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Volume I: Part Two


Sovereignty is within ourselves . . .
We don’t have to look anyplace else.
We have it within us,
around us, by us, with us.
All we have to do is look for it,
find it,
use it.

Dorothy Kameroff




Alaska Natives are in a period of social, cultural, economic and political transition. By its very nature, transition means change. Native people have been undergoing this change since contact with Europeans in the mid-1700s, but the most dramatic changes have occurred in quick succession during the past century.

Many of the changes have been sudden and traumatic, resulting in considerable upheaval. The changes have generally not been voluntary, and the Native people have not, by and large, been able to control either the scope or pace. Consequently, Alaska Natives have been under tremendous and ever-increasing stress which permeates their lives from the physical to the spiritual and causes continuing damage to their cultures and collective psyche.

The end results of this constant and massive stress — the social and psychological breakdown of Native people — are the very issues that moved the Congress to empanel the Alaska Natives Commission. Alaska Natives, most of whom were economically, socially, and culturally independent one hundred years ago, are now struggling to get by on the margins of a society and economy imposed on them by others. They are attempting to survive in the land of their forebears on the leavings of a dominant society and culture. To see a reversal of self-destructive tendencies among Alaska Natives, there needs to be a comprehensive approach by the federal and state governments and the Alaska Native people themselves. With all, and not just some, aspects of Alaska Native society seemingly at or near the breaking point, any piecemeal attempts at reform will fail. Reforms must address all of the problems and issues facing Alaska Natives and they must be concurrent. The success or failure of one initiative hinges on the success or failure of others. Such a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach in and of itself would be a positive and long needed departure from present governmental policymaking which is issue-specific and political in approach.

Establishment of Natives' cultural integrity and the true empowerment of Native individuals, families, and communities must become realities. n all of this, breaking Alaska Natives' social and economic dependence on others is a fundamental part of the equation.


As the Commission and its task forces approached the various issue areas constituting their collective charge, three basic principles were formed. It is within the context of these principles that the Commission has framed its discussions and recommendations.

1. Self-Reliance
While using the rights they have resulting from the special relationship of Native Americans with the federal government and the rights they have as citizens of the United States and Alaska generally, self-reliance — which includes acceptance of responsibility for individual and community actions — is the key to Alaska Natives' future well-being in social, cultural, economic, education, and physical and mental health areas.

2. Self-Determination
To be effective, policies and programs affecting Alaska Natives must, to the largest extent possible, be conceived, developed, and carried out by Alaska Natives.

3. Integrity of Native Cultures
Policies and programs affecting Alaska Natives — chief among them being policies dealing with rights to subsistence hunting and fishing — must recognize, take advantage of, and maintain and enhance the traditional values of Alaska native cultures.

It is time to accept that the past policy of assimilation has not worked. The federal government and the State of Alaska have repeatedly chosen to ignore this fact. But it is one clearly understood by Alaska Natives, and one that must be embraced by policymakers if the fate of Alaska Natives is to be improved. Natives must be empowered to approach the future with the certain knowledge that their world views, their traditional methods of solving problems, their ways of thinking and doing — all of which have stood the tests of time — will be given due respect and precedence.

The schools, in addition to teaching the basics, must be involved in providing cultural linkages to the community and social linkages to families. Native governments must be afforded long-overdue respect and assistance in taking on the responsibilities of maintaining village harmony and social order. The affairs of the community must be conducted in a culturally and socially correct manner. Other institutions of government, from those providing social welfare and behavioral health programs to those offering economic development initiatives, must do so in ways that reflect the true cultural character and strengths of Alaska Natives. And they must do so with the full understanding that programs and initiatives should, ultimately and always, be at the behest and direction of Alaska Natives.

Regaining Social &
Cultural Integrity

In the 1960s, America underwent vast change. The Civil Rights movement came to the forefront of the nation’s political agenda, and the country’s poorest citizens found relief in the form of President Lyndon Johnson’s "War on Poverty."

These two initiatives, conceived and springing forth from a world far distant both geographically and culturally, would impact the lives of Alaska Natives most profoundly.

Having ceded or otherwise lost much of the responsibility for their children’s education, local systems of governance (including law enforcement), physical health and social organization to the federal and state governments over the course of several decades, Alaska Natives would now give over to those same foreign interests the responsibility for their basic livelihood.

Famine would become a thing of the past as food stamps and financial assistance programs ended hunger. The remnants of what was once Alaska Natives' total dependence on the land would be severed. Because of widespread unemployment, a majority of Natives qualified for programs that addressed the housing and other needs of America's poor. Families living in homes not considered "modern" received prefabricated houses. Electricity, through rural power programs, lit up the villages.

