Racism alive and well on the Last Frontier

Eric Huntington
OPINION: Alaska is full of racism, but it doesn't have to be. All we have to do is stand up and recognize each other as human beings, then speak out when we feel that something isn't right. istockphoto

Racism in Alaska is manifesting itself through social media and news outlets statewide. Racism and bigotry exist in our schools, in businesses, in churches, in law enforcement, and in all Alaskans, Native or not.

Racism is as old as society, and it has mostly won in recorded history. In recent times, though, the fight against such an evil has taken many victories: Our nation elected a black president; a billionaire has been forced out of the National Basketball Association; a map of hate groups across the U.S. by the Southern Poverty Law Center has shown an actual hate group active in Alaska; the call by Troy Eid, chair of the Indian Law and Order Commission, for the state of Alaska to treat Natives equally, during the Tanana Chiefs Conference annual convention was well received; and the loud condemnation of the Westboro Baptist Church’s active bigotry against Alaska Natives by the Alaska Federation of Natives.

All of those great victories, and surely others, should embolden us to make our voices stronger against darkness.

None of us are immune to that part of human nature that tells us to build and puff ourselves up above others. I myself was once a believer in an Alaska Native state or nation. I was a radical who spoke in favor of “reparations” for Alaska Natives because of the mistreatment, abuse, and neglect of our First Alaskans.

There are many people, many good people, who may not believe that the state of Alaska historically has been afflicted by institutional racism and bigotry. It remains in our justice system completely intact, even though we wiped it away from our churches, continue the war against it in our schools, and expose bigoted and sometimes racist business owners.

Because of the mistreatment, abuse, and neglect, racism has been residing quietly in our Native communities. Many village Natives resent outsiders coming in and telling us what the rules are or taking land or food that we’ve historically used or harvested. Young and old alike, Natives do get riled up to the point of being racist. But the fact remains that our young state needs to abide by the recommendations in the final report from the Indian Law and Order Commission. For far too long, we’ve been “under the gun.”

Many lives have been lost in the long-running war against racism. Many Natives have been active in fighting for our rights, and they have been largely victorious. But I fear the battle is far from over, and we’re at a draw on the law enforcement front.

A friend of mine, Arvin Kangas, who is known to be very vocal supporter of tribal sovereignty, has been labeled a racist and a radical. His son, Sach, has been charged with killing two Alaska State Troopers, a situation that can only be a non-Native racist’s wet dream. Now we’re back to the drawing board on quelling the repression and oppression of our First Alaskans. The victory in the end, though, will be ours. While it may have been a Native who killed two of Alaska's finest, it is Natives who are taking the lead on raising money for their families.

A fundraiser will be held at West Valley High School in Fairbanks on Friday, May 9 at 5p.m. to benefit the families of Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich. Some racists or bigots may proclaim that it’s “guilt” money, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Natives are taking the lead on this because we know the families’ grief and hardship all too well when a loved one dies needlessly and senselessly. We’ve lost far too many at the end of a gun, at the noose of a rope and at the bottom of a bottle. We hurt with them.

I am Koyukon Athabascan, raised and residing in the Yukon River village of Galena, brought up to be a man just like most other Natives, only looking to help others, but now I feel compelled to also stand in the way of this evil that’s remained largely hidden. Forgiveness and compassion are at the core of my beliefs, and they are a wonderful thing to have, more wonderful than any material thing I can acquire. Please stand up against racism and spread your compassion and forgiveness, not just to better our society, but also to prevent lives from being lost.

Society always loses when good people do not speak up, and good people have been sitting silent about racism in Alaska for as long as I can remember. I am also guilty of being silent. But no longer.

Racism spreads by our mouths, by our pens and keyboards. The fight against it thankfully spreads the same way. Exposing it is easy. Write a letter, key a comment online, do research and do not be silent. Maybe one day, we’ll all wonder how any of us ever held hate in our hearts against anyone or any group.

Eric Huntington lives in the Interior village of Galena.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.