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Overcoming racism in Alaska

Jill Burke
istockphoto

How pervasive is racism in Alaska? What can we do to create a culture free from the pain it causes?

First Alaskans Institute believes openly talking about it -- acknowledging racism exists -- is an important first step in healing.

"It's when you can't talk about it [hate], that you must talk about it," says Liz Medicine Crow, vice president of the institute.

Through money provided by the the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing initiative, First Alaskans Institute has launched Alaska Native Dialogues on Racial Equity, a series of community conversations to promote healing and raise awareness. The dialogues also aim to push for public policy solutions and to help create racial equality for all Alaskans.

As part of the project, First Alaskans Institute has put together short videos that serve as calls to action for Alaskans to think about racism and take proactive steps to do something about it.

In one video, Elizabeth Hensley speaks of why she believes it is young people who are best poised to change the world for the better. She states her generation is ready to talk about the many places that racism is hiding, and adds, "We don't want to sit and watch another generation of people get lost to suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse."

A second video profiles the significant, positive impact the FAI-sponsored Youth and Elders Conference, which precedes the annual Alaska Federation of Natives gathering, has on young Alaska Natives. In it, the institute's Andrea Sanders talks about how Alaska Native children in urban areas have difficulty correcting stereotypes.

"Our heritage is our identity. It's a birth right we need to take back," declares one young man featured is the video.

Intentional dialogue can go a long way toward healing through a proactive and positive approach, explains Sanders, who adds that when people talk openly about how racism has personally impacted them, they begin a process of healing, of overcoming that baggage and continuing on their path.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.