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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide
 

Testimony

Submitted to the
Alaska Natives Commission
in connection with a hearing at

Fairbanks, Alaska
July 18, 1992

ALASKA NATIVES COMMISSION
JOINT FEDERAL-STATE COMMISSION
ON
POLICIES AND PROGRAMS AFFECTING ALASKA NATIVES
4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Witness List | Exhibit List | PDF Version

 

General Testimony

 

(On record)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: The last of our Commission members is on the telephone right now, and she' ll be right in; but I think that I would like to call up the last group of people; and there's no specific area designation for these people. It would be Robert Silas, Sarah James, Al Ketzler, and Shirley Moses. If they would come up? And I thank you all for your patience in this extended hearing. We're, as Commissioners, new at hearings, and we will try to streamline the way that we run hearings in the future, so that it will be less of a frustration on you, and so that there will be more satisfaction and more testimony. I thank you very much for your patience. Robert Silas, you're the first on the list, if you would like to present your testimony, we would..... Introduce yourself, give us a little bit of your background, and give your testimony.

MR. SILAS: Yes, I'm Robert Silas. I'm employed by Tanana Chiefs as a Sub-regional Village Liaison Officer, and my job duties is to (indiscernible-away from microphone) offices and their directors. My testimony is on a worst-- case scenario of events that happen in a village. I come from a village that has high unemployment rate, alcoholism, an elevated debt rate due to alcoholism, and pretty much lust lack of jobs in the rural areas, and the lack of education. In general -- my report is on general issues in nature. However, I will show how these categories intertwine, so that each of these six issues that the Government on Commission all intertwine one way or another -- I think there's seven. But they all intertwine. The Native people in rural areas face many daily issues in their lives such as accidental deaths, alcoholism, boredom, domestic Violence, elderly abuse, lack of education, low self-esteem, murder, peer pressure, prejudism (ph.), rape, suicide, and unemployment. And these are just part of a host of maladies that they suffer in rural areas.

First, I'd like to try to give you an understanding -- I'd like for you to understand that most of the people in the rural areas live a seasonal lifestyle. The majority of the jobs are seasonal. The few that are permanent year-round, the majority of them are held by women, so we have a lot of young men and women out there that are unemployed and have no other resources, other than what they can get through (indiscernible - away from microphone), and it's seasonal.

The other issue that's seasonal is subsistence, Subsistence in the rural areas is a seasonal lifestyle also, because we are governed by the state laws and federal laws, as to when we can hunt, when we can fish, when we can trap; and also, there are times of the year when we can pick berries, and (indiscernible), and other natural resources.

Jobs in the rural areas are very few; and those that are held, a majority are held by women. And with this kind of a lifestyle we have in the rural areas, we have people that are bored, have a low self-esteem, and also have a very possible suicidal tendency; due to these maladies that they face every day.

Because of the lack of an education for many of the people in the rural areas, the job market is very competitive; and the job market being very competitive, the people in the rural areas have a hard time getting jobs in their own village. Many of the villages receive capital improvement project funds for schools, for road improvements, airport improvements, and just community building improvement. And a lot of these jobs, if they're awarded by the State to a contractor, the contractor usually brings his own people in. Because they look at an application, and they see many gaps in an employment application; and they figure:

"Well, this person is unreliable."

Not taking into consideration, that a lot of the people are just working a seasonal lifestyle, because that's all they can afford -- or can do because of the competitiveness of the job market.

Economic projects -- developing economic projects in the villages are usually stores, the power company, motels, restaurants, service stations, and/or fuel companies; and a lot of these are held either by the corporations, held by private citizens. So if a person was to try to go into economic development into the rural areas, they'd find that a lot of these are already established, and they do not-have the resources or the education, or the understanding of the federal and state laws, would be very hard for them to obtain an economic development project for their community that's already there.

In most villages, there is one form of tribal government, either it's an IRA or a Traditional. And then sometimes in other cities and villages, there are two forms of government -- IRA, or a Traditional, and also a First-or Second-Class City. When these two different governments are competing for the same funds or projects under the auspices of one entity or another, it usually goes to the City government. And those positions are usually held by non-Native persons in the community.

So, how are the State of Alaska, in its reluctance to recognize tribal status, does, indeed, work with the tribal government? Whenever the Governor lifts a telephone, or writes one word to a village, he, indeed, recognizes the tribal governing powers.

