Saturday, September 06, 2008

Todd Palin No Poster Boy for Yup’ik Eskimos or other Native Alaskans

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There was the ever so fleeting moment during her speech at the Republican National Convention when Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin paid tribute to hubby Todd. She lightly mentioned that he’s of Yup’ik Eskimo background. Todd Palin beamed with pride at the acknowledgement in front of the packed convention crowd and in front one of the largest TV audiences to ever watch a candidate’s convention speech. But the cheering convention participants and millions of viewers won’t see the same smiles on scores of other of Palin’s Yup’ik Eskimos and many other Native Alaskans.

They make up nearly 20 percent of Alaska’s population. A devastating report by the Alaska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 2002, “ Racism’s Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska” painted a picture of decades long economic misery, discrimination, neglect and alienation for Native Alaskans in Palin’s state.

VP candidate Palin boasted that she squeezed the oil and gas industry for billions that have enriched the state’s businesses, residents, and boosted employment in some communities. That prosperity hasn’t touched many Native Alaskans. Overall one fifth of Native Alaskans are below the poverty line. In some rural villages their jobless rate tops 80 percent. Despite sheaths of anti-discrimination laws, and even an affirmative action plan for special needs military veterans, on the books in Alaska, discrimination against Native Alaskans is rampant.

The Alaska Human Rights Commission notes that discrimination complaints jumped more than fifty percent in a seven year period in the late 1990s. Many of those complaints didn’t come from Native Alaskans. Native Alaskan leaders bluntly told civil a civil rights commission community forum in 2001 that they simply didn’t trust the system.

Native Alaskans are more likely to be sicker and have less access to quality, affordable health care than whites. Their infant mortality is more than double that of whites. Their tuberculosis rate is more than twenty times higher than whites. Civil rights commission studies attributed the appalling health statistics to overcrowded and insufficiently ventilated housing, impure water supplies, inadequate waste disposal systems, and general malnutrition.

The racial disparities between Native Alaskans and whites are even more glaring in public education and the criminal justice system. Native Alaskans are slightly more than 12 percent of the state’s public school students. They make up more than one quarter of school drop-outs, and are at rock bottom in their achievement scores in reading and math. Native Alaskans make up a paltry five percent of the teachers and administrators. Many of the students are taught exclusively by white teachers in grossly under-funded rural public schools. Many of the teachers have little understanding of or sensitivity to Aleut, Yup'ik, and Indian culture and language.

Then there are the soaring prison numbers. Native Alaskan males make up less than ten percent of the state’s population, but are nearly forty percent of those behind bars. Despite the outsized disproportionate jail numbers, the civil rights commission found that Native Alaskans are underrepresented in jobs in the child welfare system, legal system, and juvenile justice system.

The criminal justice system disparities are a double edged sword for Native Alaskans. While they are far more likely to be incarcerated than whites, they are also far more likely than whites to suffer rape, domestic violence and homicide. Native Alaskans bitterly complain of laxity by the police and the courts in finding and punishing those who victimize Native Alaskans. Many homicides of Native Alaskans have remained unsolved.

The violence rate against Native Alaskans is so high that some violence prevention experts say that some of the crimes against Native Alaskans could be tagged as hate crimes. Alaska state legislators for a brief time toyed with the idea of enacting a hate crimes law with greater sentencing enhancements. That went nowhere. Even if the legislature had acted, Governor Palin gave a strong hint what its fate would likely be if it landed on her desk. During the 2006 gubernatorial campaign she told the Eagle Forum that she opposed expanded hate crime legislation. She branded all heinous crimes as hate crimes.

State Equal Rights Commission officials have complained that the legislature gutted the commission’s budget and cut staff. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. Despite the well documented widespread discrimination and disparities against Native Alaskans there is no public record that Governor Palin has gone to bat for increased funding for the Commission.

In report on the plight of Native Alaskans, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission called for massive increases in spending on job and skills training and programs to boost employment, improve education and public services. The commission called for sweeping reforms in the criminal justice and health care systems. The recommendations were made four years before Palin took office. Other than a brief mention of diversity in her gubernatorial campaign speech in 2006, there is no evidence that Palin has said or done anything about the commission’s recommendations. If she had it would have put a beam on the faces of thousands of Yup’ik Eskimos who aren’t named Todd Palin.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).


Anonymous said...

So Sambo beat the bitch!”

This is how Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin described Barack Obama’s win over Hillary Clinton to political colleagues in a restaurant a few days after Obama locked up the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

People who know her say she refers regularly to Alaska’s Aboriginal people as “Arctic Arabs” – how efficient, lumping two apparently undesirable groups into one ugly description – as well as the more colourful “mukluks” along with the totally unimaginative “f**king Eskimo’s,” according to a number of Alaskans and Wasillians interviewed for this article.

But being openly racist is only the tip of the Palin iceberg. According to Alaskans interviewed for this article, she is also vindictive and mean. We’re talking Rove mean and Nixon vindictive.

According to Lucille, the waitress serving her table at the time and who asked that her last name not be used, Gov. Palin was eating lunch with five or six people when the subject of the Democrat’s primary battle came up. The governor, seemingly not caring that people at nearby tables would likely hear her, uttered the slur and then laughed loudly as her meal mates joined in appreciatively.


Anonymous said...

If your point is to criticize Palin for being a racist, I'm with you, but seriously, what the hell are you talking about? "Less access to quality affordable health care"? What's your source? Did you know that ALL Alaska Natives receive FREE heath care through the Native Health Care System? Even 1/2 1n3 1/4 Natives get absolutely FREE health care.

