Friday, April 21, 2006

Local Interest

Just over a month ago the Alaska inter-tribal council, representing the several hundred different tribes we have in Alaska, along with a similar group in Hawaii, announced it's plans to take the US government before the UN and argue that the purchase of Alaska from the Russians was illegal, since Russia had no legal claim on this land. Effectively this means the tribal council is suing the United States with the goal that Alaska and Hawaii will become sovereign nations under the various indigenous tribes that live there. It was an announcement under-reported over the last month(I saw one small local mention, and nothing in the nationals), but in fact the process is already under way, with the UN Human Rights committee scheduled to hear the case in July. You can read all about it by going here, and here. I have to admit that they're fairly lengthy, and I haven't had an opportunity to read through it all, so if I discover something new, expect an update.

Now, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that every single Alaskan has daydreamed about becoming a sovereign nation at one time or another. We are a land full of independent people with a deep and sometimes frightening distrust and paranoia when it comes to our government, and a predilection towards shooting things. Hell, even I've thought about how great it would be to be our own nation, to have a chance to do things right, but I'm still a bit wary, not only because it's a really bad idea(which I'll get to in a moment), but because it could do a lot of harm even if nothing comes of this.

You see, every city has it's own regional form of racism. Of course, black people have it tough all over, but go to south Florida and you'll find a lot of animosity towards Cubans. In the southwest Mexicans are fairly unpopular, and in many fishing villages you'll find anger towards the Vietnamese or other Asian cultures who are seen as taking fishing jobs away from the locals. Most racism is a mixture of disgust at one thought of as worse off, and fear that the roles could easily be switched. Even more evidence that the division in this country isn't between black and white, but between rich and poor. In Alaska(at least in the larger cities), that regional racism is aimed towards natives. It doesn't matter which tribe, the blanket term 'natives' pretty much conveys what I'm getting at. The news of this event, at least to the few people I informed of it, were shocked, amused, and a little upset at the 'native population' in general.

That's the first problem, and it dawned on me as I watched the small soundbite on TV where a professional looking middle aged woman spoke on TV of the tribal council's plans for what to do if they were to achieve their goals. She assured all listening that natives would not begin pushing non-natives out of the state, or relocating them, but she did leave open the possibility for large scale reclaiming of properties. It occurred to me that the main problem that could occur due to this, as the inter-tribal council goes tilting at windmills(it should not be gathered from my language that I hold any real animosity or anger towards this idea, as much as I disagree I find myself applauding the gesture), is that this may serve, even in defeat, to only increase the perceived rift between natives and non-natives.

My other problem with this is a bit more abstract, and may seem a bit un-PC, but I'll just have to put it bluntly. We, as a society, have got to stop apologizing for the sins of our forefathers. You know what, it sucks that two more technologically advanced civilizations came in and divvied up your homeland and treated you like dirt, that really is awful. But guess what... Every civilization throughout the history of human existence has done the exact same thing. The only way we can make it better doesn't involve turning back the clocks and trying to bend over backwards to atone for past mistakes. In fact, once we can't get past our history, that's when we stop moving forward. The best way that society as a whole can move forward and heal those old wounds is by making sure it never happens again. Once we stop that, well, we've got no point to our entire existence.

But let's imagine that the UN agrees with the inter-tribal council, and the US suddenly begins caring what the UN thinks, and control of Alaska and Hawaii(and, I just discovered, Puerto Rico) is handed back to the indigenous peoples of those lands, what then? Well, goodbye all forms of public assistance. Time to start thinking about trade agreements with the US(and you thought getting your groceries was expensive now), how we're going to go about public assistance and welfare programs, and a whole slew of problems people may not be ready for. Also, do we really want to be a foreign country with large oil reserves that has just recently embarrassed the United States? Think that will turn out well? Ah well, at least we could count on the French to come to our aid, they're all about sticking it to the man.

Of course, this will probably just all blow over, and I'm probably being a bit alarmist about this, but sometimes it's fun to carry ideas through to their worst possible conclusion. At the very least we'll find out this summer. The sessions will be held from the 10th to the 28th of July.

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