In the last 20 or 30 years, the Indian Health Service has seen a dramatic increase in the service it provides to the Native people. However, the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center, which serves the Interior, has also seen a dramatic increase, to the point that it is crowded, there are long waiting periods for health care to be taken care of; so we are looking at possibly trying to expand and renovate Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center.

Education is another issue I'd like to kind of expound on. The majority of the people in the rural areas that are graduating from high school, after they do graduate, the majority of young men stay home, they don’t go on to college; and if they do go on to college, they either drop out or are dropped out, because they cannot complete the courses.

If you look at the statistics today, three to five times more Native women are in school over the men. In the rural areas, eight women to one man are employed in the rural areas, so we do have a high unemployment rate of men in rural areas.

These all lead back to the fact that young men a pushed in school for sports and not academics. The women, in turn, are pushed academically, and not as hard n pots; so we have a lot of young people our there that are graduating from high school, who can’t even read up to sixth-grade level, or even do sixth-grade math.

I will now try to attempt to present to this Commission the average life of a Native male that has graduated in a rural village. It starts out in the springtime. They all wait -- if there's no construction projects foreseen in their villages, they all look toward fire fighting. When the fire-fighting season is over with, they look toward hunting season. And when that's over with, they look toward receiving their Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. They fill out applications for energy assistance; and during the winter, if there is another hunting season, they'll hunt again. These are all due to the laws that are laid onto the villages in the rural areas through state regulations, that they have certain hunting seasons. They can't hunt anytime they want, so they are stuck with doing nothing during the off-season hunting times. And during the winter, being no jobs in the village, other uhan the store clerks, and/or restaurant cooks, or teacher aides, which are normally, like I said, filled by women, so we have people -- men that are, after their Permanent Fund Dividend Checks come in, they kind of have another lull season until the springtime, when they receive their income tax, if they are entitled to one. Then they turn around and look again back to fire fighting, if there are no construction projects in their areas.

The life of a woman in the rural areas is no picnic basket either. Their lives are spent in poverty, spousal abuse, sexual abuse, rape, single parenting, husbands that have an alcohol problem, death threats from husbands, boyfriends, relatives, fathers, uncles, brothers, and even strangers. Should a Native woman live with a type of person I described in the previous paragraph, this person would suffer unmercifully under a domination of a person that has low self-esteem, has no income coming in, so they're living in a poverty level. And if this case should ever go to a court, where the relationship is at the end, if a woman takes it to court, she usually ends up with the children; and if it doesn't go to a court, and it's settled with a weapon, ifs usually a woman on the receiving end, receiving possible physical or possible death due to the breakups.

This is all done -- a lot of these programs that I've tried to describe here have been with the attitude that the U.S. Government says:

"We will take care of you. We will provide (indiscernible). We will do whatever we can to help you to get -- we'll do it on our terms; and if you don't like it, then we will not do those projects in your villages."

And it's time that we, as village people, are called in any projects that are planned in our communities; and these meetings that you're having here today should be held in the villages, so that you'd hear from the village people their concerns. Not every one of us that have spoken today can give you the best of an idea to what's going on in the villages, unless you go out their yourself. And I did hear a young lady say here today that she'd have liked to have seen all the Commissioners here; but due to saving money, they'd only allowed so many to be here. So, when they do go out to the villages, will they be also taking only so many again, so that we have a lot of people on this task force that have probably never been to a village; or, if they have, have just gone through; have not stopped and taken the time to listen, or even talk to the people? And we need those issues addressed.

One social program that I've seen in the villages that had been a hindrance was the GA -- General Assistance Program funded through BIA. The BIA gives people money that are not working to help subsidize their income, whatever they can to help those people in rural areas. And the problem with it is that there's people taking advantage of it. Instead of trying to help them to build their self-esteem and hold their head high with dignity, we're giving them another handout for the GA. And I feel that we need to be starting co looking at getting programs formed from the village point of view, which is one of the things we worked at in the community I'm from was the TWEP Program, which is the Tribal Work Experience Program, where we have people that are not working, are looking to get some general assistance, that they do some-"community service work, and that they help build community buildings, or repair community buildings, work in the communities to earn this money, rather than just sit home and get a free check every month. And the only thing that I ask is that just don't give the money for doing nothing.

