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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

 

Native Social and Cultural Issues

 

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Do I chair this one?

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Yes.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Keep going.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Okay

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: You're doing good.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: I would just like to make one observation. When we as a commission were called together, one of the points that was brought to us by Julie Kitka from AFN was the fact that there were four very critical areas, which I think have been continually identified; and they were: suicide, and alcoholism, violence, and teenage pregnancy. And the question was to us as Commissioners to go to the people and find out what might be effective solutions. And I don't think that there needs to be proving to us, or to the senators and Governor that they are very serious issues. They have been proven. And what we're looking for is your very sincere ideas on solutions to these things, innovative approaches, things that might be more efficient, and things that might be working. And I would very much appreciate maybe the comments being directed toward those areas; and I know we're moving on to the social and cultural issues; and I think that those items that I mentioned may come up there also.

The first person who is on the list is Susie Sam; and, Susie, would you like to identify yourself and --

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: I think she needs that white mike. The others ones don't work.

MS. SAM: I don't like to speak with my back toward most of the people, so I'll turn my back this way, and have only four people behind me, to keep everybody from whispering in the back; and if you see anybody whispering back there, please let me know. (Laughing.) I'm not a good public speaker. I am, for a lot of Alaska Natives, I really would encourage this Commission to actually go out to the villages. I think it's very important, I think we have a lot of people speaking here today that are for organizations; and I see I'm representing one; but I think if you talk to individual Alaska Natives, I think it would be more effective.

Another thing is that I would really appreciate the whole Commission members, if they're going to set up a meeting, they should all be here. I mean, we all sacrificed our Saturdays. I mean, we have a lot of other things that we want to do. I have a two-year-old boy. This morning when I was getting ready, he goes:

"Mom, you not have to work today. It's Saturday."

And that kind of thing just makes me want to stay home instead of coming up here. To people that are supposed to be interested but are not all here, that just kinds of tells us that our testimonies and stuff is not important. I think that it is; and I think it should be portrayed that way for future --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Do you give extra credit to those of us who are here?

MS. SAM: But you're getting paid, you said today.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Some.

MS. SAM: Okay, some of you are getting paid. I just want to go back to what Peter John was saying this morning that it is really important for us to listen to our elders and be proud of who we are. I think that there is a lot of kind of misconceptions that I think that are out there. People are always saying:

"Get an education. Get an education,"

Yet, when we do work our way through school, get a four-year degree, there's not a lot out there for us. And we have to take one route or the other. It's just tearing the younger people apart. I feel sorry for the people that are younger than I am that are making that decision right now. They're listening to their elders, and getting all their traditional values in score; but yet, people are telling them:

"Get an education."

That's a pretty tough decision. I chink that's where a lot of the confusion of the younger people are trying to make that choice right now. And I just have a lot of gripes. I just want to let you know that I did apply for this Commission. I wasn't accepted. I don't know why. They didn't give me any reason; they just wrote me a one sentence, saying I wasn't accepted. But I think it's very important for the younger people to get involved, state what they have to say, even though sometimes they're not listened to. I think, if you talk it out and get it out of your system, you'll be feeling a lot better about yourself. And I think a lot of the trouble that we experienced today about running overtime is a lot of the testimony was put into other words by the Commission members. And maybe our words should just be taken for what it's worth, instead of being edited; and if they have any personal questions, I'd be glad to answer them over the phone, instead of taking all these people's time all through their Saturday. And in order for this Commission to work, it has to be very committed people on there to make it work. That's the only way it's going to pull through. And that was just my major gripes on the Commission with how it's being handled today. I know it's their first meeting, and I was very excited when I heard they were going to be formed, and I thought that was a big seep for the Alaska Natives, but I was kind of disappointed today.

I was encouraged by the two younger girls that came up here today. You know, very well spoken, stating right to the point what they had to say. I think their comments, as well as their eldersf, should really be taken seriously.