As for access, are any of the studies including that fact that natives in villages must travel, sometimes hundreds of miles to get to health care?
What would you propose? Building and staffing hospitals in the more than 100 villages of less than 100 people in Alaska?

And WHAT violence against Natives? In 8 years i never saw or hear a single incidence of violence and barely any racism TOWARD natives.

I certainly have been called names, threatened and assaulted BY natives (always drunk males over 40).

Also I love how the AK state law makes it "unlawful to discriminate hiring by race" and yet EVERY job I ever applied for or heard of anyone applying for HAD to use a "Native Hiring Preference", meaning that if a Native applied they were automatically hired, regardless of lack of experience and the NON Native would only get hired if there were NO Natives applying at the time of job openings. Isn't THAT "discriminating hiring by race"?

I love AK Native culture, I still have MANY Native friends, all of whom enjoy these comforts. Many of whom have shaken their heads at the standards applied.

Honestly I don't really even have a problem with the practices. But to then read here that some unnamed Natives are complaining. What's there to complain about?

Rape and abuse are horrible crimes, but remember again that these acts are FAR higher in rural Native villages, than in the cities, which means WHO is committing those atrocities? Yet your article implies (falsely) that they are crimes committed by "whites".

As for the incarceration rate AK has one of the most lax policies on marijuana of ANY state so there is a MUCH smaller population of "victimless" crimes than elsewhere.

That means that more people in AK jails are there under stronger cases than elsewhere. It IS fair to argue that AK Natives may have less access to competent legal aid than other Non Natives, I don't doubt that at all.

Certainly many if not most Natives live very differently now than their families did 1000 years ago, but the beauty of Alaska is that they are still free to live that way if they so desire. Subsistence living is a vital and well supported option. There's even a bounty for wolves of $110 each if they desire to make cash. Not to mention the $ that AK gives to each citizen every year (which promises to be over $3K this year) and the fact that most Natives get even more than that, being members of the Native Corporations which are the direct beneficiaries of the Oil Companies leases

As for Native failure rates in schools, while overall public schools may be only 12% Native but in many (if not MOST) villages they are nearly 100% Native. High dropout rate of Natives? Are we to hold them in school at gunpoint? The truth is that MANY Natives (at least that I've been friends with and at the university level) say that their friends didn't see the point of going to college even though it's free (as long as they make good grades and stay out of trouble) only to return to the village afterwards and hunt, trap and fish.

Not enough Native teachers? Whit teachers don't have a "sensitivity to or understanding of" Native cultures? Whose responsibility is it, when these teachers volunteer to sequester themselves out in tiny bush villages to make them "sensitive to" the Natives they've dedicated their lives to, if only for 5 years? Should we lower the standard of training teachers? I have an idea, FIRE all the white bush teachers. it's sure to be an improvement by your reasoning. I'll be sad to see the literally DOZENS of friends I made out of jobs, but if it's better for the villages, then let's do it.

The worlds of village life and city life are so remarkably different that they should be studied differently.

I'm certainly FOR job and skill training for Natives. But I'm for that for everyone!

This article is racist, ill-informed and revolting.

My favorite part is about how "poorly ventilated housing" is to blame for the spread of tuberculosis. It's a little hard to have very large, well ventilated housing in remote villages where there's no lumber and it has to be brought in at great expense and it's unhealthily cold outside for a large part of the year, so you can't just open the windows and let a breeze through. PLEASE explain to me how that's a Civil-Rights issue.

Go Barack

Anonymous said...

It may seem minor to you, but the correct term is "Alaska Native" and not "Native Alaskan". Anyone born in Alaska is a Native, but the indigenous peoples of Alaska are deeply proud of their heritage and uniformly use the term Alaska Native.

Andy McKinney said...

I think the unknown bloger made up the 'overheard' remarks. What a crock.
We spent $100 million on a single high school in a single village. The village teachers are paid much more than teachers in the cities of Alaska. per capita spending on education is through the roof.
No jobs exist in the village economy, hense the high rate of no jobs there. Native Alaskans can get jobs elsewhere with no problem. They choose the 'substance lifestyle'. You may not respect that choise, but all the people of Alaska do. Eskimos are tough, brave friendly people. Too bad you don't grant them the dignaty to choose how THEY want to live out their lives.
In the villages, the law is enforced by village police, who are almost universally fellow native Alaskans. Not likely to be racist against their fellows.
A friend of mine taught in a Hida school. The kids ask her 'why should I learn world history or math? The corperation will give me $10,000 a year for life. I will spend my life hunting and fishing in this beautiful country.' It is a hard to speak agains this logic.
In the villages drukeness, child and domestic abuse are rife, general violence is very common. Most of your jailed inmates are there for harming other Native Alaskans. Should they not be jailed? Would you rather we jailed Native Americans only for harming white people?
The guy who wrote this article should try to find facts on the ground before he shoots off his mouth. Spend a winter in Shismiriff and then tell us about the terrible problems of the Native Alaskans, if you have the guts.

Anonymous said...

andy mckinney and others here are fierce defenders of the status quo, of racial disparities. They don't seem to appreciate when someone illuminates them, especially if it could shed light on the fact that white majority has had a historical role in creating them. Too bad. But you better learn to live with it, because facts aren't going away.
Let's go Back a few decades, and see how race related events unfolded in Alaska, that led to the current disparities (they're not unique to AK,) and see if mcKinney and his ilk would still be as cocky.

Earl was highlighting severe social problems, including violence and incarceration rates. And you deprave him for it, you god damn... Perhaps some don't see how affairs in Alaska relate to Palin being McCain's VP running mate. Moreover, racial affairs at that, since this blog focuses on that, like others focus on other issues.