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


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

Nome, Alaska
September 21, 1992

4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503


Witness List | Exhibit List | PDF Version

SEPTEMBER 21, 1992

Eileen Norbert

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: Next is fellow educator Eileen Norbert. And I'd hope somebody talks about social issues, and I'm hoping it's you.

MS. NORBERT: (Laughing.) Well, actually, in this presentation, I'm speaking on behalf of Matthew Iya, who's the Director of Kawerak's Natural Resources, and he’s also the Director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission.

First, I'd like to welcome you to Nome and thank you for this opportunity, you know, to testify. And I would just like to strongly emphasize that it seem like, you know, the issue that Jake brought up on follow-through is so important. We spend so much time testifying, you know, about our present conditions; and even a lot of the boards and commissions that we have to be on, for -- just for example, you know, I was sitting on the Fish and Game Advisory Committee for Norton Sound, and the body as a whole had made several recommendations that were contrary to what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff were recommending. And, you know, when it comes before the full board, I think that the full board puts more weight on staff recommendations, rather than, you know, on the advisory recommendations. That's just a small observation that I made.

The areas that I'm going to be addressing here for Matthew is -- he's also the Director of Kawerak's housing program -- will be housing and subsistence.

Last year Kawerak worked on -- finished working on their long-range planning. What we did was -- is to define the present status of different areas, and then what the ideal status would be, and the action, you know, to achieve those goals and objectives. So what I'm going to do is kind of just read through; you know, what the present status is and the recommendation in the area of housing, first of all.

Currently, 47 percent of housing units in the Bering Straits Region are substandard. And this comes from our own housing inventory, of which 43 percent need repairs, and 57 percent need total replacement, as opposed to the national average being 10 percent. We would like to see special appropriations made from Congress to address the housing needs in the region. The average waiting period for new housing for families with young children is 16 years. In addition, 25 percent of total housing units need to be replaced. To build new and replace old housing at a rate of 40 per year is one of our objectives, so that families with young children, elders, and other eligible residents have acceptable housing which meets their needs. Twenty percent of our total housing units in the region are substandard and in need of extensive repairs. Again, we need funding. Matthew said that, with the funding -- the present funding that he has right now, when he goes to one village, say Koyuk, he doesn’t have the necessary funding to return to Koyuk to attend to their housing needs for 18 years. And, you know, that when you think about it, it's kind of mind boggling.

Overcrowding. 4.52 persons live in a Native household in this region. Thirty-six percent of single-family homes in the region have two or more families living in that one house.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: What's the percentage?

MS. NORBERT: Thirty-six percent of single-family homes in the region have two or more families living in the home.


MS. NORBERT: We need to address that, so that, you know, necessary and acceptable living space for eligible residents is a reality. In the area of energy consumption, for BIA, HUD, State, and RuralCAP housing, heating oil and electric costs in the Bering Straits Regions average 42 to 84 percent higher than Anchorage costs, and I think that might even be higher today than when we first made these initial figures.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: Is the 42 out of Nome and the 84 is out of another village?

MS. NORBERT: Yeah, generally. Also, you know, with that - - like the University Extension Services comes out with these co -- living costs in different areas of the state, but I think it -- in one I saw a couple of months ago, it cost like for something -- for heating in -Anchorage around $70, $75. In Teller, that same amount, you know, was like 400 -- over $400. That's really a huge, huge gap there.

The ideal status would be to meet State energy-housing standards. All new housing and existing housing be retro-fitted with energy-efficient devices, especially fuel-efficient heaters, for example, Monitor heaters.

We need proven arctic construction designs for new housing, or retrofit energy-efficient devices. We had a goal to meet these by 1995, but given our present funding levels, you know, that's too optimistic.

Sixty-seven percent of the homes in the Bering Straits villages lack sewer and water. We would like to see that there be some concerted and -- effort by state and federal organizations, you know, say coordinating between Indian Health Service, the State of Alaska, HUD, you know, to address this, so that even by the year 2,000 most -- the majority of the homes in the Bering Straits will have sewer and water.

