Give me old Alaskan Religion

Poking around Sarah Palin’s Alaska, which she has dedicated to the Lord and commenced Christian Heritage Week “to remind Alaskans of the role Christianity has played in the state’s history”, I’m also learning more about Alaska’s indigenous peoples, the first inhabitants.

This is a post about the role Christianity has played in the state’s history, and it seems I can’t avoid discovering the works of Sarah Palin who seems to have no intention but to be falsely proud of nothing but more of the same.

The village of Eklutna [wiki] is the oldest inhabited location near Anchorage, settled more than 800 years ago. Russians arrived in the 1840s. When the Orthodox missionaries settled, their beliefs co-mingled with native traditions.

Russian Orthodox sprit house in AlaskaFrom an Alaskan blogger: More than 100 brightly colored “spirit houses” are on the [Eklutna] burial ground… “a custom that combines” indigenous peoples and Russian Orthodox practices.

She writes, “I stopped in for a visit the other day on the way to Anchorage and discovered my favorite little chapel Most Holy Theotokos was torn down and a new one being erected. This was a little sad because as I understand the spirit houses are left to the elements, year after year and eventually they fall apart and disintegrate into the earth symbolizing the cycle of life, from dust we came and from dust we shall return.”

Tearing down and erecting, American business arrived around 1915 and quickly ‘earmarked’ federal government boarding schools for Native children.

With the zeal of believers, entire cultures were expunged, if necessary by strapping, overworking and undernourishment – beaten for speaking their language.

The best account I’ve found of these so-called residential schools is Mothers of a Native Hell, revealing the “unquestioned assumption that white Christians had the right and duty to tear families apart.”

Which Alaska peoples did this genocide seek to remove or convert to “Christian values”?

The Ahtna, Deg Hit’an, Dena’ina, Gwich’in, Hän, Holikachuk, Kolchan, Koyukon, Tanana, Tanacross, Tsetsaut; most of the Kaska, Tagish, Tutchone, Bearlake, Dogrib, Hare, Mountain and Slavey, plus wherever encountered, the Babine, Beaver, Chilcotin, Dakelh, Nicola, Sekani, Tahltan, the Dene Suline of Nunavut, and not the last, the Yup’ik Eskimo.

Ten years ago the Canadian federal government admitted rampant physical – and sexual abuse – in the once-mandatory schools. “The “darkest most tragic chapter in Canadian history, but virtually no one knows about this,” says Phil Fontaine, a chief of the Assembly of First Nations… [story].

Today’s Alaska is a very different dominance. The old-style genocide is no longer government funded, although there is a story that Governor Palin has misdirected public funds to a church recreational facility. [no link] Perhaps the Eklutna ‘s economic development arm, established under the Small Business Administration to deal with Alaska’s Native peoples is helping. A manager says,

“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.”

An Alaskan blogger says, “Palin hasn’t done anything for Alaska Native people – what it is she could have been doing. As an Alaskan Native, it is obvious to me – but then I live it, and see it every day.”

I am proud to be from a group that has given so much to the world…

I am generally loathe to just report bad news, bad news, and more bad news, and some bad statistics thrown in. Especially since I don’t believe the Alaska Native people need to hear again and again what we get slammed in the face with at every turn – not to mention we just live it. I have heard the stats for a lifetime now – one in five below the poverty line, infant mortality is double that of white Americans, tuberculosis is twenty times over, twelve percent of the public school population, but a quarter of the drop out rate, and on and on and on.

New America Media, the country’s largest news aggregator for 2000 ethnic news organizations, posted a “devasting” 2002 report by the Alaska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, ‘Racism’s Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska‘.

Today Alaska may be a haven for Christians, but also “a picture of decades long economic misery, discrimination, neglect and alienation for Native Alaskans”. The Commission asserted several recommendations that Alaska’s leadership does not seem to have seriously considered or tried to implement.

In a report on the plight of Native Alaskans, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission called for massive increases in spending on job and skills training and programs to boost employment, improve education and public services.

The commission called for sweeping reforms in the criminal justice and health care systems.

From the article: “Other than a brief mention of diversity in her gubernatorial campaign speech in 2006, there is no evidence that Palin has said or done anything about the commission’s recommendations. If she had it would have put a beam on the faces of thousands of Yup’ik Eskimos who aren’t named Todd Palin.”

Our proud Alaska Native blogger continues,

The point of the article is not saying that all these issues, this is all Sarah or Todd Palin’s fault. The point of the article is to show what I have said in about 20 different ways: Despite being the governor of this state, with nearly 20% of the population being Native, Sarah Palin has done absolutely nothing to address any of these issues.

There are plenty to choose from.

Record cancer rates. Record suicide rates. Record abuse rates. Record child mortality rates. Record victims of hate crime. Record imprisonment, with an extremely disproportionate representation of Native men.

Palin has attacked Alaska Native languages, attacked tribal sovereignty, attacked hunting for food but assisted tourist hunters, attacked Native subsistence fishing but promoted industrial fisheries, [cite, Lloyd B. Miller, Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse et LLP], and has refused language assistance to Yup’ik voters, the peoples of her husband Todd.

horned ladyWhen I was young and living near the Cree, a Native friend told me a story about endurance, the human and the dog.

A man can do many things for a very long time. A cat can run faster but only for a short time. A buffalo is powerful but only for a short time. A deer can leap higher but only for a short time. At the end of the trail is the man and a dog, the only other creature with our endurance.

Perhaps all humanity, each of us, without dominance or expunging or poverty or injustice, will have the endurance to arrive together at the end of the trail.

David Simon reports from The Guardian, “There are two Americas – separate, unequal, and no longer even acknowledging each other except on the barest cultural terms.

“In the one nation, new millionaires are minted every day. In the other, human beings no longer necessary to our economy, to our society, are being devalued and destroyed.”


“The why is it. The why is what makes journalism an adult game. The why is what makes policy coherent and useful. The why is what transforms bureaucrats and foot soldiers and political leaders into viable instruments of rational and affirmative change. The why is everything and without it, the very suggestion of human progress becomes a cosmic joke.

…is the why even being argued any more?

Not in the stunted political discourse of an American election cycle, not in an eviscerated, self-absorbed press, not in any construct to which the empowered America, the comfortable and comforted America, gives its limited attention. … we are separate nations at this point.

…at the [American] millennium, the why has ceased to exist.”