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Native Pathways to Education
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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

 

Overview

 

(On record at 10:20 a.m.)

MS. FATE: This is the Alaska Natives Commission. It's a joint federal/state commission on policies and programs affecting Alaska Natives. This is our first public hearing of several that will be held throughout the state of Alaska, in the villages and in the urban. We had our first official meeting in February of this year; got on board our staff just a couple of months ago; and I want to introduce some people today. You'll see up in front, three of the Commission members. We have 14 voting Commission members -- seven federal and seven state. And would the Commission members stand as I call you and remain standing.

Up in front today that will be overhearing all of your presentations will be Morris Thompson. He's with Doyon. Morris will be throughout the day hearing; and if there's any questions, or he'll may be questioning you, or any comments, it’ll be Morris; and Edgar BOYKO:, the attorney from Anchorage; and Beverly Masek as Commission members. The other Commission members that are here today: Johne Binkley, sitting back there; Dr. Walter Soboleff; Father Sebesta, he may not be here now, but will be throughout the day; Father Norman Elliott; and are there any others that have come in? And myself.

Today we have with us the staff members, and first of all, you know Mike Irwin, our Executive Director. He's originally from Nenana, most recently with Sealaska. He is the new Executive Director, and I'd just like for him to say hi to you just briefly, if you would.

MR. IRWIN: Hi.
(Laughter)

MS. FATE: Everyone knows Mike, so if you need any work done, just call Mike. Bill Hanable.

MR. IRWIN: He's making coffee.

MS. FATE: Okay. He's one of our researchers, and he’ll be in and out. Bob Singyke. We all know him with --

MR. SINGYKE: Hi.

MS. FATE: -- Indian Health Service, AIHS in Anchorage. And so with this, I’d like to thank everyone for attending. We have other people chat we'll be hearing from throughout this. It's your Commission. It is up to the presenters to what we're going to get out of this, and I think this is a great opportunity that our Alaska Native people have in making any changes, if there should be changes or in the policy anything that should stay as is.

I see Emil Notti also. And our elders, thank you for coming -- Poldine and Debbie Wanus (ph.), sitting there with (indiscernible).

And with this, I’d like to have a few comments from our Commission members that will be hearing you today. That's Morris Thompson, Edgar will be next, and Beverly will be third.

COMMISSIONER TH0MPSON: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I’d like personally to welcome everybody here this morning. As Mary Jane indicated, we view this Commission as a real opportunity to look at the programs and the policies that affect Alaska Native people -- we Alaska Native people -- to determine, one, their effectiveness, what areas can be improved, what programs should be changed, what programs should be altered.

I believe that the Commission has a lot of visibility right now, and we look forward to working together as the Commission with the staff, and with you, the presenters, to try to make an impact on the lives and futures of Alaska Native people.

Just a couple of structural comments, and then I'll turn it over to Edgar. We'll have each group come forward. We'd ask, if you wou1d, to -- if you have written statements, leave them, and we'll make sure that the staff members have them for inclusion in the record. We do have a signup. If anybody comes late and would like to testify, we will stay here until everyone has testified. We do have a long list. We would ask, if you would bear with us, and maybe limit your testimony to five to eight minutes. If you feel, however, you must go longer, we will hear you.

And with that, we welcome you this morning and look forward to service on the Commission. Our report is due late in 1983, both to the State of Alaska, and to the President and Congress of the United States, so we look forward to working with all of you.

And, at this time, I’d like to introduce Edgar Paul Boyko:, who is also a Commission member and an attorney from Anchorage.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Thank you, Morrie. Since I’ve been introduced as an attorney from Anchorage by both Mary Jane and Morrie, I'll maybe give you a couple of words of information why this particular pale face is sitting up here trying to do something for the aboriginal Native people of Alaska. As the oldtimers among you know, Morrie and Emil and others, the rights, equities, and justice for Alaska Natives have been my theme for the last 40 years. I started out learning, as the Regional Counsel for the Bureau of Land Management, that Native lands were being squeezed away by various interests trying to grab a piece here and grab a piece there, and I got into that battle.

In 1967, I was appointed by then Governor Hickel to be Special Counsel to the State on the Native Claims Settlement. And I was in direct conflict with his then Attorney General, who wanted to fight the Native Land Claims, and I wanted to have the State support them.

I was able to convince the Governor to go my way, and I was then promoted, if you wish, to be Attorney General. And together, Governor Hickel and I -- and Morrie was in the Cabinet at that time -- and others, created a Commission consisting of Native leaders, which made it possible for them, at State expense, to travel, and meet, and plan for the Native Land Claims. And the rest is history.

I have, of course, in my many years, represented many Native corporations, Native groups, tribal groups; and I've continued to have an ongoing active interest in the well-being of the Alaska Native community.

