December 14, 2015

Aseuluk Relocation: No More Sleeping Villages

There is a current political movement in Alaska to close rural public schools in order to balance the state's budget. This of course would mean that thousands of children would have to relocate to the region's few urban centers to gain a formal education, leaving their families behind, or that they would enroll in distance-based courses administered through these urban schools and lack the face-to-face experience so important for a quality educational experience. The dismantling of the school system would hold severe outcomes for Native villages, many that already possess a history of forced emigration brought on by past governmental policies. Growing up in rural Alaska I am familiar with how imperative it is for families to stay together so they can maintain traditional knowledges and subsistence lifestyles in their indigenous environments. Not only that the relocation of children out of villages undermines the training of such children in the vocations their families employ to support themselves in a global marketplace.
 King Island cliff houses. "View of some of the homes built along the cliffs of King Island. The buildings are supported by stilts braced against the steep slopes. A hide is stretched out on a frame in the right hand side foreground of the photograph." UAA-hmc-0219-131T
The community of about 200 people on Ugiuvak, or King Island in English named in the 1700s by James Cook, had over the course of decades been a target for policies and actions that pushed hard enough to evacuate all the inhabitants from the island by the late 20th century. Before these policies the Aseuluk wintered in Ugiuvak for well over a 1000 years constructing elaborate villages with nimble architectural forms that still sit on the Island's cliffs, perched over the Bering Sea. Above you can see the these homes, keeping in mind Ugiuvak is without trees, the villagers collected all building timber when it was drift wood. Government policies enacted during World War II dislocated residents throughout Alaska, and Aseuluk people were not immune to this. Popular historical narratives tend to focus on a tuberculosis outbreak being the catalyst for Aseuluk abandonment of the island, about a mile away from Nome, yet others point to the closing of the village school in 1959 as a main reason for the island's current day desolation. With the children in schools on the mainland, residents grew shorthanded in the work required for indigenous subsistence lifestyle, a hallmark of tradition for Native people. The parents then followed their children to towns like Nome, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. The off-island economies also played a part in luring people from the Island. Since the 1970s these families have lived away from King Island.
A school in Nome, 1973. AMRC-B1990-014-5-AK
A couple years ago I was fortunate to see the King Island Dancers perform at the Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. When Yup'ik writer and performer Jack Dalton introduced them he said something to the effect of, "Just because you've been made landless doesn't mean you don't have a home." Being very moved by that statement I watched on, appreciating the ways such practices like dance serve to keep the spiritual and pragmatic ties to the village with the culture. Below is a clip of them with the Little Diomede Dancers in 2013. (The last time I saw them was a performance with the youth performers included, which was awesome.)

Poet Joan Naviyuk Kane often embeds the history of the relocation and its consequences in her work. In an interview with National Public Radio, Kane describes her mother feelings when she learned as a child that she wouldn't be allowed to return to the island due to school closures. Kane says in the interview, "there was ... this belief that perhaps it was a temporary relocation, a temporary closure of the school." While some believed that the school closing was temporary it helped stoke a diaspora of islanders onto the mainland. Now Ugiuvak stands as what one can call a "sleeping village," a term I'm employing here to suggest that just because the village is presently without occupants now, is not condemning it to a future without Aseuluk residents in the future. (Note: I borrowed the meaning of the term "sleeping language," coined by Miami Linguist Wesley Y. Leonard, in which he asserts that Indigenous people can always return to using cultural practices, after they have long stopped doing so.) In fact, Joan Naviyuk Kane recently ventured to the island for a cultural homecoming, financed partially through crowdsourcing. In an interview with Harvard Magazine she responded to if and how the return to the island would make its way into her work, “I think I’m ready to begin in the next couple of months,” she says, “and really make sense of how hard it is to go back to a place that was left—that people emigrated or migrated from—and of this idea of returning.” Below is a clip of Kane reading her work during an Alaska Writers Quarterly reading.

The school closure on Ugiuvak and how it brought long term displacement to an entire Native community is an example of what is possible if the state closes rural schools. While shutting them down may not end Native cultures, such actions assist in reenforcing dominant systems that inflict hard choices on Native individuals, such as to remain at home without formal educations or leave home to make a living after their economies downgrade in the wake of taking apart public education for rural villages.

NPR Interview with Kane:
Harvard Magazine  article about her return to the Island:
Threat of closing schools:
About King Island:
Some of Wesley Leonard's work

November 30, 2015

The Activist Work of Amy Hallingstad: "Taking our land from us means driving us off the face of the earth"

 Petersburg, Alaska. ASL-P258-III-67-687
On December 19, 1947, two years after the passage of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act, a Tlingit resident of Petersburg, Alaska Amy Hallingstad wrote a letter to the National Congress of American Indians, then a newly founded Native rights organization. Though beginning with an ironic opening line, her correspondence progressed to concerned the fierce racial oppression Native people in her village faced on a seemingly day to day basis. The Anti-Discrimination Act was to allow Native people to live in Alaska with access to public spaces and to conduct themselves without the fear of prejudice from non-Native residents. Her letter begins as follows,

         Dear Mrs. Bronson:

       Here in the land of Santa Claus, Christmas will bring little cheer to our children this year.
       We natives, 35,000 Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts, are half of Alaska's permanent population,
       and we must watch our children die of diseases that come from cold and lack of food. Our
       homes and lands, our fisheries and trees, our trap· lines and reindeer, everything we possess
       is being seized or threatened by unscrupulous white men, who tell us that what they
       are doing to us has been approved in Washington.
       All of the promises that have come to us from Washington are now broken.