I'm not going to read all of them. For innovative housing programs, we feel that this is something that -- this is one way we can address our housing needs that requires funding, but it also, I think, requires a lot of participation by residents themselves. BIA allots a specified amount to build or renovate a house, and I'm -- I think this is true of like HUD or ASHA. Funding is limited, so at the rate new housing is being built and renovations are being done, it would take at least a hundred years to a -- just to address our present needs, just to -- these other statistics that I gave to you. That's how long it would take.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: In the Bering Straits Region?

MS. NORBERT: Right. Just in the Bering Straits Region. I think what needs to happen is there needs to be coordination with other housing agencies to fund housing needs in the region, to seek again special appropriations. Residents have access and funding for innovatio -- innovative construction and engineering designed, you know, where residents have an input, you know; and they know the environmental conditions; they know, you know, about housing also. And that kind of takes care of the housing issue.

In the area of subsistence, there was quite a few people who testified, but I think I'd like to still make some points. Natives in the Bering Straits Region have to deal with state and federal regulations; they have to deal with international treaties, you know, the Marine -- for instance, the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the Migratory Act, which involves Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Soviet Union; just the whole process that you think about that we have to be involved in. You know, all the reviewing of proposed regulations, those take a. lot of time. It also takes funds, you know, to go to meetings. They have these meetings all over. Not only here in Alaska, they have them in Canada; they have them in different parts of the United States.

The -- and then, as I mentioned before, the regulation system that, you know, that we have to deal with in many parts of our lives. You know, it just comes down to being able to feed your family the food that you want to. You know, but most of -- lots of times we don't even know if we're breaking the law, you know, even -- for example, this summer here in Nome, they said you can only catch so many trout, so many grayling, you know, and those type of things, and you say, how many are -- how many were we allowed in this river? How many -- you know, and (laughing) say: "Oh, just -- I'll take your share," or "Here, you can have part of these fish."

But that’s kind of wh -- the point in our lives that we are in. We have so many rules and regulations, time periods, you know, and a lot of these rules and regulations are contrary to our customs. We, as Eskimo people, have our own obligations to each other. Our -- you know, who we share with, how much we share, and that type of thing. The regulatory system right now does not take into account, you know, our customs; and that puts a lot of stress on people. It -- some of the groups -- well, I'll just go down this -- this is -- ongoing state and federal regulation of hunting and fishing in Alaska. The governments that come out with these regulations do not recognize the authority of Alaska Native tribes to regulate and protect the subsistence harvests within our own areas as we always have. Arbitrary regulatory restrictions deny Native customary rights to hunt, fish, and crap to fill our needs, in spite of the subsistence priority of ANILCA. By 2,000, we -- what we would like to see is to have fish and game management regulatory schemes made by ourselves in cooperation with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, who else do we deal with?


MS. NORBERT: BLM, all these different federal and State agencies that we have to deal with. You know, we can -- we're willing, you know, but it's -- I think a stumbling block is the State's reluctance to, you know, accept Native tribes and our rights to regulate our own resources.

In the area of the Marine Mammal Protection Action, it's up for re-authorization next month -- I mean, next year in 1993. We would like to see existing Native rights and to further some other rights that we see. For example, since 1972 when it first came out, you know, they said like in the area of arts and crafts, anything that you didn't make before 1972 is not permissible. I mean, that’s really getting down to, you know, regulating your creativity; and it just goes back to, you know, us as a people being regulated to death in every single area of our lives.

There are so many federal and state commissions, like there's, you know, some that deal with sea otter, whales, you have the Eskimo Walrus Commission, the Eskimo Whaling Commission, you have -- just -- the list is probably really, really long. And just for your information, you know, we're trying -- I mean, Kawerak is taking the lead and advocating for preferred language in the Marine Mammal Protection Act; but we also need cooperation, you know, from State and federal agencies, so that whatever we do, whatever input that we have, won't be an exercise in futility. Sometimes you sit there and you talk and talk, you sit and talk to people for a week, and in the end, the decision, you know, it's like you had no input at all. That was my experience with the Board of Fisheries this past year down in Juneau.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the guidan -- guidelines of the Marine Mammal Protection Act manages and regulates walrus, polar bears, and sea otters. The National Marine Fisheries Service manages whales and seals. We would hope that we would have greater participation and -- in that management, as I said before.

