An Alaska Native Speaks Out on Palin, Oil, & Alaska

And he didn’t even go into McCain’s egregious policies toward AZ Natives during his
many years as senator…


Subject: An Alaska Native speaks out on Palin, Oil, and Alaska

An Alaska Native speaks out on Palin, Oil, and Alaska

By Evon Peter


My name is Evon Peter; I am a former Chief of the Neetsaii Gwich’in tribe from
Arctic Village, Alaska and the current Executive Director of Native Movement. My
organization provides culturally based leadership development through offices in
Alaska and Arizona. My wife, who is Navajo, and I have been based out of Flagstaff,
Arizona for the past few years, although I travel home to Alaska in support of our
initiatives there as well. It is interesting to me that my wife and I find ourselves
as Indigenous people from the two states where McCain and Palin originate in their


I am writing this letter to raise awareness about the ongoing
colonization and violation of human rights being carried out against Alaska Native
peoples in the name of unsustainable progress, with a particular emphasis on the

role of Sarah Palin and the Republican leadership. My hope is that it helps to elevate

truth about the nature of Alaskan politics in relation to Alaska Native peoples and that

it lays a framework for our path to justice.

Ever since the Russian claim to Alaska and the subsequent sale to the United States
through the Treaty of Cession in 1867, the attitude and treatment towards Alaska
Native peoples has been fairly consistent. We were initially referred to as less
than human “uncivilized tribes”, so we were excluded from any dialogues and
decisions regarding our lands, lives, and status. The dominating attitude within the
Unites States at the time was called Manifest Destiny; that God had given Americans
this great land to take from the Indians because they were non-Christian and
incapable of self-government. Over the years since that time, this framework for
relating to Alaska Native peoples has become entrenched in the United States
legislative and legal systems in an ongoing direct violation of our human rights.

What does this mean? Allow me to share an analogy. If a group of people were to
arrive in your city and tell you their people had made laws, among which were:

1.        What were once your home and land now belong to them (although you could
live in the garage or backyard)
2.        Forced you to send your children to boarding schools to learn their
language and be acculturated into their ways with leaders who touted “Kill the
American, save the man” (based on the original
statement made by US Captain Richard H. Pratt in regards to Native American
education “Kill the Indian, save the man.”)
3.        Supported missionaries and government agents to forcefully (for example,
with poisons placed on the tongues of your children and
withheld vaccines) convince you that your Jesus, Buddha, Torah, or Mohammed was
actually an agent of evil and that salvation in the
afterlife could only be found through believing otherwise
4.        Made it illegal for you to continue to do your job to support your family,
except under strict oversight and through extensive
5.        Made it illegal for you to own any land or run a business as an individual
and did not allow you to participate in any form of their government, which
controlled your life (voting or otherwise)

How would this make you feel? What if you also knew that if you were to retaliate,
that you would be swiftly killed or incarcerated? How long do you think it would
take for you to forget or would you be sure to share this history with your children
with the hope that justice could one day prevail for your descendents? And most
importantly to our conversation, how American does this sound to you?

To put this into perspective, my grandfather who helped to raise me in Arctic
Village was born in 1904, just thirty-seven years after the United States laid claim
to Alaska. If my grandfather had unjustly stolen your grandfathers home and I was
still living in the house and watching you live outdoors, would you feel a change
was in order?
Congress unilaterally passed most of the major US legislation that affect our people
in my grandfathers’ lifetime. There has never been a Treaty between Alaska Native
Peoples and the United States over these injustices. Each time that Alaska Native
people stand up for our rights, the US responds with token shifts in its laws and
policies to appease the building discontent, yet avoiding the underlying injustice
that I believe can be resolved if leadership in the United States would be willing
to acknowledge the underlying injustice of its control over Alaska Native peoples,
our lands, and our ways of life.

United States legal history in relation to Alaska Natives has been based on one
major platform – minimize the potential for Alaska Native people to regain control
of their lives, lands, and resources and maximize benefit to the Unites States
government and its corporations. While the rest of the world, following World War
II, was seeking to return African and European Nations to their rightful owners, the
United States pushed in the opposite direction by pulling the then Territory of
Alaska out of the United Nations dialogues and pushing for Statehood into the Union.
Why is it that Alaska Native Nations are still perceived as being
incapable of governing our own lands, lives, and resources differently than African,
Asian, and European nations?