The dependence that began when missionaries came to bring Alaska Natives "salvation" and territorial school teachers came to bring them the "enlightenment" of Western civilization was now complete. The following was stated in the federal 2(c) Report in the mid-1970s:

"Natives’ needs were seen through the government’s ‘white’ eyes. The task was basically one of defining and providing what natives needed to cope with the rapidly occurring changes. It is more useful than merely romantic today, to keep in mind that the Natives had a long history of self-reliance before contact with the white man and the western world, and that many, if not most, of the newly acquired needs were caused by social and economic changes which were imposed, not sought. Invariably, Native needs required resources which Natives did not have and services which they could not provide, thus producing a dependent society and a paternalistic government, the more significant characteristics of which persisted through the early 1960s."

The Alaska Natives’ Commission found that those same conditions and circumstances still persist. Though the authors of the 2(c) Report foresaw potential for a reversal of the dependency on the part of Natives and the paternalism of government, such a reversal did not come to pass. Many observers in the 1970s felt that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971), the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (1974), and the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978), among others, would begin to change the tide. Within this body of 1970s federal Indian and Alaska Native legislation might lie the means for Alaska Natives to begin regaining measures of economic, social, and governmental independence.

In fact, social problems that began to multiply and intensify inversely with Natives' total loss of self-reliance in the 1960s have only gotten worse. There is no end of the downward social and economic spiral in sight. Alaska Natives are still the poorest of Alaska's citizens. Natives’ governmental authority and capabilities necessary to bring order and meaning to the social complex is as far away today as it was when Alaska became a state in 1959.

Towards Self-Determination

Alaska Natives must begin to assume true responsibility for the welfare of their families and communities, responsibilities long since lost to state, federal, and private agencies. As a matter of overriding policy, the federal and state governments, should, as stated previously, assist in the transfer of responsibility.

However well-intended, programs designed by non-Natives and operated by governmental and private agencies for the "benefit" of Alaska Natives have not worked. The evidence is in the statistics that appear throughout the various volumes of this report. Because they have not worked, they represent a financial drain on both the federal government and the State of Alaska. There has been little, if any, return on the billions of dollars that governments have expended over the past 30 years on what has become, quite literally, a growth industry revolving around problems in the Native community. Many, if not most, of these programs really only serve to give the false impression that something is being done.

The unhealthy dependence Natives have on outside decision makers and service providers is a double-edged sword. By their very nature, social service programs and law and order regimes imposed and controlled from without serve to displace the village councils, natural leaders, and extended families. Rather than having to face, acknowledge, and deal with problems, the community can turn those problems over to someone else. This robs local people of both the obligation and the right to solve problems — a necessary, albeit at times difficult, prerequisite. for communal and familial well-being.

The Interrelationship
of Issues

The issues confronting Alaska Natives are compounded by their interrelationship. Reversal of the cultural and social decay in which Alaska Natives are enmeshed seems impossible without improvement in their economic condition. Individuals who believe themselves doomed to an unending future of economic dependency are in such psychological despair that little energy is left for understanding and valuing their heritage, however rich that culture may be and however vital it may be to sustaining viable communities.

Improvement in their economic condition seems unlikely without the availability of an education system that works for Alaska Natives. Children and young adults who are deprived of self-respect by a culturally alien school system and then sent into society as functional illiterates without marketable skills cannot improve their economic status.

An education system that works for Alaska Natives seems out of reach so long as public health problems, family 'dysfunction, and alcohol and sexual abuse are prevalent. Children suffering from chronic diseases brought about by exposure to raw sewage or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, children from families in which one or both parents are absent or abusive, and children who must live in communities where the society in which they live has failed, are ill-equipped to succeed in school, even if school is reformed to accommodate way s of learning particular to their Native cultures.

The collective will required to address these problems seems impossible to attain so long as Alaska Natives live in an atmosphere of cultural and social decay. As elders who know and can teach cultural values and who have the self-esteem and integrity necessary to provide leadership disappear, there are few to replace them. Younger generations seemingly condemned to lives of dependency on institutions of an alien culture, have few resources and little incentive to seek and use the tools of empowerment. Without a sense of empowerment, cultural values, and leadership woven through their fabric, communities soon founder in higher and higher seas of economic woes, public health problems, social deterioration, and substance abuse.

The answer, however, is not surrender to this multitude of problems, but greater efforts to address all concurrently. Progress in reversing cultural and social erosion will be rewarded by gains in other areas. This, in turn, will bring within reach additional progress in revitalizing Native culture. The forward movement of an empowered Native community, addressing simultaneously the many critical issues before it, will go far in promoting substantive advances in dealing with those issues.



The Situation
Native people are the children and grandchildren of those who survived mass death brought on by famine and disease. Descended from those who withstood attempts at cultural annihilation at the hands of governments, many Alaska Natives seem to carry symptoms they inherited and learned from their parents and grandparents — the survivors.

