Summary: first report of the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council

Background

This post summarizes the first report of the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council in order to give readers an overview of the findings and recommendations made by this newly established body. The Council’s recommendations bulleted below are paraphrased summaries – not the verbatim recommendations made by the Council.

In May 2012, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell signed Senate Bill 130 into law, establishing the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council. The Council’s seven members were appointed by Gov. Parnell five months later. Council members serve three year terms. Council members are as follows:

  • Alaska State Senator Donald Olson (Inupiaq) of Golovin
  • Alaska State Representative Benjamin Nageak (Iñupiaq) of Barrow
  • Annette Evans Smith (Council Chair – Athabaskan, Yup’ik and Alutiiq) of the Alaska Native Heritage Center
  • April Laktonen-Counceller (Vice Chair – Alutiiq) of Kodiak College
  • Delores Churchill (Haida) of the University of Alaska Southeast
  • Yaayuk Alvanna-Stimfle (Inupiaq) of the Kawerak Eskimo Heritage Program
  • Walkie Charles (Yup’ik) of the Alaska Native Language Center at UAF

The purpose of the Council is to “recommend the establishment or reorganization of programs to support the preservation, restoration, and revitalization of Alaska Native languages” by advising the governor and legislature on programs, policies, and projects to provide for the “cost-effective preservation, restoration, and revitalization of Alaska Native languages in the state” (p. 4).

The Council published its first report (which you can find here) to the governor and legislature last week, which it is required to do every two years. The report provides a general overview of Alaska Native language status and revitalization efforts, and includes five policy recommendations to the governor and legislature. A summary of the report’s recommendations and findings are bulleted below.

The Council has met 11 times since members were appointed in October 2012. Council members developed a strategic plan in early 2014 that focuses on: 1) funded educational opportunities, 2) research, 3) planning to implement recommendations, 4) work with partners, and 5) ensure sustainability of the Council.

Council members have begun forming partnerships across the state, including with the Alaska Native Language Center and Alaska Native Heritage Center. It has carried out education and outreach at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention and First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference. The Council has also met with other language stakeholder organizations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

The Council carried out a 33 question online survey between 2013 and 2014, completed by 131 participants representing 65 communities. 90 percent of respondents said they want to learn an Alaska Native language, 80 percent of parents would enroll their kids in a language program and 97 percent of parents would participate in a language program with their children. 85 percent of survey participants know someone who wants to learn to speak, read and/or write an Alaska Native language. Only 50 percent indicated that there is a language program in their community.

Recommendations

  • The Council found research data on Alaska Native language status lacking or outdated, hindering “the formation of innovative solutions to Alaska Native language loss” (p. 10). Policy makers and leaders in Alaska need up-to-date data on language status, speaker numbers, and effective policies and programs. Alaska Native community members also need more information about learning opportunities in their own and other regions of the state.

    Recommendation 1: The Council wants a legislative grant it can use to conduct a comprehensive update of speaker numbers and language status around the state, citing the fact that the Council is working with outdated fluent speaker counts. Council members also want to use this grant to expand and continue research on existing and effective language programs in Alaska which along with Alaska Native Language Center research will be added to an online, comprehensive database.

  • Many Alaska Natives who wish to learn or teach their languages are not aware of learning opportunities or resources through which to do so. These communication and information gaps should be addressed through a concerted statewide effort.

    Recommendation 2: the Council recommends a two-year, public information awareness campaign modeled on Gov. Parnell’s controversial “Choose Respect,” anti-domestic violence campaign. The purpose of the public information awareness campaign would be to “utilize paid and no-cost efforts to share information with the public about the importance of Alaska Native language learning and revitalization” (p. 11). Phase 1 of the campaign would involve Council staff researching, surveying and determining public perceptions and information needs regarding Native language revitalization, restoration and preservation. Phase 2 would identify the campaign’s target audiences in order to “increase awareness of the Council and Alaska Native language programs, increase the desire to learn an Alaska Native language, build partnerships, and facilitate information sharing for the community online database” (p. 12). The Council would later “determine if the information campaign was successful in reaching the intended target audience, key messages understood and feedback provided.”

  • The Council observed that there is no central clearinghouse of information for policy makers, leaders, organizations, or learners to access information about language learning programs, hindering information-sharing and collaboration throughout the state. The Council found vast program differences between regions and few opportunities for inter-Alaska Native collaboration on language issues.

