Posted by: Aandeiyeen | June 28, 2011

Genetics- not a strong indicator for Native identity

DNA analysis of the 9600 year old  human remains found in “On Your Knees Cave” on north Prince of Wales Island SE Alaska 15 years ago, and of over 200 present day native volunteers of SE Alaska show no genetic link. It seems pretty clear that the Tlingits, Haidas and Tsimshians were not the first people of SE Alaska.

-excerpt from a June 2011 viewpoint letter in the SITnews.

Putting my views on the Sealaska legislation aside, I am addressing the red herring attack this gentleman used to ‘further’ his argument: genetics- a reductionist science still in its infancy that is not immune to producing false positives and false negatives.  I was not enthused about nor took part in the DNA analysis testing to see if I was related to the human remains found in On Your Knees Cave for I had a feeling it would backfire and end up supposedly ‘proving’ that the Tlingit are not indigenous to this region.  I do not buy into conclusions based entirely on genetics because genetic analysis is not scientifically conclusive and could have negative social and political consequences.

Potential for false positives and false negatives

The genetic markers believed to be highly prevalent amongst Natives are not unique to North America.  Many are found in Japanese and Samoans- hence, a DNA analysis could indicate a false positive for Native ancestry.

Males and females inherit their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from their mother but this genetic lineage ends with each male.  If I have children, they would inherit the mtDNA that I inherited from my mother, but my brother’s children will not.  If all of your maternal great grandmothers were Native, except one- DNA testing for Native ancestry could result as negative.  Similarly, Y-Chromosomes are only found in males and males inherit a close copy from their fathers.  Testing a male’s y-chromosome has the similar limitations as mtDNA in that it only examines one line of ancestry.  If a man had many Native great grandparents, except one paternal great grandfather, testing could result in a negative.

All it takes is one non-Native in a person’s ancestry to result in a false negative.  More info on fallacies of using genetics as a test for Native identity here.

There are over 27,000 Tlingits in the world today, many of which are not going to be undiluted ‘full-bloods.’  Taking a sample of 200 people will not be an accurate depiction of genetic code supposedly unique to Tlingit.  You are not a total and complete intricate map of your parents’ genes- let alone those more removed from your nuclear blood relations and removed by generations.

Social and political implications 

The argument that Native peoples were not the first peoples on this continent presented by the author of the letter could be expanded and used to further the genocide of Native peoples and erode our sovereignty.  The argument could be used to dismantle tribal governments and the rights that come with them- stating that we do not deserve this political status because we are all ‘immigrants’ like everyone else and don’t deserve ‘special treatment’ and sovereign recognition.  It could be used to take away more indigenous lands because the interpretation of the DNA analysis results say we’re not indigenous after all.  Anything to ignore and/or justify the systematic abuse the First Nations of this continent has been enduring since Euro/American contact.

On a related issue, I loath it when people claim that Natives have a ‘genetic predisposition’ for alcoholism.  This argument simply placing blame on the victim (and also ignores individual accountability) rather than taking a hard look at the environmental and socioeconomic factors that contribute to one’s behavior and life choices.  But let’s ignore the generations of abuse and genocidal policies Indigenous peoples have endured.  Ignore that some of these policies are still around today, just under different pretenses.  It must be their own damned fault because of their faulty DNA.

Blood quantum and biology, genetics and politics- don’t define me as Tlingit and who I can consider myself related to.  It is traditions, protocol, and the environment which I grew up in that created who I am.   Having a history that is documented for the past several thousands of years is enough to consider me and the rest of the Tlingit Nations indigenous to this area.

For more info on genetics and other related issues that impact indigenous peoples- check out the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism.

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Posted by: Aandeiyeen | June 17, 2011

Religious freedom for land-based religions and cultures?

In  the United States, individuals are afforded the constitutional right to freedom of religion.  But this freedom is limited to practices contained within individual households. In Indigenous cultures, spirituality is tied to specific geographic locations.  These sacred sites are often the location of creation beliefs and oral histories that have been passed on for generations. It is not easy to articulate the meaning sacred sites in terms that non-Indigenous people or government agencies can appreciate. Nor is it easy to define borders around them, given that everything is connected. This was probably best articulated in a Statement of Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories.  “Sacred Natural Sites and Territories can be considered on the Earth, as a network of acupuncture points would be on the human body.  They have a healing effect. We also consider that the relationship between them is critical and they cannot be seen in isolation from each other…”

Indigenous spiritual belief systems differ from the Judeo-Christian paradigm and emphasize on location rather than a chronology of events. Tribal religions are not based on a set of established truths (theological doctrines) like western religions but rather to histories and traditions connected to certain areas. If Indigenous Peoples do not have access to their sacred sites, they do not have access to their place of worship.