Having been one of the midwives that brought into being the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act, I have been very concerned, because I have felt that, despite its great promise, and despite many areas of progress, there remains a great deal to be done before, particularly rural Alaskan communities and their people, can be brought up to the same standard that others enjoy here in this state and in the Lower 48 -- standard of living, the lifestyle, the health care, the education, the kind of things that Americans expect to enjoy in our country, and which, to this day, are denied to many, many Native communities, and many Native people. And unless this Commission can come up with suggestions and solutions which are new and creative, and which address these shortcomings, which address the lagging movement of improving the lot of Native people in, Alaska, we're wasting our time.

I think I can speak for most of us by saying we pretty well know what the problem is. What we're looking for are new answers, different answers, breakthroughs, because we have not, in the years since ANCSA was enacted, made the progress that we should have; and that's why we're here. Beverly?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Thank you. My name is Beverly Masek. You've probably heard and seen a lot of me during the winter, with the dog mushing, and I'm really pleased and happy that I'm here to hear your testimony regarding this Commission work that has to be done; and I want to make it clear, and to let you know that it's really, really important that you not be afraid to speak out and give us solutions. We all know what the problems are with the economics, and with the education, and with the problems, but we need to work together. And I think all of your input will be really important, and I really look forward to working with you. And, hopefully, by the time the 18 months is up, we'll be able to move forward and make healthier and happier lives for the Native people, because I feel we all should be living nicely, and working. And I'm really sad to see that there's so many people that are not doing well in the villages; and this is why I'm here today is to hear along with the other Commission members, to work together, and try to come out of what has happened. And I really appreciate that you're here, and I want to thank you all.

MR. IRWIN: A couple of housekeeping things. Over at the round table over there is Jan Welch with Kron & Associates; and she's acting as the recorder for the hearing today, so she might be asking you to speak up, or whatever. Please listen to her, as that's who she is. John McCorder (ph.) is here with public radio, and he's got one microphone that he's going to be trying to pick up as much of you guys as he possibly can; and I just wanted to let you know that he's going to be in front of you and stuff; and I hope that he's not in the way; and if he is, please tell him so. Bill Hanable had been introduced by Mary Jane, but wasn't here. Bill, if you could stand up, and let folks see who you are. Bill is my Deputy at the Alaska Commission, full-time with the staff; and, as has been indicated, will be doing a lot of major research for the Commission.

And then also, just one other thing, there's only one microphone that actually works on the PA, and since you'll have your backs to the rest of the crowd when you're talking, it would be real good if you guys could move it around. Is it up there now, John?

MR. MC CORDER (ph.): It's the middle one.

MR. IRWIN: The middle one.

MR. MC CORDER (ph.): The tall one.

MR. IRWIN: If you'd feel more -- I think it would help out if you guys would just move that microphone around. We apologize for not having fancier equipment and all, but we'll just hope we can muddle through today and get everything. Back to you.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thanks, Mike. Let's have the first panel. We have the overview presenters: Chief Peter John from Minto, the Traditional Chief for the Interior of Alaska; James Nageak, President of Fairbanks Native Association; Will Mayo, President, Tanana Chiefs Conference; and Representative Georgianna Lincoln, who, I don't know, I don't believe made it; but if we could have the first panel, we'll get started here with this batch.

MR. IRWIN: Morris, Eileen Kozevnikoff from Tanana is also here, and she needs to leave town; and since Georgianna isn't here yet (indiscernible-speaking simultaneously).

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Please, Eileen, come forward. For Commission members, Eileen Kozevnikoff from Tanana will sit in and offer testimony as well with the panel. And, well, I guess as is custom and tradition in the Interior, we would like to start with the Traditional Chief from our area. On behalf of the Commission, we welcome Peter John, who has recently been elected by the people from Interior Alaska as the Traditional Chief; and it's with great honor that we welcome you here today, and look forward to hearing from you.

CHIEF JOHN: I'd like to really try to understand the true meaning what I have to say on the things that the Indians used to live by many, many years ago. That is all gone; it's not here anymore, except that we do it the White man way. It seems that the people that live on many, many years ago is something that's hard to explain. Animals is what they lived on, and it's hard to me to explain the true meaning what that is. You would understand that the Native people didn't have no medical, and everything they lived by is what they get off the country; and that's very important to understand this, because, to me, it means a whole lot to me, how I live, 92 years old; and I never take no medicine from no doctors. That's the way our great, great grandfather used to live, before the White people.

But the things that they went by is understanding the animals that they catch. That's something that I don't think anybody would really understand the truth, what they live by. The people that I'm talking about is before the White people, how they used to live. It's so very important to have our grandchildren understand the true meaning what an Indian is. The Native people really don't understand the true meaning what that is. That's really why we have so much trouble with the young people to make them understand what they are. The medicine comes from the animals, but didn't come from the library or anyplace where there's doctors. It come from the understanding and the true way of putting them things together. I say I'm 92 years old, and the things that I seen in my day is something that is hard to live by today.