    Recommendation 3: The Council recommends funding for sponsorship of a statewide language summit at the Alaska Native Heritage Center; it also recommends funding to expand the Division of Community and Regional Affairs’ Community Database Online to include information about Alaska Native language statistical information and programs. The purpose of the summit would be to “allow individual regions a greater level of agency to enact region-specific language planning efforts” through information sharing about success stories (p. 15). The Council believes that such collaboration “will encourage communities to take a  leadership role in the activities and initiatives that work best for their location” (p. 15). The purpose of the Community Database would be to “serve as an information clearinghouse for information on regional language statistics, speakers, programs, learning materials, and funding” (p. 16). The website would allow users to submit additional information about their own programs and community efforts as well as to access language learning resources.

  • The Council found large discrepancies between existing language education policy and actual language learning opportunities in schools, as well as variance in resources allocation and access to learning opportunities across the state. The Council cites AS 14.30.420 as its primary example, a state statute from 2000 that “mandates that school districts with a majority of students who are Alaska Native shall establish a local Native language curriculum advisory board” to direct district language initiatives (p. 20).
  • Of the 54 school districts in Alaska, 28 school districts are majority Alaska Native yet only five are in compliance with this statute.
  • The Council also heard testimony about the lack of sufficient funds to support language education in schools and the corresponding need for families, schools, and communities to collaborate to achieve quality language instruction. Survey respondents expressed concern that parents and schools were not providing enough educational opportunities or tools to teach younger generations to learn Alaska Native languages (p. 18).  The Council also cited challenges related to teacher certification given that the majority of fluent speakers are elders.

    Recommendation 4: The Council recommends expansion of Alaska Statute 14.30.420. It wishes to research the statutory threshold of requiring individual, majority Alaska Native schools to comply with the law because there are often majority Native schools within majority white school districts. This would “increase the number of schools that benefit from having a Native language advisory board, and potentially, a Native language curriculum” as required by AS. 14.30.420. The Council also intends to help bring more school districts into compliance with the statute by working with the Alaska Department of Education and state policy makers to educate districts about the statute.

  • The Council found that language speakers’ traumatic experiences with assimilatory policies and language shaming continue to be a barrier to language revitalization. There is a “need for open dialogue and reconciliation within communities and at all levels of the state” (p. 23). Because of the role that governments and policy makers have played in language erosion, “it is reasonable to expect that policy makers participate in the creation of an environment conducive to reconciliation” (p. 24).

    Recommendation 5: The Council recommends the establishment of an annual state holiday, Alaska Native Languages Day, on April 21 (the anniversary of HB 216, the April 2014 bill that symbolically elevates Alaska Native languages to official languages alongside English). The Council also recommends that communities and regions work with the Alaska Historical Commission to collaborate on increasing the number of official Alaska Native language place names approved by the U.S. Geological Survey. Finally, the Council commits itself to continue to hear and record testimony at public events as a way of spreading awareness about the history of language suppression and to promote healing.

Conclusion

The Council believes that despite rapid, ongoing Alaska Native language shift, “well-planned and well-implemented language programs can reverse the trend” (p. 25). Council members believe that their recommendations, if enacted, “would improve the feasibility of future efforts for language revitalization in our state” and “aid policy makers, regions, communities, and families in their interconnected efforts” by “fostering an environment conducive to language use and revitalization throughout communities” (p. 26).

1 Comment

Filed under Author: aqukkasuk

Groundbreaking Supreme Court of Canada ruling recognizes legitimacy of Aboriginal title

In an historic first today, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation’s Aboriginal title claim to 1,750 square kilometres (1,087 square miles) of territory in interior British Columbia. The unanimous ruling sets a new legal precedent in Canada, where the Supreme Court has never granted a declaration of Aboriginal title to a First Nation until today.

From APTN:

The Supreme Court found that British Columbia breached its fiduciary duty to consult with the Tsilhqot’in and that it had no economic justification for issuing logging permits in the claimed territory, which sparked the over two-decade battle. The province was argued that it stood to benefit economically from logging in the claimed area and also that it needed to stop the spread of a mountain pine beetle infestation.

Aboriginal title can be  loosely understood as a form of land title based on historic use and occupancy. In this ruling the Supreme Court is recognizing pre-contact Tsilhqot’in land use and occupancy as a legitimate basis for contemporary land ownership.

“The doctrine of terra nullius [that no one owned the land prior to European assertion of sovereignty] never applied in Canada,” the court states in its 8-0 ruling.

Aboriginal title is what was legally extinguished in Alaska by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in exchange for a land settlement and cash. The same is true of the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Legally extinguishing a people’s Aboriginal title erases any future legal claim to land based on historic land use and occupancy.

The ruling will give the Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations whose Aboriginal title has not been legally extinguished important legal leverage from which to negotiate with encroaching extractive industries. This seems to have been a major impetus for the ruling.

From the Globe and Mail:

The Supreme Court elaborated in some detail on how government, resource companies and aboriginal communities with title claims could try to work things out in the new era of aboriginal title. It said government needs a compelling purpose to intrude, and its purpose must be considered from the aboriginal perspective, not just that of the wider public. Ultimately, intrusions will be judged on how they serve reconciliation between aboriginal peoples and the wider population.

At a 1969 hearing, the Iñupiaq leader Eben Hopson pointed out the absurdity of Indigenous peoples having to bear the burden of proving, to colonial regimes and courts, that we have title to our lands based on historic use and occupancy.

Mr. Chairman, when we were in Washington four months ago you asked us to answer a number of questions, one of these related to “unproven aboriginal title”. In the first instance, the words unproven aboriginal title is a misconception. There is no such a thing as unproven aboriginal title. The mere fact that you say “aboriginal” implies that someone was there before you were. 

Nevertheless, it is an important day for Canada. Congratulations to our Aboriginal Canadian friends.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author: aqukkasuk

HB 216 Alaska State House Democrat Minority Party Press Release

http://www.akdemocrats.org/

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 21, 2014

 

Legislature Makes Alaska Native Languages Official State Languages

 

JUNEAU – Just after 3:00 a.m. this morning, the Alaska Legislature approved legislation (HB 216) making each of the Native languages in Alaska an official language of the state. The Alaska Senate voted 18-2 to approve the measure today in front of dozens of supporters. A spontaneous grassroots sit-in involving well over 100 people started at noon in the Capitol and lasted until 3 a.m. The measure has had tremendous public support throughout the process, including rare applause from supporters in both the Senate and House galleries and impromptu celebrations in the Capitol hallways as the bill moved through the committee process.

 

“In this late hour, on the night of Easter, we are excited to bear witness to the Alaska Senate passing this history-making bill to officially recognize our Alaska Native languages in the state they were birthed in,” said Elizabeth Medicine Crow, CEO of First Alaskans Institute.

 

“Today, we recognize Alaska Native languages as Alaska’s languages,” said Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. “This is not my bill or any other legislator’s bill. This belongs to the Alaskans in the Capitol and across the state who gave their Easter Sunday to see HB 216 passed into law. This bill belongs to the people.”

 

“Through this long day, we stood in unity for our dearly departed, our grandchildren that are to come, our elders who give us strength, and one another,” said Lance Twitchell, a Native language professor at the University of Alaska Southeast. “We stood for our languages and equality, and at long last we succeeded.”

 

The bipartisan legislation is prime sponsored by Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), Representative Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage), Representative Benjamin Nageak (D-Barrow), Representative Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham), and Representative Bob Herron (D-Bethel), and has 18 other cosponsors in the House.

 

“The passage of HB216 by Alaska’s Legislature is a timely victory for language preservation in our state—nineteen of our twenty Alaska Native languages have been identified as critically endangered of becoming extinct in our state, and the remaining one is listed as endangered.  It is critical that all Alaskans take proactive measures now to strengthen our indigenous languages. Through well-planned and implemented programs, we can reverse this declining trend together,” said Annette Evans Smith, President and CEO of the Alaska Native Heritage Center and chair of the Alaska Native Languages Preservation and Advisory Committee.

 

In current state law, English is Alaska’s only official language. This bill expands the list to include Iñupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Unangax̂, Dena’ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich’in, Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Hän, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. Passage of the bill will not require public signs and documents to be printed in multiple languages, and it will create no additional costs to the state.

 

“Native culture enriches the lives of Alaskans in so many ways,” said Millett. “Naming Alaska’s twenty indigenous languages as official languages of the state of Alaska demonstrates our respect and admiration for their past, current, and future contributions to our state.”

 

“This legislation will highlight the importance of revitalizing the rich cultural legacy inherent in Alaska Native languages,” said Edgmon, chair of the Bush Caucus. “We recently celebrated our 50th year of statehood. In another 50 years I would like to see the many languages of our first Alaskans playing a vibrant role in the lives of people all over the state.”

