Tag Archives: Alaskan Natives

Another Alaska Native Speaks Out About Palin

Story Published: Sep 26, 2008
Story Updated: Sep 25, 2008
http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/opinion/letters/29766074.html
Unlike Mr. [Ben Nighthorse] Campbell, who remarks that he is Northern Cheyenne, a former senator, and a leader in the McCain campaign, I am an Athabascan Indian, I have lived in Alaska all my life, and I actually know firsthand what Gov. Sarah Palin has done.

Contrary to the former senator’s remarks, Alaska subsistence hunting and fishing issues are not complicated. As the former senator concedes, however, they are deeply “political.” My point exactly: consistently, Sarah Palin has politicized subsistence and sought to advantage urban hunters and fishers over the rural people who actually live a subsistence way of life. It is a stunning hostility, given that subsistence fishing, as one example, consumes a mere 2 percent of all consumptive uses of fish in our state.

Nor are Alaska Native people “divided” on this issue. To the contrary, in the late 1990s Alaska Natives held a special statewide convention in Alaska and overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for rural subsistence.

Palin cannot dodge her responsibility for continuing lawsuits that her predecessor began. She is against federal agency protection for subsistence. She is against subsistence fishing in many navigable waters that are critical to Native people. She is against subsistence hunting in many areas our Native people depend upon for their survival. She is against subsistence rights that prefer rural users as the federal law favored by Alaska Natives demands over urban users.

It is true that Alaska is disabled by its own constitution from extending rural subsistence rights to state lands and waters. But a governor committed to Alaska Native people would press the federal government to do everything in its power to protect those subsistence rights as broadly as possible on federal lands and waters. Instead, Palin has chosen to attack those rights with lawsuits – and “attack” is indeed the fair word here. How else to characterize Palin’s lawsuit brought to defeat subsistence? And how else to explain Alaska Natives’ overwhelming support for the Obama/Biden ticket?

Sarah Palin has built a solid record opposing subsistence and tribal sovereignty in Alaska. That truth may be inconvenient to the former senator, but that does not change it.

Native Obama Supporters Lead Palin Backlash

By Rob Capriccioso

WASHINGTON – Democratic Natives, some of whom have ties to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign for president, are attacking Gov. Sarah Palin’s record on Indian issues. The charges come at a time of increasing concerns from Obama supporters and advisers that Sen. John McCain’s popular running mate could affect their candidate’s chances with Indian voters.

In an unsigned document widely circulating in Indian country, four main critiques have been levied against the first female Republican vice presidential candidate, including allegations that she has harmed Alaska Native subsistence fishing and hunting; been lukewarm in her support of tribal sovereignty; and that she hasn’t supported Alaska Native languages.

The document, titled “Sarah Palin’s Record on Alaska Native and Tribal Issues,” was partially written by Heather Kendall-Miller, an informal adviser to the Obama campaign in Alaska. She has personally known the senator from Illinois since their days attending Harvard Law School together. Her husband, lawyer Lloyd Miller, co-authored the report, which is based largely on many of the legal cases Kendall-Miller has argued against Palin and the Alaska state government.

“It’s really important to pop [Palin’s] balloon,” Kendall-Miller, a tribal member of the Native Village of Dillingham, told Indian Country Today.

She said she is “very concerned” that Natives who might have voted for Obama could now be swayed by Palin’s entrance into the race.

“That’s exactly why it was so important for us to get the document out. There was such an initial positive response [to Palin], even from Native people in Alaska.”

On the issue of subsistence fishing, the Millers note in the document that Palin has continued pursuing litigation that seeks to overturn “every subsistence fishing determination the federal government has ever made in Alaska.”

“The goal of Palin’s lawsuit is to invalidate all the subsistence fishing regulations the federal government has issued to date to protect Native fishing, and to force the courts instead to take over the roll of setting subsistence regulations,” according to the document. “Palin’s lawsuit seeks to diminish subsistence fishing rights in order to expand sport and commercial fishing.”