Not only did human beings die in great numbers from the forces of Western civilization, but the holes left in society by mass deaths meant the loss of the rich spirituality and cultural traditions at the center of Alaska Natives' world view. It appears that the way survivors learned to cope was to look away from the devastation and the problems and to remain silent about their feelings. But the problems remain, persisting against the will of those who wish to forget and against the hundreds of millions of dollars in public resources spent annually to alleviate them.

What is seen in village Alaska today are the tattered remains of traditional societies and cultures mixed in with confusing, marginally accepted Western social, governmental, educational, and legal structures. Alcohol, used as medication for the soul, has served as an inexorable wedge, blunting individuals' feelings and erasing spiritual and cultural values.

Healing and recovery will be brought about only when Native people, their families and their governments assume responsibility for the total health and welfare of the villages. Among the first issues that must be confronted are violence against self and others, disregard for roles as family and tribal members, and alcohol abuse.

Current methods of dealing with Native problems and circumstances are simply not working. The situation continues to spin out of control, and only Natives can come up with operable solutions. They must be empowered to do so.

For further information, analyses, and recommendations regarding Alaska Native social, governance, and behavioral health issues, please see:
  • "Table of Recommendations," Part III
  • "The Facts Tell The Story," Part III
  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume II, Report of the Social/Cultural Task Force, Part I, Section II: "Regaining Social and Cultural Integrity," and Part II: "Alcohol’s Carnage in the Alaska Native Community."
  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume II: "Report of the Governance Task Force."
  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume II: "Report of the Health Task Force."
  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume III: "Alaska Native Tribal Government."





Understanding the present condition of many Alaska Native families and communities requires that they be viewed as the children and grandchildren of those who survived mass death at the hands of famine and disease, and attempts at cultural annihilation at the hands of governments and their agents. Some people think that many Alaska Natives still carry the symptoms of what is now termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; symptoms they inherited and learned from their parents and grandparents — the survivors.

One of the most dangerous and destructive inherited symptoms is the way of coping — or not coping — with life's problems on a personal, familial, and communal level. Most of the survivors were orphans of one kind or another. Many were physically orphaned and thus reared in institutions — situations that compounded mounting social and cultural discontinuities. Many suffered in varying degrees from the loss, not just of loved ones and other tribal members but also the loss of the rich spirituality and cultural traditions at the center of Alaska Natives' world view.

It appears that the way survivors learned to cope was to look away from the devastation and the problems and to remain silent about their feelings, as if by not having to face the situation, the problems might go away.

This trait is portrayed today by many Alaska Natives. It cripples them and stands in the way of healing and growth. And, just like untreated wounds, the problems fester and ultimately become disabling to individuals, families, and entire communities.

Native cultures were not the only casualties of the assault of diseases and the invasion of Western life. Also wounded, and in some cases nearly destroyed, were the family and kinship systems that governed everyday life. These systems included clear delineations of relationships, responsibilities, and rights of all the members of a family and village: grandparents and other elders, parents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.

Today, what is seen in village Alaska is the tattered remains of the traditional social and cultural complex overlaid with a jumble of confusing, marginally accepted Western social, governmental, educational and legal structures.

Alaska Native communities and families must begin re-assuming responsibilities that have been lost to others. They have to fully assume the responsibility for educating their children. This includes not only the basics of today's formal education but also the teaching of their languages, their histories, their cultures, and their traditions. Only Alaska Natives can do this. No one else can, no matter how well-educated and well-intentioned they might be.

Village councils and Native people generally have to re-assume responsibility for the total health and welfare of the village. They have to find the ways and the means to begin feeding and clothing their children once again, even if it means "doing without" as parents and adults. This is a responsibility. The community has to find ways to care for the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Leaders and other responsible adults must provide recreation and direction for the young ones and activities for the entire community because these, too, are unmet needs.

Perhaps most important, Natives must do that which has not been practiced — in some cases for generations — by many family and community members: the honest and truthful airing of problems by family members and, if problems are widespread, by the entire village.

This will be very difficult to do because the problems have multiplied over the years. Layer after layer of familial and communal trauma, grievances, misunderstandings, and resentments have been piled one upon the other over time. It will be difficult also because many of the most severe problems are not easy to face: sexual abuse within families, domestic violence, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and tragic deaths. By the very nature of these types of problems, there is much guilt and shame associated with them. Unless they are recognized and dealt with effectively, though, the cycle of tragedy and despair will continue.