We have to be really sophisticated now, because we're even talking about cooperative agreements with the U.S.S.R., you know; but those type of things are hard when our own government doesn't even recognize our tribal status.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: Maybe can I interrupt you right here and just --


COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: -- figure out where does the Federal Subsistence Board then fall within all of these responsibilities that we --

MS. NORBERT: Well, see, this is where --

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: -- (indiscernible - speaking simultaneously)

MS. NORBERT: -- I think the complications come in is that the Federal Subsistence Commission has jurisdiction over those federal lands in Alaska, you know, that were turned over to them when the State could not come up with an acceptable subsistence bill. Now --

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: So it just deals with the land area?

MS. NORBERT: Right. The --


MS. NORBERT: -- U.S. Fish and wildlife Service still has jurisdiction over --

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: Walrus and polar bear?



MS. NORBERT: And whales, and -- but, see, that's part of the complication, too, you know, is that we have to remember all these things.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: Yeah, yeah. It's a college class.

MS. NORBERT: (Laughing.) The protection of our hunting rights, I think is -- we spend so much time - - our hunting and fishing rights - - we spend so much time just fighting for our basic survival, we really don't even have time to thrive as a people as we should be. We should be spending a good deal of our efforts and time, you know, on addressing all these social issues. We spend so much time and money and effort, you know, on subsistence issues and those areas. You know, if we had tho -- that time to, you know, get into economic development, and like Robbie was saying, you know, then I think a lot of our social issues would be alleviated, 'cause we would be taking care of them ourselves.

There has to be state, federal, and international collaboration and cooperation in all these areas that affect our lives in subsistence areas, and I said that before; but it -- I would just like to emphasize that Natives definitely have to be involved.

In the area of research, the research efforts have -- you know, have this one other strong area where there seems to be a lot of fragmentation. We see, you know, the need for documentation in our subsistence activities, you know, for our own protection. I'm just going to give you an example. This past summer there was three or four researchers from different places that had come, you know, and come to my office.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: Bilingual studies.

MS. NORBERT: Just all kinds of, you know, and this young man who was being sponsored by the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, but getting funding from the National Park Service, he was going to do something in two weeks, you know, study Eskimo people in three villages in two weeks. I said:

"What is your focus going to be?"

He kind of had a general idea, you know; but what could you do in two weeks? These type of things take years to do; and it sounded like to me is that one organization had money to spend: "Let's spend it. Hurry up."


MS. NORBERT: "Right now."


MS. NORBERT: You know, why wasn't that money maybe given to a Native organization, or, you know, where it could be better spent. We have a lot of real critical issues that are facing Natives in, you know, our food chain and the pollution. We hear about all this nuclear waste possibly being dumped. You know, we hear that the Bering Sea is in trouble. I think Larry -- you probably heard from Larry Merculieff, you know, from the Bering Sea Coalition, you know, on all the problems that Pribilof Aleuts have seen. You know, there needs to be some just pulling these research together and, you know, saying:

"What is important to you? What do you see out there?"

Rather than, you know; giving fifteen thousand here, two thousand here. You know, I think we really need research -- our own regional research centers, where Native people can really be involved and --


MS. NORBERT: -- that also would expose our children, you know, to science. They have no real -- any Native role-model scientist to even strive after.

One of the things that we're really regulated in is like the utilization of marine mammals and their byproducts for commercial purposes. They -- we are so limited in what we can do. You know, we aren't supposed to use like walrus meat for dog feed, or for, you know, to sell as dog feed. We, ourselves, see different ways for like commercial exploitation. Why can't we commercially exploit our own resources like we have in our traditional past? We aren't allowed to do that. I mean, we feel like we could offer some answers to our own problems; but by federal or state law, or even international law, we are not allowed to, you know, and that causes frustration and just anger.

We see a great need for public awareness and information dissemination, first of all, to our own, but also to the general public out there. We need some assistance possibly with funds to combat the adverse and negative publicity that has been coming out in subsistence, like this -- I think Loretta probably brought out, you know, this sting operation. You know, we need the sophistication and the funding to do -- it's not just in Alaska, but, you know, nationwide. That takes a lot of money, you know, and where do those funds come from?

Again, I would just like to touch on the area of funding one more time is that we have so many areas that we have to fight for, especially in the area of subsistence. You know, we -- our -- Matthew right now is taking care of both natural resources, which takes care of subsistence; he's also the director of the housing program, you know, and we just do not have enough money. That poor man doesn't have time to breathe I don't think.