The animals. Our great, great grandfather. You see the fun they had, the Eskimo (indiscernible). How the Indians and Eskimos live by that before the White people. That's never been set aside for the young people to understand the true meaning of what that is.

When we start to talk about things like this, we're talking about something that was here before the White people. The way it was. I seen the people used to take care of the animals. Try to understand what that is. When you seen people that just lived by bow and arrow, there ain't much you can get protection from that, unless you really understand the way to how to use it.

I really would like to get this across, so that you people will understand how they take care of their animals. That's very important by the Native people themselves. These are the things that are very important to us as we grow up and see our great, great grandchildren holding back. We're here to try to help our grandchildren. I don't care what you are, but you have to understand the true meaning of what that is.

There's dope, whiskey, everything is connected with what is going on right now. And these are the things that are so very important to the Native people themselves, to live by what our great, great grandfather used to live by. And you're never going to get that back again.

In some way that's never been written, the history never been written, so we really don't understand the true meaning of what our great, great grandfather lived by. The animals. How they take care of them. What they used to use for medicine and everything like that is connected to what's going on right now, right here.

We got too many problems by the Native people. Not only that, but everybody; because there's a lob of things that's connected with our daily lives that we never look into it. There's a lot of problem out there. Our grandchildren, what do they know about the Indians? That’s the thing that is so very important for us to understand; because if you're going to live right, you have to understand who made this world in the first place. And that's for us to take care of things that we use. To me, that's very important.

I live down there in Minto, and I guess you remember Dr. Davis here. He used to teach in here. One day, two persons come from New York to study medicines (indiscernible) with me. These people, I don't understand what there is for them to work by. But the same thing what is going on right here, that we have to understand the truth of what our great, great grandfather lived by.

I could talk in my Native tongue, (indiscernible), but then nobody here would understand the true meaning of what I'm saying. That makes it pretty hard to explain the truth to what we are. Animals, fish, everything is connected with the Native people. How you use is very important.

I seen people that (indiscernible), yet we don't use no eyeglass or anything like that, except what do you live by the animals that they catch. And the thing is this that we have to take care of the things that we live off, and we have to make our grandchildren understand

I really had a hard time when I get here. I had a hard time to try to find out what this meeting's all about; because, to me, it’s something that's very speculate for us Native people to understand that what our great, great grandfather lived by many years ago still stand. But we have to understand the true meaning what that is.

There's a lot of things that's connected with the Native people's life before the White people that's never been written, or to look into it if what there is for us to know.

I really thank you people for inviting me for this meeting, and I have to really to try to hold myself up. 92 years is too old; but then when you start to be that old, you know what you lived through, and that's the one you want to pass on to your grandchildren; cause each and every one of us right here in this room right here, one way or another, has to fight for the older people, which we try to care, but we misinterpret the word.

A lot of us make mistake. I wonder how many will understand just a few words that I'm going to say in my Native tongue. (Spoke in Native tongue.)

Every one of you, you go to school over here at the university. These are the very important things by the Native people themselves to understand what ground they stand on. To me, I want to understand everything that the Native people stand for. Everything. All the village care (indiscernible). I know the Native name for all of the villages, and that's what I go by, because my great, great grandfather said that I have to understand the truth of what we are; and that's what I try to bring out. The animals our great, great grandfather lived by, what they are. That's the reason why they didn't bother with the doctors or anything like that, because it's already there. But it's up to them to understand what it is, by themselves.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thank you, Traditional Chief Peter John. We’ll -- if it’s okay with the rest of the Commission, we'll go down the panel, and if it's okay with the presenters, next we'll call on Will Mayo, who's President of Tanana Chiefs Conference. Will, welcome.

MR. MAYO: Thank you, Morris. In putting my thoughts together in preparation for this hearing, I wanted to try to give an overview of my interpretation and impression of some of the purposes, and then to offer some of my thoughts on some core issues facing Native people today, as we've been facing for many years, ever since the contact with the Western Civilizations. There's going to be a number of people coming forward to testify on different issues affecting Alaska Native people. They'll be talking about the problems in specific areas; they'll be talking about the needs that they see in their contacts and their life; and I wanted to make a few broad comments here regarding the overall picture of the Native American experience in this country since contact.

This year, we have the 500th year since the arrival of Christopher Columbus, and we have 500 years as Native people to reflect on the impacts. We have 500 years of history, and 500 years of the past White man have walked in our land. We have the benefit of this period of time to look at it very carefully, to assess the impacts, the advantages, the disadvantages that we have seen develop over these years.

In the history of the Native people and their presence on this their homeland, there has been, depending on which professor or scientist you talk to, anywhere from 6,000 years to 30,000. The last one I heard was 30,000 years Whatever it is, 500 years of relationship with the Western culture has brought, by far, the greatest changes. It is the changes that we have seen that have, I think, initiated and called for this Commission. One thing that I am grateful for immensely, is that though we know that many people left their homeland to come to our country in search of hope, success, gold, fur, oil, fish, riches, and some came for freedom -- many came for freedom -- most came for freedom. The ironic thing about it is that the people whose home this was for thousands of years uninterrupted have suffered much because of the coming.

