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KNBA News - How to talk about race; Changing Arctic

Feb. 8, 2016

Honesty about our history important to healing racial divisions

By JoaqlinEstus, KNBA – Anchorage

The First Alaskans Institute hosted a conference last week on racial equity. Keynote speakers gave presentations then people in groups of six to ten discussed questions prompted by the talks.

“I want to actually talk about the way that the stories we tell, those of us called white, actually contribute to the problem because they’re so embedded in untruth,” said Rick Wise, a long-time anti-racism activist, speaker and author. He says people’s behavior is based in a perception that America provides a level playing field. Actually he says, that viewpoint overlooks the effects of long-standing poverty, barriers to education and medical care, historical trauma, and discrimination.

“Alright, I think to some extent white folks in the United States and anywhere where whiteness is a force on the planet, are people of the lie,” Wise continued. “And what I mean by that is that we’ve told ourselves and others so many untruths, about the country in which we live, about the cultures from which we come, and about our own story, that we don’t even recognize truth from fiction anymore.”

Gyasi Ross says mainstream histories of Montana, give little attention to his people, the Blackfeet Indians. Their history includes the commercial hunting of bison, their main food source, nearly to extinction, and an 1879 massacre of a peaceful encampment that killed 173 people and left another 140 without food or their horses and 90 miles from help.

Following periods of starvation, the Blackfoot agreed to give up their wealth - their homelands - in exchange for food and medical care. He says he sometimes get a response: ‘but I’m not responsible for that.’

“You know, you didn’t do that, that’s cool. Good; I’m glad, thank you,” said Ross. “But we can still recognize history in a way that’s objective and in a way that’s humane without giving short shrift to that. So we can’t get too quick to the healing before we actually give due deference and acknowledgement to the history.” 

Jay Smooth, a DJ of a hip-show in New York City, says to effect change, people need to engage in conversations about race. He shared an on-line video he’d made recommending conversations on race to focus on behavior, ‘what you said is unacceptable,’ for instance. Smooth says calling someone a racist starts a no-win conversation:

“This is the conversation you don’t want to have because that conversation takes us away from the facts of what they did into speculation about their motive and intention,” said Smooth. And those are things you can only speculate about, things you can’t ever prove. That makes it way too easy for them to detail your whole argument.”

More than 250 people took part in the conference, which is part of a first alaskans project: Advancing Native dialogues on racial equity.

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Top-level Arctic Council meeting set in Fairbanks

By Tim Ellis, KUAC - Fairbanks

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the State Department’s selection of Fairbanks as the site of the biggest and most important Arctic Council meeting was good news for both Alaska and the nation.

“It shines the spotlight on the United States as an Arctic nation. And we are an Arctic nation, because of the state of Alaska,” said Murkowski.

“This is a very significant event,” said U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Robert Papp. He last week announced Fairbanks will host the 2017 meeting of Arctic Council member nations’ foreign ministers. It’ll be the second ministerial meeting held in Alaska since Barrow hosted one in 2000.

The meetings are held at the end of the two-year chairmanship that rotates among the eight council member nations. Papp says they enable the ministers to review achievements of the outgoing chairmanship and hear the incoming chair outline goals for the next term.

 “The ministerial is perhaps the most important event in the two-year cycle of the Arctic Council, because it brings the foreign ministers – in our case, the Secretary of State – together to really tie a bow on the work that’s been completed,” said Papp.”

Papp just returned from Helsinki, where preparations are under way for Finland to assume the chairmanship when the U.S. term ends in 2017. Papp says the State Department considered Anchorage – the usual venue for such events -- but settled on Fairbanks because it’ll offer a different experience.

“What we wanted to do was find that balance of closer to the Arctic Circle; a little bit more rustic,” said Papp. “A little bit more of a flavor of Alaska. And also have the logistics.”

Logistics like an international airport and enough lodging and meeting space to accommodate some 450 diplomats and their entourages.

Murkowski says she favored holding the ministerial in Fairbanks because it faces many of the same challenges as other Arctic cities, such as high energy costs. She says the delegation members will be interested in learning about renewable-energy solutions being developed at the university’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center’s energy-efficient construction techniques for remote Arctic communities.

“We’ve got so many resources there in Fairbanks,” said Murkowski.

Papp says the Fairbanks ministerial meeting will include a commemoration of the Arctic Council’s 20th anniversary.