If we want to build our society back up to the point that we are proud of ourselves, and we are doing something, I ask that we start working with the villages on village-based ideas, instead of ideas that were formed out in Washington, D.C., or New York, or wherever they came from. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you, Robert. I appreciate your comments, and I do live in the villages; and I know the problems that you're talking about; and I very much appreciate the suggestion that you gave of need for a tribal work program, because I think that's a very positive suggestion of how to address some of these problems, and I appreciate that very much. The next one on the list is Sarah James. Sarah, would you like to introduce yourself, and share your comments with us?

MS. JAMES: Yes, I just happened to be in town, and I was called by Father Shiselty (ph.)to be in here, and it was kind of last minute; and I will have written reports, and written material from the organization I represented here. My name is Sarah James, and I'm from Arctic Village, Alaska; and I'm from a Gwich'in Nation. I represent Anchorage ANWR Steering Committee. I'm the Chairperson. I am known as a spokesperson for the Gwich'in Nation. We're the one that opposing gas and oil development up on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The whole 17 village of the Gwich'in Nation sign on to go against the development at the porcupine caribou herd within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, within the Arctic Coastal Plain. We did that with one voice, and so far we have a Gwich'in last -- the first one was 1988, second one was 1990, the last one is 1992 in Villipine (ph.) just recently. All these three times, the Gwich'in came together to protect the caribou. They're known as the caribou people. They identify themself as the porcupine caribou people; and they' re not compromising in any way, but protect the calving area. The first time they came together, the elders -- we spoke in our language, in Gwich'in language, for four days; and make decision to preserve our language, to make it easier to go back and forth over the border, which covers northeast Alaska and northwest Canada. We all speak the same language, same relation -- we're all related; and we depend on the very porcupine caribou for thousands of year, and we want to protect that. We want to protect our culture. It's sad for me to see that unless -- there was no natural resource category. Without natural resource, each one and every one of us won't be here today. Clean air, clean water, clean land, clean life. That have to come first; and we're going to govern ourself. We need to get that power back to our Indian people. We've done it before; we're going to do it again.

The government is at that time of collapsing, because of the deficit. When it do come, the Indian people are going to survive, because -- the Alaska Native is going to survive, because we still have clean water; we still have clean air, clean land. And we shouldn't underestimate ourself, because we're pretty unique in our situation in Alaska, because we do speak our language, we do hunt and fish. There's no place across the nation where I speak on behalf of ANWR that I see that. The Indian people have very limited resource, and very limited cultural. They're protecting down that way. And we are really fortunate to have most of it you. And we need to protect that, and Alaska is pretty good model for the other Indian nations.

I'm also representing one of five to Western Hemisphere Inter-Continental Indigenous of 500-Year Resistant, Due to opposing the development, I have to travel to convince the other states, because it's really up to the Congress to open up the ANWR. It's not only up to Alaska. So that means we have to go across the nation to convince these grassroot people that think like us and knows what we're talking about. And that's how we defeated energy bill last year, through grassroot people. And we do have a power as a people yet. We can't give that up.

Many places I go across the nation, I see the Indians lost a lot of ties to their culture. The last thing they're holding onto is the freedom of religion, and that's being jeopardized right now, too. If we give up our rights of subsistence, that's what we're giving up, too; because in the Gwich'in, we say: (spoke in Gwich'in); that means, a way of life to survive. That's what subsistence describe to me, and that's how my elders describe it to me. So that really goes back to our religion.

Across the nation, I know that Alaska got the highest suicide and alcohol-related death. It's really sad, because we still have a tie to the land. We still -- we think and we appreciate that thing -- we lift that light every day out in the village. But then the outside is the one that's telling us that we don't have it. And looks like the future down the line, looks like we might lose it to profit-making corporations; because, in order to be profit-making, you have to be giving into your resource. And that is happening many places; and I don’t blame them for doing that, because they're going to go bankrupt if they don't. But there's other ways. There's tourism; there's a renewable resource. We’re rich with resource, Alaska. We're just selling our, and they're selling back to us at an outrageous price. I still have to pay $25 for five gallon of gas, with oil in Arctic Village yet. So, that come to show that we're giving up our rights. So we really need to come together. And when we first heard this about this Commission that was going to come about, everybody was excited in Arctic Village. Everybody was calling me on the phone, say:

"Who are we going to appoint?"