But as I was saying, chough this impact on our land and our resources has been very detrimental in some ways, yet wise men who came together seeking independence from England, sat down and said:

"We need to create a nation where we can exercise freedom; where we can exercise basic human rights with dignity."

And in the development of their organic document, the United States Constitution, these men chose to recognize, without question, the human rights of self-determination, and of freedom, and of use and occupancy of the Native people. The only thing they said was that Congress will have the power, and only Congress, to regulate commerce with the tribes. So they did not even choose to question the existence of tribes. That was not even an issue with them. They did not even bring it up and spend any time with it. The only thing they knew was that they must, if they are just and honest, if they have really a sense of justice and fairness, they knew that they could not come to these shores and deny the Native American people the very thing that they sought -- the right to be self-determining, the right to operate their own form of self-government. They did not argue with the Indian people that we all have equal rights. Therefore, what's yours is mine. They did not even argue that, because they knew chat the international doctrine of use and occupancy supersedes the international doctrine of discovery. And they knew that in their fleeing of the monarchies of the Europe, that they would be remiss, dishonest, and perpetrators of injustice if they exercised their will over and against the Native American right -- human right to self-determination.

I believe that many of the difficulties we have are a result of the forcing of a new way, of a new culture, of new ideas upon the Native people without their consent, without their cooperation, or even without their input. I believe that the cultural clash that occurred could have been greatly mitigated, greatly lessened in all of its negative impacts, if only succeeding generations of American immigrants, since the drafters of the Constitution, would have followed the principles of that Constitution and allowed Congress to govern and regulate the relationship. Instead, what we have seen is that, as time has marched on in these 500 years, that there has been a gradual, and sometimes not so gradual, but continuous loss of rights -- recognition of the human rights and human dignity of the Native American people.

In exchange for that, the federal government has chosen to provide services; they have chosen to try to help mitigate and lessen the impacts. And rightly so. And so it is that many of the things that are happening are as a result of a relationship between the tribes and the federal goodwill, in attempting to assist in the social problems, the health problems, and education.

And, in summarizing and closing my comments, I would like to say that the work of this Commission -- you will be making a report to Congress; you'll be making a report to the President of the United States; you'll be making a report to the State of Alaska, and its Governor, and to the people of this country. I urge you to look back to the motivations of the drafters of the Constitution of the United States to reflect on their good work. It was not they that perpetrated the losses, for they tried to put control on it, knowing the pressures that would be brought to bear upon the Native American tribes; but that you would look at their work, and that you would carry that forward into 1992 and into the future; and that with justice, and with the respect for a nations of people, that you would consider your report as you consider the rights of the Native American people to adapt and evolve in this American experience, according to their own desires and wishes, and not only according to the ideas and wishes of some.

I urge you to recognize the right to self-determination, to tribal government, and to also recognize the importance of the subsistence way of life to the survival of a culture of people who have every right to continue to exist in a form that they design, and in a form that they control. And I think that by working together, as government to government, that the tribes, and the State of Alaska, and the United States government can work to fashion a hopeful future to assist the Native people in overcoming the social disruptions, the problems that have emerged for the last 500 years, and that there be mutual respect for the lands, the rights, and the culture.

Us working together in this fashion, I think that we can go rapidly and quickly into the future in a way that would result in a healthy Native American populations, and healthy and happy Native American children for the future.

So I thank you for this time to share these thoughts. I urge you in your preparation of your report, as you listen to testimony, to open your heart to what you are going to be hearing, and recognize that there is a place for all of these things, and that it does not have to be one over the other, but it can be one beside the other. And I appreciate your time. I know I've gone over my five minutes, and I m very glad to be able to be here to share this. Thank you.
(Applause.)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: And next we’ll hear from Eileen Kozevnikoff from Tanana. Eileen?

(TESTIMONY OF EILEEN KOZEVNIKOFF ATTACHED AS EXHIBIT #1)
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Eileen, if you would, we'd like to have your statement, so we can make sure it's inserted in the record as well. Thank you. The next speaker is James Nageak, who is the Chairman of the Fairbanks Native Association; and we welcome you, James.

MR. NAGEAK: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to represent an organization that has been an active part of this community of Fairbanks, and there are a couple of members of the board that I would like to recognize from the audience here. Poldine Carlo, and Jeanette Skanell back there, so I wanted to make sure that I represent well the Fairbanks Native Association.

I appreciate that so. It's an opportunity to look at some of the things that the association for the Natives of Fairbanks are trying to do, and some of the things that I jotted down here, first of all, of course, is the relationship of the Native people with the community in the education of the young people.

And, also, the Fairbanks Native Association is dealing with some of the economic problems that faces the Native people, not just here in Fairbanks, but all around the state. So we have an opportunity to work with the people right here, the business people, and also to work with the people that need to get out from maybe a welfare situation and get into something that they would like to do.

