Monday, March 06, 2006

Justice will prevail, Eskimo style

It's not often you see a story that just crys out to be seen in it's entirety and without comment.

This sunset was one of those times when you just gotta stop the boat to take a picture. Notice the waves from stopping dead in the water.

The only thing I'll add is that I have been a proponent of a museum or memorial to the exceptional women who have recognized their role as one of trying to make Alaska great.

One of those I believe was my Great-grandmother who helped her husband, Rasmus Enge break ground for the big Sitkoh Bay cannery in 1900. They soon moved back to a cannery on Wrangell Narrows that was the economic impetus for the future town of Petersburg. When the family was established, Anna took in numerous stray miners and Native children. And they had a theater, sans the discrimination. See article immediately below.

Another is the story of Alberta Skenk, possibly the Rosa Parks of Alaska. It just came in from a reader this morning.

But here's the story of the day. It's inspiring and will cause pause for thought and comes from one of my many readers (White Mountain) who also are trying to make Alaska great.

“In November of 2003, I was honored to join with the Senator from Maine, Ms. Collins, in speaking on the Senate floor about the need for a national museum honoring the contributions of women in American history. Senator Collins and I took turns addressing the accomplishments of pioneering women from our respective states, who were breaking through glass ceilings long before society acknowledged that they even existed. One of the women I discussed was Sadie Brower Neakok, an Inupiaq Eskimo woman, from Barrow on Alaska’s North Slope. Sadie has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as a Magistrate in the State of Alaska. Four years before the United States passed its landmark civil rights act; an Eskimo woman was sitting on the bench in the State of Alaska. But her life was remarkable in so many other respects. For one thing, she was appointed in 1960, a year after Alaska was admitted to statehood and long before women, not to mention Alaska Native women, came to realize that a career in the law was even an option. She continued in that role for nearly two decades. Second, she was not trained as a lawyer. She was trained as an educator at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Yet when Sadie took the bench everyone knew she meant business. You should know that in the early days, the bench was Sadie’s kitchen table. She was tough on offenders, but equally tough on government officials when asked to enforce unjust laws and regulations. Ignoring the neutrality and detachment our society expects from its judicial officers, Sadie took a great risk when in May, 1961 she challenged an arbitrary game regulation which permitted duck hunting only after the ducks had already flown south. After one subsistence hunter was arrested for violating the law, she quietly organized the rest of the community to violate the same law. Nearly 150 people came forth bearing ducks and demanded to be arrested. The Game Warden could not keep up with the violators. There was not sufficient space in the jail to house them all. Sadie refused to charge them. In response to the community emergency, the regulation was changed. Reflecting on this well known episode of civil disobedience, the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women in 1983 noted, “It was, perhaps, judicial activism at an awkward peak – but it brought necessary change for the people of Barrow.” Finally, Sadie was already an accomplished teacher, a public health worker and a social worker before taking the bench. She was working on her fourth career before many women embarked on their first job outside the home. This is not to say that Sadie ignored the home. She was the mother of 13 children and cared for numerous foster children. In fact, she is regarded as the mother of all Barrow, which today has a population of about 4,500 people. She was a renowned seamstress, capable of making virtually anything from cloth or fur. Her life makes the aspiration shared by many women of “having it all” seem like a cliché. I have the sad duty of informing the Senate that Sadie Brower Neakok passed away last Sunday at the age of 88. When asked once what the best part of her work was, Sadie replied, “gaining the respect of my people.” Today in Barrow, Alaska, which remains an Eskimo community where people still speak their Native language, the community will turn out to demonstrate the depth of that respect. If there were a National Women’s History Museum, young women everywhere would know Sadie’s name and be able to take inspiration from her story. Until then it will take a bit more effort for people to learn more about this remarkable woman. Fortunately, Sadie’s story is not lost to history. It is preserved for eternity in recorded oral histories and in the book “Sadie Brower Neakok – An Inupiaq Woman” by Margaret Blackman. It was a privilege to honor the life of Sadie Brower Neakok on the Senate floor last November. Today we extend our sympathy to Sadie’s family and to all of the Inupiaq people of the North Slope on the loss of a respected Elder and a great leader,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

There were also tidbits of interest to all of us in the fishing business in the hyper-linked story of Alberta Skenk and the one on founding of the Alaska Territorial Guard by Ernest Gruening. One part spoke of the defeat of Alaska's efforts before WWII to get government help to organize an Alaska defence. The Seattle cannery interests helped defeat the effort, just like they did the fish trap provision in the White Act in 1924. This written by the ATG Commander in Nome:

"I was surprised to find Alberta's theme in the next issue of the Nome Nugget. It appeared in the form of a letter to the editor and bore her own signature. The next issue carried an answering protest signed only "A subscriber." It had been written and sent in by the wife of the manager of a local store. The editor felt obligated to print it. But Alberta was in dead earnest and was ready with her second article in reply. By this time the newspaper was anxious to drop so hot an issue and the printed discussion came to a sudden close. But the issue remained a live one."

The point is that the media, as we have always called it, the newspapers, magazines, radio and television, don't touch real hot-button topics. This writer and AlaskaReport feels the need to keep things like "processor quotas" in the fire so the dead wood will be burned up and things get to a stasis of smooth functioning and prosperity for the folks. Otherwise, why be a writer at all?