I think there's a lot of things that this Commission can do, especially on the subsistence parts; and one of the questions asked was:

"Well, what can we as Alaska Natives do to convince non-Natives, or non-subsistence users that we need subsistence?"

And one suggestion was that we can scratch all the politicians' backs down there, and maybe they might scratch ours' after.

The education, I had one real concern; and one of the Commission members asked the question:

"Well, what can we do with the people that"--

not in these words, but if one of the panel members had any suggestions on -- what is that word? -- incentives for letting our younger people go to school? And I am one of the people who had to sacrifice four years of my life away from my family, to get an education, and it's going on six years, and I still haven't paid my student loan off; so that's ten years of my life sacrificed for that formal education; which, to my knowledge, it hasn't done me too much good yet. They keep telling me it will. But I just wanted to say that I did that because my grandfather and my mother always told me to do that. You know, they said:

"We're always going to be Native wherever you live. You can always go back to the village, and you can always adapt to that village lifestyle.''

And I think that's true. So they don't think ten years of living in the city will change me in any way, because every time I go back, I adapt to their ways just as quickly. And that's all I had to say.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Okay, Susie, thank you very much. I think that your comments, particularly about the Commissioners going to the villages, is heard very well. And of the whole Commission also. I think that, of the fourteen members of the Commission, I think they're all very dedicated, and they're very conscientious and interested. I'd like to move on to Benedict Jones.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: May I just follow up real briefly, Susie? Just so you also know, all 14 were not invited here today. And the reason was to hold the cost down; and so we can have more hearings, rather than just a few hearings with 15 people sitting up here, and four people -- or 20 people in the audience. So, it was by design; and the people that are not here, it's not that they don’t want to be here, and please understand that; it's just that it was set up so that we would have a few people taking testimony, so we can go to more places.

MS. SAM: That should have been stated right off in the beginning.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Maybe it should have been, and it was a good suggestion. Thank you.

MR. JONES: I'm Benedict Jones from Koyukuk. I just recently got elected as an, Denakkanaaga Elders Chief and I'm on the Board of Directors of Dennakkanaaga. I just recently retired from the State of Alaska, Department of Transportation, 20 years' service for the public; and I'm presently Second Chief of my Traditional Village. I have limited education due to world War II interruption on my education. Because of the BIA’s school in Koyukuk, and during the war, they took all the teachers out of the village, so we didn't have no teachers during the war; and then I think the BIA forgot about Koyukuk, where it existed in the map of Alaska; so for about four years, we didn't get no teachers back into Koyukuk at that time. Somewhere in I48 or '49, we finally got our teachers back, and I came back to school again; but, at that time, the BIA and the Territorial Alaska had regulation that if you turned 16, you automatically had to get out of school, so that stopped my education there.

As for Denakkanaaga, we've been pushing with State of Alaska -- maybe, we can ask the Commission, too, with your help to try to get more elders' home with the Tanana Chiefs Region. We have one in Tanana, but we would like to have another one in Galena or Fort Yukon area where these elders have to move away from their villages. It's hard for the relatives -- say for the Tanana, it's hard for the expense. The transportation is so expensive to travel from their village to visit the elders. And also for up here in Fairbanks. So we would like to see more elders' home within our region, or within the state of Alaska. I know the other elders throughout Alaska is pushing for the same thing, too.

I listen to a lot of statement that Peter John made that for Native culture. As a Chief, or a Elder's Chief now, as a youth, I used to listen to the elders, because we didn't have no radio or anything in those days. The only education that we were getting, at that time, was going around to the elders. Maybe one elder would tell us a story from the time the earth was formed; and we'd listen to about how the animals was created, and:he stars, and the moon, and all that. So that's mostly my culture education is from the elders. And I respect them for that.

As for preserving the Native language, I know Georgianna Lincoln's felt (indiscernible) and the legislation, but I would like to see it maybe put more wording, and so the other legislators could understand what our Native language is all about. Because preserving our language, it comes to help. For me anyway, when I was going to school and trying to learn how to speak English, it kind of helped educate me to understand the two language, my language and the English language. So it'll be more helpful for the youths to understand our culture, our Native way of life, and so on.