With the expansion of Western imperialism, the United States became the land managers of many Indigenous lands. Through a variety of means, Tribes ceded much of their land to the United States. Other federal policies have resulted in the loss of more Indigenous lands, such as removal, allotment, and termination; illegal acquisition and ‘encroachment’ by states and individual citizens. These lands are considered publicly owned and are managed under a “multiple use policy” which opens the land to uses such as logging and mining. This has led to conflicts regarding how to utilize the land and how to define its values. Federal land management agencies have a well-established history of disregarding Indigenous Peoples’ concerns.

American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA)

For over a century, the United States repressed and even outlawed Indigenous ceremonies. At the same time, Christian missionaries were being given government support to promote western religions among Indian reservations. Native children were required to attend Christian boarding schools and were punished for cultural practices, such as speaking Native languages, wearing Native clothing, or practicing Native religion. The rights of Indigenous Peoples to practice their religion had to be affirmed by an act of Congress – the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) which was passed in 1978. AIRFA declared that it was the policy of Congress to protect and preserve American Indians’ right to believe, express, and practice their traditional religions. Congress intended to make government agencies recognize, consider, and respect traditional Indigenous religions and to “learn about, and avoid unnecessary interference with, traditional Indian religious practices.”  However, even Congressman Udall (D-AZ), who cosponsored the bill, stated that the Act “had no teeth” because it did not create any legal rights and “depends on Federal administrative good will for its implementation.”

First Amendment

The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution includes the Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment clauses. When religious freedom is discussed in the context of traditional Indigenous religions, the right of the practitioners to maintain relationships with the natural environment is what is at stake. Federal agencies have routinely acted or permitted activities that compromise sacred sites. And the federal courts have consistently supported these actions based on a narrow interpretation of the First Amendment. The main case that highlights this is Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association.

Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association

Since the passage of AIRFA, several Indigenous groups had filed lawsuits against public land management agencies. Given AIRFA’s lack of legal rights, Indigenous plaintiffs relied on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to support their claims. In the 1988 Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that unless the government affirmatively coerces or penalizes an individual or group for its religious beliefs, the government may infringe on religious conduct. The case involved the U.S. Forest Service and three tribes- the Yurok, Karok, and Tolowa- of Northern California. The Forest Service had proposed construction of a 6-mile paved road in the Chimney Rock area of the Six Rivers National Forest, which is sacred to the three tribes. The road would have opened the area to logging and would have destroyed the isolation of ceremonial sites for the tribes. The tribes challenged the project through the administrative process but were not successful. They brought the case to the federal court, bringing their claims under the First Amendment. The federal court and the Ninth Circuit of Appeals denied the construction on the grounds that it would have made religious ceremonial use in the area impossible and therefore violated the tribes’ rights as guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause. The lower courts, however, did not find that the actions would coerce the Tribes into not practicing their religion and ceremonies.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court heard the appeal, the California Wilderness Act was passed by Congress and the area was designated wilderness, thereby eliminated the immediate development threat. But the question of freedom of religion was still at hand- did the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause prohibit the government from developing the Chimney Rock area? The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the lower courts and held that the Forest Service was able to construct the road and harvest the lands. It ruled in favor of the Forest Service based upon a conclusion that the “freedom of religion” clause in the First Amendment does not restrict the government’s management of its lands so long as: 1) government’s purpose is secular and not aimed at infringing upon a religion and 2) government’s actions do not coerce individuals to act contrary to their religious beliefs.

The result of the Lyng decision is that Indigenous religious practitioners do have not First Amendment rights to challenge land management decisions which could effect or destroy sacred sites and thereby possibly destroy an entire culture and religion.

Concluding thoughts

The United States was built to escape from the tyranny and religious persecution the pilgrims had endured. Despite hailing under the banner of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ the United States has failed to apply these principles to this country’s First Nations. The lack of recognition for religious freedom for Indigenous peoples is hypocritical at best. The land management decisions for public land use often goes against the needs of Indigenous communities, whom were the original land owners and are still very much dependent upon it for spiritual and cultural sustenance. Until a time has reached when Indigenous Peoples are respected as spiritual and cultural entities, the United States has yet to truly live up to the principles of religious freedom under its very own Constitution.

What can we do?

Unless there are more amendments to AIRFA to give it “teeth” or other laws are passed that protect sacred land and cultural resources, there are other means we need to seek out in order to protect our sacred lands:

  • Get educated on the laws and regulations that could be used for cultural resource protection, if only indirectly.  Allocate responsibilities amongst a dedicated group or committee; don’t take on too much by yourself. You can get burnt out or if you move on, momentum on the efforts you made could come to a halt if your skills aren’t able to be replaced or if the relationships you have established have to be rebuilt.