And, of course, some of the problems that we have are with the alcohol and other addictions. We have a center that is very active in dealing with some of the problems that we have as a community, not just for the Native Alaskans, but the Regional Center for Alcohol and Other Addictions is a center in which the Fairbanks Native Association welcomes the other people into their program. And it's always a good feeling for the board members when we begin to hear some of the things that are happening with our agencies right here in Fairbanks.

And this is one of the highlights, the moment in which we feel pride in ourselves that we associate ourselves as board members with the Fairbanks Native Association, and so it's one of those things that's growing It's beginning to be a focus in which the other agencies and other communities in the state are looking to this center, the Regional Center for Alcohol and Other Addictions, to look at that thing and say:

"Hey, maybe we can have something like this in our communities."

And, of course, we have also the community services that -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs have had some contracts that are let out to the Fairbanks Native Association, and we have been the association that spearheads some of the things that we are trying to deal with, not just from the State, but also from the federal agencies. So we have been doing some of the things that I'm hoping that you are here to hear; that the state, federal, and local agencies can begin to communicate with each other, and try to come together, and try to not have the state, or the federal, or the local government to be fragmented and not know what the State is doing, what the federal government is doing, and what the local government is doing; but like the lives of the Native people, when Peter John is talking about the true meaning of being a Native, the coming together of a person, coming together of a community, and try to face with some of the core issues that we have in our communities. It all boils down to being together.

The history lesson that Will Mayo gave us is really something that I appreciate, because as we look back, the first contact, the things that we needed to begin to understand -- as these guys are coming, the things that we needed to understand then was used in the educational system in which we didn't use in our own communities.

So I want to go back to the education, that this community is a community of over 70,000 people; and we, as Alaska Natives, are just a part; but because we are a minority within the system, we are trying to find some ways in which the voice of the Alaska Native is heard by the system that is educating our children. I and my wife have a ten-year-old that will be in the fifth grade in one of the schools here; and because of our relationship with the PTA, and with that particular school, we have a good relationship. But, overall, working with the administration and the policymakers of the school district, we have a mediated agreement that is being looked at, as one of the agreements that is -- in administration over there in we that central office. But we have, as the Fairbanks Native Association, an agreement that was put together, trying to deal with some of the this communication, they have their own ways of looking at the situation, and we have our own ways; and because I feel that the Native people tried to put together everything that their children needs to know about social, economic, and spiritual, in the relationship that they have with their environment -- the animals, the flora and fauna, that I'm beginning to appreciate, since I am an Inupiat from Barrow, Alaska, where there are no trees, where -- and I'm beginning to appreciate sometimes being able to get lost in among the spruce tress, and the birch bark, and trying to get some ideas on how to relationship with the Western culture.

I think that's one of the problems is that we, as Native people, always have (indiscernible - noise) to educate the other side. We have trying. We spend so much time in trying to put down on paper, or in communicating -- talking with the Chief of the Forest Service. When Gates of the Arctic was trying to become a park, we have these people come here to Anaktuvuk Pass, and they heard the Native people and what their feelings were, and we were educating the people that were coming there to begin to regulate through the National Park Service rules and regulations that all of a sudden we had to follow. And sometimes the elders in that community never knew until the National Forest rangers came along and said:

"You know, that's par -- you're doing something wrong. That is in the rules and regulations of the thing that you accepted."

The lack of communication. The lack of interpretation, I think. Even though the park chiefs goes in front of the people and gives the speech, and the polices and regulations of the National Park, 75 percent of the people never understand what is being said.

And that's one of the things that we as Fairbanks Native Association is trying to do, I believe, is to begin to give the community, not just here in Fairbanks, bur we're being expanding. We just had a workshop at Chena Hot Springs into which we tried to deal with some of the ways in which we can begin to be more effective in the way that we deal with some of the problems. And we're finding out that the other parts of the state, some of the communities are beginning to come to Fairbanks and say:

"Hey, you guys have a really good program. How can you help us?"

So, it's always a good feeling to have this particular aspect in our lives, especially me coming from a different village, being Inupiat within, the Doyon, the Tanana Chiefs, and being accepted, and also trying to become a part of this. Well, it's something that is not unique to Fairbanks. It's not something unique to Barrow, but something that we all -- the state, the federal, and the local governments have to begin to deal with.

I saw some five different ways in which to try to look at that: the economics, the education, the social, and other aspects of our lives, which we as Native people have always tried to put together.

You know, when I was growing up, my mother told me:

"If you are going to be dealing with some of the animals, you better be respectful."

And the way that I relate to other people is directly related to that particular animal that I will be hunting, and also it will affect my relationship with an elder in that community. It used to have a good effect on me when I was young and getting my first seal, and I took that seal to an elder, and that elder began to say to me every time she sees me:

"Man, I want to thank you for that seal. You made my day in providing the sustenance that I need to survive."