On subsistence hunting, the authors state Palin has “sought to invalidate critical determinations the Federal Subsistence Board has made regarding customary and traditional uses of game, specifically to take hunting opportunities away from Native subsistence villagers and thereby enhance sport hunting.”

Regarding tribal sovereignty, the document says Palin has argued that Alaska tribes have little authority to act as sovereign nations, especially in court cases involving the welfare of Native children.

Finally, the document indicates that Palin failed to respect Alaska Native languages and voters by refusing to provide language assistance to Yup’ik speaking Alaska Native voters – until ordered to do so by a federal court earlier this year.

Evon Peter, a former chief of the Neetsaii Gwich’in Tribe from Arctic Village, Alaska, has also made waves as a result of an essay he released on Sept. 8 slamming Palin’s record.

“As Alaska governor, Palin has continued the path of her predecessor [Republican Gov.] Frank Murkowski in challenging attempts by Alaska Native people to regain their human right to their traditional way of life through subsistence,” he wrote.

Peter has quickly become a prominent voice for Alaska Natives who have expressed concerns on Palin’s support for energy development, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He noted in his essay that there is a connection between oil development and global warming, “which is wreaking havoc on Alaska Native villages, forcing some to begin the process of relocation at a cost sure to reach into the hundreds of millions.”

Peter, who said he plans to vote for Obama, told ICT that he’s worried American Indians may not delve deeply enough into Palin’s record when it comes to making an informed decision on who to vote for this fall.

Before Palin became McCain’s running mate, many political observers had expected that Obama would do well with Indian voters, especially considering his strong outreach to tribes during the election thus far.

Some Republican Natives have been quick to point to the fact that the governor’s husband, Todd Palin, as well as their five children, are of Yup’ik descent; and they are hopeful that these family ties could encourage positive policy developments if the McCain-Palin ticket is elected.

Palin herself campaigned for governor partially on the Native heritage of her family, saying in a letter from 2006 that she “so very much appreciate[s] Alaska’s First People, their proud heritage and diverse cultures so abundant in the communities throughout our state.”

The governor also wrote in the letter that she supported tribal economic development and fishing subsistence issues and believes in teaching traditional culture and languages in schools.

But Peter believes that Palin’s record – and not her past pledges – should be the main focus.

“It’s unfortunate that across America, our communities don’t tend to dig deeper into the actual decisions that different leaders have made in their previous offices. … My hope is that Native American people will be inspired to look into all candidates’ track records on the tribal, state and national level.”

Kendall-Miller said she believes Todd Palin “does not consider himself an Alaska Native,” saying he “is much more akin to seeing himself as a sports hunter.”

“I think [Gov. Palin] is using her husband’s Alaska Native heritage the way she is using her developmentally disabled baby to try to draw people in.”

The exact blood quantum of Todd Palin has not been verified by the McCain campaign, but some reports have indicated he could be as much as one-quarter Yup’ik.

Another issue raising ire for some Natives is that fact that Todd Palin worked for the British Petroleum oil company.

Despite the many critiques centered on Todd Palin, his mother, Blanche Palin, is respected by many Alaska Natives, and once served as secretary of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Palin’s gubernatorial and vice presidential spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on issues being raised by Natives about her record and family.

Don Bremner, a Tlingit tribal member, is one of the many Alaska Natives who are concerned that Palin’s familial connections could lead some Indian voters who would have normally voted for Obama to vote for the McCain ticket.

“It’s fine to call yourself Alaska Native and say you support Alaska Native issues,” said Bremner, an Obama supporter. “But there are things that go along with being Alaska Native – meaning you support the culture, you support the language, you support our hunting and fishing ways of life.

“Her administration hasn’t done any of that.”

