Thursday, October 20, 2011

Racism Surfaces During 2011 Alaska Federation Of Natives Conference In Anchorage; Native-Plus Subsistence And Proposal To Ban Columbus Day Observance

The latent racism embedded within a part of the Alaska Native community surfaced during the first day of the 2011 Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, and manifested itself in the form of two controversial proposals. First, the AFN is calling for a “Native-plus” subsistence priority, which means that Alaska Natives would not only continue to get a subsistence priority in rural Alaska, where there is some supporting economic justification due to high commodity prices and scarce employment, but also in urban areas, where no such economic handicaps exist. It would take Congressional action to make this happen. This is an example of negative racism in which a group would get an undeserved benefit solely because of their race.

Second, the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents has introduced a resolution calling upon Alaska's congressional delegation to propose a national ban on Columbus Day celebration and, to add insult to injury, replace it with what they call a "holiday honoring the great Native American leaders who contributed to this country". They characterize Christopher Columbus as having engaged in "child molestation, the degradation of women, genocide and the enslavement of people", completely ignoring the faith and bravery that he and his crews showed in venturing forth on a voyage of discovery, which ultimately changed the Western Hemisphere. The Association's resolution is also an example of negative racism because it constitutes the deliberate attack upon and the suppression of a part of the history and culture of another race.

I have no intention of discussing Columbus Day at length in this post except to note that Columbus was responsive to the prevailing morality of his time, and that it is unfair and hypocritical to judge the actions of the past through the morality of the present. Those who want to read an eloquent defense of Columbus Day can visit The Political Cesspool website.

The rest of the first day's activities were more constructive. Some highlights (after the jump):

-- 2010 Iditarod champion John Baker, who is part Inupiaq, said that Alaska Natives collectively prevented a disaster by re-electing Lisa Murkowski to the U.S. Senate in 2010. He also told people to avoid wallowing in victimhood when things get difficult, telling the crowd that they're only victims if they allow themselves to be. Baker also responds to an Anchorage Daily News Q&A HERE.

-- Congressman Don Young, who was married to a Native woman, told the crowd that he looks forward to the day when an Alaska Native will get elected to Congress. However, he's not yet volunteering his seat; he plans to run for re-election in 2012 and in 2014. Alaska Dispatch provides a more detailed account of Congressman Young's speech.

-- The AFN Board of Directors recommended that Alaska Natives drop their political party affiliation, if they have one, and re-register as Undeclared. Their strategy is to gain access to the closed Republican primary and vote against Republican candidates they consider "too conservative". Undeclareds are allowed to vote in the Republican primary.

-- Senator Lisa Murkowski plans to hold a Senate hearing about the state's escalating youth suicide rates during the conference. The meeting will be a field hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

-- And here's a human interest story from KTUU Channel 2 about a group of Chignik women who are selling traditional foods from their area at the convention.

One prominent Alaska Native leader had a conflict and couldn't show up. Clarence Lee Alexander of Fort Yukon was at the White House receiving a Presidential Citizens Medal from Barack Obama. He was cited for his work to clean up the Yukon River. His efforts have led to the closure of open-burning dumps and the removal or recycling of millions of pounds of waste.

Here are a couple of photo galleries:

-- Anchorage Daily News photo gallery HERE.

-- KTUU Channel 2 photo gallery of AFN art and artists HERE.

The AFN Convention was preceded by a three-day Elders & Youth Conference from October 17-19, and cultural event called Quyana Night on the night of October 19th. Various singers and dancers performed in celebration of their cultures. The Convention itself will wrap up on Saturday October 22nd, when votes will be taken on all resolutions placed on the agenda. While the resolutions are non-binding, they do signal the collective will of the state's largest association of Alaska Natives. The AFN Convention alternates between Anchorage and Fairbanks; next year, it will be Fairbanks' turn once again.

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