 

  • Collaborate and network; there are going to be others fighting similar battles or foster similar values and concerns.  They will have advice, ideas and experience to provide- plus combining forces and gaining broader support for your cause.

 

  • Create clear objectives so everyone is on the same page and not pulling the group in different directions.

 

  • Know your audience so you know how to frame your message; make it relevant to whom you are speaking to so they know why they should care and what they can do to help but don’t get lost in translation or end up too far removed from why it is significant to you and your people.  Always remember to speak from the heart or else risk compromising the integrity of the movement.

 

  • Educate the public on Indigenous history and issues- starting from restructuring the Euro-centric education  (“First Thanksgiving” or a glorified version of Christopher Columbus, etc) kids receive from a young age.  Education will become a preventative tool since currently, sacred sites are largely unknown by the public until a development project is in the works and then Indigenous peoples are made out to be the “bad guys” for trying to “kill the economy” by stopping “progress”, etc.

These are a few suggestions based on my limited experience thus far- comment and add your own.  Keep fighting the good fight, all my plucky Indigenous vanguards!

Posted by: Aandeiyeen | April 20, 2011

Dry Bay history

This is an awesome archive of Dry Bay history collected by the Gunaxoo clans, National Park Service, National Forest Service, and University of Alaska. Check it out sometime!

Dry Bay jukebox project.

I was at the Native Issues forum last week- an annual series of guest speakers that talk about political issues of interest to the Native community hosted by Tlingit & Haida Central Council.  I won’t talk about the content of the presentation, there wasn’t anything too ground-breaking or worth repeating.  What bothered me was the format of the forum.

I had been to a few Native Issues forums before and the master of ceremonies (depending on who it was) rarely acknowledged the Auk Kwaan people for allowing the gathering to take place on their land.  Rarely were clan leaders acknowledged, yet various people from Sealaska or Central Council- even interns- got acknowledged.  I was disappointed that the last guest speaker, Governor Parnell, did a better job than the master of ceremonies of acknowledging the prominent elders and clan leaders in the crowd.  This is only an example; there are other instances where we fail to acknowledge those that are important.  How many dance groups thank Sealaska for hosting Celebration but don’t thank the Auk Kwaan for being on their land?  etc.

Corporate folks aren’t elected officials that represent the people; corporate affairs (Native owned or not) are economic.  IRA governments, while more democratic, don’t necessarily reflect the true leadership in traditional communities either.  I don’t mean to discredit either institution for the work they do.  But acknowledge them for what they are and how they contribute- they are business leaders and political officials- not to be mistaken with clan/traditional leaders.  I grew up knowing that family, clan, and community come first and that I must be respectful of and acknowledge those around me, particularly when I am in someone else’s community.  Is it too much to ask that those who so vocally try to represent “all Native people” to do the same?

Are we at a point where being traditional is be considered irrelevant by our own people? Have we gotten that far removed from our cultural roots that we feel as though it is no longer important to follow certain protocols?  Cultures do need to evolve to survive, but there is a difference between evolving and adopting a totally different (Western) mindset and approach.

There is no singular villain to blame for the history of wrong doing to our people.  We are under attack from practically every quarter to preserve what we have and what is important to us as Native people.  But following protocols and acknowledging traditional leaders is not something we need permission to do.  We’re losing another component of who we are and how we relate to each other as Tlingit when we don’t do this.  And we can’t blame outside influences for making our traditions and traditional protocol illegal anymore for this is due to our own negligence.

Posted by: Aandeiyeen | April 4, 2011

The legacy of a name

Today, my paternal grandfather would have turned 100 years old, if he were still alive. 

Born on April 4, 1911, Eli Hanlon Sr (a member of the Wooshkitaan clan) of Hoonah, Alaska was an avid Native rights activist.  He was an active member and former president of the Alaska Native Brotherhood camp #12, president of the Huna Traditional Council of Elders who were active in the Hanlon (Hoonah) v. Barton (U.S. Forest Service) case in the late 1980s, a Hoonah city council member, and a vocal advocate for subsistence rights.  If I have inherited one quarter of his strength and integrity, I can rest easy knowing that I am a good person.

It is an honor to be a part of the Hanlon family.  Happy birthday, Grandpa Eli.  May your legacy live on.

Posted by: Aandeiyeen | April 3, 2011

“Yakutat Forelands are not for sale”

Here’s a video I created about the Yakutat Forelands.  Enjoy!

