Term Paper: Racial Issues Between White Americans and Native Alaskans

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Alaska Racial

One of the interesting things about stereotypes and prejudice based on racial issues is the relativity. Asian-Americans or blacks write about how difficult it is being raised in an all-white small-town community. Yet, the opposite is true as well, with a white living in a completely non-white community. My situation is a unique one, as well. I am a Filipino-American living in Alaska. Here, I am from a different racial background than both of the majorities -- white and native Alaskan. In another place and time, I may have been the individual who did not fit in. Yet, here in Alaska, if one had a draw a line with only two categories of races -- the whites who came to Alaska and the native Alaskans -- I would be placed in the "white" category. In Alaska, therefore, I socialize most with the whites. Yet, as an outsider, here only seven years, I am able to see both sides of a difficult racial situation.

About 86,000 of Alaska's 550,000 people are Native Americans. Natives constitute a small minority in cities, but they form the majority in the rural villages. Adults age 25 to 45 are the most abundant age group among Alaska's white population. These adults include many men who moved to Alaska for job or lifestyle reasons (Bureau of the Census, 1990).

The present racial issue in Alaska goes back generations and continues into the most recent times. In 1945, an anti-discrimination bill passed quickly through the Alaskan Congress in a vote of 19 to 5. When reaching the Senate, opposition arose. "Far from being brought closer together, which will result from this bill," Senator Allen Shattuck said, "the races should be kept further apart. Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind us?" Senator Frank Whaley did not want to sit next to Eskimos in a theater, because they smelled. Senator Collens stated, "The Eskimos are proud of their origins and are aware that harm comes to them from mixing with whites. It is the mixed, who is not accepted by either race that causes the trouble. I believe in racial pride and do not think this bill will do, other than arouse bitterness." The bill finally passed the Senate 11 to 5 (Pierce, 2001).

Today in Sitka, Alaska, where most of the natives are Tlingit, the senior generations tell stories that are very indicative of what occurred in the mainland United States against the blacks. In the 1950s and 1960s, the residents say there was "outright racial prejudice against native Americans (Robinson). In a book called, "Learning to Live Together: Conversations with Sitka Elders," written by high school students based on interviews, several of the "Sitka Elders" spoke of strict segregation at the local movie theater and the separate elementary schools for Natives and whites. According to one elder, the Moose and Elks clubs kept Natives out of their ranks and social gatherings. (This is similar to what occurred in the United States with both blacks and Jews.) Natives were refused service at downtown restaurants and other businesses that were all owned by the whites. Several of the downtown stores even had signs posted reading "Whites Only." The white community owned all the businesses. One person interviewed recalled, "When going into the restaurants Natives were never waited on right away. They would wait on the non-Native customer's first, even if you were there before them." Walking home from school, Native classmates were followed closely by police. The patrol cars crawled behind them, keeping pace with the group -- shadowing them. One individual said that whites spit in her face. However, there was no place to go and complain against these "Jim Crow" actions.

Even after the schools were desegregated, many of the teachers favored the whites. Although the situation was better for this generation, compared to one for their parents, it was not easy. Today, discrimination still exits, but it is more subtle.

Now I hear a lot of people making slurs about the Natives getting drunk. The statistics are not good for Native Alaskans. Rural Alaska has some of the highest suicide rates in the country. The suicide rate among Native Alaskans was three times that of nonnative Alaska residents and five times the national rate from 2003 to 2006. Suicide among natives is commonly linked with depression, alcoholism, cultural and economic stress and mental illness, which often goes untreated in rural areas. They've lost their culture, they can't support their family. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Alaska Natives. Smoking rates among Alaska Natives are high at 45%. American Indian/Alaska Native infants have SIDS rates three times higher than white infants and two times higher than the U.S. average (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Another similarity between the U.S. And Alaska is the amount of Native Alaskans arrested and imprisoned, compared to whites, like the blacks on the mainland. There is also a much lower number of Native Alaskans who work in the judicial system.

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) published a report in 2004 on the status of the Alaska Natives. This concluded,

We found that Natives have more jobs, higher incomes, and better living conditions, health care, and education than ever. But they remain several times more likely than other Alaskans to be poor and out of work. Alcohol continues to fuel widespread social problems. Native students continue to do poorly on standard tests, and they're dropping out in growing numbers. Rates of heart disease and diabetes are rising. In the face of all these challenges, subsistence remains critical for cultural and economic reasons. And there are more challenges to come. In the coming decade, when economic growth is likely to be slower than in the past, thousands more young Alaska Natives will be moving into the job market.

The AFN is the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska. Its membership includes 178 villages, 13 regional Native corporations and 12 regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums that contract and run federal and state programs. It is governed by a 37-person board that is elected by its membership at the annual convention. The mission of AFN is to enhance and promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the entire Alaska Native community.

Andrea Carmen is one of the national speakers on the equality of the Native Alaskans. She is currently executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council. Much of her work involves expanding the support network for Indians throughout the hemisphere. She recently worked with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Rigoberta Menchu, at the First World Summit of Indigenous Peoples held in Guatemala. She also was an advisor to the World Council of Churches on their relationship with traditional Indian peoples. She lives in Chickaloon, Alaska, and is past coordinator of the Native Alaskan Elders Sovereignty Network and current co-coordinator of the Chickaloon Village Environmental Protection Program. Carmen has long been involved with the rights of the indigenous people. In 2004, she led a hunger strike at the United Nations as it pressed for a declaration of indigenous rights to safeguard the Earth and future generations of indigenous peoples. "Indigenous people are fasting with us all over the world. We've received over 700 messages of solidarity," said Carmen at this time. She said it was important for indigenous around the world to move forward in solidarity and unity in order to ensure indigenous rights for future generations (American Indian Movement).

On September 12, 2007, the United Nations passed a resolution for the Indigenous People. The declaration is a comprehensive statement addressing the rights of these peoples. It was drafted and formally debated for over 20 prior to being adopted. The text says indigenous peoples have the right to fully enjoy as a collective or as individuals, all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law. The document emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. The declaration addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health, employment and language. These individuals have the same rights as others to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity. They have the right to self-determination and can thus determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development and to maintain and strengthen their distinct institutions, while retaining their rights to participate fully in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the state.

The discrimination in Alaska has a long history. Naturally, not everyone feels the same way about the Natives, and there are a number of whites who support the causes of,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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