So we all got together in the Upper Yukon and appointed four names in the -- it wasn't individual decision; it was everybody's decision. But none of them got on the Commission. That was kind of disappointing for us.

On the education, I was on the school board; I was elected in as a write-in; and it was landslide vote. The education, I see one place down in Lower 48 that Indians went back to their way of teaching; and those kids are getting national level or above. They're only teaching reading and math. After we fight this ANWR issue, a lot of our people went -- a lot of young people went and gob married, so they can support each other. Before that, they had been living on Welfare, food stamp, any way they can get a -- that's what happened since then. A lot of our people sobered up, because they have a reason to sober up.

And this last gather, we hardly had any money to get people together, but all of them showed up. That's how proud they feel. So if we could just make a headway and come together, and with this kind of support that we get and if it works, I'm just kind of optimistic about it, because like many people say that they come forth and testify on a lot of different things that come up; and it seems like we never make a headway.

Well, anyway, all we can do is try again and see if we can get our responsibility back in our hands, because I don't think it'll succeed at the rate we're going, at the rate of greed and waste that's out there, because we still have it, like I say.

Another way is they can come in is take over our allotment. That's how they did other places. So you have to think about how we can protect these allotments. And a lot of things that I see in the villages, there's no recycle; because the land is still clean; the water's still clean. Down there -- the toxic has to be there first before they can get money for it; and that's where we're at, the rate we're going now. So there is EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, that we can make use of, if we can be heard there. I just went to Rio Earth Summit. I just seen -- there was very few Alaskan, but the people are interested in us-Want to sell our resources, put our roads in there, put the cement down. So we need a better communication system like radio among the villages. Thank you.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you, Sarah. I think that I do have some questions for you. I think I better ask Al Ketzler to give his testimony; and then we can. ask questions when we're finished.

MR.KETZLER: All right, thank you. My name is Alfred Ketzler, Jr. I'm originally from Nenana. I've been living in Fairbanks here for the past 12 years or so, and work for the North Star School District as a schoolteacher; and then, presently, my job is at Tanana Chiefs in the Natural Resources Department. I work a lot with natural resource issues; and initially, when I was told I'd be testifying, that I would be under this Economics; and when I got here -- or, I guess, when I got the schedule yesterday, I just see that I was dropped off; which is good, because now maybe I get to touch on other subjects I want to talk a little bit. But I won't go into really elaborate as I initially planned, I know, due to time; but, anyway, my life has been pretty much involved in Native politics probably since about the day I was born. My grandfather was very much involved in Indian politics, as my father; and my heritage runs right down to the Chief Thomas in Nenana, who was a very famous chief in that area; and I remember the days in the early Sixties when the Tanana Chiefs first started organizing in this area. And going back and reflecting in this 30 years of existence, and 20 years of existence of the Native Land Claims Settlement Act, a lot of the issues are still the same then as they are now. And, to me, it's kind of saddening just to see that. A lot of the main concerns of our people are still the same -- the status of the land, the jobs, the education. And now we have some new things that weren't really there then. This disease of alcoholism. It was on a rampage up until -- it peaked out, I'd say, in the middle Seventies. I'm a Class of 1975, with 18 students; and now half of my classmates are dead, every one of them from alcoholism, from suicides co other alcohol-related deaths or drugs. And today, I see the drugs that are more sophisticated, I guess you'd say, or more chemically intense, say as crack. They're really affecting our young people; and it's, as a result, I even see them worse off today than it was when I was growing up; and I grew up in Nenana with -- and I can't think of a student really in my class that didn't drink alcohol, and at a very young age. And so the problems with the intensity of drugs, and the high pregnancy rate, and the threat of AIDS. AIDS seems to be underplayed quite a bit in the Native community; but, boy, once it catches hold like it has in other countries, especially some of the African countries where communities are totally wiped out. I'm talking about a 70,000 population down to zero; and the dysfunctional sexual behavior among Natives, or Alaska in general, leads to that -- that leaves a strong possibility of this happening in Alaska. So I don't want to underplay AIDS at all.