And so the relationship in the way that we deal with our environment, the clothes you can buy them in (indiscernible) whether it be in Barrow, or here in Fairbanks, whether it be in Southeast Alaska, but having a good relationship with those around us. And appreciate the opportunity that the state and the federal government are beginning to come back to getting together the things that are needed to face some of the problems -- alcohol, drug abuse, and suicide, education. All of these things we need not to be fragmented, as the State agencies saying:

"Hey, you can't do that. That is our responsibility."

And the federal government saying here:

"Hey, that's our turf. You keep away from our turf, and we are dealing directly with the Native people."

And so I'm glad that this Commission, hopefully, will begin to put these things together and begin to say:

"Oh, yeah, it is our problem. Let's see if we can put together our resources; not have a duplicate situation in each of the governments, but a unified attempt in working out with the Native people of Alaska in trying to deal with the social issues."

I thank you for this opportunity. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thank you, James.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Does -- do any of the Commission members have questions of any of the presenters?

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I do, indeed.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Please, Edgar?

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Did you want to go first?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: No, go on ahead, please.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Before I address my questions, and I've taken some careful notes, because I found what you told us to be very interesting and challenging. I want to say something about -- a little bit about the procedure we're following here. This is a trial balloon. We're trying to work out some way of getting input from the people in some organized, sensible way; and it was proposed that we try this type of hearing today, which may or may not be the pattern we follow in the future, depending on how successful it works today. What's been done is we've broken into various panels today, dealing with specific subjects which correspond to task forces within the Commission, which have been created under the enabling law that created us. And the panel that is sitting here right now is called the Overview Panel, and what we've been looking for in this particular portion of this session is some overview thoughts on where we should go, how we should address your concerns, how we would best draw out from you folks what we need to know in order to make an intelligent report which will be helpful to you. This is not a civil service agency, where we each stake out our own turf and feather our own nests.

There's a very short sunset on this Commission. We are here to gather information. We are here to get your views and to put it into a rationale report to the two governments, with recommendations of what we can do to improve what1s been going on; and so this is what this is all about.

I had hoped to ask the Traditional Chief, Peter John, a couple questions. If he's still here, I would like to do that. I sense values here that are disappearing, not only among the Native folks, but among all nations, all ethnic groups, which is a disregard for the past, a disrespect for the elders, and it gave me a feeling of buoyancy to hear the Traditional Chief to speak about those things, because not only your people, Chief, but my people, are losing those traditional values. We're here, and now, and quick; and we don't even know what our past has been; and it's folks like the Chief Peter John who can teach us to go back to that.

And my question to you -- I have two questions, if I may? One, can you see anything that we could recommend that would make it possible to preserve the memory and the values of the old ways, and carry it forward to the younger people who don't really seem to understand it anymore? Is there something we can do? Can we create some kind of an entity that will teach the old ways, where folks like Chief Peter John and others can carry on the traditions of their people? Is there anything we can do positively to make that happen?

CHIEF JOHN: I think there's a lot of things that need to be ironed out, as I see those things, 'cause the old Indian ways is all gone up to right now; and that is not going to get back, unless we do something about it and try to get the younger people to understand what our great, great grandfather stand by was a very strong to understand the true meaning what that is. Now you see me right here, 92 years old. What make me feel this way is what the younger generation should understand that could be done by the way they live. Your grandchildren, if you have grandchildren, are they going the way you want them to go? That's the question that is before them right now. Do our grandchildren want to live according to their great, great grandfather? There's a lot of things to mention right now, according to the way we try to live. The thing that I think is very important is that our grandchildren -- our grandfather happy without school many years ago, that I was raised up in. And you can't find it no where, unless you took your talkative old people that understand these things. So when you start to talk about the old way, of our grandchildren learning that way, you have to understand that who you're talking to.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I have another question, Chief, if I might? Is there some way that you can see that we can preserve the old languages? You said that probably very few people would understand the Language. Is there some way we can encourage people to learn it, so that they don't -- the o1d languages don't die out? I mean, all over the world, there is a new respect for the past. Dying languages have been resurrected, Latin, Hebrew, just to name a few. Is there some way that the old Indian, and Eskimo, and Aleut languages can be preserved, and encouraged that the young people will be bilingual?

CHIEF JOHN: That is something that we must not forget. Our Native language is very important to the young people today. You look back, you talk about when the first White people come what they (indiscernible). That's the question you’re asking yourself right now. The language -- what we don't understand is this: that the White people come from Europe, and when they done that, they lost something that God give them, and that's the question that we're asking right, that our great grandchildren have to understand what they are; and that's very important to the school, and the way the kids -- once I said in Juneau at one time then we was out there for the meeting, I said that our children never get the full benefit of what the school is. And that’s what it is. We have to make our grandchildren understand that their language is a headstone of the people that's living today. Now you grandchildren need that advice, and make them understand where they come from.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Thank you, Chief. Mr. Mayo, can you enlighten me as to what degree education is available to Alaska Natives in their original languages, be they Athabascan, or whatever?

