AD Main Menu

Alaska's racism is a two-way street that needs to be closed for repairs

Eric Huntington
OPINION: We must change so that our children do not grow up disillusioned and don't experience our current reality. A reality that causes death. We must honor our two fallen Alaska State Troopers and not let their deaths be in vain. istockphoto

Throughout my short 33 years on this Earth, I’ve encountered both love and hate. I’ve expressed both love and hate. Love for my people, love for the land, hate for other people and some of my own, hate that they want our land. Let me be clear, I no longer desire exclusivity for our Native people. There is no point to establishing a Native Nation in Alaska. Nothing would get accomplished.

A Native Nation is not going to get me a new house built. It’s got to be done on my own. I have to follow in the footsteps of my father, Gilbert Huntington, who has built our family a good home. We are in the process of building his “dream home,” not built on hatred, but built on love. Built on the principles of our Native ancestors who were self-reliant and never gave up.

The recent events in Tanana and the revelations in the Fairbanks Four case compel me to speak out on racism, not just institutional racism that cannot be pinned on any one person in the justice system, but on the topic of racism among individual Alaska Natives. The two kinds of racism go hand-in-hand with each other.

The institutional racism in the justice system can be proven not just with anecdotal evidence, but factual evidence in that there is a disproportionate number of Natives in jail and prison. The Indian Law and Order Commission declares this to be unjust and that it must be addressed. They even dedicate an entire chapter to Alaska in their Final Report and Recommendations. You have to wonder how many of our Native people would be in prison, jail, or dead if we had equal application and equal protection of law enforcement and if the State of Alaska simply treated us with respect, instead of fighting us in so many arenas besides just the law and subsistence.

Education is a basic service and we had to fight for it. The court system had to order the State of Alaska to educate the youth of rural Alaska. Where the educators once were church organizations who systematically assaulted our cultures and people, educators today now embrace our cultures as healthy for all Alaskans.

Yet today we are fighting the State of Alaska for our right to law and order that no other civilized society in the world would deny other people, but our state institutions fight us and tell us that law and order will be established under their terms. Meanwhile we have the highest rates of violence and sexual abuse, and people are dying.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell could simply make a statement in support of Indian Country, establishing Limited Tribal Sovereignty here in Alaska. That would allow us to establish processes that resolve crime and to prevent crime in our villages. To deny us at the state level the basic principle of having tools to make safer communities has become a national disgrace and brings cause to the question, ‘Is the State of Alaska legitimate like the Athabascan Nation claims it is not?’

Which is why I now call on our leaders, our voices, the good and honest people who see these tragedies unfolding to enlist help from outside the state in the form of other tribes and state governments that have had success in giving their Native people a chance for safe communities. The world needs to know our story.

Natives have been holding hatred in their hearts against outsiders since the first one showed up. It is in our human nature to protect what we have and what we use. Natives do it to other Natives as well in terms of bigotry and self-righteousness. We lose when Natives put Natives down through gossip or their actions. That is where the biggest battle is: fighting ourselves instead of bettering ourselves.

In order to fight this institutional racism that is becoming so apparent to a great number of Alaskans, we must also fight racism internally in our own people. The two are intertwined, and with a cycle of being oppressed to being disillusioned, we’re oppressed more, disillusioned more, to the point we’re creating racist Natives and racist non-Natives.

It’s often hard for many to understand why Natives become so easily disillusioned. Some Natives want more and fight to get more, whether it be subsistence, housing or tribal rights and sovereignty. Now we have the instance in Tanana, where a group of Natives who originally or through ongoing intent only wanted more for their fellow Natives became an active hate group, desiring ethnic nationalism for our people while spewing hatred and violence.

The question begs us, how do we deal with racist Natives? They are becoming a problem. Last year in Stebbins, young people chased out workers building a tank farm and threatening fuel delivery. These kids were yelling racially charged threats. In Tanana, they have decided to deal with the problem by banishing two men. While I support them in desiring to deal with the problem, I disagree with their approach.

Banishment should never be the solution in my opinion. While banishment does have legal and constitutional issues, I do recognize that all Tribes have the right to self-government and would never tell a tribe to do differently but express my opinion respectfully. Tanana, while I disagree with your approach to banish the men, I support you in your move to banish the animals the two men have become. I pray that they see what destruction they’ve caused and change their ways. In your banishment, I would humbly ask that you not forget and neglect their families. They will need a hand up or a hug every so often.

We are getting smarter, and there is no reason we cannot come up with newer, more humane solutions. Banishment was a tool to deal with a problem such as a drunk person walking around the village firing a gun, a tool to send away someone who committed a crime while the state refused to do anything, a tool of ‘last resort’.

But what happens if banishment becomes a popular method rather than use the growing number of tools at our disposal? We are largely integrated and assimilated into modern society. What would happen to the Stebbins kids if they are banished? They would likely become even more disillusioned than they already are and seek like-minded people. Then they start with what’s called ‘nesting’ behavior and maybe become an active hate group in another location.

What happens if the state court system becomes tyrannical or insensitive in its use of restricting young Native men from returning to their home villages when considering conditions of release? It happened here in Galena not long ago. When the fishing, hunting, and wood gathering seasons came along, a large number of our young men were restricted from coming home, including myself, even though none of us were a danger to the community or anyone here.

Not recognizing how seasonal life is in rural Alaska is a practice that the state of Alaska needs to stop, and we need to take a close look at the constitutionality of it and ask whether it is a violation of our human civil rights. How can our State Courts justify that practice? Should the courts start sending urban residents to villages when they commit crimes?

Today we have a growing VPSO force, we have a mostly respectful Trooper force and a friendlier state government, not to diminish the fight for subsistence, law and order, education and our rights. So there are some improvements. But what I’m saying is that I believe we can deal with our problems better.

We should respect ourselves by treating all others the way we would want to be treated. We must educate our young and admonish our other generations when they talk of hatred of other people. We should tell them that the State of Alaska is here to stay and whether they like it or not, most of our population is non-Native. They should know that our traditional values are the embodiment of respect for all life, a respect to allow all others to live freely without fear.

We must change so that our children do not grow up disillusioned and don't experience our current reality. A reality that causes death. We must honor our two fallen Alaska State Troopers and not let their deaths be in vain.

Eric Huntington was raised and 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.