Why the distinction between groups?

Letters to the editor

Posted: Friday, October 22, 2004

I read the wonderful "My Turn" column by Ernestine Hayes titled, "There's plenty of government, but not much tribe" (Empire, Oct. 17). What caught my attention was her statement, "One of the most debilitating effects of this bureaucratic complexity is the obligation to conform to federally imposed definitions, guidelines, and codes that have created tribes in the image of their civil-service master." Ms. Hayes, I would like to add another spectrum to this kaleidoscopic morass.

Ah, this is the rub, ye civil-service writers. I noticed in the U.S. government regulations concerning indigenous cultures, the reference to them are usually coined in this manner: "American Indians and Alaska Natives and Hawaiians." I wondered - and am still wondering - about why it is written as such. Government regulation writers? There are others. In the September issue of the National Geographic, the opening sentence of a paragraph reads, "The tide has turned. American Indians and Alaska Natives are experiencing a cultural renaissance." And lo and behold, the brochure about the grand opening of the National Museum of the American Indian uses Alaska Native, when referring to those Native groups from Alaska who attended the grand opening. Besides a geographical separation, why the distinctiveness associated with American Indians and Alaska Natives and Hawaiians?

Maybe some anthropologists who have studied various culture groups in Alaska, or sociologists who have studied "contiguous" indigenous groups and those in Alaska, or U.S. governmental administrators who had to coin a title for their governmental regulations, can shed some light on this reference, "American Indians AND (my emphasis) Alaska Natives and Hawaiians." By the way, I am from the Iceberg House, Chookaneidi Clan, Eagle moiety, ancestral home of Glacier Bay, although I now live in Hilo, Hawaii.

Kenneth Austin

Hilo, Hawaii

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