President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, Amy Hallingstate happen to be the first Native student to enroll at the Peterburg school as a child, and as an adult, when writing the letter, she grappled to understand why "Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts," would be having their property forcibly taken by white men, regardless of the territory's laws against such behavior. As national citizens in the Alaska Territory, Native people in villages and towns, many of their own making, were having non-Native residents vandalize and assault them with impunity. Her list of such abuses includes livestock, trees, and entire fisheries that non-Native people had taken from them. After highlighting the illegal and horrifying aggressions perpatrated upon the Native community in Petersburg, her letter then lends treatment to the legal agreements forge between Native communities and the federal government that vowed the Native land rights and other associative hunting and fishing agreements.

       Presidents and Secretaries of the Interior have promised us the last time was in June, 1946
       —that the boundaries of all our lands would be marked out clearly so that no trespasser  
       would take the fish and game and furs that we need to keep our children warm and well fed
       throughout the long Alaskan winters. Now Secretary Krug, who is supposed to be our
       guardian, refuses to let this promise be kept. Petitions on his desk from many native villages
       are still unanswered. Secretary Krug himself promised us, on the 9th day of last December, 
       that he would have such boundary line drawn immediately, beginning with the 
       lands of Klukwan. That promise, too, stands broken. Our friends in the Indian Bureau
       have made many efforts to hold such hearings. Always Secretary Krug has stopped them.

Drawing the connection to land and environmental resources with the wellbeing of Native children, Hallingstad illuminates the importance of subsistence life-ways for Native people. For her, the government breaking an agreement that demarcated established boundaries to traditional areas, as well as access for hunting and fishing, held dire consequence on the village's most vulnerable. The federal government has not responded, even though villages residents had organized petitions demanding answers and solutions to such problems. In pointing out Krug's alleged unwillingness to work in concert with prior accords with Native people, Hallingstad sites an example from the arctic region of the territory.

       We were promised by Secretary Krug on the same day, that our farthest north Eskimo town,
       Barrow, on the Arctic Ocean, would be allowed a town reserve to include its whaling grounds
       and the places where its men dig the coal to keep warm with through the long Arctic night.
       That promise, too, stands broken. We were promised by President Roosevelt, President
       Hoover, President Coolidge, President Wilson, and even by presidents before their
       days, that our possessions would always be protected.

Point Barrow, Alaska, 1899-1908. Reverend Samuel Spriggs. Photographs. ASL-PCA-320
In Barrow, she cites, how Native people's access to traditional whaling grounds had been denied, leaving them without a way to sustain themselves for the winter season. Moving from how the government failed to keep up its legal agreements with Natives, she discusses how not only are people being denied entry into places they have always gone (and possess federal rights to be there), but that they are being arrested for the very same actions the government allows corporations. The letter reads,

      Now the men in Washington who are supposed to be our protectors say that big corporations 
      can take our trees, our minerals and all our lands without asking our permission or paying us. 
      One of our Eskimo boys was arrested and thrown into jail when he tried to mine jade on the 
      lands that belong to his own people. One of our Indian men was arrested when he tried to fish 
      in the fishing grounds that always belonged to the people of his house. Now the Agriculture 
      Department men threaten to arrest us if we cut down our own trees. We are wondering if 
      they expect us to live on snow and to keep warm in the winter by burning ice.

       Now a bill has just been introduced in Congress by the heads of the Indian Affairs
       Committees, who are supposed to protect us, that would take away our reservations,
       which are our homes and our Promised Land. Where can we go then? We are not like
       white men who are always moving. Most of our homes and villages have been right
       where they are now for many hundreds of generations. We know this is true because
       animals that have not roamed on earth for thousands of years are sometimes found
       in the dump heaps of our villages. Taking our land from us means driving us off the
       face of the earth. When we were under the Russian Czars they said that nobody should
       take our possessions without our consent. When they sold Alaska they did not consult us,
       but they asked the United States to promise that our land rights would be respected. That
       promise is set out in the Treaty, but it is no longer observed.

Columbia Lumber Company sawmill at Whittier, May 7, 1947. ASL-P207-31-29 
She insists that the laws in practice previous to the coming of the United States to Alaska, of which the nation agreed to honor, had been violated, even though Native communities have done there best to abide the newcomers. "We have gone to schools and learned how to operate sawmills and canneries in the most modern way," she wrote but, "Now that we are attempting to do this with our own resources, everything is taken from us, and we are thrown into jail." So while Natives attempt to adapt to the new regulations, the government and business are not living up to their side of the bargain struck with Natives. For Hallingstad, this breach is dispossessing entire communities to such a degree she asks, "Why? Why are we suddenly to be made what you call 'displaced persons?'" The laws, for her, are removing Native people from an environment that is used to construct the very cultures they possess. This leads her to ask,

       Is it because our skins are not as light as yours? But the Declaration of Independence
       you brought us says that all men are created equal. Your constitution promises that the
       property rights of all men-not just white men-shall be safeguarded. And the Bible that
       you brought us and translated into our native tongues says that we are all brothers
       and children of God. It does not say that it is all right for white men to rob from men
       of copper skin.

Referencing both the nation's Declaration of Independence and the Bible, she pushes to understand why the government, and its actors, would allow such treatment to Native people. "Is this done to us on the ground that we are not citizens," she asks, "But your Congress passed a law in 1924 making us all citizens, and that law is still alive." While the Indian Citizenship Act made Native people throughout the nation's states and landholdings citizens she insists there might be a piebald organization to US citizenship. In closing her letter, she returns to referencing the Christmas season , writing,

      You have asked us not to lose faith in the American people, but to tell our story to
      those who will listen. And so we are asking Santa Claus, when he rides through
      Alaska this year, on his way south to gather the cries of our children and to take them with
      his sleigh bells to the hearts of men and women in the States who will dare to raise their
      voices in our behalf and to insist that their public servants in Washington shall not enrich
      their friends by giving away our trees, our fisheries, our traplines, our lands, and our homes.