But, I guess, I might go back a little bit to talking about governance; and I've spent 15, 16 years in the educational system of the United States, was taught that Columbus was a great man, and he did all these great things; but here in the last five or so years, we're finding out -- a little bit different stories are coming out. The reality has finally come in a flourish after 500 years; and I hope that this Commission, when it finally makes a report, that I'm hoping that it will say in the front page that Alaska Natives want their independence; they want their sovereignty; they want their own governance; they want their own court systems; they want to develop themselves something similar to what Sarah was talking about on a spiritual level. We're a spiritual people, and we're so spiritual that diseases like alcoholism, and drug abuse, and overeating; and sexaholics; and there's all kinds of different type of addictions out there in the world, that it's so easy to fall into, that we as Indian people have lost our spiritual identity. And a lot to do with that was the encroachment of the Western culture and stripping of our Native language.

I'm 36 years old, and I can probably only speak about 10 Native words in my own language; and I can speak more Spanish, and, to me, that's real sick. And my kids don't speak any Athabascan language. And I, myself, as other young Native men who -- I'll point out, I'm an alcoholic in recovery, have lost their identity; and I'm finally learning about my identity. I want to learn about my Indian people. I want to preserve my culture. I see how important that is. As has been pointed out by Sarah, again, that we will be here. We will be here 500 years from now; we'll be here 1,000 years from now; just as we've been here for -- it depends what anthropologist you talk to, 40,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago. And my own personal spiritual recog -- identity and learning more about other countries that are related to us, say like for instance, Mexico. I spent a lot of time in Mexico, learning about the Mayan people, the Aztecs, or what they call Indios (ph.) , Children of God, the indigenous people that we need to develop. And I see that the people in my generation are finally wising up, growing up, sobering up, whatever; but the next couple of groups down below us, I see a real lot of problems. So, under the governance part, I see as real important that Alaska Natives have to be able to have the authority to regulate, to set laws, set precedence. It's become to where, nowadays, a Native person living in a village and trying to live as a traditional person, without a doubt, will break some sort of a law, under Fish and Game, or IRS, or all these different kind of regulatory organizations that are totally irrelevant to life. And, I guess, as time goes on -- and I knew -- know a young man -- older gentleman; and when I was a kid -- Charlie Smith -- who used to go out and shoot a duck out of season just so he could go to jail and have a meal. Well, that was kind of a joke; but today it costs $90 a day to put somebody in jail -- the cost to the state or the federal government; but then the ideology of this kind of -- that we're all criminals. You know, the Indian people are all criminals. You know, they're savages. I've heard all kinds of different scenarios of what we are or whatever; and we need to establish our own laws, and enforce our own laws; and we need to address this in a different way.

I recently had a good friend of mine in Minto commit suicide here, that just really upset me, because I knew exactly what -- it was the way he perceived the process of -- he was charged with a sexual abuse charge, and he knew exactly what he had to go through, through the White Man's courts, the White Man's law, the White Man's jails; and he could see no other alternative but to commit suicide; and that's what these laws are doing to our people. They're making them commit suicide. They -- their hopelessness. I know what hopelessness is. I've seen it, and I've been in it myself. I'm fortunate that I didn't get down m a certain degree of hopelessness, but when you have low self-esteem; you've been told all your life that you're a second-class citizen; and these underlying -- and I find myself looking more or working more like an Anglo. I didn't get to suffer some of the other things that my fellow classmates had to suffer.

But, anyway, I can't stress the importance of establishing, I guess, sovereignty. We need sovereignty. This world has recognized sovereignty, and it's a growing movement; I know, from European countries, from Russian, and it's something that Alaska needs to address. The State of Alaska does not, and probably will not ever, really fully recognize Alaska Natives as a separate entity. And we need to develop a separate entity from the federal level, so that we can start administering our own laws, our own way of doing things to where we are judged by our peers, and not by outsiders who were raised in California, or New York, or wherever, and think that this is what's good for you.

I know that one law that really affects a lot of young men is this child enforcement law that passed in 1990. Child -- is under the Family Reform Act, where financial responsibility is placed on a person who -- mainly males -- who have had a child out of wedlock, or even in wedlock, and through divorce, or whatever like this; and I have met and I've been involved in a group called -- out of Anchorage -- Alaska Family Reform Association, or something similar to this to fight some of these laws, that -- I forgot exactly what the percentage of Alaska Native males that owe money to this federally and state-funded program. Some of these young men owe up to like sixty or seventy thousand dollars. An astronomical amount of money that they'll never be able to pay; and I've already known two young individual men who have committed suicide; and, basically, I mean that was, to me, one of the contributing factors that these kind of laws that come in; and that's one thing that's hard for Alaska Native people; and White people can't understand it that we perceive money differently. And the White Man system is money, money, money, money; and lawyers, and things like this are not a part of our culture. We have a better -- you know, money is not our god. That's how I'm going to put it. Now that's -- and it's hurting a lot of people, and that needs to be particularly addressed.

