New reference book catalogs Native history

"A Reference in Time: Alaska Native History Day by Day"

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2001

"A Reference in Time" is a major step forward from minor projects such as calendars of Alaska Native history produced in the past. It supplies at least one event for every day of the year, demonstrating that there is, indeed, a rich non-White history in the state.

A.J. McClanahan, former publisher of The Tundra Times (Alaska's only statewide Native weekly) and now historian for Cook Inlet Region Inc., has done a commendable job putting this book together. Using photos from the family album of a single Athabascan family from Ruby, Charles and Florence Knox, to mark the beginning of each month's listings personalizes the broad-based text in a charmingly intimate way.

Carl H. Marrs, president and chief executive officer of Cook Inlet Region, Inc., suggests in his Introduction that the book can be used casually "to check out what happened on your birthday" or instructionally, "as part of a curriculum for a history class."

The material in this book is excerpted from an ongoing database project to collect and document events in Native history. It would have benefited from some fine-tuning for its book form - especially in the matter of establishing linkages among related dates. For example, Aug. 18, 1784: Russian sailors demand hostages from a large Alutiiq community on Refuge Rock. Standing by itself, it seems unimportant, unless the reader continues to browse and links it with Aug. 24, 1784, when the Russians massacre most of the residents of Refuge Rock and take others hostage. The second entry might have told us that a recent archeological dig at the site has revealed many details of the conflict.

Furthermore, many entries lack details that would give them depth. For example, May 2, 1785, "Russian explorer Grigorii Shelikhov dispatches 52 Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound." Where did he dispatch them from; i.e., how far did they have to go? How did they travel - by land or water? May 1, 1999, "The Alaska Native Heritage Center opens." Where? Why did it take 12 years from concept to center? June 3, 1947. "Roy Ahmaogak is ordained at Barrow as a Presbyterian minister." What's the context? Is he the first Eskimo appointed to such a post? The first in Barrow? The second generation of his family? June 13, 1997: "The first Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the first ever official gathering of Inuit people..., opens in Barrow." What issues were discussed? How many people attended? What conclusions were reached?

Why is a picture of Stanley McCutcheon on p. 78 while the item about him is on p. 112? Why is the photo of Japanese bomb damage at Dutch Harbor not on the same page as the item? Referring to "priceless Tlingit cultural objects" destroyed by fire in Hoonah (p. 133) is uninformative jargon to those unacquainted with Tlingit culture and its regalia. July 4, 1976: "The Grand Opening of the Ahtna Lodge is celebrated." Where is Ahtna Lodge? Why is this significant to Alaska Native history? Aug. 8: Cecilia Martz begins leading a University of Alaska "class in the humanities in the Cup'ik language" in 1999. Surely this was the first of its kind? P. 185, a photo caption notes that "remains removed from Yukon Island and Cottonwood Creek in the 1930s are reburied." Who removed them? Grave robbers? A museum expedition which did not get permission from living relatives?

The CIRI Foundation's mission is to promote individual self-development and economic self-sufficiency through education among original enrollees of CIRI and their lineal descendants. In the past it has published "Growing Up Native in Alaska," "A Place for Winter: Paul Tiulana's Story," "Our Stories, Our Lives," and "Reflections on the Alaska Native Experience." It also provided partial support for the publication of "A Dena'ina Legacy: The Collected Writings of Peter Kalifornsky" and "Shem Pete's Alaska." These books represent an important, indispensable collection of information about traditional, subsistence lifestyles as well as modern, developing lifestyles in Alaska.

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