MR. MAYO: It varies. What we have recognized is that what is available is not nearly enough to be effective. Okay? I guess that, if I put it that way, it would save a lot of time in trying to exp1ain what is happening. Various school districts in the rural areas have, for years, some level of Native education efforts going on through the Indian Ed Program, and also through some of their own programs. But what has universally been recognized is that a structured curriculum with certified language instructors needs to be developed, that will result in a effective Native language transmittal, which has not been occurring so far. For this reason, as you may be aware, there has been efforts going on in both the State Legislature and in the Congress to try to help with this problem area -- how to develop effective delivery systems for Native language instruction. Again, everyone recognizes that need. It's there. Senator Murkowski sponsored a Native language legislation that is still making its way through Congress that would appropriate significant funds to help set up programs for the instruction of dative languages. This is a very promising piece of legislation, because it provides resources needed for us to begin to set up these program in a strong way.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Would that be administered through the school district, or through Native organizations, or how would it be delivered?

MR. MAYO: I'm on a little bit of shaky ground. There's going to be some other people; but I believe there's going to be grants available through Native organizations, and, I hope, through tribal councils that will enable them to develop programs.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Yeah. Let me run this thought by you and get a reaction from you. I've, for a long time, had the feeling that a lot of the symptoms we see -- the alcoholism, the suicide rate, the child abuse, all the things that have been mentioned here, are not solely economically driven, but there is an underlying lack of self-worth that comes from powerlessness that creates these situations. For a man or a woman to function effectively in their society, they have to feel that they're worth something; that they have power over their own lives and the lives of their families and their communities. And through many, many years of neglect and misrule, we have deprived the Native people and the original American inhabitants of this continent of that pride, of that self-worth, of that feeling of empowerment; and I think that Chief John has stirred in my mind the thought that one of the reasons is that we have forced upon them a culture which was strange, and which they have now become somewhat accustomed to; but in the process, we have taken away their own. There's nothing wrong for aboriginal Americans, Alaska Natives, to speak English, to function effectively in the White man's culture, but we should not deprive them of their identity, of their culture heritage, which is as valuable and as valid as our own. And I'd like to see that process reversed; and I think, if we do that, if we allow them, and encourage them, and permit them to go back to their roots, to identify with their language, to identify with their culture, to identify with their spiritual values, that we will see the other things emerge. Now, what do you think about that?

MR. MAYO: I think that you have addressed and expressed one factor in the conditions that we find. I think that there's a very strong move in individual villages towards the sense of moving forward and ahead. I think that part of the answer is the strong focus on cultural values; but, most importantly, I feel like the Native leadership and future Native generations must have the self-determination to enable them to adapt in a sensitive and appropriate manner. Now adapting and evolving are things that we have been forced to do in an uncontrolled, and sometimes very harmful ways; but I think there is time, and there is a need for an effort right now for there to be support, whether its from the state or federal governments, in recognizing that adaptation, and evolution, and change. But the strengthening of the Native culture needs to be done in a way that is guided and self-directed within. And your help, the help of this Commission, I view as being a step in that direction, if we care to go that way.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Thank you, Mr. Mayo. Has Eileen left us? And forgive me for calling her by her first name. I still have trouble; I haven't written down her last name properly.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: She had to catch a plane.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: She had to leave? Okay. I had some questions, but I'm sure those can be asked later. I'd like to ask Mr. Nageak. You brought up something that I thought was very important, and the key word was fragmentation. I have a feeling -- and please tell me if I'm wrong -- that a lot of the problems that we experience that we're supposed to address here, come, indeed, from fragmentation. We have so many cooks working that broth. We have federal agencies; we have the BIA; we have the Indian Health Service; we have state agencies; we have the Park Service; we have the Forest Service; we have local governments, school districts, assemblies, city councils, boroughs, ANCSA corporations, nonprofits, Tanana Chiefs, tribal councils; and everybody is working in the same direction, but everybody is kind of taking a slice of the pie and slicing it smaller. Do you think there's a way that we can start eliminating all of this duplication and overlapping, and maybe divide the pie in such a way that one unit will take care of health problems, another one will take care of education problems, not everybody trying to do the same and having overlapping layers of bureaucracy and overhead? What do you think?

MR. NAGEAK: First of all, I think that the fragmentation -- or the diversity is the term I want to use at this point -- that the diversity of our society in which we live, that we have all of these different ethnic groups that make up our unique United States government and United States country that makes it into a very interesting country to live in (indiscernible).

But the fragmentation in the way that we are trying to deal with some of the problems, I guess we have been really good students in the way that the Western culture has taught us in looking at yourself. Okay, Monday to Friday, you go out and make bucks. On Saturday night, you go out to some bar and socialize; and on Sunday, you go and get your spiritual lift, and then start all over again on Monday. Never the three meet.