Another issue that you rarely hear about is the IRS. The last time I talked to the BIA, which has a list that they cannot fund certain villages, we had 16 in our region that cannot be funded by any federal or state agency, because they owe back taxes. And, to me, these villages are, in the last maybe -- since the State had all the surplus (indiscernible) money I which -- that's how most villages got in trouble, of receiving all these grants and not reporting taxes and things like this, now they're being penalized. Of course, there ain't no money; and there won't be any money in these particular communities until some of these problems are remedied; and, unfortunately, this problem with IRS, not many people want to take on the IRS -- not Tanana Chiefs, not Doyon, nobody. And they're a power that need to be reckoned with, because they're hurting villages, and they're hurting the political process of developing a strong village council and economic opportunity for these particular communities.

Moving to economics and economic conditions in the villages --

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Bear, if we may, we do have another witness, and we're running way over. Appreciate it.

MR. KETZLER: Okay. I'll move real --

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Summarize. We know you waited a long time, and we want to hear you, too. Sorry.

MR. KETZLER: Well, I'll just go to economic conditions in the villages, I want to point out one thing, that the major economic source in the villages still today is subsistence. I want to point that out. That is the number one. It's not fur trapping; it's not mining; it's not anything. It's subsistence. And, hopefully, and God willing, it will continue to be so.

Housing conditions. I won't -- just make a couple points on that. The housing conditions in our particular region in Alaska, we're ju -- I'll just say statewide Alaska, we are 6,000 houses short; in Interior of Alaska, we're 3,000 houses short from what the federal government considers adequate housing. And I, myself, as a housing Comissioner here, we just opened some bids -- just to give you example -- in Anchorage. An average bid to build a house in the village of Anvik or Alakanuk is reaching almost $200,000 per unit. Now this is where we was talking about government layers and bureaucracy, and things like this, this has to be addressed -- in a sense of self-help programs, where we can build our own homes for maybe -- probably -- well, a home in Anvik would bid at $167,000 was the lowest bid, not counting other things that need to be done -- the water, and sewer, and things like this; that there's other methods of dealing with this; and that -- there again, it's the federal bureaucracy level that demands that this house has to meet this particular criterias, and meeting these criterias elevates the cost; and the villagers or the home owner who has these kind of, what they call super-insulated, high-efficiency homes, are having a lot of problems, a lot of physical structural problems. And that's another one issue.

In closing, I'll cut it short here, Morie, I guess, and through my experience, and I've been back to Washington, D.C., many times, and things like this; and every time I go back there, I have to give an educational process that, yes, that Alaska Natives live here; that, yes, Alaska is part of the Union of United States. I had to even say that before. And the one important factor that needs to be brought out is that -- and I've examined this many, many times, but it -- and it's part of Alaska Native's problem. We've done a poor job of educating Congress about who we are and what we are, and some of the problems. And this is why we're here today. We're here today because mainly one senator, Senator Inoyue (ph.) , who came up here to Alaska and seen some of the problems here. And, believe me, we're no different than the other problems in other Indian reservations in the Lower 48. In some ways, we're better off; in some ways, we' re worse off. But, anyway, this is how the Commission really got its first start. One of my recommendations is that all of Alaska Native tribal entities establish -- I don’t care what you call it, embassy or whatever -- in D.C., to work with the different federal agencies. There was a report that was just done by the Arizona tribes, Michael Hughes (ph.), who used to be assistant for Mike -- for Dr. Brown, of the Assistant Secretary of BIA there -- he did a report to find out exactly just what happens to that billion point one dollars of the BIA; and, based on population, land ownership, and all this kind of stuff; and, boy, the report was real amazing, and I plan on getting that report to Michael, so that he can present it to you, and show you that, just on the federal government level of one entity, Department of Interior, that the amount of money that -- where it's placed at, and how grossly underfunded Alaska is, both on population-wise, health-wise, and -- actually, health we did pretty well on health. We're about in the middle. But, and land-wise, and people-wise. But even Navaholand. I thought all the money went to Navaholand, but it doesn't. It goes to the tribes in Oregon.