As for fishing, as Pat Madros stated earlier, I'm a subsistence user; but he said a game biologist doesn't understand our subsistence way of life. As for this past two years since I moved back, the best time of our salmon run is the first run, and they limit our fishing to coincide with commercial fishing. So we could not preserve our king salmon. They're bad when they just come off the coast; but if you go back -- we're still catching king right now, but they're not as high quality as the first run, so we're only limited; but if they shut us off for three, four days during the commercial, to make up their mind -- this past fishing season, we back in the villages from the -- oh, say, from Ruby down to Holy Cross area, we didn't know from day to day when is the fishing, even for subsistence. We didn't know from day to day. We asked and called the Fish and Game, but we don't get no response from them. They didn't know themselves when the next fishing season's going to be opened another 24-hour period or what. So, when they closed it three or four days, by chat time, the high-quality fish has already gone by.

And another thing about drug trafficking into the villages. This is real critical in our area anyway. I know that the federal and state agencies watch only the big airlines and other drug traffic, but they don't pay attention to villages, where there is the drug traffic, so I'd like to see the state and federal drug agency to check priority with air taxi terminals. Maybe dogs sniffing. I know several drug dealers in the villages, but as for one of the State Troopers in the past, he was a drug dealer, too; so we couldn't do anything about it. So I'd like to see the federal and state agencies do it. Watch the village. This would help cut down on suicide and all that.

And another thing, too, on alcohol, there's been a lot of accidents due to alcohol. Not only in the summertime, but in the wintertime; and I would like to see us -- I asked the State legislators, but I don't know what's become of it to -- or the Alcohol Board to limit or enforce like they do here in the city. If the guy's intoxicated, he could not buy another bottle of liquor or a case of beer from the liquor store. But out in the Bush, there's no control. A person is half-intoxicated can still buy a case of whiskey, and takes off, and he falls off a river boat or something. So this is something that you need to enforce in the rural area liquor stores.

I've been trapping all my life as a subsistence user. I use most of my -- this is since I've retired, I use most of my fur trapping as for my own subsistence use. And there's a lot of anti-trappers that's going out, and maybe the Congress or somebody can stop the anti-trappers that -- anti-trappers are coming up with new traps that we could not afford to buy -- what they call leg-hold trap; and I saw it in a magazine advertised; and just for one trap was $80, and we could not afford to buy that. So, as long as I'm able to trap, I want to continue using these traps that we presently have.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Okay, Benedict, thank you very much.

MR. JONES: I think that's all I got to tell you.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Okay, thank you very much. Let's see, the next person on the list is Don Shircel.

MR. SHIRCEL: Thank you. My name is Don Shircel, and for the past nine years, I've been the Director of Family Services for the Tanana Chiefs conference. As a social worker, I've come to know two key elements: family and tribe, as the most important issues in viewing Native social concerns, and in developing culturally-appropriate services to effectively approach the myriad of social problems which exist in Alaska's villages today.

Ten years ago, the late Gerald Wilkenson (ph.), a Cherokee elder and social worker, wrote an article in the Journal of Contemporary Social Work about the relationship of families and tribe. This is what he said:

"Indian people are a family. Family is really what a tribe is all about. A tribe is a collection of families in which everyone has accepted duties and obligations to each other. In a tribe, everyone has an important function, a purpose, and a role to play."

He went on in the same article to say this:

"The Indian family is in a lot of trouble, and that means chat Indian people as a whole are in a lot of trouble, because a tribe simply cannot withstand the disintegration of its families. The family is the tribe, and it is that type of relationship that keeps people going. The family is the tribe. Native tribes are a family."

Social services, which assist to empower Native families, strengthen Native tribes. Programs and policies which assist to empower Native tribes, strengthen Native families. You don't have to be a social worker to realize that fully functioning strong and healthy families produce strong, healthy, and happy children, who feel good about themselves, who feel they have an important purpose, and who have a most important role to play in the future of their tribe.

