Discrimination Act. From that point on businesses could no longer bar Natives from activities such as attending parks, watching films at theaters, or staying in hotels. The park in Anchorage stands as a way for residents and tourists alike to learn about this incredible history as well as a testament to their efforts. The photograph above of the Peratroviches with the then Governor Gruening and other officials at the signing of the law into reality.

Peratrovich Park as it looks today.
In the 1980s Peratrovich Park, at Fourth and E Street was still part of Old City Hall Park. Moreover, 30 years ago, during an statewide recession, the greenery was less bustling with tourists than with punx and homeless people. We punx called the place Tree of Eyes Park due to the fact that people had drawn eyes on the limbs of the park's trees. The first couple weeks I was in Anchorage I remember this non-Native punk handing out show flyers in front of the Egan Convention Center, just around the block from the park, when two West High varsity lettermen, who were Samoan, walked by on their way to an event at the Egan. He offered the flyer to them and one of them said, "No thank you" and they kept walking (as most people did and do when punx are handing out flyers). 

In response he yelled, "You probably can't read, anyway." I inferred his comment to be racially inflammatory toward their Polynesian descent. The teenagers stopped still, showing visible hurt in their eyes. They looked at each other and made their way back to the punk and one of them punched him in the face. As they walked away they left the racist punk with a bloody nose. At the time the incident seemed as if the punk was being a major jerk to two kids for no reason. I have wondered why anyone would think they could be explicitly racist toward two indigenous diasporic youth (who were both like a foot taller than him) and not suffer the repercussions? Looking back now I can see the connection between the passing of the Anti-discrimination Act in 1945 and actions of the punk who thought he could insult two high school students perhaps because they were non-white. The story now also helps me understand how changing laws doesn't mean that one can change people from having irrational feelings and expressing them so hurtfully. Nonetheless, the Tree of Eyes Park was a place I spent many hours conversing with friends.

Resolution Park with a statue of James Cook and the Cook Inlet in the background  
Another significant park for 80s Anchorage punx was Resolution Park at the edge of downtown, overlooking the Cook Inlet. The site draws its title after one of the ships traveling under the command of Captain James Cook who on today July 12, in 1776 began a ill-fated journey when he sailed from England to places throughout the world. The map below lends detail to Cook's travels south around Africa, beneath Australia, north through the Pacific to run the Northwestern American shore to Alaska. After he passed through Alaskan waters Cook dodged south meeting with the Hawaiian Islands where he died.

A map of Cook's Voyage into Alaska (

At Resolution Park, referred to as "the Monument," all kind of punx gathered often with tourists and homeless people to view on the body of water named after Cook himself, the Cook Inlet. The history of Cook and this area was written on a plaque beneath the Cook sculpture. My particular group of friends built a fort just off the left side of the overlook, called "Chudville," mainly because people called us "Chudfux" due to the lowly nature of our social status in the punk scene. Below is the official history of the "Cook" Inlet.

The significance of Captain Cook's exploration and colonial intentions in/on Alaska was in small measure to my greater understanding of Russian history since I am from a group of islands with an enduring Russian colonial heritage. Unlike the Cook Inlet, Kodiak was not claimed by the British. As read in the photograph above, Cook and his crew, after locating this region, drew up ownership rights (with who?) "along with a few coins," and buried them in the ground of a place they named "Point Possession." All this British colonialism truly alluded me as a wayward Alutiiq punk. Russian officers with names like Shelikoff and Baranov adorn places in Kodiak. That was what I knew. 

While I tend to be shy of attempting to script portable meanings in my work, I will say that the Cook Monument in Anchorage ties the experiences of Alaska Native people with the histories of those indigenous to other parts of the world that faced Cook's colonial adventures. In fact, to set sight on a piece of land and a body of water that is not yours and then claim it for your own country happens to be the strange history of Western colonialism throughout the globe. Yet what sort of rupture between British and Russian colonialism had I stumbled upon being an Alutiiq punk at Restoration Park? Does the story of the varsity lettermen resisting racial insults also paint the failure of these grand projects to wholly penetrate the subjectivities of all Native folks in the same manner? Perhaps this is just as how the brilliant scholar Golnar Nikpour complicates the popular historical timeline of Punk as starting from Western Metropoles and then making its way through non-Anglo, non-Western spaces. For In Another White Failure, Nikpor asserts,

“This is a deeply problematic timeline... This insistence that punk travels from “the West” to “the rest”—a typical imperial trope ... ironically mirrors and reproduces racist assumptions that “the rest” of the world is living in a belated present, and that their today is not coterminous with “ours” but rather with an era that for “us”—and there is no mistaking who “we” are in this argument—is fully in the rear-view mirror.”

With Nikpour's words in mind, my history with Resolution Park allows me to understand certain site-specific non-universal consequences of the Western project in the Americas. Punk itself, like this imperialism, transversed multiple places and communities with very particular results upon people and history that surely contradict the popular timeline of Punk. Following this line of thinking its really easy to see why I failed to grasp the colonial and imperial meanings memorialized at Resolution Park in the way I might with Kodiak's very own Shelikoff Lodge. 

The ability to work as a scholar lends me the great privilege to take apart common narratives from the archive up. And perhaps memorizing MDC lyrics when one is 12 years old drills into one's mind that hierarchies of thought and culture are meant to be questioned. Above is the song "Research and Destroy" by the Anchorage band Skate Death, from the record "You Break It, you Buy It," produced by none other than Frank in 1984. Still good stuff! Before the 1980s ended, Bill Bored relocated Bombshelter Videos to Seattle where he was able to continue his really interesting and inspiring work.

Bombshelter Video Archive by Bill Bored: