Critique: Attorney General’s Advisory Committee report on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence

The Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to violence was created in 2013 based upon a recommendation from the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is anchored by an advisory committee consisting of federal and non-federal experts on the topic. Last month the advisory committee fulfilled its charge in publishing policy recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder that address issues around AI/AN children exposed to violence. These recommendations are contained in the advisory committee’s report published last month, Ending Violence So Children Thrive (click on the image below to access the pdf).
Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 9.48.38 PM

The advisory committee carried out four hearings and six listening sessions nationwide to learn from key practitioners, advocates, academicians, policy makers, and the public about the issue of AI/AN children exposed to violence in the U.S. The advisory committee was also directed to “gather information on promising and evidence-based practices that could benefit these children and their communities.”

There is a huge need for promising and evidence-based practices for violence prevention in AI/AN communities, reflected in grim statistics that show the vulnerability of AI/AN women and children to physical and sexual violence. And yet research about the violence faced by AI/AN children remains incredibly sparse, making it difficult for tribes and urban Indian organizations to compete for grant funding for prevention and treatment efforts that are not “evidence based,” or to develop community-led interventions that do not simply rely on anecdotes and guesswork.

Ending Violence so Children Can Thrive contains 31 policy recommendations that cover a lot of terrain, spanning from a directive to establish a Native American Affairs Office within the White House Domestic Policy Council to calling on the Secretary of Health and Human Services to increase and support access to culturally appropriate behavioral health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services in AI/AN communities. The report states that “many tribal communities are developing and implementing culturally based prevention and intervention programs” yet most tribes “do not have the resources necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs” (p. 62).

The question then is, what difference can top-down policies actually make for families if so little remains known about what’s happening on the ground?

Despite having this understanding, many of the advisory committee’s policy recommendations are formed around the assumption that strengthening tribal jurisdiction and sovereignty are key to preventing violence exposure among AI/AN children. This assumption is most prominent in the report chapter focusing on Alaska, where four of the committee’s five policy recommendations have to do with Congress reinstating Indian Country in Alaska and providing financial support for tribes to develop their civil and criminal justice systems, including their own police forces. Most of these recommendations were lifted verbatim from the Indian Law and Order Commission’s 2013 Final Report. The thinking is that if tribes had a land base over which to exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction and a tribal police presence to enforce law, then Alaska Native children and communities would be safer.

The issue isn’t whether or not this should happen (tribes should decide for themselves) but the assumptions about what effect these changes in jurisdiction would actually have on reducing violence. The report points out that Alaska State Troopers have a full-time presence in less than half of the tribal communities, and that this inequitable access to justice can be mitigated by reinstating Indian Country. Yet access to justice and violence prevention are not synonymous. Criminal justice systems and police respond to violent crime (they’re usually reactionary, and that’s part of the problem), they don’t necessarily prevent it from happening.

And when it comes to issues like child sexual abuse, law enforcement and the courts are rarely in the picture because these crimes are hardly ever reported, even in the mainstream U.S. population. Nunavut, Canada provides a counterpoint to the advisory committee’s assumption that tribal police and justice systems will help prevent violence against children. RCMP officers have a full-time presence in each of Nunavut’s 25 communities, yet the crime rate in that majority Inuit jurisdiction has doubled since the territory was created.

Screen shot 2014-12-07 at 10.45.13 PM Nunavut public defenders will tell you that preventing violence against children in this jurisdiction where almost half the population has experienced child sexual abuse, is much more complex than whether or not there’s a police presence in town. In the words of public defender Mandy Sammurtok:

So we’ve got this individual who has grown up thinking that that life is normal. And then we’ve got a system where there’s no treatment available for an individual. There’s no substance abuse treatment available. There’s no mental health treatment, and we also live in little fish bowls where basically the RCMP know everything that’s going on. And that’s fine; it’s good to be safe in a community. So, you’ve got a person who has lived this life and a lot of times, a lot of my clients say, “Oh yeah, and Mandy, uncle whoever” or “that guy down the street, he molested me.” That’s, a lot of times where this is going in a lot of my clients’ lives. And I say it all the time: my client, although he has a victim, he’s also a victim. There are no services available for my client. He didn’t have anywhere to go before he got to the court system. I would always hope that the justice system would be the last stop for an individual. But unfortunately in Nunavut, the justice system is the first stop (Nunavut Tunngavik, Inc., 2014).

Yet in Alaska, the assumption that reinstating Indian Country will make Alaska Native communities safer seems to be gaining traction among Alaska Native tribes. This despite the fact that, as the committee’s own report acknowledges, lower 48 tribal law enforcement has always been chronically underfunded. The advisory committee’s report states that “There is a vital connection between inherent Tribal sovereignty and protecting AI/AN children” (p. 43). This connection is easier to see when it comes to strengthening child tribal protection systems, providing greater Indian Child Welfare Act oversight, and securing mandatory rather than discretionary federal funding for tribal violence prevention programs — all issue addressed in the advisory committee’s policy recommendations. These are defensible recommendations, and Ending Violence so Children Can Thrive advances important messaging about the need for trauma informed care, research, and partnership building.

However the argument that reinstating Indian Country in Alaska and beefing up tribal law enforcement and tribal justice systems will prevent violence against children is more political ploy than solution. It is important to push back on this assumption if we hope to seriously address the pandemic of physical and sexual violence too many of our Alaska Native children are experiencing. We need only look at Canadian Inuit communities that have had a full-time police presence for decades to know that the issues run much deeper. Alaska Native communities do need law enforcement, and empowering tribes to take on this responsibility seems to be the most viable solution. But it is misleading and irresponsible to overstate the role of law enforcement and the courts in preventing violence and other social challenges.

Keeping the focus on real issues, such as the huge gaps in research, mental health services and support and housing that exist in the state, is a start.

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Store-bought food prices in Greenland

I was in Greenland this past May and had the opportunity to visit a few grocery stores in Nuuk and Sisimiut. Just as in rural Alaska and Canada, store-bought foods are flown into Greenlandic communities, mostly from Denmark ostensibly by way of Kangerlussuaq (the main international flight hub) or Nuuk (the largest town and capital). The cost of store-bought foods is therefore more expensive than in mainland Denmark where ground transportation is possible.

As I have discussed in past posts, store-bought foods are extremely expensive in much of rural Alaska and Canada. While we know that high store-bought food prices contribute to a high percentage of food insecure households in Nunavut, Canada, little remains known about household food security in rural Alaska Native communities.

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”.

I took pictures of store-bought foods in Sisimiut that are generally regarded as nutritious, such as potatoes, bread, eggs and meats, as well as a few non-food items such as dish soap and diapers. The store, Brugseni, also sold beer, wine and spirits, and had a bakery. The foods I chose were selected at random.

Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest town about 200 miles north of Nuuk with a population of 5,600. It is accessible only by air and water.

I’ve converted the food prices from Danish Kroner to U.S. dollars and the units from kilograms to pounds. In general, store-bought food prices at Brugseni  (those shown here) and at the three main grocery stores in Nuuk are lower than those I have seen in other Inuit communities like Kotzebue, Barrow and Iqaluit, at least after conversion.

There are probably other factors at play such as local and national taxes and minimum wage that likely distort store-bought food costs in the context of this country and community, but it would seem to behoove policy makers to learn more about Greenland’s food distribution policies.

Efforts to subsidize the cost of store-bought foods in Northern Canada have failed, and perhaps future posts on this blog will explore how the Government of Greenland subsidizes store-bought food costs in its communities, if at all.


IMG_4698
“100% Greenlandic owned”

IMG_4776Brugseni in Sisimiut

IMG_4748Red onion, $3.60/2.2 Ibs

IMG_4752Celery, $1.89/.77 Ibs

IMG_4750Potatoes, $20.24/5.5 Ibs

IMG_4753Danish cucumber, $4.50

IMG_4754Iceberg lettuce, $6.30

IMG_4755Pink Lady apples (8), $7.20

IMG_4756Watermelon, $9.89

IMG_4757Bagged avocados (2), $1.89/.78 Ibs

IMG_4758Single avocado, $1.62

IMG_4759Kernel rye bread loaf, $4.68

IMG_4760Market rye bread loaf, $5.00

Small pork chops (6), $9.63

Cubed lean beef, $10.73/1 Ib

Rib eye, $12.87/.8 Ib

IMG_4764Roast beef, $21.49/2 Ib

Ground beef, $5.58/1.2 Ib

Eggs (10), $5.31

IMG_4767Milk, roughly $8 per gallon (1 gallon = 3.7 liters)

IMG_4768Toilet paper (4 rolls), $7.90

IMG_4769
Toilet paper (6 rolls), $5.39

IMG_4770Dish soap, $2.25/25.4 oz

IMG_4771Dish soap, $7.18/42.25 oz

IMG_4774Diapers (40), $17.98

IMG_4775Diapers (56), $26.79

IMG_4780Bakery

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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

 

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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.

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