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Alaskan Natives Speak Out Against Palin

By Evon Peter
evonpeter@mac.com
9/8/2008

My name is Evon Peter; I am a former Chief of the Neetsaii Gwich’in tribe from Arctic Village, Alaska and the current Executive Director of Native Movement. My organization provides culturally based leadership development through offices in Alaska and Arizona. My wife, who is Navajo, and I have been based out of Flagstaff, Arizona for the past few years, although I travel home to Alaska in support of our initiatives there as well. It is interesting to me that my wife and I find ourselves as Indigenous people from the two states where McCain and Palin originate in their leadership.

I am writing this letter to raise awareness about the ongoing colonization and violation of human rights being carried out against Alaska Native peoples in the name of unsustainable progress, with a particular emphasis on the role of Sarah Palin and the Republican leadership. My hope is that it helps to elevate truth about the nature of Alaskan politics in relation to Alaska Native peoples and that it lays a framework for our path to justice.

Ever since the Russian claim to Alaska and the subsequent sale to the United States through the Treaty of Cession in 1867, the attitude and treatment towards Alaska Native peoples has been fairly consistent. We were initially referred to as less than human “uncivilized tribes”, so we were excluded from any dialogues and decisions regarding our lands, lives, and status. The dominating attitude within the Unites States at the time was called Manifest Destiny; that God had given Americans this great land to take from the Indians because they were non-Christian and incapable of self-government. Over the years since that time, this framework for relating to Alaska Native peoples has become entrenched in the United States legislative and legal systems in an ongoing direct violation of our human rights.

What does this mean? Allow me to share an analogy. If a group of people were to arrive in your city and tell you their people had made laws, among which were:

1. What were once your home and land now belong to them (although you could live in the garage or backyard)

2. Forced you to send your children to boarding schools to learn their language and be acculturated into their ways with leaders who touted “Kill the American, save the man” (based on the original statement made by US Captain Richard H. Pratt in regards to Native American education “Kill the Indian, save the man.”)

3. Supported missionaries and government agents to forcefully (for example, with poisons placed on the tongues of your children and withheld vaccines) convince you that your Jesus, Buddha, Torah, or Mohammed was actually an agent of evil and that salvation in the afterlife could only be found through believing otherwise

4. Made it illegal for you to continue to do your job to support your family, except under strict oversight and through extensive regulation

5. Made it illegal for you to own any land or run a business as an individual and did not allow you to participate in any form of their government, which controlled your life (voting or otherwise)

How would this make you feel? What if you also knew that if you were to retaliate, that you would be swiftly killed or incarcerated? How long do you think it would take for you to forget or would you be sure to share this history with your children with the hope that justice could one day prevail for your descendents? And most importantly to our conversation, how American does this sound to you?

To put this into perspective, my grandfather who helped to raise me in Arctic Village was born in 1904, just thirty-seven years after the United States laid claim to Alaska. If my grandfather had unjustly stolen your grandfathers home and I was still living in the house and watching you live outdoors, would you feel a change was in order? Congress unilaterally passed most of the major US legislation that affect our people in my grandfathers’ lifetime. There has never been a Treaty between Alaska Native Peoples and the United States over these injustices. Each time that Alaska Native people stand up for our rights, the US responds with token shifts in its laws and policies to appease the building discontent, yet avoiding the underlying injustice that I believe can be resolved if leadership in the United States would be willing to acknowledge the underlying injustice of its control over Alaska Native peoples, our lands, and our ways of life.

United States legal history in relation to Alaska Natives has been based on one major platform – minimize the potential for Alaska Native people to regain control of their lives, lands, and resources and maximize benefit to the Unites States government and its corporations. While the rest of the world, following World War II, was seeking to return African and European Nations to their rightful owners, the United States pushed in the opposite direction by pulling the then Territory of Alaska out of the United Nations dialogues and pushing for Statehood into the Union. Why is it that Alaska Native Nations are still perceived as being incapable of governing our own lands, lives, and resources differently than African, Asian, and European nations?