1. The federal and state governments should implement policies — in the form of appropriate legislation, if needed, regulations and operating procedures — that give maximum local powers and jurisdiction to tribes and tribal courts in the areas of alcohol importation and control, community and domestic relations, and law enforcement. If this cannot be achieved under current federal and state statutes or because of rigid interpretations of the Alaska State Constitution, Congress should amend Public Law 83-280 to specify all tribes in Alaska have concurrent criminal jurisdiction with the State of Alaska, similar to the jurisdiction now exercised by the Metlakatla Community Council.


The constant rise in alcohol-related criminality in the Native community, together with steady increases in other key indicators of social pathology directly related to alcohol abuse, is clear proof that current methods of controlling alcohol's destruction are simply not working. For over a century, governments (federal, territorial and, later, the State of Alaska) have attempted policies and regulatory schemes for controlling alcohol use and abuse by Alaska Natives. Everything from outright prohibition of alcohol sales to Natives, to present-day attempts at curbing alcohol importation and use under the State's "local option laws," have been tried. (Conn and Moras 1986). No alternative, or combination of alternatives, has proven even nominally effective. The situation continues to spiral out of control.

A broad expansion of regulatory and judicial authority could eventually bring a measure of peace to Native homes and villages. Lives might ultimately be saved, and the number of victims, most of whom are women and children, will decrease. All too often, State Troopers arrive only after someone has been killed or a serious, alcohol-induced crime has been committed. Problems need to be addressed before they escalate to the point where significant harm has been done and the situation is beyond immediate resolution.

For tribal councils and village people, expansion of powers and authorities would mean regaining inherent responsibility for village problem solving in an area where grief and turmoil are the most pronounced. It would mark the beginning of the end of being wholly dependent on State law enforcement and judicial agencies to protect Native families and lives.


2. The federal government and the State of Alaska should institute a moratorium on development of new non-Native agency programs that deal with the problems of alcohol and inhalant abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, suicide and other social pathologies in predominantly Native areas of the state. Included in such a moratorium would be studies, seminars, conferences, and other agency initiatives now in place or in the planning stages that have not originated from Alaska Native villages or organizations.


A moratorium on spending until such time as Alaska Natives themselves come up with proposals to replace existing programs would wipe the slate clean of ineffective programs. At the same time, it would afford Alaska Natives the opportunity to design grass-roots initiatives that take into account local knowledge, experience, and expertise. Initiatives are needed that address the myriad, complex, and interrelated problems found in the Alaska Native community. Alaska Natives — who live with those problems and their ramifications daily — are the ones most likely to devise sensible and appropriate solutions.

At the same time, no effective, long-term change can happen until Alaska Natives possess the responsibility for solutions and a commitment to the continued well-being of individuals, families, and communities. This will never happen unless government, in a serious and meaningful way, loosens its grasp.


3. Alaska Native villages, with assistance from their organizations (see Recommendation #4, below), should establish plans for beginning a healing and recovery process for their families and communities. Native organizations not locally based, and federal and state agencies should not initiate any new social programs in a village without the village taking the initial step to plan for its recovery.


Existing social programs being run by the state and federal governments are not working in spite of the sizable outlay of funds and human resources. This recommendation is based on the premise that only the Native people can solve their own human problems. Governments cannot do it for them because these are Native problems, and it must be Natives who learn to deal with them.

In the long run, financial savings for governments will likely be realized in proportion to the decrease in need for government, social, and behavioral health programs. As it is, governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on emergency health care, public safety, corrections, and social services for Alaska Natives. Over time, healthier communities should ultimately translate into significant savings to the public.


4. Federal and state appropriations for social programs in predominantly Native areas of the state should bypass governmental agencies and be redirected as grants to Alaska Native villages and village consortia that have developed, or are developing, projects aimed at lessening substance abuse, social pathologies, violence, and criminality in the villages.


When faced with dilemmas such as health issues, educational concerns, law and order, or social service needs, people in the villages no longer turn to themselves for solutions. Instead, they call the nearest agency head or social worker, or travel to Juneau or Washington, D.C., for relief. Government employees who have, at best, marginal understanding of Native people, end up as ill-equipped surrogates groping for solutions. Under this arrangement, villagers are robbed of the opportunity to discuss local problems and to come up with answers best suited to their own circumstances and the way they view the world. Village-based initiatives are few and far between.

With the assistance of their own organizations (e.g., Native regional non-profits, regional health corporations, among others), village councils and consortia of villages need programs that are conceived, developed, and controlled at the local level. The only criteria for funding such projects should be: (1) a village or group of villages have, by vote of the community, admitted to having the problems they seek to address; (2) villages and/or Native organizations are able to manage programs and account for program funds; and (3) the applicant village(s) has agreed to participate fully in the project from the planning to implementation stages.