                                                                                     Amy Hallingstad



Petersburg Listening Project: The Legacy of Amy Hallingstad"Alaska Native Sisterhood Human Rights Leader Amy Hallingstad – A Glimpse to 1947"

October 18, 2015

Tlingit Encounters with the Second Kamchatka Expedition

Years in the planning Russia's Second Kamchetka Expedition departed from the shores of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky with the two ships the St Paul and the St Peter in May 1741. The expedition leader Vitus Bering commanded the St. Peter and Aleksei Chirikov the St. Paul across the expansive eastern waters toward North America. In late June a rough storm forever divided the two ships. Below one can see their path, Bering in red and Chirikov in blue. From Kamchatka they kept pace with one another in trough and arc movement in the lower left of the map. Then they separated, heading their own directions, with Bering doubling back for a bit, correcting himself and heading southwest.

In the longterm Bering's red route (above) proved more than slightly troubled, ending with the crew losing their commander and ship less than 300 miles from Kamchatka. In a previous post I marked the first contact Bering's party made with the Unanagan people by reading a section from Gorg Steller's journal, a naturalist who was part of the crew. Bering lost his life, the St. Peter was destroyed, and the crew stander on the Commander islands only 20 miles from Kamchatka for months, as they rebuilt another ship.
Grave of Vitus Bering. Photo by  Leon Petrosyan
Following the blue line one can see that Alexie Chirikov's course led the St. Paul east, toward what is now called Alaska's southeast (or an area non-Alaskans label part of the 'Northwest'). Chirikov's party traveling aboard the St. Paul, the blue line, turned north eventually reaching Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit coastal territories. The crew saw land at Baker Island off Prince of Wales Island at the south end of what it now the Alaska panhandle, approximately 450 miles southeast of Bering's landfall near the mountain, Yasʼéitʼaa Shaa, meaning "mountain behind Icy Bay," or Shaa Tleinat "Giant Mountian," near the north end of the panhandle, (officially called by the United States and Canada as Mount Saint Elias). Unable to locate a suitable harbor the St. Paul sailed north along to meet with Sheet'-ká X'áat'l, now known more broadly as Baranov Island. In these waters the commander sent out a longboat with a crew of to find an anchorage site to which they could take shelter. On July18, ten members of the crew, including two siberian guides embarked toward the shoreline. Historians Bland and Grinëv detail that, "they were all armed with guns, straight navy broadswords, and cutlasses, and in addition they were given as mall copper cannon and two signal rockets. Dement'ev was ordered to be very careful and to try to gain the trust of the local inhabitants with small gifts in the form of kettles, beads, Chinese tobacco, smoking pipes, fabric, needles, and silver coins." This party never returned to the St. Paul. After a few days Chirikov sent a smaller party of 5 men to search for the missing ones. This group of sailors also disappeared without notice.
Mt. St. Elias and Icy Bay Glacier, Alaska. & Icy Bay Glacier, Alaska.By Fhoki Kayamori. Photographs, ca. 1912-1941.ASL-P55-117
After a few more days Chirikov set up closer to the shore firing cannons in hopes of catching the attention of the missing crew members. As they searched they saw two canoes approaching them, with Native who waved their arms, yelling "Agai! Agai!"Then the boats returned to the shore. Renowned scholars of Tlingit History, Language, and culture, Nora and the late Richard Dauenhauer, have put forth that the Tlingit party were exclaiming, ""Ayx?a\"or "Row!" perhaps as they returned to land. On the 27th Chirikov sailed west without his crew members.

Historians tell divergent narratives about the fate of the men the St. Paul left behind. In "Reflections on the Fate of Alexei Chirikov's Missing Men" scholars Andrei V. Grinëv and Richard L. Bland debate the current literature surrounding the possible destiny these men faced after they left the sight. Many scholars suggest that the Tlingit captured the crew either taking their lives at that point or impressing them into service for a Tlingit family. Yet even more scholars discount such a proposed fate by insisting that due to the being deep into fishing and hunting season, Native people would have been less concerned about fighting with the crew members than with stocking up for the coming winter.

Based on traditional stories, the honored late Tlingit scholar Mark Jacobs, Jr., put forth that the crew members meeting with Native people decided to stay on land because life on the ship, under military disciplined confines, left the men scared to return. These men married into families and their descendents became clan leaders. Often ship's officers used nefarious methods to enlist men on board. After sailing through the Bering, the St. Paul, low on food and water, without a distinct direction of travel perhaps convinced these sailors to spend their days in Tlingit territory, adopting into clans. In the past 270 years Russian artifacts have been found in villages, that are said to be dated back to around this time. There is also an oral history of Chief Annahootz, meaning "Grizzly Bear," disguising himself as a bear as to ambush the shored crew members. And perhaps in this meeting the crew members decided to stay on the mainland.

For further reading:

Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Haa Shuka, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives. Seattle/London: University of Washington Press/Sealaska Heritage Foundation. - 1990.

Jacobs, Mark. “Early Encounters Between the Tlingit and the Russians,” in Alaska History, Number 35: Russia in North America: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Russian America, edited by Richard Pierce, pp. 1-6. Fairbanks, AK: The Limestone Press, 1990.