But in the Native society in which I grew up in, the idea that the economics, and the social, and the spiritual are all interrelated into activities that I had to do as a young boy, and also activities that I had to do as a whaling captain, the things that regulated my behavior, because I want to be a whaling captain; and all of these things. The social part, of course, you see as a nalukataq, the feast we have after successful whaling activities; and the way that we relate to our elders, and the way that we relate to the whales, the spiritual aspect of our live, and the way that we relate to those things spiritually around us is also within that activity. And the economics, of course, the Western culture of the terminology economics which doesn't really apply in the way that we share a part of the catch that we have, whether it be whale, seal, caribou, moose, and all of these things that we do in our society.

So we have the whole system right in our hands, and that's where the fragmentation in which these -- we feel we're -- the educational part over there in the education department, the social services over here, and then we have the priests and the ministers on Sunday to do our spirituality for us.

And so I guess I want to go back to your first question that deals with language. I teach the Inipuit [sic] language at the University here. That's my other hat that I have, and one of the problems we have, of course, is that the idea of teaching a language in a classroom where there are four walls and a blackboard is outrageous for me. I need to be able to function, as a professor of the Inupiat language, to be able to take my students where the action is, not in a room. The idea that, as I am relating to the environment, the words come out, and those three things again -- the social, the economics, and the spirituality -- all of these words come out when I am out there doing the Native thing -- the subsistence way of life. I think that's why I wanted to come back to that.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I have a million more questions, but we're told that we're running way overtime, and I apologize for that. Beverly, I'm sure, has some questions. Mike, what's the situation as far as our schedule is concerned?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Mike just stepped out, and I was given a note, Ed, by Mike that says that we have no option.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: We've got to be done by 5:00.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: We have no option to extend.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: They kick us out; it's those rules and regulations that Mr. Nageak was talking about. And sometime when we have a chance to talk, I want to find out from you why the communication breakdown between the regulators and the regulated, whether it’s language, or culture, or what. But we don’t have time for that.

MR. NAGEAK: Okay, I have your fax number, so I could get some information on that.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Good, please do. Morrie, what's your pleasure? Where do we go from here? Maybe we should find out whether there's anybody else that wants to say anything to this panel -- what do you think? -- that hasn't spoken.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: We do have panelists who've traveled, Ed, a long way, --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Yes.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: -- many from out of town; and to make sure that -- I think that each segment is equally important --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Yes.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: -- that we should -- I've been suggested by the Chairman and others that we do try to limit ourselves to -- and the future speakers, if you would, to five minutes. We've been very liberal with the overview, because, obviously, as we know, these people are all leaders within the region. We are -- in order to hear all the others, however, we are going to try to stick to the --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Cut it down, yes.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: -- five-minute rule.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Yes. And maybe we will learn from this that this is not the best format, and that we will --

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Yes.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: -- try something else next time.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: That' s entirely conceivable, so....

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Beverly, I'm sorry I've taken up a lot of your time.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: No problem. I have some questions that I will let it wait, since we have to continue on.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thank you, Beverly.

MR. MAYO: Mr. Chair?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: I, too, will do that. Mr. Mayo?

MR. MAYO: One brief comment. I think this is probably a good way to get testimony, Commissioner BOYKO:. I believe that you need to hear it from the people, from their hearts.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I agree.

MR. MAYO: And I think that allowing people to gather together and to present their comments is a good way. The last point, I urge you to bake your hearings to the villages. I would request that you hold at least six in our region in the Interior, one in each of our sub-regions; and I make that formal request at this time. I'll be glad to work with Mike or whoever to try to help.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: You've put your finger on a very contested issue there. There seems to be different opinions among various members of the Commission and the staff. Some of us have felt that that's exactly what we need to do. We've been told that there are budget restraints. Some of us have offered to go to the villages without pay; we were told we're not legally allowed to do that; but, certainly -- I know Father Elliott, for instance, goes to the villages a lot; and he has offered to hold informal meetings and sound out the people; and your request certainly may help to get that accomplished, and I thank you for it.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: And we thank the -- I'm told that we're all panel members, and I keep saying presenters; but we thank the first panel. We'll move on to the next panel, which is the Native Education Issues Panel: Irene Nicholia, Michaele Koweluk, Angela Jackson, Rose Isaac. If there are other representatives that would like to come forward in place of those people, if none of them are here, we'd move into that panel now. What we're going to --just for the audience’ sake, what I've requested on behalf of the Commission members, is maybe a 10-minute or 15-minute lunch break for us to gobble a sandwich, and we'll keep going.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Where do we get one to gobble?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: I've asked if they could go order a quick sandwich.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Oh, that would help.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: And we'll take a very brief break.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Let's really make it no more than 15 minutes, because otherwise we'll get into a jam.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: We won't be able to cover all of the agenda.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: No, no, no. I suspected that when I saw the agenda, but then we live and learn.


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Last modified May 11, 2011