So, anyway; one thing that, under this kind scenario, we need a educational -- or not particularly educational, but maybe embassy-type scenario in Washington, D.C., as to work with all branches of the government" At Tanana Chiefs, we're finally now developing a relationship with Farmers Home Administration; we're developing a relationship with Cooperative Extension Service; we're developing a relationship with Soil Conservation Service; and they have all kinds of programs and services that they do not provide the rural communities; mainly because they don't know about the Native culture. They don't know how to access, and it's-- there again, it's another political -- or another educational level on the state level. For instance, the Farmers Home Administration turns back more money from Alaska that could be reached in rural communities, than they spend in the rural communities of Alaska. They turn back more money. And some of this money is weatherization money. I mean, amazing. We have about, we figure around the state, of close to over 10,000 units that need to be weatherized. And they're turning back weatherization money. And they have been doing that for over ten years, to this person who's been working that job here in the state. So, anyway, that all branches of the government have a responsibility to work with all tribal American Indians, or Alaska Native people.

And another concern is that Alaska -- and I watched the political process in Washington, D.C. , and it's real tough to do, but we still have to do it; but on a Congressional level, we always need to insist on Alaska set-asides. Alaska -- once it gets into the main process of the Department of the Interior, Alaska, there again, always gets hurt. And we need to emphasize special set-asides just for Alaska Natives to get into the mainstream process.

And, with that, I suppose I can close here. I'd like to at least I, myself, travel to the villages quite a bit. I hope to hear that you as Commissioners are out in the villages. I think that would be real important: to get another perspective on this; and, with that, I thank you for this time and opportunity to speak.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Okay, thank you, Al. Shirley, would you like to share your comments with us?

MS. MOSES: Okay; I sat here; not because I really wanted to testify. It's more a learning experience. I enjoyed listening to everybody; and I look upon these meetings and hearings as part of my formal education experience. I learn more here and going to meetings like this than anything I could learn in my Master's program in education on campus. This is the real world, and these are real problems that we're dealing with in education. I'm going to be presenting a position paper on alternative school board training to rural Alaska. I see that's a way that I can contribute to possibly making a positive impact on things that are going on in rural education; and I won't go into the details of it, but I'll just tell you briefly why I'm interested in this; and you can read my paper later, if you're interested.

I'm Shirley Moses. I'm Inupiat Eskimo, who was raised in Nome and in Tanana. My parents are Floyd and Martha Wheeler. My older sister testified this morning. As a child, our parents instilled in us in part to giving something back to our communities; you know, sharing and learning from our elders. And I think that's really something important chat we have to pass on; and I'd encourage the Commission to invite young people to attend these hearings. It would bring us a step closer to becoming proactive, instead of reactive. And I see this time and time again. As we stand on education and other things, we’re always reacting to problems. It's about time that we take our Native people; and especially the youth in our communities, and expose them to problems, so as they're getting an education, they can realize that these are problems they are going to have to deal with, and they can work on getting a solid educational background, so they can deal with the problems that we're dealing with.

I've been involved in education for a long time; and it gets old coming to meetings like this, but it's well worthwhile, because if we are going to get anywhere in education, we need to make our thoughts known. We have to tell people that we're not going to sit back anymore; that we want to take control. And I think that's really important that you involve the youth.

In 1975, I obtained a Bachelor's degree in elementary education. It was exciting to be formally entering the education field at this time, because our state had just taken a big leap into turning over local control of rural schools to regional attendance areas. As then Commissioner of Education, Marshall Lind (ph.), reaffirmed, the State was decentralizing the governance of operating local schools from statewide control to local control. It's been 17 years since I became a teacher; and I've since then become a parent of four children, ranging in high school age to elementary; and, as a parent, and as a teacher, and as a community person, and as administrator at times in schools, we see this same problem over and over again. People say that parents have to take control of education. A lot of people attend school board meetings. They want to be involved. A lot of times, they come to roadblocks, where administrators say:

"You are advisory school board members. We will listen to your comments, but you're advisory only. "

We have to get beyond that and take control of our schools. And I think that we need to -- yes, we do elect do regional school board and to local school boards, but the training that, they're given is very watered down, and it's given by the Association of school Board Presidents, who are ex-administrators and ex-superintendents, so they're indoctrinated to one point of view. They need to know both their rights and responsibilities of the positions they take on as being elected officials. And I think moat would happily live up to the standards that are set by local people, if they' re educated to what they're left to. A lot of them, responsibilities that they're neglecting. It's time that we get independent school board training for them, so they can do justice to their positions and do justice to our education for the children.