Andrei V. Grinëv and Richard L. Bland. "Reflections on the Fate of Alexei Chirikov's Missing Men."Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 42, No. 2 (2005), pp. 1-8  

Lydia Black, Russians in Alaska. U of Alaska press, 2004.

July 7, 2015

Self-reinvention in the Birth of the Last Frontier

On June 25, 1897 the steamer the Alice carried a first load of gold through St. Michael's Trading post in Yupik territory on the western coast of the Alaska. Originally the Russian American company founded St. Michael Redoubt in 1833 and by 1897 the town of St. Michael became a major hub in the burgeoning Yukon-Alaska Gold Rush. The map below illustrates the Yukon trade routes the mineral would travel with St. Michael there on the shores of western Alaska Territory.

Klondike travel routes
Between 1886 and 1899 approximately 100,000 people entered (invaded?) the Alaska-Yukon area with aspirations of securing hefty tins of gold. This urgent haste started after, in August 1896, a group of Tagist family members, Shaaw Tláa, K̲áa Goox̱, and Keish, and Shaaw Tláa's non-Native husband George Carmack located gold in Rabbit Creek (afterwords known as Banaza Creek), around the relatively new (and contested) border between Alaska and Canada. The family decided to allow Carmack to announce the discovery to the trading post because the authorities would most likely have denied such claims made by Native people, leaving the claim open to others.

When near-do-wells flooded the north armed with pick axes and gold pans they transformed the shape and governance structures of Natives villages and towns. For example within a year from three prospectors finding gold in the village of Siqnazuaq in 1897, which previously held less than a 1,000 residents, the population swelled to 10,000. Upon the coming of this immense amount of people, Siqnazuaq's name was changed to Nome, Alaska. It's estimated that by the early twentieth century the town's population reached 28, 000. Currently, the population sits under 4,000.

The Alaska Territory's boom economy reopened an American frontier once proclaimed closed by historian Fredrick Jackson Turner in 1893 with his work  The Frontier in American History. In the nineteenth century there was an idea that the continent was an empty space allowing non-Natives to travel westward, securing land and sequestering and killing Native people, until the movement ended on the Pacific side of the contiguous part of the nation, what would be known as the "Lower-48." As the United States pushed westward that shifting border allowed those, within the context of U.S. sponsorship, to reinvent themselves. For Turner,  the end of the frontier meant the foreclosure to a distinct way of life, an end for the ability of the nation's population to reinvent and adapt themselves to a new land. Fortunately for the nation, the gold rush in the Alaska Territory created a "Last Frontier" bringing with it a sense of renewal to the nation's imagination. Factory workers in the industrial economy could rest assured that there were rugged independent people at the edge of the nation living lives that their own social and financial situations disallowed them (this is of course the time when Inuit art came to serve a similar purpose).

Felice Pedroni aka Felix Pedro
One such story of reinvention in the Last Frontier was that of prospector Felice Pedroni who uncovered gold amidst the shallows of Cleary Creek, now Pedro Creek, in the Fairbanks region of central Alaska allegedly on July 22, 1902. Born in Trignano di Fanano, Pedroni sailed to New York in 1881 at 23 years of age when he reinvented himself as Felix Pedro, donning a Hispanic name change. Working his way through the country he moved to the Yukon in 1895, with dreams of gold. His search went on for years as he worked claims on either side of the border. Upon a discovery near the Tanana Hills, he famously exclaimed, "There's gold in them there hills!"

Journalist and historian Dermot Cole discusses the shadow of scandal and drama that surrounded Pedroni's life in this exciting article published through the Alaskan Pedroni's claim to the mining site proves complicated by a partner Alexander L. Hanot, whom Pedroni knew from his days working in Washington state. Pedro claimed that the only reason Hanot became a split partner with him was that latter owed him 75,000 dollars and that signing him into the claim protected Pedroni's assets due to an alleged maternity case. Hanot denied such allegations that he owed money or that even his share of the claim was fake in any sense. Pedro asserted that when he made the deal with Hanot he was not of a healthy mind. From 1903 to 1909 various people testified to Pedro's deteriorating mental health, notes Cole. Yet, other's testified to the contrary! In divorce papers, Cole writes, Pedro's wife accused her husband of fraud in the Hanot situation.

View of a stone monument with brass plaque dedicated to Felix Pedro located at mile 16.5 of the Steese Highway at the location where Felix Pedro is believed to have discovered gold in 1902. UAA-hmc-0620-series1-f5-16
8 years after his claim, Pedro passed away at the age of 52. Reportedly losing his life to a heart attack, many thought he was a victim of murder. He body was buried in California and laid there until exhumed in 1972 to ship to his hometown in Italy. Upon the transfer, his body was examined and authorities determined his death was the result of ingesting poison. Many suspect his wife Mary Doran took his life. The notion of the frontier in the national imagery served for countless people such as Felice Pedroni shed their old lives as they domesticated an imagined frontier, refusing to acknowledge Indigenous lands, culture, and authority. One need not be Edward Said to see that the imaginative geography of imperial frontiers, which allow people to put forth, new names, or invented personas, are always home to other communities these actors help dispossess.

Dermot Cole's article "Accusations of scandal, legal battle followed Felix Pedro to the grave"

June 21, 2015

Attu Boy: Unangax̂ Prisoners of the Japanese during World War II

Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska Island in the Aleutians on June 6, 1942
Coordinated with the Battle of Midway as part the Pacific Theater of World War II, around the island of Amaxnax̂, at Dutch Harbor, the Japanese Navy attacked the American territory of the Aleutian Islands. On June 3rd and 4th, 1942, six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they took the US Navy Weather Station on Qisxa island, Kiska in English, that held 12 Navy personnel. Two American soldiers lost their lives as the Japanese rounded up the island's residents. One man fled their capture, but turned himself in after about a month and a half of hiding on the island. One of the main reasons for the occupation was that is doing so they could control that shipping route corridor of the North Pacific. I have an Sugpiaq cousin who worked down in Dutch Harbor during the war when he was 16 years old, cleaning the pilot's sleeping quarters.

