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My turn: A few lay the groundwork for preserving Native culture

Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2005

My grandfather John Hope said that the old Alaska Native Brotherhood always sustained itself when only two, three, or four people worked hard to keep the organization going. And then the villages would offer support by chipping in and donating what they could, giving sometimes dollar gold coins, $5 or even $100. Then the word would spread from village to village, by boat, before there were float planes.

And ANB and then the Alaska Native Sisterhood grew to have the capacity to lead in civil rights, economic equality, and political power. ANB and ANS then paved the way for organizational infrastructure such as the Alaska lands settlements and the Alaska Federation of Natives.

This grew from only a few dedicated, persevering workers. These men and women were humble. You'd walk by them on the streets. My grandfather would walk alone through the Nugget Mall by himself, looking downward in thought, wearing an old ANB cap. My dad, Andrew Hope III, often tells me that these people kept the culture and the language alive, and you could count them on one hand. But the impact is there and remains.

I am reminded of these few hard workers when I think of the work and thought developed by Ted Wright, Ernestine Hayes and Richard and Nora Dauenhauer. These people are laying the groundwork for the next generations, much like ANB did for us today.

Ted Wright wrote in his column, Southeast Tides, on March 13 of the difficulty in changing the status quo in the university system, with hiring and developing Native administrative talent, and building Native knowledge curricula. He speaks his mind, and it seems to offend people. I guess that's partly because no one wants to be pinned as the boring status-quo keeper. Others may fear change. And still others, most harmfully, maintain the soft racism of diminishment and condescension toward the Alaska Native world view and its intellectual institutions.

Richard Dauenhauer has reminded me many times that the greatest mark of racism is when you look at the other culture's literature as children's literature, with no need to do something like Indian Studies beyond the fourth grade. The Tlingit stories of Raven, for example, rarely get beyond the simplified paraphrase. Yet, in study, I will never catch up to Raven, much like being joyously lost in the endlessly complex works of Shakespeare or Joyce.

The status quo is hard to change. But just try this for today: Imagine that the spoken word, the oral, is something that could be trusted for speaking truth just as much (or more) as the newspaper you are reading right now.

• Ishmael C. Hope is a student and artist who lives in Juneau.



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