Unfortunately, the converse is also true. We all know of families, even ourselves, who, at one time or another, have experienced problems. As this Commission has stated, the statistics alone indicate that many problems are just as great, and even greater, in Alaska's villages as in other places. Family violence, child neglect and abuse, alcoholism and drugs, problem youth, the slow deterioration of respect for elders, unfortunately, have all become part of village life for a growing number of some village families. Many of these problems are not new. Problems such as these develop over a long period of time. No one is drawing attention to anything that people haven't known or seen coming. Although the problems are really nothing new, perhaps the way people work to help to find the solutions of these family and village problems will have to be new. Well-meaning attempts at addressing the problems that village families have had, have often been ineffective. Many of these old solutions have concentrated on help coming from outside the village. It was thought that experts, professionals, might have the answers to solve the problems experienced by village families. It was thought that money applied directly to the family might somehow buy the solution. Both methods have been tried in different ways at different times. Both methods have and do help in some ways. But the problems continue, and they continue to get worse. And, in some cases, new problems are created by the very methods tried to eliminate other problems.

Experts coming from outside the village keep villagers dependent on the skills from someone else, so that local skills and leadership are not developed. Money given directly to a family can keep families dependent on someone else for their livelihood, or can be used to exacerbate other problems. The Athabascan value of self-sufficiency can easily become lost in the good intentions of people outside the village trying to help. At times, help is needed. Professional expertise is needed, and it does take money for many important services. But perhaps the focus of these services must be realized.

As a social worker, I strongly believe that dollars and services must be committed where the problems are experienced -- in the village. Dollars and social workers in the village. Training dollars to train village tribal members to become para-professionals and to become social workers. Social workers from the village helping their tribal members and families working together, watching out for and caring for their families. Villages making their own decisions for the care and best interests of their families and children; empowering tribes, empowering families.

This Commission will have little difficulty in finding someone with some number someplace to put on just about every problem related to the status of social conditions in Alaska's villages. But there are a number of reports, such as the Governor's Interim Commission on Children and Youth of 1988 that also focused on the issue of where the services need to be. Pulled from the 1988 Governor's Interim Commission:

"A major shift from categorical funding to more block grant structure, must be designed within and across state agency boundaries. State dollars and human resources must be committed to the belief that the true source of healing lies in the ability of rural communities to do it themselves."

I would also like to submit to this Commission, "Into the 90's, the Strategic Plan for service to Alaska Families and Children." This plan recognizes that neither the Division of Family or Youth, or any agency or organization can truly serve children and their families without the help and support of other agencies, organizations, families, and tribes.

It focuses on the special need to work cooperatively and in creative partnerships with Alaska Native village councils and tribal courts. It call for changes in the ways in which the state relates to Alaska Native tribes. Changes that are necessary to fully implement the Indian Child Welfare Act. It calls attention to the disproportionate number of Alaska Native children who continue to be placed outside their extended families, their tribes, and their cultures in non-Native foster homes. It calls for the State to take a close look at tribal certification of foster homes, to work with tribal courts, to work with the village, and put the services where they're needed -- in the village. I thank you for this opportunity to speak.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Go ahead.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: We've had a request, and I wonder if you'd help us honor it? We've had -- and I know everyone's waited, but we do have a couple of elders who have waited all day; and we'd like if you -- and I know you would allow us to allow Neal Charlie to testify, and then we'll come directly to you if that's okay. Neal? And then Marjorie Maya also wanted to know if she could go ahead. And if you wouldn't mind, we'll put Neal, who is from Minto; and, Neal, we welcome you; and we'd ask if we could move Marjorie Minto up if she's still here? Okay. At this time, Neal, we welcome you to the Commission here.

MR. CHARLIE: Thank you. I want to thank this board for letting me talk before them. I don't have too much to say. All I have to say is that I think we need jobs in our villages. There is a lot of jobs -- paying jobs -- that could be done in the villages, that's been done from way back a long time as volunteer jobs. These boys they're still volunteer jobs today.