Picture of the June 3rd Attack on Dutch Harbor.
"The village. View of Attu." Photograph taken during the 1937 Smithsonian Institution's Archaeological Expedition to the Aleutian Islands. uaa-hmc-0690-s1-1937-69a 
On June 7th, the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion of the Japanese Northern Army invaded the Aleutian island of Atan, or Attu in English. The axis fighters made 44 villagers, two of them non-Native, prisoners of war. The villagers remained captive for months before they removed them from the island and interned them at a prisoner of war camp at Otaru, Hokkaido. Half of the islanders would never return from the camp.

 "Aleut (Unangan) relocation to Southeast Alaska: Kasaan, Killisnoo, and Ward Lake Refugee Camps, 1942." Photographer's notes: Vaccinations, Aleut Refugee children. Three girls, F. Prokopeuff, Oleana Snigaroff and Anfesia Gardner, laughing and holding their shoulder. ASL-P306-1065
On June 12, 1942 the United States began forcibly removing 880 Unangax̂ people, and their associated family members, from their villages in the Aleutians. After making them help raze their homes, the government boarded them on ships. Once in the water, government transported Non-Native villagers to the contiguous part of the nation and the Unangax̂ people taken to dilapidated facilities along the Alaskan Panhandle. Over the following two years, due to unsanitary conditions, one in ten islanders would lose their lives in residence at the camps. Important to note that just 30 miles away from one camp, the United States kept German prisoners of war in more humane conditions then they did their own citizens.


This month marks 73 years since the United States and Japan began the transnational project to intern the Unangax^. These islanders suffered great losses even though they were not at war with either nation. United States and Japanese efforts to fight one another worked together in dislocating a third group of people (note: Unangax̂ were and are US citizens). Hundreds of islanders would never return to their homes again, nor would they reunite with their Non-Native loved ones at the time of the war's end. Nick Golodoff was a child on Attu when the Japanese invaded and occupied the island. He returned to live his life away from the village after surviving the prisoner of war camp in Otaru. The reason why he didn't go back was because with so few remaining islanders the government choose to leave the village uninhabited, distributing them to other villages. Golodoff wrote a beautiful memoir  of his war time experiences in the book Attu Boy: A Young Alaskan's WWII Memoir. Leaving behind loving family, Golodoff passed away in 2013. Below is a moving interview he did with then KUBC reporter Stephanie Joyce in 2012.

June 1, 2015

The Politics of Alaska Native Arts and Culture Panel NAISA 2015

The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) 2015 Annual Meeting takes place from June 4-6 in Washington, DC, brought to life hosted by the National Congress of American Indians and other regional institutions. This year there are panels dedicated to Alaska Native Studies with other Alaska Native studies scholars in mixed panels. As 40 percent of the nation's tribes, I'm thrilled to see at all this work at the conference this year. Alaska specific things bolded, below. There maybe more, so we'll see.

2:00 PM – 3:45 PM Friday June 5 

063. Politics of Alaska Native Arts and Culture
4:00 to 5:45 pm
Hyatt Regency: Redwood
Thomas Michael Swensen, Colorado State University Participants:
“Propatriation: Tlingit Arts in the NAGPRA Era” Emily Moore, Colorado State University
“Arts and Oral Traditions: Engaging “Storywork” in Higher Education” Beth Leonard, University of

Alaska Fairbanks
“Uncovering a History of Art and Violence through Susie Silook’s The Anti-Depression Uliimaaq.”
Thomas Michael Swensen, Colorado State University 

Thursday June 4 

111. Indigenous Natural law and Natural Resource Governance: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives
2:00 to 3:45 pm
Hyatt Regency: Concord

Establishing Indigenous Natural Law through Indigenous Ontology & Epistemology
Molly Sparhawk, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Re-examining Treaty through Nêhiyaw pimâcihowin (Plains Cree Way of Life): Paulina Reghan
Johnson, Western University
Uncovering the Doctrine of Mana Moana to Better Articulate Maori rights to Water Victoria Skelton,
University of Auckland
Changing corporate culture: Indigenous influence on extractive companies via negotiated agreements
Julia Keenan, The University of Queensland 

Saturday June 6

10:00 AM – 11:45 AM Saturday June 6

158. Ecological Knowledge and Imagination
Paper Session
10:00 to 11:45 am
Hyatt Regency: Yellowstone
Nancy Van Styvendale, University of Saskatchewan Participants:
"I’m Gonna Buy Me an Island": Road Development and Environmental Criticism in Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters Cameron Paul, Univerity of British Columbia
Decolonizing Dispossession: Rethinking Adivasi Land Relations in a Decolonial-Feminist Frame Padini Nirmal, Clark University
Indigenous Knowledge, Oral History and Place: Collaborative Research in a Northern Northwest community Judith D Ramos, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Views from the End of the World: Conservation Ethics in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road Virginia Kennedy, PhD, Otsego Land Trust 

