This Land Was Their Land! It Still Is* But…


Jul 9, 2009

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

– Woodie Guthrie


Ojibwe Language Learning Basket from

One of the contributors to another blog mentioned her small Minnesota community’s embrace of the language of the local indigenous people.

“Aaniin” “Boozhoo” – customers to Bemidji’s Cabin Coffee House & Café are now welcomed in both Ojibwe and English.

Table tents show them numbers, animals and the major Red Lake clans in both languages. And they can try their Ojibwe language skills to order makade-mashkikiwaaboo (coffee) and naboob (soup).

You can read about it here.

I was gratified to see that in some communities of this big nation of ours, the “newcomers” actually respect “the first people”.

I replied in the other blog:

“I took note of your community’s embracing the dual languages of your Minnesota town: ‘Bemidji businesses adopt bilingual signage’. That’s an incredible step in the right direction. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other less-enlightened people would do the same?

“I take to heart what you wrote:  ‘mandatory’ and ‘language inspectors’ are ‘colonial and/or imperial concepts’ that we don’t have ‘time’ for any more….to quote otis halfmoon: …. in spite of all efforts to the contrary, we (original people) are still here, we are not going away, and it is time that the newcomers to this country (hemisphere) paid proper respect to the elder status of the first people of this land.”

That small Minnesota community respects the culture of the “original people” and embraces it.  Contrast that attitude with how Alaska Natives and all the other rural Alaskans living outside of cities and towns are largely ignored by THEIR state government.

Not only are the people restricted again this year from catching their needed supply of fish, but, without fish which some might have sold for income, they will not have enough money, yet again, to buy next winter’s expensive heating fuel!  What does it matter that many of the rural difficulties may be directly related to today’s (mis)management of fish and game subsistence by a state government that turns a blind eye to a ballistic out-of-control pricing structure for heating oil?  What a dilemma.

The winter fuel prices paid by the city dwellers are dramatically less than the rural people, yet all of them are Alaskans.  Can there not be some type of controlled pricing structure that will benefit ALL Alaskans?  I guess I’m asking what will it take for Alaska Natives and Native Alaskans to be treated as well as the city dwellers in Anchorage, Juneau, etc.?

Winter blizzards are coming again, are they not?  Is the time past even now to have helped these ancestral communities?  What will happen this next winter between the bitter winter cold, the expensive fuel, and the hundreds of hungry families who can’t stretch their limited money between the two separate choices of heating, or, feeding their families?

I just have to question how much help will the rural Alaskans get NEXT winter with the mindset of a government that uses religious groups and a plateful of cookies to bring relief to a couple of remote villages?

Question:  Is anything being done on a state level RIGHT NOW to acknowledge this recurring problem?  If not, we had better start pulling out our cookie recipes.  “Let them eat cookies”—Marie Antoinette was just confused, I guess…

~ Elsie


* Passed in 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) extinguished Native land claims to almost all of Alaska in exchange for about one-ninth of the state’s land plus $962.5 million in compensation. By transferring Native land title to 12 regional and 200 local village corporations chartered under Alaska state law, ANCSA changed the relationship between Natives and the land from one of co-ownership of shared lands to one of corporate shareholding; i.e., land ownership was based on a corporate model, and governmental entities, including traditional or IRA “tribal” governments, were bypassed.


7 Responses to “This Land Was Their Land! It Still Is* But…”

  1. grouchygranny Says:

    There is much to be done, no question. However, please tell us what you want to do right now to mitigate the situation as much as possible before winter sets in. It is obvious that state government is totally incapacitated by this governor, and her successor is no better. We are listening. Talk to us and let us share some of the burden. First people or later people, we are all people.

  2. elsie09 Says:

    I agree with you, grouchygranny.

    I don’t have answers. Besides statewide volunteers on councils, committees, municipal groups, etc., the state pays people to deal with rural issues. I have read some scuttlebutt that rural advisors had trouble in the past reaching the ear of the governor. I guess my question here is: Who is in charge of protecting the rural Alaskan people from the same desperate circumstances of last winter, and what is the plan? Summer is short; the blizzards will return. Is anything different this summer from last summer? Has anything improved for the rural people at this point to avoid the troubles of last winter?

    The only thing I think I understand is how important it is for the second fuel barge to make it out to the communities along the rivers before the winter ice sets in. Last fall, ice came early, and the expected second shipment of fuel was denied. That resulted in sky-high winter prices on fuel which had to be flown in, I believe. It was a double whammy since income was reduced due to poor fishing in the summer.

    Are results in on how this season’s fishing has gone? Is it still as desperate out there as I suspect? Are the rural people financially now at about the same place as they were a year ago at this time, and with regard to their fishing stocks now?

  3. alaskapi Says:

    Big Trouble on the big river


    by Tommy Wells

    Folks are worried…

  4. alaskapi Says:

    A voice we all know is asking we engage in action now.

  5. alaskapi Says:

    Drawing lines in the water

    People are mad, scared, and worried.

  6. Jim Says:

    alaskapi: Apparently folks cannot afford to buy gas to fish for food. Should we send money to tribal councils for fuel purchases?

    Quick action is needed. Would this help?

  7. UgaVic Says:

    The more I read the more I am at loss for words. This situation is so ???. What can you even call it?

    To KNOW that we, as a state, are condemning people to such hardships and the shame of having to rely on handouts, all due to politics/greed.

    Monies for repairs of equipment and fuel sounds like an excellant idea!!

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