Let me get specific about what is at stake and how this relates to Palin and the
Republican leadership in Alaska and across this country. To this day, Alaska Native
peoples are among the only Indigenous peoples in all of North America whose
Indigenous Hunting and Fishing Rights have been extinguished by federal legislation
and yet we are the most dependent people on this way of life. Most of our villages
have no roads that connect them to cities; many live with poverty level incomes, and
all rely to varying degrees on traditional hunting, fishing, and harvesting for
survival. This has become known as the debate on Alaska Native

As Alaska Governor, Palin has continued the path of her predecessor Frank Murkowski
in challenging attempts by Alaska Native people to regain their human right to their
traditional way of life through

The same piece of unilateral federal legislation, known as the Alaska Native Claims
Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, that extinguished our hunting and fishing rights,
also extinguished all federal Alaska Native land claims and my Tribe’s reservation
status. In the continental United States, this sort of legislation is referred to as
legislation’ because it takes the rights of self-government away from Tribes. It is
based in the same age-old idea that we are not capable of governing our people,
lands, and resources. To justify these
terminations, ANCSA also created Alaska Native led for-profit
corporations (which were provided the remaining lands not taken by the government
and a one time payment the equivalent of about 1/20th of the annual profits made by
corporations in Alaska each year) with a mission of exploiting the land in
partnership with the US government and outside corporations. It was a brilliant
piece of legislation for the legal termination and cultural assimilation of Alaska
Natives under the guise of progress.

Since the passage of ANCSA, political leaders in Alaska, with a few exceptions, have
maintained that, as stated by indicted Senator Ted Stevens, “Tribes have never
existed in Alaska.” They maintain this position out of fear that the real injustice
being carried out upon Alaska Natives may break into mainstream awareness and lead
to a
re-opening of due treaty dialogues between Alaska Native leaders and the federal
government. At the same time the federal government chose to list Alaska Native
tribes in the list of federally recognized tribes in 1993. Governor Palin maintains
that tribes were federally recognized but that they do not have the same rights as
the tribes in the continental United States to sovereignty and self-governance, even
to the extent of legally challenging our Tribes rights pursuant to the Indian Child
Welfare Act. What good are governments that can’t make decisions
concerning their own land and people?

The colonial mentality in and towards Alaska is to exploit the land and resources
for profits and power, at the expense of Alaska Native people. Governor Palin
reflects this attitude and perspective in her words and leadership. She comes from
an area within Alaska that was settled by relocated agricultural families from the
continental United States in the second half of the last century. It is striking
that a leader from that particular area feels she has a right, considering all of
the injustices to Alaska Native people, to offer Alaskan oil and resources in an
attempt to solve the national energy crisis at the Republican Convention. Palin also
chose not to mention the connection between oil development and global warming,
which is wreaking havoc on Alaska Native villages, forcing some to begin the process
of relocation at a cost sure to reach into the hundreds of millions.

Our tribes depend on healthy and abundant land and animals for our survival. For
example, my people depend on the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates into the
coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge each spring to birth their
young. Any disruption and
contamination will directly impact the health and capacity for my people to continue
to live in a homeland we have been blessed to live in for over 10,000 years. This is
the sacrifice Palin offered to the nation. The worst part of it is that there are
viable alternatives to addressing the energy crisis in the United States, yet Palin
chooses options that very well may result in the extinguishment of some of the last
remaining intact
ecosystems and original cultures in all of North America. Palin is also promoting
off shore oil drilling and increased mining in
sensitive areas of Alaska, all of which would have a lifespan of far fewer years
than my grandfather walked on this earth and which would not even make a smidgen of
an impact on national consumption rates or longer term sustainability. McCain was
once a champion of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and it is sad to
see, that with Palin on board, he is no longer vocal and perhaps even giving up on
what he believes in to satisfy Palin’s position.

While I have much more to say, this is my current offering to elevate the
conversation about what is at stake in Alaska and for Alaska Native peoples. Please
share this offering with others and help us to make this an election that brings out
honest dialogue. We have an opportunity to bring lasting change, but only if we can
be open to hearing the truth about our situations and facing the challenges that

Many thanks to all those who are taking stands for a just and
sustainable future for all of our future generations,

*This essay is a personal reflection and should not be attributed to my tribe or


Evon Peter is the Executive Director of Native Movement and former Chief of the
Neetsaii Gwich’in from Arctic Village in northeastern Alaska. He has served as the
Co-Chair of the Gwich’in Council International, on the Executive Board of the Alaska
Inter-Tribal Council, and as an alternate area Vice-President to the National
Congress of American Indians. Evon is a well-recognized advocate of Indigenous
Peoples rights, youth, and a balanced world, active as a speaker, strategist,
writer, and organizer. His experience includes work within the United Nations and
Council forum representing Indigenous and environmental interests. He dedicates a
significant portion of his time to youth leadership
development, movement and coalition building, and gathering
facilitation. He holds a bachelors degree in Alaska Native studies with a minor in
Political Science and is pursuing a Masters degree in Rural Development from the
University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Evon is featured in the 2005 award winning feature
film “Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action,” that follows the work of four
Indigenous people who are working on issues of Environmental Justice in North


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