2:00 PM – 3:45 AM Saturday June 6 

162. Modernizing the Trust for Self-Determination: A Policy Forum on Indigenous Education in the U.S.

2:00 to 3:45 pm
Hyatt Regency: Columbia C 
Presenters:Malia Villegas, National Congress of American IndiansWilliam Mendoza, White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education Carrie Billy, American Indian Higher Education ConsortiumBrian McKinley Jones Brayboy, Arizona State University 

2:00-3:45 Saturday June 6

164. Resisting Boundaries
Paper Session
2:00 to 3:45 pm
Hyatt Regency: Congressional D
Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Center for World Indigenous Studies Participants:
Beading and Walking Sovereignty: Dene Resurgence against Canadian Sovereignty Kelsey Wrightson, University of British Columbia
Indigenous Nations Challenging Transnationalism: Anishinaabe Narratives Crossing and Creating Borders in Northern Minnesota Nicholas Cragoe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Indigenous (Im)Mobility and the Borderlands of North America Levin Arnsperger, Emory University Between Empires and Frontiers: Alaska Native Sovereignty, Statehood, and U.S. Settler Imperialism
Jessica Leslie Arnett, University of Minnesota 

4:00 PM – 5:45 Saturday June 6
176. Diasporic Times: Complicating Space-Based Approaches to Native American and Indigenous Diasporas
4:00 to 5:45 pm
Hyatt Regency: Bryce
Will Rogers’ Occupations: Temporal Diaspora through Performance
Bethany Hughes, Northwestern
Remembering Aleut Internment in World War II Alaska Holly Guise, Yale University
Eradication Nation: Disrupting the Time of Settler-Colonialism in Simon Ortiz’s From Sand Creek and Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song Christopher Pexa, Cornell University
“A Meeting Place for All”: Cultural Production and Embodied Resistance at Haskell’s 1926
Homecoming and Powwow Beth Eby, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
Jeane Breinig, University of Alaska, Anchorage 

May 21, 2015

The Matanuska Valley Settler Colony

In 1935 the federal government begin a project called the Matanuska Valley Colony in the Alaska Territory. The funds dealt to the territorial government for the experiment came through the Federal Relief Administration Program, that as part of the New Deal Resettlement plan which initiated almost 200 such projects throughout the United States. Within a few years, the Resettlement Administration helped 203 families relocate from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin into the forested valley with the hopes they'd successfully operate a cooperative agricultural community. 

A farm with stacked hay in Matanuska Valley.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library
This settler experimental colony took root thirty-five miles north of the Anchorage in the Matanuska Valley, within the southern region of Dene'ina traditional homelands. Historically Russian American company functionaries traveled through the area in 1819, but true settlement began under United States governance in 1893. The Gold Rush brought also brought hundred of miners into the Valley starting in 1898 making a giant population boom. The Alaska Railroad completed rails through there in 1916, birthing the town of Talkeetna. With the infrastructure in place the New Deal administration found the site a worthy place to bring impoverished families from the contiguous part of the nation in hopes they'd succeed as farmers. Government administrators hoped the colony would tame the 'frontier' of Alaska while also removing them from government assistance rolls.

The government through the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation gave 40 acres to those who social workers believed would be successful in the colony. On May 10th 1935, colonist arrived and were assigned a tent to live in while they waited to draw for plots.
View of Matanuska Valley colonists lining up to draw for their forty acres of farmland in Palmer, Alaska, with tents at right. AlaskaRural Rehabilitation Corporation brought families to Alaska for Matanuska Valley Colonization Project, which began in 1935. UAA-hmc-0413-1-27a
Historian Orlando Miller points out that President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6957 of 4 February 1935 required farm lots to sit adjacent to one another, unlike the scattered lots approved (or not) through the Alaska Native Allotment Act (see previous post). By 1935 249,112 acres were set aside in the colony for residents to build their own homes. The land lottery gave the settlers forested plots they had to clear themselves, yet for months these settlers lacked the tools to do such work.  Eventually the government hired carpenters with lumber from anchorage to build homes for the colonists.

Within 60 days 20 people left the colony and five years in half the population remained there. The remoteness caused an undue burden, financially and emotionally on many of the farmers and by 1960 only 20 people were still left operating their farms. Important to note here that the Alaska State Fair was a originally organized by these farmers in 1936. So while the colony was by and large unsuccessful it's legacy continues today in a variety of ways. In fact, there are many large and small scale farming businesses in the Matanuska-Palmer region that provide the state with all types of products.

One of the most internationally renowned products to come from here is called Matanuska Thunder, a high-grade very potent strain of marijuana.

May 18, 2015

The Alaska Native Allotment Act on May 17, 1906

On May 17, 1906 the Secretary of the Interior gave the opportunity for Alaska Natives to acquire parcels of land in sizes not to exceed 160 acres in size. This acreage was to be vacant of inhabitants,"unappropriated" to others, as well as being "unreserved non mineral land," and then could go to any "Indian, Aleut or Eskimo of full or mixed blood" male in Alaska who was 21 years old or older. (34 Stat. 197) These tracks of land were inalienable and non-taxable. Administrative interpretations of the law, however, would limit the number of Natives (adult head of family) qualifying for the land for nearly three-quarters of a century.

Unlike the recognition of Native title to lands, the Allotment Act created parcels of land to individual Native (male adult) applicants. Scholars David Case and David Voluck argue that the Act created significant legal burdens to land "distribution" for statehood and for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. They write

             Many Allotment application were originally denied without hearings and removed from                      federal land records, which permitted others to select and even receive title to to the same                    lands originally applied for as allotments. (113)

From these flagrant injustices, they note, came many lawsuits that established a legal due process for Alaska Natives in US courts, concerning land rights. 