Let me get specific about what is at stake and how this relates to Palin and the Republican leadership in Alaska and across this country. To this day, Alaska Native peoples are among the only Indigenous peoples in all of North America whose Indigenous Hunting and Fishing Rights have been extinguished by federal legislation and yet we are the most dependent people on this way of life. Most of our villages have no roads that connect them to cities; many live with poverty level incomes, and all rely to varying degrees on traditional hunting, fishing, and harvesting for survival. This has become known as the debate on Alaska Native Subsistence.

As Alaska Governor, Palin has continued the path of her predecessor Frank Murkowski in challenging attempts by Alaska Native people to regain their human right to their traditional way of life through subsistence.

The same piece of unilateral federal legislation, known as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, that extinguished our hunting and fishing rights, also extinguished all federal Alaska Native land claims and my Tribe’s reservation status. In the continental United States, this sort of legislation is referred to as ‘termination legislation’ because it takes the rights of self-government away from Tribes. It is based in the same age-old idea that we are not capable of governing our people, lands, and resources. To justify these terminations, ANCSA also created Alaska Native led forprofit corporations (which were provided the remaining lands not taken by the government and a one time payment the equivalent of about 1/20th of the annual profits made by corporations in Alaska each year) with a mission of exploiting the land in partnership with the US government and outside corporations. It was a brilliant piece of legislation for the legal termination and cultural assimilation of Alaska Natives under the guise of progress.

Since the passage of ANCSA, political leaders in Alaska, with a few exceptions, have maintained that, as stated by indicted Senator Ted Stevens, “Tribes have never existed in Alaska.” They maintain this position out of fear that the real injustice being carried out upon Alaska Natives may break into mainstream awareness and lead to a re-opening of due treaty dialogues between Alaska Native leaders and the federal government. At the same time the federal government chose to list Alaska Native tribes in the list of federally recognized tribes in 1993. Governor Palin maintains that tribes were federally recognized but that they do not have the same rights as the tribes in the continental United States to sovereignty and self-governance, even to the extent of legally challenging our Tribes rights pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act. What good are governments that can’t make decisions concerning their own land and people?

The colonial mentality in and towards Alaska is to exploit the land and resources for profits and power, at the expense of Alaska Native people. Governor Palin reflects this attitude and perspective in her words and leadership. She comes from an area within Alaska that was settled by relocated agricultural families from the continental United States in the second half of the last century. It is striking that a leader from that particular area feels she has a right, considering all of the injustices to Alaska Native people, to offer Alaskan oil and resources in an attempt to solve the national energy crisis at the Republican Convention. Palin also chose not to mention the connection between oil development and global warming, which is wreaking havoc on Alaska Native villages, forcing some to begin the process of relocation at a cost sure to reach into the hundreds of millions.

Our tribes depend on healthy and abundant land and animals for our survival. For example, my people depend on the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates into the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge each spring to birth their young. Any disruption and contamination will directly impact the health and capacity for my people to continue to live in a homeland we have been blessed to live in for over 10,000 years.

This is the sacrifice Palin offered to the nation. The worst part of it is that there are viable alternatives to addressing the energy crisis in the United States, yet Palin chooses options that very well may result in the extinguishment of some of the last remaining intact ecosystems and original cultures in all of North America. Palin is also promoting off shore oil drilling and increased mining in sensitive areas of Alaska, all of which would have a lifespan of far fewer years than my grandfather walked on this earth and which would not even make a smidgen of an impact on national consumption rates or longer term sustainability. McCain was once a champion of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and it is sad to see, that with Palin on board, he is no longer vocal and perhaps even giving up on what he believes in to satisfy Palin’s position.

While I have much more to say, this is my current offering to elevate the conversation about what is at stake in Alaska and for Alaska Native peoples. Please share this offering with others and help us to make this an election that brings out honest dialogue. We have an opportunity to bring lasting change, but only if we can be open to hearing the truth about our situations and facing the challenges that arise.

Many thanks to all those who are taking stands for a just and sustainable future for all of our future generations,

*This essay is a personal reflection and should not be attributed to my tribe or organization