 

“This vote recognizes the past, encourages the present, and secures the future of our earliest Alaska languages, said Herron.

 

“Uum alerquutem ikayurciqaakut tamanritlerkaaun yugtun qaneryararput [This law will help our future through the preservation of our languages], said Alaska Federation of Natives Co-Chair Ana Hoffman, first in Central Yup’ik.

 

“We are thrilled that this bill passed. Alaska Native languages are cornerstones of our cultures, and this bill recognizes their importance. Many thanks to the legislators who voted for this recognition, and also to the educators and culture bearers who championed the legislation,” said Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

“We applaud Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins and the State Legislature in acting to reverse historical assimilation policies that have sought to suppress Native languages.  The legislation is further significant in that it is a clear statement of the state’s recognition of cultural and linguistic diversity that represent one of our state’s greatest resources and is a major boost to ongoing language revitalization efforts,” said Rosita Kaaháni Worl Ph.D., president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

“I want to thank Representative Kreiss-Tomkins for starting the process of the passage of this bill. We, the co-sponsors, feel this bill will be a positive and long overdue formal legislative recognition of all the Native languages still spoken in this great state of ours and the people who still speak their own language,” said Nageak.

 

“Aarigaa, uvluluataq uvlupak. Una Pitquraq aquqtugumaaqtaqput piqpagnaqtuq Alaskam Inuqqaanginnun. Iluqaisa ataullugit Inuqqaangisa Alaskam uqausingat  atugaisuli. Uvagut Atanauruagut Alaskam Govamangata tavra taamna pitquraq inilakkipput. [Very good, this is a good day. This bill we are considering is highly regarded to the First People of Alaska. All of the languages of the First People of Alaska used in our long history are still in use today.  We want to preserve that.  We in the House of Representatives will collaboratively pass this bill.], said Nageak, first in Inupiaq, of which he is a fluent speaker.

 

“It’s a great day for Alaska when our legislature makes this gesture of respect and appreciation for Alaska’s Native people and their languages, which are in need of our encouragement and support, since numbers of speakers are on the decline,” said Lawrence D. Kaplan, director, Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Our Native languages originated in Alaska and developed here along with the cultures that they represent.  These languages are truly, uniquely Alaskan, and we at the Alaska Native Language Center are happy to hear that they have been honored in this way.  It’s another first for Alaska, since with the exception of Hawaii, no state has seen fit to recognize their indigenous languages in this way.  A big vote of thanks goes to our legislature that gave up Easter Sunday to serve our state.”

 

The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Author: alaskaindigenous

HB 216: Official Languages of the State Has Passed Into Alaska State Law April 21st 2014

Every Alaska Native language will now be recognized as official languages of the State of Alaska in addition to English.  The lone precedent is Hawai’i, which recognizes Hawai’ian as official in addition to English via constitutional convention in 1987.  Many, many people worked very hard to get this bill through the 28th Alaska State Legislature, which will adjourn today or very early tomorrow morning.

Hezoonh.  It is good.

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20140421/passionate-believers-native-heritage-prod-legislators-recognize-languages

http://www.ktoo.org/2014/04/21/alaska-native-languages-bill-passes-15-hour-sit/

http://www.adn.com/2014/04/20/3434157/natives-protest-lack-of-movement.html?sp=/99/100/&ihp=1

http://www.newsminer.com/news/politics/legislature-passes-bill-honoring-alaska-native-languages/article_e2823124-c95f-11e3-aa4e-001a4bcf6878.html

http://juneauempire.com/local/2014-04-21/waiting-it-out#.U1Vdkl4hGIY

 

1 Comment

Filed under Author: alaskaindigenous

Food Security in the North pt. 2: how to win the subsistence debate

Last year I wrote a post about food security in Inuit Nunangat, focusing on the Kuskokwim king salmon closure in Southwest Alaska by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 60 Yup’ik fishermen faced misdemeanor charges for fishing in defiance of the closure. In May 2013, 25 defendants made a religious argument to justify their actions in an Alaska State District Court, arguing that fishing for king salmon “is inextricably linked to the spiritual core of the Yup’ik people who inhabit the region.” Not surprisingly, the the judge ruled in favor of a compelling state interest to ensure continued king salmon runs, trumping the religious argument.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

This case is the latest high-profile iteration of the subsistence debate that’s been raging off and on in Alaska for the last several decades. This is because in Alaska, country food harvesting is governed by state and federal regulations rather than local indigenous management regimes. With the exception of marine mammal hunting, non-Natives generally have the same right of access to fish and game as Natives. This means that a non-Native from Anchorage visiting the Northwest Arctic to hunt caribou – with the proper permits and tags – has the same right of access as an Iñupiaq whose family’s food security may depend on a good caribou harvest in any given year.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

This system contrasts with fish and game management in Nunavut, Canada, where Inuit self-manage country food harvests (including the setting and enforcing of animal harvest quotas) through community-based Hunting and Trapping Organizations and are not required to buy permits.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

The top-down system of federal and state management of country food harvesting in Alaska is supposed to ensure equal access to resources under the state Constitution for all Alaskans – regardless of race – but it ignores the fact that many Alaska Native families are starting from an unequal place when it comes to quality of education, income and cost of living.

Yet for decades, Alaska Native peoples have failed to adequately make this case in the fight for self-regulation of country food harvesting. In the past, the Alaska Federation of Natives has pushed for an amendment to the Constitution recognizing some form of Alaska Native preference when it comes to accessing fish and game on state lands. But these efforts have failed, in part, because arguments justifying supposedly preferential treatment of Alaska Natives have largely focused on cultural differences rather than more palpable differences in social and economic circumstance.

The Kuskokwim closure religious defense represents a continuation of this strategy, which rests on the assumption that the dominating non-Native society is at least sympathetic to, if not capable of empathizing with the cultural and historical significance of Native self-management.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

These concepts are too abstract for many non-Natives to grasp for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here, which makes gaining statewide support difficult if not impossible. I propose an advocacy approach for self-management and a Constitutional amendment that instead focuses exclusively on food security and economics.

The food security status of Alaska Natives is a gaping hole in this ongoing debate. This is because there are hardly any data about the food security status of Alaska Native peoples as a whole, never mind specific regions like the Southwest and the Northwest Arctic where food prices are highest and educational attainment and median household incomes lowest.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Data from Nunavut and other parts of Canada where social and economic conditions are similar to certain regions of Alaska show us that these and other factors are a recipe for food insecure households.

The World Health Organization defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

Source: Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. Research to identify policy options to reduce food  insecurity (PROOF). (2013). Household food insecurity in Canada 2011. Retrieved from  http://nutritionalsciences.lamp.utoronto.ca/.

Source: Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. Research to identify policy options to reduce food
insecurity (PROOF). (2013). Household food insecurity in Canada 2011. Retrieved from
http://nutritionalsciences.lamp.utoronto.ca/.

Data about Inuit and indigenous food security in Canada has garnered international attention, and forced political leaders at the federal and territorial levels to address the high cost of living in the North, as well as the myriad factors that contribute to poverty and food insecure households.

In Alaska, I suspect that food insecurity is highest in Southwest and Northwest Alaska – incidentally the two regions that harvest the largest share of country foods. In these regions, the cost of energy and store bought foods is highest, and educational attainment and median household incomes are lowest.

For example, the median household income in the Northwest Arctic Borough is $59,893 compared to $69,014 for the state as a whole – a difference of nearly $10,000. And in the Arctic, nearly twice as many people live in poverty (about 20% of the region’s population). As the pictures I’ve posted from Kotzebue (the region’s largest and most inexpensive community) testify, the cost of living in the Northwest Arctic is staggering.

Gathering food security data from these and other regions would show that many Alaska Native communities depend on country foods  in order to access “sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” Food security data would reveal that without country foods, life in rural Alaska would be economically impossible for many, and that for most families traditional foods are a cheaper, more nutritious alternative to processed store-bought foods.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Food security data would give the Alaska Native community a stronger platform from which to negotiate enshrining self-management of fish and game or at least an Alaska Native harvesting preference in the state Constitution. This information would be most useful in cases similar to the 2012 Kuskokwim subsistence closure, where the state showed its ineptitude at managing king salmon runs and forced many Yupiit families to carry the economic burden of that mismanagement. Instead of abstract cultural arguments, such data could be used to emphasize the need for Alaska Native self-management and/or priority harvesting in order to ensure that families have access to an adequate supply of food.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Such a move could easily be justified as a public health measure and would be far less politically controversial than religious or cultural arguments. The case could then be made that in the long-run, Alaska Native self-management of fish and game harvests increase economic self-reliance and decrease dependence on so-called “entitlements.”  This message would appeal to Alaska’s Republican majority. 

This change of strategy needs to come from the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state’s largest Alaska Native advocacy organization, and other Alaska Native advocacy organizations capable of leveraging research on this and other issues. For decades, Alaska Native organizations’ strategy on achieving greater Alaska Native autonomy over country food harvesting has not changed, and has not worked.

The way arguments are framed matters. Food security, human rights and public health are politically more difficult to deny than abstract religious or cultural rights. This is why Alaska Native organizations need to take the lead in researching and documenting the food security status of Alaska Native communities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author: aqukkasuk

The Arctic resource rush, enviros and Inuit poverty

A Foreign Policy Association blogpost last month points out one of the great ironies of Arctic environmental activism: the fact that all too often, environmentalists seek justice for the environment and animals like polar bears while Inuit and other indigenous peoples living in the Arctic are left out of the conversation. “Polar bears need icebergs and beluga whales need oceans free of sonar waves, to be sure,” the post’s author observes, but “people also need affordable food and warm homes – topics less news-friendly, but just as critical, to the future of the Arctic.”

Just last week Nunatsiaq News published two articles highlighting Nunavik’s severe health disparities and the staggering level of food insecurity in Nunavut. The data published in these studies and in others I’ve highlighted elsewhere in this blog paint a pretty grim picture of life in many Inuit communities, including in Alaska.

As rapid climate change ushers in an accelerating Arctic resource rush, these and other issues beg the question: will off-shore oil extraction and other “development” result in meaningful benefits to Inuit and other Arctic indigenous communities?

Indigenous peoples have always been told that we will benefit from resource extraction on our homelands, but our communities have generally received pennies on the dollar while more systemic challenges such as language shift, violence and suicide have continued unabated.

The financial success of multi-billion dollar Iñupiat-owned for profit corporations such as the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and NANA Regional Corporation has also not necessarily translated into action on issues such as household violence, child sexual abuse and educational attainment.
Screen shot 2013-08-03 at 11.10.13 PM

Inuit communities need jobs, education and money, but large-scale resource extraction hasn’t been and won’t be a panacea to these and other issues without forward-thinking leadership.

In May 2013, Greenpeace organized an indigenous peoples conference ahead of the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden. The result was “The Joint Statement of Indigenous Solidarity for Arctic Protection,”calling for, among other things, a ban on all offshore oil extraction. The response to the Statement and Greenpeace’s incursion into indigenous affairs has been thought provoking.

Portrait Of Hivshu RE Peary

Inuit organizations such as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Inuit Circumpolar Council have been vocal in their condemnation of Greenpeace, which they see as hijacking the indigenous voice to advance their own interests.

Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska president Jimmy Stotts warned that Greenpeace’s actions signify a “new wave of colonialism” and called Greenpeace’s incursion into indigenous affairs paternalistic.  “Moratoriums and sanctuaries that would lock up our homeland goes against what we have been striving to obtain for our people,” Stotts wrote in ICC’s most recent newsletter. “If there are to be moratoriums or sanctuaries they must be on our terms.”

Yet perhaps more paternalistic than Greenpeace’s move into indigenous affairs is a message from another Inuk, Canada’s Minister for Environment Leona Aglukkaq. Aglukkaq is from Nunavut and chairs the Arctic Council, and is promoting accelerated resource development in the North.

“The North is open for business. There are massive opportunities North of 60, in everything from natural resources to the service industry,” Aglukkaq stated in a June speech in Ottawa. There is an “untapped work force that, with targeted training, want to make a living an invest in local communities, because this is their home,” she continued.  

Aglukkaq is a member of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet. Under Harper’s leadership, Canada has experienced some of the most destructive environmental policies in modern Canadian history and  seen the largest mobilization of indigenous peoples against a government ever through the Idle No More movement that swept North America. It is therefore disconcerting that the Harper government’s laissez faire approach to natural resource extraction is being promoted within the Arctic Council by Aglukkaq, who infamously rejected UN findings on indigenous food insecurity and threw her own people under the bus.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Inuit and other Arctic indigenous peoples find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place as we seek to balance the seemingly unstoppable forces of capitalism and multinational corporate greed pressing in on the one hand, with the needs of our people. These needs include things like housing, food security, educational attainment and job creation, as well as more complex needs such as spiritual and psychological healing from historical trauma, effective suicide prevention interventions, child sexual abuse prevention, and resources for survivors of sexual assault and household violence.