Posted by: Aandeiyeen | March 18, 2011

“regulations make us violate our Way of Life”

This spring, I’ll have the opportunity to visit communities in Southeast and learn about the issues they are facing when it comes to traditional and customary use (“subsistence”) management.  I’m interested in learning about the common frustrations we are dealing with throughout the Tongass so please contact me if you want to share your experiences or have people you can network me to!

Here are the three common cultural values I’ve heard over and over again so far:

  • Respect; respect for the land, respect for the clans that manage certain areas, respect for the resources that give themselves to us for nourishment
  • Sharing; share the harvest with family and community; “if we do not share, the food sticks in our throats”
  • No waste; “We do not take more than needed” unlike commercial and sports interests

Regulations target the wrong people when they are crafted without local input or when management decisions do not use traditional knowledge.  Traditional and customary users take the least amount of the resources harvested, yet seem to be the most regulated.  Given the “subsistence priority” in Alaska, it would seem as though there would be more acknowledgment of local community needs and respect for traditional cultural values.  Traditional and customary users would have veto power over any regulatory decisions if “subsistence priority” were the case but we have seen time and time again that commercial and sports interests are catered to more than those who live harmoniously off the land.

If subsistence users were truly “number one” the following examples would not occur:

  • Fish & Game officials wouldn’t threaten Yakutat residents that the agency will “shut down the entire Situk River” if setnet fishers didn’t stop bringing home King Salmon by-catch to feed their families -regardless if the fish was already dead yet allow sports fishermen to “catch-n-release” Kings; a practice that has a high mortality rate on fish.
  • the community of Angoon would not have to voluntarily stop subsistence fishing from Kanalku Lake escapements to let the stock repopulate itself while commercial fishermen (who are not residents of the community and probably not even the state) continue to pillage the waters in the area unquestioningly.
  • traditional and customary users would not have to pay nearly $1,000 on annual fees for a subsistence cabin site on Forest Service land (even if the land had been in their family for generations before the Tongass was established as a National Forest) when commercial/sports interests such as outfitter guides- who have a cash based income- pay the same rate, if not less, for their cabin sites.

Agencies do not appreciate the simplest structure of our cultural foundation, that we’re a community-oriented people who share our harvest with others and that allocation of a permit to a single individual is not to provide food only for that one person but for many others as well.  Under a well-defined system of land management, there were specific boundaries in each tribe’s territory and the clans and house leaders traditionally manage specific areas for hunting, fishing, and gathering.  Land belonged to the clans, not IRA governments or “tribal member shareholders” let alone a U.S. or state government agency that abstractly authors its regulations in an office miles away from the resources and communities the regulations impact.

The subsistence permitting and regulation regime authored by those who are not directly connected to the land does not work and has negative impacts on the people who are (culturally and economically) dependent on the traditional resources the land provides.  Management of resources need to be influenced (if not directly controlled) by the very people who are connected to the land and have a better understand the local ecology and the implications of offsetting its delicate balance.

We should not be required to apply for permits to be Tlingit and live the way Tlingits do.

Posted by: Aandeiyeen | February 25, 2011

historical connections throughout Southeast

My apologies to the clans mentioned in this post-it is not my history to speak of.  I am the child of the Luknaxadi and grandchild of the Wooshkitaan so I can’t speak as the “child/grandchild of” these clans either.  But I found the interconnections mention worthy.  So thanks for your patience and please correct me if I am wrong with my knowledge on this history!

Last week, I was in Angoon to learn about traditional and customary use management issues they deal with.  This week, I was in Ketchikan to learn about mining activity on Duke Island (south of Ketchikan).  The village site where Angoon was established was discovered by the Deisheetaan people.  There were already Gaanaxadi in the area and they co-existed with the Deisheetaan until a conflict arose and they moved.  Duke Island is land that belonged to the Gaanaxadi.  The Teikweidi (my clan) originated in the Ketchikan area and are still strongly present in Ketchikan.  As Teikweidi moved northward, the original group got separated into two groups due to weather. One group settled in Angoon and the other in Yakutat.

Tlingits have a large, elaborate web of broader family connections.  I love being able to analyze and see how we all connect.  Even though it was my first time in Angoon and Ketchikan, I am historically connected to these places through clan history and relationships.  It’s not my place to tell any community or clan what to do on anything but knowing these connections, I feel a strong obligation to help in any capacity I can if asked.  Any struggle in a Tlingit community has implications on Tlingits living outside of that community.

Thank you, Angoon and Ketchikan for allowing me into your communities and for the hospitality you’ve shown me.  I look forward to visiting again as well as exploring the rest of Southeast.