The Situation

So-called "welfare" programs have become a cruel irony for the Native community, turning many Alaska Natives into virtual economic wards of government. Much of the blame for the current situation stems from persistent unemployment found throughout village Alaska, together with the loss of control of local resources and local decision-making processes.

Most of the relatively few jobs available in many parts of rural Alaska are externally subsidized public service positions occupied, more often than not, by transient of permanently resident non-Natives. The lack of opportunities for productive labor and earned income and the loss of self-respect that comes with reliance on others for providing the basic necessities of life are important causal factors in the epidemic of social problems afflicting Alaska Natives and their communities.

Values that once enabled Alaska Natives to meet their own and each others' needs through hard work and close familial and communal sharing and support systems have been severely eroded. Roles have changed and the villages have splintered into tiny family units, dependent not on other members of the tribe, but on the government. A sense of pride and strength has been replaced by a lack of self-esteem and feelings of helplessness.

Welfare programs have, in some cases, become an added addiction. The programs have completed the breakdown of healthy village and familial interdependence. Even worse, an unhealthy dependence on government has led to an acquiescence about critical decisions and a reliance on outsiders to solve problems.

Barriers that stand in the way of employment opportunities for Alaska Natives must be overcome. At the same time, current income maintenance and family assistance programs must be restructured. Eventually, the programs should be dismantled.

"All of a sudden, this person (an unwed mother eligible for welfare) became a very rich person and the single-parent family became acceptable. It was during this era that the role of Native males changed, and we did not realize it . . . The roles we played were not really important anymore, as hunters, wood and water gatherers. We were replaced by PHS, BIA, free housing, energy assistance, food stamps, and the list could just go on and on." — Patrick Madros, Sr.

For further information, analyses, and recommendations regarding Alaska Native employment, unemployment, and income maintenance programs as they affect Alaska, please see:

  • "Table of Recommendations," Part III
  • "The Facts Tell The Story," Part III
  • "Meeting Basic Educational Needs," this Volume, regarding increased hiring of Native teachers and school administrators.
  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume II: "Report of the Economic Task Force: Alaska Native Employment and Unemployment."
  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume II, Report of the Social/Cultural Task Force: "Native Empowerment: Self-Reliance vs. Dependency."





If there is to be any lasting improvement in the lives of Alaska Natives living in villages, the problems of unemployment and dependence on government handouts for economic survival need to be addressed and solved. The two go hand-in-hand. Because of the high rate of unemployment — well over 50 percent in most villages — many Native families qualify for any number of government assistance programs for which no work is required.

As discussed in other sections of this report, dependency has become a major contributing factor in the breakdown of Alaska Native society. It has broken the healthy interdependence of families, tearing at the social fabric that once held Native communities together. It robs them of self-esteem and feeds perceptions of poverty, inferiority, helplessness, and uselessness. It compromises Natives' natural sense of industriousness, and it takes away any initiative to address and overcome the many problems they face.


The acute and chronic state of unemployment in the villages is undermining the roles of village people. Alaska Natives in the working-age population bear a greater weight of what is called the "burden of dependency" (the number of children and elderly that must be provided for) than do non-Natives. Yet many, if not most, of these some working-age people do not have jobs, and they have no likely prospects for jobs in the foreseeable future.

This depressing situation is most marked among younger Native males, the very group that the Commission and others have identified as being most at-risk for developing behavioral health problems and displaying social pathologies. These are the same community members who, in earlier times, were looked to for leadership, protection, and meeting the basic survival needs of the tribe.

More and more, village elders and. parents are saying that their sons and grandsons need jobs. They need something to do that is productive and contributes to the well-being of the village and its children. Taught as children in federal and state schools that securing a job is an important measure of success in life, young Natives find that there is nowhere to turn in villages where jobs are virtually non-existent.

Sometimes lacking the education or training to compete for jobs in other areas of the state, and often unwilling or unable to leave their families and homes, many Natives, particularly young men, are idle for many months of the year. Depressed and discouraged, they turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve the tedium and feelings of uselessness, hopelessness, and sense of failure. In time, as the statistics show quite clearly, they become alcohol abusers, victims of accidents, homicide, and suicide. Many end up in prison for crimes that are often committed under the influence of alcohol.

Not all unemployed young men become such statistics. But being a significant part of a village's population, their mental state, drinking, and idleness affect the households in which they live and, by extension, the emotional climate of the entire community. Unable to support their own families, much less build and maintain homes, they end up living with parents or in-laws, adding further pressures to everyday life.

Subsistence hunting and fishing activities in which young village men still participate no longer fill the days and the months of the calendar as they once did. And subsistence does not provide the income needed to purchase other foods and consumer goods that have become necessities in modern villages. These young men, and many of their female counterparts, are now dependents — reliant on their parents who themselves must often look to welfare programs for financial support. Hence, the pleas coming from the fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers: "Get jobs for our young people." They know better than anyone else what dependency and joblessness are doing to their children and grandchildren. It is tearing them apart. And it is tearing apart their families and villages.