Teachers are hired to teach in rural Alaska that don't have the basic background in cross-cultural communication; and I think that's where we do an injustice to both the teacher and the children, because these teachers are brought in from Outside, because they're not given a background on now to communicate with school year, are making it on a day-to-day basis, without the help of people. We need to have more ties to the local community and get that cross-culture communication going, so we can have effective teachers that don't have to deal with things.

You know, they might learn about that cross-cultural things that they need to by the time they leave. You know, we have a revolving door -- real high rate of teacher turnover; and we need to slow that down. We need to give our teachers the background they need; and we need to support them; but yet, we need the school boards to support us as parents and as Native teachers also.

I have a lot of other ideas in curriculum. I won't go into that; but we need to have relevant curriculum in the schools. That doesn't mean teaching totally Native culture; but they need to recognize if kids come in with a unique culture, that they shouldn't be put down. Their culture should be recognized and celebrated. They need to have like Alaska history talk, so that people realize where they're coming from and where they're going. They shouldn't just be taught foreign history.

We need to get away from the stereotyping of being looked upon as drunken Natives or slow learners. This past winter, I was really taken aback when someone called me, when we were dealing with the University of Alaska on controversy, that:

"The problem that Natives face at UAF stem from partying, drug abuse; these kids need to grow up and pull their weight."

Little did that person know that many Native students are older adults who have been in the workplace and have returned to school to gain the benefit of a University-based education. They're functioning in many facets of our culture; and want to strengthen their background of interest, so they can come back to the community and the people that serve, and work to their full potential.

We need Native leaders that can become mentors to strengthen the tie between the students, and business, and educational community. And I guess I'll stop at that.

I just want you to know that there are people out in rural Alaska that really believe in giving the best education possible for our students; and that we support the people that are going to the university, whether they go into education, or Business, or whatever. And we don't want to be looked upon as being passed on, or passed through a system. We earn our degrees, and I think that the time has come for people to realize that we don't have to have people speak for us. Thank you.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: It's encouraging to see that you're a teacher for these years, and I think that that's one of the very important solutions to a lot of the problems that we face. And I appreciate your comments. I'd ask the Commission members if they have any questions for this final group before we conclude?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Well, I'd just like to talk with Sheryl [sic] a little bit about the education. I know we don't have a whole lot of time now; but I'd like to see -- you said you had a report, or --

MS. MOSES: Sure, I'll -- I had planned on writing that anyway. It's part of my project.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Yes, I would like to -- okay.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: I see you have notes there. Are you going to submit those?

MS. MOSES: I tried to get a computer when you were at lunch, but I didn't have a disk, so I couldn't get it. I'll type it up.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Can you send them to us?

MS. MOSES: Sure I will.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Yeah, because I think that -- I notice you said you had ideas on curriculum, which you didn't expound upon, And I think that those things are important, too.

MS. MOSES: Well, it was -- you know, I brought that up because of Sarah's talk about environmental education. I worked this past year in writing curriculum for Alaska Native schools, and getting them introduced to environmental education. And that's going to be piloted this next winter.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Just to comment. I've worked with Shirley through some difficult issues; and she's always a true advocate, and one who has beliefs and follow through on them. And so she's going to be a great addition. I'm glad to see she's back getting her Master's; but she's dogged in her determination, and follow through, which we really need, She doesn't take no for an answer.

MS. MOSES: You should know that (laughing). Well, thank you for your...

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: I guess we're -- Morie, why don't you finish it up?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Well, thank you for your patience. I know we had one guy here, other than the Commissioners. I'd like to note we had Ory Williams(ph.) with us all day, and we wonder whether he's sane or not, but (laughter) we appreciate him being here. And we also had the gentleman from Nenana here all day.

(Off record at 7:35 p.m.]

***END OF PROCEEDINGS***


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Last modified May 11, 2011