And that kind of winds up my testimony, but I think -- I just would -- since I used to be the Director of Native Programs for the school out here, and given the testimony by our elders this morning, I think I have a few things to say in the area of education is that, in my experience, there seems to be, you know, blaming of each group on why our Native children are doing so poorly in school.

When I did statistics out there, there was like 30 percent of our elementary students were below grade level, and that figure jumped up to like 41 percent on the 7th through 12th grade levels. When I brought this to the attention of the school board, you know, it's like, oh my gosh. What I had to point out is that we're not trying to point fingers to everybody, but just that there -- we have a problem, and how are we going to solve it, you know? Our children generally, I think, from rural schools are not adequately prepared for college I think -- you know, what are the State standards? Is there a -- expectations, you know?

And then I also was a tutor in Anchorage for Indian education, and it was generally acknowledged that the academic standards of rural areas are much lower than, say, Anchorage; so those kids had a really hard time. But when I was out here, I would talk to students who went on to college and say: "How'd you do?" One student said he was in for a real shock, because he was making As and Bs out here, and he went, and he had to take some basic courses in math. He was not prepared, and that's at-- -we also had some students who were making As and Bs and wanted to get into an Ivy League school back East, and she was told, you know:

"You'll need to go to a prep college school for a year or two. "

You know, I think these are pretty serious issues that probably we need to address on the local level; but I think these things need to be resolved, you know, working with everybody.

Thank you.


COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Excuse me, Eileen? Did you read -- you spoke about the housing and the sewage. Did you happen to see the article -- I brought it with me if you hadn't -- in Anchorage Daily Newspaper yesterday, about the sewage problem in the villages of this area?

MS. NORBERT: No, I didn't.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: I have it here. I'll be glad to give it to you right now.

MS. NORBERT: Oh, okay.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: I think one of the bigger things you impacted me with was the countering the sting count operations with regard to public awareness. I think that's what the agencies need to hear, and I think if we collaborate with them on that, we'll go a long way towards changing the feelings of this area with regard to subsistence; and I'm with you on -- there, and I think that sort of takes a general effort on the part of the agencies to do that.

MS. NORBERT: And we really appreciate it and sure hope it makes a difference. You know, we as Native people try to make a real honest effort to follow these rules and regulations that we have to live with. We don't do it happily, but we do it nevertheless. You know, it seemed like when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does something like that, it's just like stabbing us in the back, --


MS. NORBERT: -- you know.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Would you also -- well, could you comment on what effect, if any, the fetal alcohol syndrome has on your lower grades in the school?

MS. NORBERT: Well, unfortunately, I think we're seeing a greater number of those children in our schools. We at Kawerak are trying to do, you know, a more public awareness, preventive-type thing in that area; but, you know, what I see happening is that it takes resources away, you know, that could be used for everybody else. But it's a drain on families, too. It's a terrible drain on families.

We have -- we were very surprised that a person with an FAS child from one of our villages had volunteered to come to the regional conference in the next few days, you know, to talk about how it's impacted her; and one of the-things that she said that really stuck in my mind is it seemed like she realizes her responsibility for this child, and she realizes that she is going to have to take care of the child for the rest of his life. But she -- her frustration was that she doesn't seem like she has any control over that. All these different agencies, the school, the social services, the -- you know, they say:

"You have to do this, you have to do that.”

And she's even come to the point where, you know, will she even have a say in his -- if he passes away, even in his funeral arrangements? You know, it's like this deal happened; but even though she’s willing to go through with her responsibility as all these different agencies are totally taking over.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Could you give an approximate, perhaps, percentage of the number of children in this region that are FAS -- are suffering from?

MS. NORBERT: I sure couldn't. I think one of our other staff members will be giving testimony this afternoon. She deals with more children's statistic, and she was going to bring up specifically children's issues -- adoptions, and -- I just wanted to comment that we have villagers -- village delegates coming in from all over this region, and they will be testifying this afternoon.



COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: That concludes our testimony for this morning. We're going to break for lunch and reconvene about 1:15 or 1:30,and I guess we're invited to the XYZ, so we'll break for now.

(Off record.)


This document was ocr scanned. We have made every attempt to keep the online document the same as the original, including the recorder's original misspellings or typos.


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