Income maintenance programs — or what are commonly referred to as "welfare" programs — have completed the breakdown of healthy village and familial interdependence. In the place of this social interdependence is an unhealthy dependence on government to meet the basic survival needs of tribal and family members. This goes hand-in-hand with depending on federal and state governments to make crucial decisions about how Natives’ needs can best be met.

There is no pride in this way of living. In fact, a dependent way of life intensifies the sense of helplessness and lack of self-esteem that are seen so often among Alaska Natives. In some cases, it appears as if welfare programs have become an added addiction and that they are symptomatic of all that is wrong with life in Alaska Native villages.

Alaska Native families and villages were traditionally close knit, depending on one another for food and shelter and, when needed, for caring. Family and village members took care of each other; they looked after each other. The health of one family was of paramount importance to the others. Families hunted together, camped together, celebrated together. They were full together and went hungry together. They shared each other’s joys and each other’s sorrows. So while they may have been "poor" materially, they at least had each other. All too often, this is not the case now. Government anti-poverty programs have created a new poverty ... the poverty of the broken village family.

Families literally do not need each other now that government has stepped in to serve each member individually. The result has been a drifting apart of families and isolation of one from another. The large circle of families, which was the traditional village, is now a grouping of separate interests.

Many steps must be taken to reverse this trend. One of the most crucial steps is for family and community members to begin seeing to the needs of one another. At the same time, the village, as a social unit, needs to assume decision-making capabilities and authority regarding the circumstances of its members and families.

Current income maintenance and family assistance programs must be restructured to meet a broader spectrum of needs of Alaska Natives in areas beyond the general scope of individual welfare. In time, the programs should be dismantled.

In undertaking this process, policymakers should have faith in the capabilities of Alaska Natives. If given the opportunity, they will feed themselves and their children. They will not go unclothed. They will find a way to clothe themselves and each other. They will not freeze to death for lack of housing. In the process, they will begin to reclaim a sense of pride in who they are and what they can achieve. They will rebuild a sense of self-esteem and they will find purpose in life.


1. Increased local Native employment opportunities, culturally appropriate service delivery, and local decision-making and management skills should be enhanced through expanded contracting of government programs and services to Native governments and other Native providers in predominantly Native areas of the state.


The slow but steady evolution toward a system of contracting government services to institutions controlled by rural and Native people is providing employment opportunities once virtually inaccessible to many people in rural Alaska. That system, though not flawless, is also bolstering self-determination efforts for Native people statewide by developing the means for localized, grass-roots problem solving and service delivery.

The State of Alaska should enter into cooperative service delivery agreements with Native organizations and governments with clear procedures for contracting to those institutions. As a matter of policy, the State should contract with Native organizations and governments where there is a proven capability to manage programs and account for program funds. State programs and initiatives that impact the social and physical well-being of Native individuals, families, and tribes in village Alaska should be the primary initial focus of what should become universal contracting. These include, but are not limited to, the following:. employment assistance, child protective services, social and family services, and alcohol and mental health programs.

With respect to federal funds and contracting, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and other federal agencies need to continue the process of decentralizing and contracting programs eligible for inclusion under P.L. 93-638, as amended. In this same light, regional Native nonprofit associations and corporations should move money, authority, and responsibility to the villages. These institutions need to work with tribal governments to review significant shifts in programs and services from the regional to the subregional and village level. Ultimately, the local employment and tribal empowerment needs in the villages should be balanced with the realities of providing cost-effective, quality services throughout rural Alaska.

Given the superior record Native organizations have in recruiting and hiring Natives compared with the federal government, the Alaska Natives Commission recommends that Native organizations and governments contract all federal functions currently available for contracting under P.L. 93-638, as amended.


2. At a minimum, every federal agency with programs eligible for contracting under terms of P.L. 93-638, as amended, should have a Native hire requirement similar to that which is in place with the Indian Health Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs; further, all federal departments with job classifications located in rural Alaska should be required to maintain Native preference in hiring to ensure that, at a minimum, the proportion of Native employees corresponds to the proportion of Natives in the population of the immediate area.


The federal government employs close to 20,000 people in Alaska. With two exceptions — the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) — a wide disparity exists between Alaska Natives as a percentage of the state's population (16%) and their representation in the federal work force (5% not including the IHS and BIA). The key factor distinguishing the IHS and the BIA from other federal departments is a special Congressionally approved Alaska Native hiring preference. Federal agencies not under the terms of the Native hire provision — which includes most of the agencies operating in Alaska seem unable to employ Alaska Natives in meaningful numbers. Expanding Native hire provisions to other agencies within the federal system could result in substantial new job opportunities of Alaska Natives.

