My Turn: Realizing Alaska's potential while resisting neocolonialism

Posted: Sunday, February 02, 2003

T he Last Frontier." "Land of the Midnight Sun." These are romantic monikers, to be sure; they evoke images of a rugged, uninhabited land, wide-open and ripe for colonization. As the nicknames indicate, Alaska is widely regarded as a numinous land where environmentalists, New Age pioneers, Euro-American feminists and avaricious industrialists can follow in the footsteps of foregoing colonialists and create Brave New Worlds.

Those who come to Alaska always have some vision; those visions are often of creating a political utopia where the land and its inhabitants can be tamed, Christianized, converted to profit or schooled in another worldview. Colonialists always believe in their rectitude, no matter how oppressive their dream may be.

My own Tlingit people have always been in Alaska, among the rainforests and azure glaciers. Ours is a land that exudes beauty, shouts with fertility and implores us to always remain, despite encroachments by a range of colonialist groups and the resultant displacements.

The first of many such colonialist groups was the Russians; they were imperialist fur trappers who claimed Alaska in the name of God and crown. But the Russians' claims were largely symbolic: Russian colonialists actually controlled only small areas of land in the Aleutian Islands. They held forts elsewhere in Alaska, notably in Sitka, but were unsafe outside the walls of their forts and were dependent on Natives for everything: food, furs, supplies and advice. Russian placenames still dot the landscape, reminders of the first era of Alaskan colonialism.

Next came the initial wave of Euro-American colonialists. They purchased Alaska from the Russian crown in 1867 in a ceremony that, in retrospect, seems absurd. The Russians presumed to sell land that, in reality, they never controlled. Nonetheless, the purchase ensued, and Euro-American migrants deluged Alaska, seeking gold, fish and freedom.

Since the Alaska Purchase and the first wave of Euro-American migration, Alaska has been regarded as a Euro-American colony, where Imperial America can inflict its utopian fantasies upon Native Alaskans and native-born Alaskans, and where outsiders can plunder the land and hustle the proceeds back to the Lower 48.

In the era of political correctness and cultural sensitivity, overt colonialism has given way to neocolonialism, which seeks to subtly colonize from within. Alaskan neocolonialism utilizes the power of the state; it slowly indoctrinates using legislation, education and media to promote a colonialist dream that is slowly becoming an Orwellian nightmare.

Neocolonialism is rife in Alaska. In Juneau, there are government and government-sponsored agencies like the police department, news media, correctional facilities, government-mandated treatment programs and court systems; all promote the neocolonialist agenda with the blessing of the bourgeoisie and its patrons. Schools and universities likewise promote the ostensible legitimacy of the neocolonialist vision.

These institutions, or comparable ones, are ubiquitous throughout Alaska, and abound with ideologues who seek to transform society to create a new and improved police state. They legislate thought, invade people's homes and promote their liberalist and environmentally exploitive agendas.

Liberalist charlatans, power-hungry despots and profiteers flock to Alaska, each consumed with notions of colonialist privilege and convinced of their own infallibility. They work in concert to mandate a police state. Because of the paucity of professionals in Alaska, many find employment in positions that allow them to subtly promote their ideology and colonialist rhetoric.

Not all who come to Alaska want to inflict a paternalistic vision on Alaska's citizenry. Many come to marvel at Alaska's wildlife; others come to work, vacation or simply enjoy a taste of freedom; some Japanese believe that a child conceived under the glow of Alaska's Northern Lights will have a propitious future.

These are admirable impetuses and should be celebrated. Any newcomer who seeks to enjoy Alaska without infringing on the rights of other Alaskans should be welcomed.

Alaska has immense potential. It can become a synecdoche of all that "could have been" in the Lower 48: a peaceful union of Native and migrant cultures; a paradigm of freedom and self-reliance. Or, it can continue to progress on its current path toward becoming an ultra-secure police state where all is dictated and controlled. Alaskans must choose the former and eschew the latter.

Eat succulent smoked salmon; gaze in wonder at Alaska's wild beauty; read ancient stories reflected in deep-blue glacial rime and imprinted on the cortex of cedar and spruce; certainly, make love under the salubrious glow of the Northern Lights.

And always resist the vision of those who would transform The Last Frontier into an oppressive neocolonialist police state.

• Temple Davis is a Tlingit Indian who lives in Juneau. He has a bachelor's degree in communications, works as a freelance writer and is a veteran of the U.S. Army.

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