Tribal court is one of them. We've got tribal court system set up in our village, and this is just a volunteer from the village. Like everywhere else, they pay everybody for doing things. I think it's about time that these people should start getting paid for a job that they do like that, because that’s one of the most important things in the villages -- tribal court. I know in our village, we depend on it a lot. And these people they have put in a lot of their own time on it.

Another thing that I keep thinking about is that we should have our own place to keep our people and our own village. And that should be paying job there, to take care of our own people. We have five or six old people in our village who could get -- the government can pay people to take care of them, so (indiscernible - coughing). That kind of things.

I think that there's a lot of jobs that can be found in the villages for younger people. Pretty near every day we have young people with education, go through high school and everything, we hear it repeated over and over say:

"It's boring; nothing to do."

Heck, me, with not one grade in my life, I keep myself busy. Here, these educated kids, they say they got nothing to do. They're bored, and I think that if you educate these poor kids, they should have something to look forward to, instead of just left out on the street.

What I think that I would ask that whoever can should go out there and take a survey of what we're talking about. We're talking from the village right now. We're not talking about Fairbanks or Anchorage. We'd like to have somebody out there survey on these things and see what we're talking about. Try to get some job paid for these boys in the villages. That’s all I got to say. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thank you, Neal.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you very much, Neal.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: And Marjorie Mayo? Is she still here?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Yes.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Would you come forward, Marjorie?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: She left.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: I think she left.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Oh, she left? Okay. Then, Joe, thank you very much for yielding to the elders. Would you like to give your testimony?

MR. HICKS: Yes, I will. My name is Joe Neal Hicks. I am an employee of Ahtna, Inc. I have been working there since -- well, on and off since approximately 1981 after my term in the military. I agree with the lady that was here, Susie Sam, when she said she wanted to talk to the audience. You know, I agree with her, too; because, basically, my report has to do with all Alaska as a whole, basically. My report is intended to give you an insight on issues regarding HUD-funded housing within the Ahtna Region. I see that my cause was put on Native Social and Cultural Issues. I think it should have been up further -- higher. But anyway, though my report is not conclusive, it gives you a general overview of the situation as it exists today in our region.

The housing program began in the Ahtna Region in the late Seventies, as a result of inadequate need of homes, poverty, poor health standards, and the need for better Ahtna Native living. Through the CCAH (ph.) Corporation, the Native village corporation for the village of Copper Center, was the first applicant tor HUD-funded home. Attended at the time was to provide low-income housing for the Native elderly. Wit-h assistance from the Copper River Native Association, HUE responded by appointing the housing authority, now commonly known as the Copper River Basin Regional Housing Authority. Through the CCAH's (ph.) request, was based on the understanding that the moneys used would come from Indian housing moneys. Thus, it was understood that the benefit was theirs. Within six years after this request, five villages would have applied for and received these types of housing.

But first, before HUD moneys could be spent, there was a need for a land base. Discussions and meetings abounded; and, in short, the Ahtna Regional Corporation was held to provide the needed land base. This approach, as was the understanding between the parties, would provide low-- income housing to Natives in need. It meant better living, and economic self-sufficiency. The agreements reached was that, once the home was paid for, the land and house would revert to the home buyer. Housing would be exclusively for Native use and occupancy, as Indian moneys were used. It is this scenario that would later become a major problem. Because a land base was vital to the upsurge in housing requests, ANCSA corporate lands was but one solutions. Repeatedly, the Copper River Basin Regional Housing Authority elaborated on a clause known as ANCSA Section 14(c)(3). As it obligated villages to reconvey lands, have not incorporated out of the city to the state in trust. The avenue of lease, sale, or other agreements were discarded, since 14(c)(3) was the law. It could be done expeditiously; it lacked paperwork, meetings, and was less costly. Agreements were signed and executed; and the end result of providing 14(c)(3) lands by Ahtna totaled 79.6 acres plus as it stands today.

