My Turn: ANB, ANS grand presidents urge remembrance of Native American Heritage Month

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010

As we reflect on Native American Heritage Month, we urge you to acknowledge this important month. Native Americans are the First Americans and have contributed significantly to our country. Per capita, our Native men and women have served in the armed forces in great numbers. Our love for this land runs deep.

Native Alaskans have historically contributed much to our state; the name Alaska is from the Aleutian word, Alyeska, which means "The Great Land." The oldest fraternal Native American organization is the Alaska Native Brotherhood. The leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood have always pushed forward in their mission to further the rights of Native Alaskans. According to the 1992 edition of the Historical Profile of the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Tribes of Alaska, "One of the earliest goals of the ANB/ANS was to bring an end to the dual school system. ... In 1929 Tlingit Attorney William Paul argued and won a case (Jones vs. Ellis) that established the rights of Native children to attend public schools."

The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, through the leadership of Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich, helped bring equality for all citizens in 1945, years ahead of the civil rights movement occurring twenty years later in the lower 48 states.

The Alaska Native Brotherhood was instrumental in the lands settlement in Alaska. According to the Historical Profile, "The struggle to bring about a just settlement for lost lands and rights by the Tlingit and Haida people began at the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) Annual Convention of 1929 (held in Haines)." Historically, the ANB fought for Alaska Native people to have the right to vote.

Recently, Alaska Native people exercised their right to vote and were credited with helping Sen. Lisa Murkowski's race, particularly with rural Bush votes. At the ANB Grand Camp Convention in October, delegates unanimously endorsed Murkowski.

Currently, ANB and ANS leaders continue to advocate for important values for Native people such as education, landless communities, and traditional ways of life. In an interview with Ed Schoenfeld for Alaska News Nightly on Oct. 11, Richard said "The Alaska Native Brotherhood is increasing its commitment to changing subsistence management in Alaska. We want to have influence on getting rural users, preferably Alaska Natives, on the Subsistence Board. Because we need to be at the table ... to be equal stakeholders."

The ANB and ANS, and the many Native organizations within the state of Alaska, continue to contribute to the state of Alaska. We fund scholarships for our young people to earn college degrees, and Native Tribal IRA organizations such as Tlingit & Haida Central Council, KIC, STA, DIA, who were created due to the ANB's strong advocacy, contribute greatly by employing hundreds of people throughout Southeast Alaska. Additionally, Sealaska Corporation and numerous Village corporations contribute millions of dollars to the state's economy collectively, which enriches the economic base for everyone.

So join us in acknowledging and celebrating National Native American Month as we work toward a brighter future together.

• Richard Jackson is the grand president of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. Janice Jackson is the grand president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood.

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