Posted by: Aandeiyeen | February 23, 2011

More Precious Than Gold

Tree Hugger.  Leaf licker.  Hippy. Environmentalists are often perceived as militants who preach platforms that value trees and fish over people and their quality of life.  I cannot help but respond to that emotional allegation with a patient smile and an excited proclamation that salmon- among other critters- are mighty tasty.  These critters are an important facet to the cultural identity and well-being of the communities in Southeast Alaska.  Traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering has nourished countless generations of our people.  Our communities depend on the continuation of renewable resources- which are only renewable so long as their habitat is healthy and intact.  I work to try to insure that these resources we depend on continue to thrive.  I do this out of my love for salmon and the culture my ancestors have built and passed onto us.

Nestled between the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean, Yakutat is located in the northern-most part of the Southeast Alaskan panhandle.  This is a land of majestic mountains, old growth forests, sandy beaches, and pristine spawning habitat for five species of wild salmon.  It is also home to the Tlingit who have resided here for thousands of years.  Salmon has been the foundation of our community and cultural identity since time immemorial.  According to a 2001 survey, eighty nine percent of Yakutat’s households harvest salmon for traditional use (“subsistence”).  We continue to depend on salmon today.

Abundant with wildlife and salmon spawning rivers and streams, the Forelands is the heart of our community.  We oppose mining in the Forelands because of the adverse effects mining could have on the salmon habitat in the area.  Mining would erode our community’s sovereignty and cultural identity by destroying our traditional resources.  The benefits simply do not outweigh the risks.

My lineage and cultural ties to Yakutat run deep.  Despite its management by federal agencies, this land is the ancestral land of the Tlingit.  The decisions we make today will affect generations to come.   We do not own the land we live on- we are borrowing it from our children and grandchildren.  Tlingits are a matrilineal culture and we obtain our identities through our mothers.  I am a proud Teikweidi shaawaat– a proud woman from the Brown Bear clan.   I want my future cubs to be able to appreciate the nourishment this land has been providing since the time of our ancestors.  If this makes them tree huggin’, leaf lickin’ hippies like Mama Bear- so be it.

No monetary value can be placed on our cultural heritage and ancestral lands because this land is more precious than gold.

Yakutat Forelands
photo credit: Robert (Bob) Johnson, published in Juneau Empire article.

Posted by: Aandeiyeen | February 22, 2011

Yakutat mining activity in a nutshell: 2008-present

For those that need to get caught up on Yakutat’s situation, here’s an abridged version:

Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990 was supported by various groups in Yakutat.  Under this bill, a significant portion of the Forelands were protected from timber development and road construction.   The area is still open to mineral entry under the General Mining Law of 1872.

Jump to the summer of 2008, a junior mining company staked a massive area of mineral claims in the Yakutat Forelands.  Additional claims were staked in 2009, bringing the total to 92 square miles of claims. The search was for titanium and iron.

April 2009, the company held a community meeting to answer questions about what they were doing in our backyard.  When asked how they would mitigate harm to the salmon spawning habitat- their best example was using blimps to transport the ore… credibility is questioned from there on out.

Summer 2009, Yakutat residents vocalize concerns about mining in this sensitive area.  Letters are written, petitions are signed, bumperstickers saying “I don’t care what the Mining Law of 1872 says: the Yakutat Forelands are not for sale” makes appearances all over town.

The primary interest switched to gold, which is sexier than titanium or iron, when assay results indicated there was gold in the area.  A misleading headline “$34.5 Billion Gold Discovery in Yakutat” was published on the front page of Juneau Empire in September 2009.

Resolutions were passed by the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp and National Congress of American Indians in October 2009 opposing mining in the Forelands. No monetary amount could make us sell our ancestral lands for short-term profit.

Interviews with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in a follow up Juneau Empire article published in November 2009 questioned the estimate the company made.   “That’s a screwy number,” Krause said. “It’s worse than just blindfold-with-a-dart type of thing. I don’t know why they came up with that, but there’s no basis.”

In June of 2010, a company quarterly report stated that the assay results from the exploration could not be verified.  The company stated it itself: the $34.5 Billion was a fabricated number that had no supporting evidence.  October 2010, the press catches wind of this.

Also in October, 2010, the claims were forfeited by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after the company failed to make annual maintenance fee payments.  The claims are gone but that does not mean the Forelands are safe.  The area is still open to mineral entry and Geohedral or any other company could come to Yakutat at a future date.

This is an advantageous time to seek additional protections for the Forelands.  The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe is taking the lead on proactively getting more protections.  Wish the distinguished members of the tribal council the courage and wisdom to lead our community in the right direction!

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