Today, Ahtna no longer provides the needed land base, due to the legal implications involved that have arisen. The Ahtna Native home buyers have long bpen told that the land and home would revert to them after a period of 20 years, or when the home is paid for. They understood that these homes were built for their use and occupancy; that it was theirs to keep. It is the result of policies, or lack of, that Ahtna no longer provides needed lands for HUD housing.

I have outlined four basic problem areas, explaining why this decision was reached. The land base. Questions regarding whether the Native home buyer will ever receive these lands remain uncertain. Lands conveyed under 14(c)(3) are for future city governments, basically as a source of revenue. Given this, as was understood, the Native home buyer could never gain title, unless the city opts to do so. The question of becoming a city within our region is far, farfetched; at least a hundred years.

Non-Native occupancy. The Copper River Basin Regional Housing Authority asserts that moneys used to build the homes are public moneys. Therefore, providing homes to only Natives is discriminating. Today, there is approximately 6 0 percent Native occupancy; forty percent of those homes -- the other forty percent are either vacant, occupied by others, or in a state of disrepair. Given this, the question of land, and who will actually own the home remains to be answered.

Three, low-income. There is approximately 57 HUD-funded homes and apartments, etcetera, within the Ahtna Region. Approximately 48 of these homes are on lands belonging to Ahtna, Inc., the rest situated on Native allotments, or on townsites. Each home cost us approximately $100,000 apiece; and, depending on individual income received, which is from your job, fire fighting, whatever the case may be, your monthly payments is derived at -- at about 50 percent plus. That's a floating monthly payment. There is no fix. The Copper River Basin Regional Housing Authority requires a person to report any kind of salary increases. They want you to verify it, call up your boss, whatever it is in order to get that verification.

Your monthly payments do not include electricity or telephone. The home buyer is charged for any repairs, improvements, and/or maintenance as is necessary and deemed appropriate by the housing authority. This leaves no money for other necessities, such as groceries; and the Native home buyer is in no better position than he or she were before, Many receive Welfare and food stamps as a supplement.

Four, other HUD or Copper Basin Regional Housing Authority requirements. They impose on the home buyer, at their cost, that each home be maintained, repaired, and kept up to par at standards that they come up with. If not, the home buyer is subject to eviction, or put on notice that penalties could be assessed. Again, an individual home buyer must report all income, whether it be winnings in bingo, and/or trapping.

In conclusion, the end result of all the above is many unhappy home buyers who feel infringed upon. Many have moved out; others try to make ends meet; others take it day to day. Most have approached Ahtna, requesting assistance. Encroachment by non-Natives in predominantly Native villages is on an uprise, increasing awareness and dissatisfaction toward the housing authority. Given this, it is very unlikely that 100 percent Native occupancy is ever to be achieved again, The laws of land is certainly a question that remains unanswered. Twenty years or more to pay off a home is a long Lime for a home to remain in good condition. Priced at 100 Gs, some homes are yet without electricity, lack running water, require enormous amount of money for fuel and heat, and are inadequately insulated. Overall, it is more of a burden on the Native than an achievement.

Adequate housing is needed in the Ahtna Region, but with current policy and procedural requirements, which do not allow the Native land base through Ahtna, it is basically useless, unless changes are made. There may be a settlement that may be reached through Ahtna. I have recently been appointed to the Copper River Basin Regional Housing Board; and, who, for your information, has denied my request to attend this meeting. Basically, I asked them to fund me, and they said: "No." And what is disappointing is the likelihood that changes can be made. It is my position that a review of all policies, procedures, and guidelines be discussed, elaborated, and addressed. I seek changes for the betterment of the Native people of Alaska. I thank you for allowing me to speak and give this report.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you, Neal. I think your comments about HUD housing are something that have to be seriously considered, and I appreciate your testimony. I think what we should do right now is take a we have three -- four more people that would like to testify; but I think that we need about a three-minute restroom break. If we can do that and be back here in three minutes. It's 21 after now, let's say about 25 after.

(Off record)


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