Dissent can be positive

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, November 29, 2004

Thanks to Ted Wright for speaking his mind. Gordon Jackson believes Ted Wright's articles "struggle to make points from knowledge gained from academia." Well, let me try to make some points from experience.

Too often relationships from clan to clan, specific traits of families, and the distinguished ways of knowing in each special place in the great Alaskan land get whitewashed into homogeneity. I saw this in 2002 when the Alaska Federation of Natives was going to decide whether to endorse Fran Ulmer for governor over Frank Murkowski. The vote didn't even get to the floor. Likely, 75 percent of the vote would have gone to Ulmer and given her a terrific boost in the battle for governor, but a few powerful Native corporate leaders blocked the vote. This was in the name of unity. If we all can't agree on something, might as well not even have an opinion, right?

Wrong. We cannot let politics replace identity. We've seen this in the sad, dysfunctional tribalism that became the U.S. presidential election. The Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Lands Claims Settlement Act, even the Alaska Native Brotherhood were all created under the necessity of political survival. Yet now we see the autonomy of clanship and the distinction of one Alaska Native group to another wilting under the decisions of a few Alaska Native corporate leaders.

Gordon Jackson is a man I respect, and so I respect his disagreement with Dr. Wright. He joined me and many others in the losing fight for Ms. Ulmer's race for the governorship. Yet, through constructive discussion and even healthy disagreement, we must gain awareness of the changes in Alaska Native leadership. Now, the power belongs in a few entrenched middle-aged gatekeepers with business degrees, rather than the wisdom of the elders, tradition-bearers, or the vitality of the young. This duplicates much of the politics of power in America, yet the feeling must be more bitter when we know there is an immediate precedent of balanced decisions and social order.

Forgive me if I've written too academically. I have no degree, but I read all the time when there aren't elders to listen to. I'm writing to hopefully encourage more public forums on the discussion of Alaska Native leadership.

Ishmael C. Hope


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