Angela Gonzalez, Indigenous Communications Manager for First Alaskans Institute, left, Andrea Sanders, director of its Native Policy Center, center, and Liz Medicine Crow, President/CEO of First Alaskans, speak at the Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Angela Gonzalez, Indigenous Communications Manager for First Alaskans Institute, left, Andrea Sanders, director of its Native Policy Center, center, and Liz Medicine Crow, President/CEO of First Alaskans, speak at the Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Native Issues Forum addresses racism in Alaska

In 2017, Chris Apassingok of Gambell made a remarkable strike on a whale, helping bring home thousands of pounds of meat in the annual subsistence hunt from St. Lawrence Island.

He was excoriated by animal-rights activists ignorant of subsistance hunting practices and hailed by supporters of traditional Native lifestyles.

On Thursday, his mother was present in Juneau as Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska held its final Native Issues Forum of the spring. The hourlong discussion, taking place with the help of First Alaskans Institute, was devoted to addressing racism in Alaska.

“What we’re trying to achieve is a process by which we transform the way we as a society view each other,” said First Alaskans President and CEO Liz Medicine Crow.

Speaking to an audience of nearly 100 people in Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, she said the goal is a “truth and reconciliation” process akin to ones undertaken in Canada and South Africa.

Alaska, she said, needs a “truth, racial healing and transformation movement” because it’s starting farther back than Canada and South Africa: Many Alaskans don’t understand that a problem exists. Alaskans, unlike people in other countries, haven’t reached consensus that there is a problem.

“That’s not the history of this country, nor is it the history of this state,” she said.

According to figures from the Alaska Section of Vital Statistics, Alaska Native infants are more than three times likely to die than white infants. Alaska Natives are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems and die earlier than white Alaskans. Alaska Natives are more likely to be poor and suffer from inadequate nutrition.

Many of the problems that affect Native communities today are the result of past events. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. federal government, Alaska territorial government and religious organizations deliberately suppressed Native culture and traditional organizations in favor of institutions modeled on those in the Lower 48 and Europe.

In Gambell, for example, school district employees are permitted only five days for subsistence hunting: Not enough to pursue walrus or whales that might be hundreds of miles distant, and not enough to gather other kinds of food.

Over the next few years, Medicine Crow said, First Alaskans Institute will be embarking on an effort to identify problems and suggest solutions to them. Those will lead to a list of recommendations to be submitted to state officials.

On Thursday, some of the first steps in that process involved simply sitting in groups and writing things down: problems, goals, potential solutions and strategies.

“All of you are going to help us flesh out this strategy so we can launch a TRHT strategy in Alaska,” said Andrea Sanders, Native Policy Director for First Alaskans.

Sanders said the idea is to not just have a discussion and make a few changes, to create a “blip,” but to create a movement that permanently changes how Alaskans think about racial issues.

Medicine Crow said similar discussions in South Africa and Canada haven’t been a universal cure-all, even after years of work.

“They’re still struggling with the same thing. What will happen here differently?” she said.

Nevertheless, she said, it’s worth trying.

“But if we do nothing, what will change?”

 


 

• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.

 


 

More in News

FILE - Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Sweeney's campaign manager said, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, that the campaign did not plan to sue over a finding released by Alaska elections officials stating that she cannot advance to the special election for U.S. House following the withdrawal of another candidate. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen, File)
Alaska Supreme Court ruling keeps Sweeney off House ballot

In a brief written order, the high court said it affirmed the decision of a Superior Court judge.

President Joe Biden signs into law S. 2938, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. First lady Jill Biden looks on at right. (AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday.

Three people were arrested over several days in a series of events stemming from a June 16 shoplifting incident, with a significant amount of methamphetamine seized. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Shoplifting investigation leads to arrests on drug charges

Significant amounts of drugs and loose cash, as well as stolen goods, were found.

Ben Gaglioti, an ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, stands next to a mountain hemlock tree damaged in winter on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska. (Courtesy Photos / Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Bonsai trees tell of winters long past

By Ned Rozell A GREEN PLATEAU NORTH OF LITUYA BAY — “These… Continue reading

This photo shows a return envelope from the recent special primary election for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. On Friday, a judge sided with the state elections office on a decision to omit fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney from ballots in the special general election. Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, dropped out of the race, creating confusing circumstances ahead of Alaska's first ranked choice vote. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Judge rules Sweeney wont advance to special election

Decision has Sweeney off the ballot for special election.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, June 25, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 19

Here’s what to expect this week.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Peter Froehlich, a retired Juneau district judge who is now a volunteer tour guide, explains the history of the history of the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ in the State Office Building to a group of visitors Thursday. The organ has been idle since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now needs repairs before regular Friday lunchtime concerts and other performances on the 94-year-old instrument can resume.
Historic organ is in need of tuneup

How much it will cost and who will do it remain up in the air.

Candidate for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday, May 16, 2022, and sat down with the Empire for an interview. A lawsuit filed Thursday challenges a decision to omit Sweeney from ballots in the upcoming Aug. 16 special election. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in House race

The lawsuit says the Division of Elections misinterpreted state law.

Most Read