Allotment map of Pine Ridge

Unlike the General Allotment Act of 1887, the Alaska Native Allotment Act didn't break up reservational land holdings as it did for American Indians in the contiguous part of the nation. They both did however seek to individualize landownership. Whereby the division of American Indian reserved lands for individual Indian and non-Indian ownership in part sought to unravel indigenous national (tribal) sovereignty, but without the history of clarifying such indigenous possession of land allotment in Alaska seemed to be asserted as a way develop Alaska without confronting the issue of collective Native land rights.

The act was amended in 1956 with many statutes, one important one being that Natives could acquire lands in national forests. Legal actions concerning Tlingit and Haida individual ownership of land in the Tongass National Forest do remain in process today. I recently read that there were approximately 900 individual applications for parcels in the Forest.

Congress repealed the Alaska Native Allotment Act with Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. Sec. 1617,) with a savings clause for applications that were pending on the date of the law's passage on in 1971 in 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1617(a).

April 28, 2015

Bali Balita!: the Kadiak Times, Filipinos, and the Aleutian Homes

Filipino man holding sea eel

In the latter half of the 20th century the State of Alaska hosted numerous regional periodicals, most notably the Tundra Times, managed by artist Howard Rock. There was also the Kadiak Times, a community-based newspaper, serving the Kodiak, Alaska Archipelago from 1976 into the early 1980s. Over the course of its life it was published and co-owned by numerous people including Alaska political leader Alan Austerman. 

The October 24, 1986 issue, pictured above, belongs to my personal archive because it lends significant detail about the history of the Woody Island Ice Company. The United States included approximately 200,000 dollars for the ice company contracts in its of payment 7,200,000 dollars to the Russia from the ownership of the region. The Woody Island Ice Company served the contiguous part of the nation for decades. More than being a purveyor of history, the Kadiak Times was also a place for local communities to reach out to its members.

Above is an installment of the "Pista Pilipiniana Bali Balita," section from the Kadiak Times written by Manby Narra,  on behalf of the Fil-Am Association of Kodiak. The article is written twice once in Tagalog and another in English set beside one another. In the column Narra congratulates the parents of a new born as well as mentioning that celebrities, pop singer and actress Pilita Corrales, actress Jackie Lou Blanco, and Corrales' partner Amado Del Paraguay, would be visiting Kodiak. In closing Narra reminds readers to pay their association dues. The brief "Pista Pilipiniana Bali -- Balita" provides informative insight into the life of the Kodiak Filipino community in the 1980s.

A 1953 portrait of a two women, Tlingit and Filipina, at the Seward Sanitorium, a vocational training center. "Esmailka" under the female on the left, and "Auelino" under the female on the right. uaa-hmc-1148-1-53 
Many people unfamilar with Alaska may not know that most southern coastal towns, and villages, hold sizable if not predominant Filipino populations. The late Alaskan political activist and historian Thelma Garcia Buchholdt, who served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1974-1982, wrote the compelling Filipinos in Alaska 1788-1958, documenting Filipino participation in the development of Alaska. In the sixteenth century, Filipino sailors accompanied Spanish galleons throughout the Pacific, including stops along the Alaska coast. Buchholdt marks that a "Manila Man" was on board a ship that docked in the newly Christened "Cook Inlet" in 1788. These "Manila Men" took part in the development of nineteenth century the whaling in Alaskan waters. In the previous blog post Three Thousand Filipinos and the William Lewis Paul Papers I briefly discussed that Filipinos, who became known as Alaskeros, were active in the burgeoning early twentieth-century fishing industrial complex in Alaska. These communities also worked in Alaska mines, as well.

During the late nineteenth century, capital investments in new canning techniques changed the rapidity and safety in the process of fish canning at an industrial level. This advancement allowed many large-scale companies to set up shop in southern Alaska. In the growth of the industry hundreds if not thousands of Alaskeros worked in the cannery slime-lines and packing houses by 1911. At the University of Washington Special Collections are the Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union, Local 7 archive that document some of the work the Alaskeros performed in canneries. Founded in 1933 the union represented mainly Filipino workers throughout the Pacific American coast, many of them in Alaska canneries. I've spent a couple of days sifting through the extensive union records and find them quite a fascinating collection.

I grew up in the Kodiak neighborhood of the Aleutian Homes, which since I have been alive has been an area where many Filipinos live. Above is a short documentary by James Guilas about the history of the Aleutian Homes and how and when Filipinos moved there. Guilas talks about the size of the Filipino population in Kodiak as being 30 percent when he put this together, but the last I've read its between 35 and 41 percent, since he made the film.

April 13, 2015

"For the Progress of Man:" Tikigaq and Nuclear Landscaping

From "Project Chariot Marine Mammal Study, Cape Thompson, 1960-61." ASL-PCA-561

"If your mountain is not in the right place, just drop us a card."
Edward Teller, University of Alaska Commencement Address, 1959

