Continuing struggle

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

This is in response to Eric Fry's article, "Tlingit student plans to carry on culture," featured May 17 in the Juneau Empire.

Related Article:

Tlingit student plans to carry on culture

My thanks to Mr. Fry for a story well written. Undoubtedly Hans Chester deserves the recognition and the admiration inspired by the article.

I greatly admire Hans Chester and truly hope the best for him as he works toward his chosen field of educator. But there is a flip side to the story for this aspiring Alaska Native teacher. That is the reality that most likely he will have a very tough time getting a job here in the Juneau School District. The very style of communication that Hans is working so hard to develop may become one of his biggest stumbling blocks as he begins to interview for teaching jobs. It is no secret that the carefully thought out communication style of most Alaska Natives is perceived by many in the non-Native community as "slow paced" and lacking.

This is a reality Native people in Alaska are starkly aware of. Many forms of hidden discrimination and polite racism exist. Even with post-secondary education, job opportunities may still be out of reach for Alaska Native people. I personally have witnessed and experienced discrimination and cultural insensitivity. I have also experienced the discouragement and frustration that systemic discrimination brings upon an individual.

Has Mr. Fry or any of his readers really looked around and asked the hard but obvious questions? Questions such as, why are there so few Alaska Native teachers in our schools? Could it be that many of our qualified (prospective) Native teachers are not well received by interviewing school administrators? Are there racial barriers that exist within our institutions as well as the private sector? These barriers do indeed exist in Juneau, in what so many like to consider a progressive and tolerant community.

Yes, the article was inspiring but it also feeds into the warm and fuzzy fantasy that so many non-Native people in our town like to indulge in - that society has gone the distance since the days of blatant racism and that the playing field is finally level. I propose that perhaps Mr. Fry's next journalistic endeavor concerning the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Alaska Natives reflect a more realistic view.

It is my sincere hope that we all understand the cultural struggle going on within our own community.

J. Mork


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