Not racism

Letter to the editor

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2005

In regards to Mr. Wirtz's recent letter to the editor, I suggest he delve a bit more into the history of how Alaska Natives were incorporated into the American mainstream. It was brutal, cruel, indefensible and lasted for generations. I am certain Mr. Wirtz's intentions were genuine, and his underlying premise of fairness is shared by us all. But reality is not so easily pigeon-holed.

Preferences are granted to cultures suffering a hundred-plus years of near genocide at the hands of new arrivals with superior forces, or to those forcibly removed from their homelands. It has taken much time for Alaska Natives, as a whole, to meld into and be accepted on an equal footing with these forces. It is all about perception. Perception is hard to quantify, yet remains the single most difficult obstacle in achieving equality.

I applaud Sealaska for its steadfast advocacy of the Alaska Native. Sealaska has risen from fledging obscurity to a nationally recognized level of commercial excellence. Furthermore, Sealaska's mission statement includes a very important clause one does not often find in corporate America: to advocate and advance the opportunities of its members. I, for one, do not want this caliber of corporate America to disappear. In fact, corporate America should be taking notes.

Having said this, I would point out that just because a thing is legal to do does not mean it has to be done. Political and cultural hiring preferences tend to be regional and as such they are known to the citizenry. Sealaska's practice of attaching written caveats to public ads is more rote than any prescribed duty to stockholders. It's always been done. But it would be short-sighted for any to think this practice will be upheld indefinitely. For as long as the rivers flow? Rivers change course.

Mr. Wirtz's comments should not be branded racist in nature, albeit he labeled the practice as such. That would be a cop-out. His ideology is sound. It just happens to be premature. The time will come when preferences are unnecessary. The challenge to us will be to know when.

Ken Dunker


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