In 1958 The United States Atomic Energy Commission proposed "Project Plowshare" to detonate a 2.4 megaton series of nuclear explosions in the building of a harbor off Alaska's northwestern coast. George Washington University Professor Al Teich describes the project as part of a larger trend among scientists called "nuclear landscaping." For after the advent of nuclear weaponry, scientists grew interested in the possible ways these devices could reshape expanses of land and alter seascapes. The Alaska mission was planned to take place at Cape Thompson, about 32 miles from Tikigaq, or The Village of Point Hope. A 1961 editorial in the Anchorage Times entitled "Alaska Test Needed For Progress of Man," argued for the venture on the grounds that building the harbor in that region would create viable economic opportunities for the new state, in the way of a large port. "Such development would," the op-ed by owner Robert Atwood asserted, "stimulate opportunities for employment and better living conditions in the area now on the fringe of civilization." The Inupiat communities living in the area of the area of the Project Chariot however felt it would hold terrible impacts on their life ways and  the animals of their homeland.
Original scheme for Project Chariot.
In the 1989 The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists article, "Project Chariot: How Alaska Escaped Nuclear Excavation," writer Dan O'Neill documented how the Chariot proposal was to be the first in a set of works in the Plowshares program that would rebuild the world through nuclear destruction. Brainchild of Edward Teller, lead Scientist at the Livermore Labs, the plowshares program would, under his guidance, (quoted through O'Neill) "engage in the great art of geographic engineering, to reshape the earth at your pleasure." Plowshares was part of a even more nationwide postwar movement to re-engineer landforms through massive endeavors, such as was the Glen Canyon Dam in southern Utah.

A 1958 picture of Edward Teller as Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
With great concern, the region's people, along with a concert of citizens outside the area, questioned how the explosions and the following radiation would harm the environment and their communities. Looking at how such devices brought terrible conditions to Nagasaki and the Bikini Islanders, the Inupiat didn't believe the promises of safely the government gave them. According to O'Neill, village representative David Frankson argued strongly against the idea, as did all regional Inupiat and Athabaskan communities.
David Frankson, in glasses, pictured with a group of Native representatives meeting with Gov. Egan.
The threats of Plowshare program, along with burgeoning governmental policies set to restrict Native subsistence life ways, made the Association of American Indian Affairs host the Point Barrow Conference on Native Rights in November, 1961. The conference resulted in the formation of the regional Inupiat Paitot organization, which included Frankson and artist Howard Rock. "Our Inupiat Paitot," they wrote in a statement, "is our land around the whole arctic world where Inupiat live, our right to be great hunters and brave independent people...our right to the minerals that belong to us in the land we claim." For the first time Inupiat people across Alaska formed an alliance as to express specific concerns for their rights as indigenous people. In their statement they wrote of Project Chariot, demanding a halt to the program, saying "The result of this explosion will be very dangerous to native health because of the effect of  radiation on animals the people have depended on for food." The Paitot articulated the larger cycle of life at stake in Project Chariot, by connecting their health to the health of the environment. "We deny the right of the Bureau of Land Management," their statement read, "to dispose of land claimed by a native village, and urge the Interior Department to revoke the permit before the experiment goes any further." The Inupiat Paitot also expressed that such nuclear tests held transnational consequences when communicating, "We, the Inupiat, strongly protest," any such activity on their lands,  "and request the President of the United States that the experiments of the Russians on their nuclear explosions be discontinued," as well.

In the summer of 1962, The government sidelined Project Chariot due to unforeseen "flaws" in its design. Yet the threat levied against the Inupiat by the proposal led to a political organization, which in a year and a half, began working with the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Dena Nena Henash forming a large scale movement to secure Native rights to land and heritage in Alaska. These three political groups stood as foundational to the Native rights movement of the 1960s that would work toward the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

Inupiat filmmaker Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson made the incredible 2012 documentary Project Chariot, where she examines the history of the project and the fight against it in much detail.  The trailer below on Edwardson's Vimeo site.

Works Consulted/Cited

Al Teich's Tibits
Other government documents.

January 27, 2015

Debt and Alaska Native Cooperatives

Alaska Natives possessed a variety of formal organizations before and during the implementation of IRA-based (and styled) tribal governments and ANCSA Native-operated corporations. One of these formations, cooperatives, formed in villages as instruments to bring Natives into an emerging regional economy set-up by new comers. The cooperatives came as the US business interests increasing developed enterprises that extracted natural resources such as timber and sea life from the region. In doing so, the businesses quite often blocked Native access to traditional resource sites, altering the very life ways of these Native communities. One of the consequences of being forced from traditional lifeways was that Indigenous individuals funneled into the asymmetric employment conditions of cannery work. Often governing structures possessed legally consigned financial instruments for bringing Native people into the US economy, and Native people with few options had to participate.

Native houses at the Naknek Packing Co. Cannery.UAA-hmc-0186-volume4-3795
Even before the changes in Indian Reorganization Act to include Alaska Natives, the government enrolled Native individuals into chartered stock companies. Drawing from previous posts on this blog, many Natives once indoctrinated into the reindeer herding business then faced compulsory ownership in the reindeer industry. As active investors in industry, the worked to turn a fair profit on their labor.

Two men, Frank Seppilu and Irving Ifkohluk, sit at the entrance of a tent, counting reindeer. 
Collection: O. C. and Ruth Connelly, 1938-1941.
UAA-hmc-0562-53 c
Also in 1936 under provision 17 of the IRA, Native communities could organized as cooperative associations. Legal scholars David Case and David Voluck assert that these cooperatives brought together Native individuals by way of their "common occupation," rather than their "strict geographic residence." That is, the cooperatives activated in the spaces of labor activities brought together Natives through their involvement in the new territorial work force for what was surely promised to be measurable profits.

Above is a newspaper article I found while conducting archival work for my current book project. From 1954, the piece talks about how the southeastern Alaska Native cooperative canneries were in "bad shape" and suffered losses and that the "loan" programs toward these communities had "to this date not been successful." The interesting part of the cooperative business plan was that these ventures were financed through a government loan program. If these Native labor associations couldn't pay their loans then they suffered incredible amounts of debt, owed to the federal government. The article describes how some of these cooperatives were defaulting on hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the mid-20th century the burden of debt became a way to organize Native communities, under the instrument of the 'cooperative' in the mid-20th century.