It is these human needs and human resource development that must be placed at the forefront of the Arctic resource rush, because meeting these needs is elemental to the future health and well-being of our people. Doing so requires being realistic about the degree to which resource extraction has helped Inuit realize our international human rights so far, and what needs to be on the table in order to ensure that the Arctic resource rush can be leveraged in the interest of meeting these basic needs in the future.

The “sustainable development” favored by ICC and other Inuit organizations will be futile unless the result is, in part, an equal investment in the human resource development of Inuit families and communities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author: aqukkasuk

Alaska and Public Law 280 and its Upcoming 60th Anniversary

Background Report on Public Law 280 – Prepared at the request of Henry M. Jackson, Chairman, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs United States Senate.  U.S. Government Printing Office Washington: March 18, 1975.

MEMORANDUM OF THE CHAIRMAN

To: Members of the Senate committee on Interior and Insular Affairs:

“During the 1950’s the national Indian policy sought to end or ‘terminate’ the Federal responsibility for, and special relationship with, Indian tribes.  The ultimate effect of this policy on Indian tribes would mean that all statutes pertaining to Indians would no longer be applicable; that the Federal programs and services provided to Indians solely on the basis of their status as Indians would cease; and that Federal protection would no longer be provided for Indian lands and other natural resources.

“It was during this era that Public Law 280 was adopted by the 83rd Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower on August 15, 1953.  The express purpose of this public law was to grant broad discretionary authority to the States to assume civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian reservations within their borders.  Prior to passage of Public Law 280, State jurisdiction over Indian reservations was prescribed by specific statutes approved by Congress or judicially recognized because of their involvement of non-Indians.  And jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters between Indians on their reservations was vested in either tribal governments or the Federal Government.

“The Public Law 280 legislation was approved by Congress in the face of strenuous Indian opposition and denied consent of the Indian tribes affected by the Act.  In its final form the statute gave five States civil and criminal jurisdiction over all but three tribes within those States, and gave the United States authority to grant similar jurisdiction to all other States.

“The Indian community viewed the passage of Public Law 280 as an added dimension to the dreaded termination policy.  Since the inception of its passage the statute has been criticized and opposed by tribal leaders throughout the Nation.  The Indians allege that the Act is deficient in that it failed to fund the States who assumed jurisdiction and as a result vacuums of law enforcement protection have occurred in certain Indian reservations and communities.  They contend further that the Act has resulted in complex jurisdictional problems for Federal, State and tribal governments.

“With this background the Committee requested the American Law Division of the Library of Congress to prepare a report on Public Law 280.  The Committee envisioned that the report would serve as an educational and informational document for the Indian community, Members of Congress and other interested individuals and organizations.  The Committee wishes to commend Mr. David M. Ackerman, legislative attorney, American Law Division, for his thorough legal research and preparation of the background paper.

“This report merits the study by all interested parties in this complex issue.  I am hopeful that it will stimulate fresh thinking and new approaches to the resolution of the many problems imposed on the Indian community, the States, and the Federal Government, by Public Law 280.

Henry M. Jackson, Chairman.”

“I have…signed it because its basic purpose represents still another step in granting complete political equality to all Indians in our Nation.

My objection to the bill arises because of the inclusion in it of sections 6 and 7.  These sections permit other States to impose on Indian tribes within their borders, the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the State, removing the Indians from Federal jurisdiction, and , in some instances, effective self-government.  The failure to include in these provisions a requirement of full consultation in order to ascertain the wishes and desires of the Indians and of final Federal approval, was unfortunate.  I recommend, therefore, that at the earliest possible time in the next session of the Congress, the act be amended to require such consultation with the tribes prior to the enactment of legislation subjecting them to State jurisdiction, as well as approval by the Federal Government before such legislation becomes effective.”

- President Dwight Eisenhower on signing Public Law 83-280 into law on August 18, 1953.

Public Law 280 would not be amended with some of President Eisenhower’s recommendations until 1968.  The 1968 amendments provide for retrocession of Public Law 280, which the state of Washington has recently done, allowing for tribes to re-assume civil and criminal jurisdiction after over 50 years of Public Law 280.

Public Law 280 would be amended in 1958 to include the Territory of Alaska, one year before statehood.  In 1970 Public Law 280 would be amended returning criminal jurisdiction to the Metlakatla Indian community, the only Indian Country in Alaska.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author: alaskaindigenous