My Turn: Online anonymity breeds false courage to speak

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I was pleased to see the Juneau Empire’s Jan. 12 news coverage of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 70’s efforts to call to task the Juneau School District on its decision to utilize federal funds for purposes other than what the federal government approved the grant funds for. The need for this coverage however, may not have come, had the Juneau School District simply answered ANS Camp 70’s original question: “Who, from the U.S. Department of Education – Indian Sector, granted you approval to make that change? Can you provide to us a copy of that approval document?” Instead of providing a simple answer, the actions of the JSD have caused the issue to linger for over a year.

Just as I was pleased to see the news coverage, I was disheartened, though not surprised at the comments at the end of the article posted online. Those comments compelled me to write in response. From those comments it is plain to see racism and ignorance is alive and well in Juneau. Forgiving the element of racism in a few of those comments; I’ll focus my energy to shedding light on the history of what some commenters deem as “special treatment”:

The federal trust responsibility is the legal commitment made by the U.S. government to Indian tribes when Indian lands were ceded to the United States. This commitment is codified in treaties, federal law, executive orders, judicial opinions, and international doctrine. It can be divided into three general obligations: protection of Indian trust lands: protection of tribal self-governance; and provision of basic social, medical, and educational services for tribal members.

Now let me remind you that going back to the 19th century many traditional Native practices were banned by law and as such, entire generations grew up not learning their own culture. Natives, especially those who are of the Baby Boomer generation simply were not allowed to speak their own tongue. In fact, many Natives were subjected to corporal punishment if they were caught doing so. So is it any wonder not everyone is able to have their parents teach them their culture at home? Many Native children have grandparents who bear very little knowledge of Tlingit tradition. Many Native families have been relegated to barely knowing whether they are of the Eagle or Raven moiety, let alone the complexities and intricacies of such a beautiful culture.

Alaska Natives continue to have the highest dropout rates in our state. The U.S. Government was attempting to meet their legal obligation to the Native students of Juneau until the JSD decided to use the funds outside their intended purpose and target population. So yes, it really is a misappropriation of funds on the part of JSD.

My daughter attended K-5 in the “Tlingit Culture, Language & Literacy Program” (TCLL) at Harborview school. During her years there, the emphasis was not merely moccasin making, it was demonstrating how our ancestors put those “pesky white man concepts of math and science” to use in just about every aspect of a Tlingit’s daily life. Entire math and science curricula were incorporated into the Native culture through sewing regalia, drawing Native art, and harvesting subsistence, to name a few. Now in high school, she continues to flourish and makes excellent grades, in large part to the learning concepts she attained during her formative years in the TCLL program.

These commenters are so content to make such broad strokes on a canvas of which they only barely see the surface. I wonder, would you be so bold as to come forth and make those same remarks without the convenience of an anonymous moniker? The Alaska Native Sisterhood is merely taking a stand for something they believe in; in fact, the education of Alaska Natives has always been at the forefront of ANS as it was incorporated into the ANS mission statement nearly a century ago. If you believe in your statements so strongly, come out from behind the comfort of your computer screen and take your stance too.

• Casulucan is Hoonah Tlingit and was born and raised in Juneau, is a past ANS Camp 70 member, attended Juneau Schools and is now a parent of school-aged children currently in JSD.

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