The Commission was unable to collect detailed figures pertaining to Alaska Native hire in federal jobs located in predominantly Native areas of the state. The generally low percentage of Alaska Natives in the federal work force in Alaska clearly indicates, however, that the ratio of federal Native hires in these areas is quite low, especially considering the high percentage of Alaska Natives in the rural population. For instance, in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) passed in 1980, Congress directed the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to institute Native and local preference in a number of programs related to the Conservation System Units established by the Act. None of these has been followed even though the Conservation Units are located in rural Alaska and most are in proximity to predominantly Native communities. Congress should revisit ANILCA with respect to Native and local hire provisions and establish legislative directives to the federal administration for purposes of enforcing the mandates of ANILCA. Oversight that can ensure implementation of the mandates should be ongoing, and should include representation from statewide, regional, and local Native organizations and corporations.


3. Limits to local Native participation in capital improvement projects — including hiring and wage rules that work counter to local Naive employment needs — must be overcome to ensure employment opportunities for village residents in public works planning, design, and construction in villages.


Most capital projects in village Alaska are contracted to urban-based companies, or to companies based outside of Alaska. As is the case with respect to so many aspects of Alaska Native existence, local people become merely passive recipients of the airports, roads, clinics, and houses constructed for their benefit. The true economic benefits of construction activities go to businesses and to workers and their families in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seattle, and other points south. More often than not, healthy young Native people in the village literally watch from their front doors as others from far away places earn wages on projects intended to benefit Natives.

The federal and state governments should use force accounting on all village capital projects to open opportunities for local labor and talents in the planning, design, and construction of these projects. Also, the federal and state governments should apply the federal Davis Bacon Act and the Alaska "Mini-Davis Bacon" effectively and rationally in conformity with the statutory rule of the local prevailing wage.

The Alaska Natives Commission has, in various reports, documented the projected public works and housing needs that could lead to significant future waves of capital expenditures in rural Alaska. To the extent such expenditures are forthcoming, every effort must be made to ensure, that Native people are designing and constructing the homes, putting in the sewer and water systems that will service those homes, building new community facilities, and repairing and maintaining those already in place.


4. Limits to local Native participation in rural Alaska resource production and extraction industries must be clearly identified and overcome to ensure employment opportunities for village residents, expanded economic benefits for rural economies, and avenues for Native involvement generally.


In general, the history of resource development in Alaska resembles colonialism at its finest: i.e. economic "activity" consists largely of extracting raw resources from Alaska's lands and waters. In far too many cases, local Native employment opportunities in the extraction phase are marginal, as are secondary or tertiary economic benefits to local economies.

A noteworthy exception is the Community Development Quota (CDQ) program under which. some 62 communities in western Alaska share in-the royalties of the Bering Sea pollock fisheries. The positive effects resulting from the infusion of economic and social support and assistance — including, local employment opportunities created by the CDQs — are only now beginning to be realized. There are indications that the long-term rewards will have a major impact on the coastal Native communities in western Alaska. At the same time, the Commission sees the potential for CDQ-type approaches in other extraction industries, in addition to fishing. What is of greatest importance to policymakers is the need to look more broadly at the full range of economic development opportunities that might benefit local Native communities in all future resource development activities taking place in rural Alaska.


5. Federal and State regulations must be changed to allow for tribal design and management of government income support and maintenance programs, most notably: Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Food Stamps, State General Assistance, and the federal General Assistance program funded under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


What is . generally viewed as -a social "safety net" in contemporary-American life has become more of a solid base from which many Alaska Natives now live their lives. Historically, Alaska Natives were a . people capable of meeting their own and each other's needs through close familial and communal sharing and support. systems. In modern times, an ever-increasing number of Native villages and families have become virtual economic wards of the federal and state governments. This is due mainly to the chronic unemployment situation in much of village Alaska, together with the loss of control of local resources and local decision-making processes.

While financial assistance is necessary until the rural areas of Alaska become economically viable, there is a critical need to restore pride and self-esteem to Alaska Natives and a sense of community purpose to the villages. Unless real changes are made to the current system of income maintenance and financial support programs in Native communities, the overall well-being of Alaska Natives will continue to deteriorate.


6. Utilizing government transfer payment receipts, tribal governments in Alaska should be permitted to design and implement local "workfare" programs that require productive, community development-related employment where aid-eligible households have at least one able-bodied, employable member. Village workfare programs should be designed to provide adequate training, child care, and other support services for participants.


To the extent "welfare" programs are restructured as proposed in the foregoing discussion, the potential benefits to working members of households and their families are incalculable. Not only would there be a restoration of pride and self-esteem among individuals and families, but workfare programs could be fashioned to-benefit communities by providing needed labor for, as examples, building and maintenance projects and village planning and management.

There are any number of village projects -toward which workfare funds can be directed, many of them related to improving the overall cleanliness and orderliness of communities. Others relate to increasing the ability of communities to manage and maintain village infrastructure and improve local government administration. The money can also be used to augment educational and health service programs.

By offering a viable and honorable interim solution to the need for meaningful employment in village Alaska, such a move by government would complement various prevention, education, and village healing efforts proposed in other sections of this report.


The Situation

Alaska’s prisons hold an inordinate number of Alaska Natives, but the inescapable fact remains that Natives did something to bring themselves into the system. An offense occurred and, more likely than not, the- victim was a fellow Alaska Native: a dead cousin, a beaten wife, a. sexually abused child.

Although it appears from data reviewed by the Commission that some mechanisms are in place to resolve disputes and even serious social infractions at the village level without involving the State of Alaska judicial regime, they are not being used effectively. Much of the problem stems from the State's unwillingness to cede to village councils and village courts the authority to handle local cases.

Unfortunately, there is a conviction among many State officials that any release of State authority to tribes is a threat to the State's authority. This is unnecessary and leads away from the solution, which is the exercise of self-governance to achieve self-determination.

In many cases, the problem is a crippling perception among Natives themselves that Alaska Natives are powerless. In far too many instances, this perception has become a self-prophecy.

If there is a glaring weakness in the current system, it lies in the fact that Native villages are seldom, if ever, involved. Once a village member is arrested, he or she is taken out of the village. In effect, the village is robbed of the opportunity and the obligation of facing and dealing with very real problems.

"It’s only been in the last 15 or 20 years that white justice has come to the bush . . . We have grafted a system upon a population that previously didn’t have it, and now we’re wondering why it doesn’t work. The fact is, it hasn’t worked particularly well, if you think of a justice system as having two primary goals. The first is the protection of the public . . . the second is to hold people accountable in some meaningful way."

Brant McGee
Director, Office of Public Advocacy

For further information, analyses, and recommendations regarding law enforcement and judicial needs in the Alaska Native community, please see:

  • "Table of Recommendations," Part III

  • "The Facts Tell The Story," Part III

  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume II: "Report of the Governance Task Force"

  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume II: "Report of the Social/Cultural Task Force, Part II: Regaining Social and Cultural Integrity"

  • Alaska Natives Commission, Volume III: "Alaska Native Tribal Governance"






1. Alaska Native tribes should be encouraged to establish dispute resolution bodies (including tribal courts) and procedures that are consistent with the predominant tradition and culture of the village, and the State of Alaska and the federal government should provide training and technical assistance to further the establishment and functioning of these bodies.


Tribes need to be empowered to handle a broad variety of cases and infractions if a return to self-determination and self-reliance is ever to become a reality. Jurisdiction and authority are also prerequisites for solving village social problems because, as evidence clearly suggests, these problems will likely never be solved until Alaska Natives and their institutions of government have taken responsibility for change.

It can be argued that the greatest weakness in the "system" as it currently exists is that by taking away both authority and responsibility from Native villages, the critical need for Alaska Natives to face and deal with their very real social problems is only compounded.

For tribal governments in Alaska to have their rights and responsibilities in this area honored, the federal and state governments have critical decisions to make. The State of Alaska must recognize that tribes exist in Alaska and the federal government must confirm the rights and abilities possessed by Alaska. Native tribes (see related Recommendations on pages 73 to 78).


2. The State of Alaska should enter into formal agreements with each tribal council to determine which infractions or classes of infractions will be the domain of tribal courts and which will continue to be under the authority of state government. Such agreements should specify that Village Public Safety Officers will enforce all tribal ordinances as well as state statutes.


Although it appears from data reviewed by the Commission that some mechanisms are in place to resolve disputes at the village level without involving the state judicial system, they are not being used effectively. Probable causes of this seeming discrepancy between what could be accomplished locally and what is, in reality, being accomplished include the State of Alaska's unwillingness to cede to village councils and village courts the authority to handle local cases. The continuing confusion and conflicts over tribal sovereignty, which embed .even more deeply the State's conviction that any release of its authority to tribes is a threat to its authority, also stand in the way of effective local judicial control.

Alaska Native tribes and the State of Alaska need to put their conflicts and concerns aside and begin designing and implementing local community dispute resolution bodies, policies, and procedures. This should be accomplished without engaging in futile arguments over tribal sovereignty or loss of the State's authority.


3. Native organizations, such as regional nonprofit corporations, the Native American Rights Fund, and similar institutions possessing financial and technical capabilities should, in addition to pressing for resolution of tribal claims to authority and jurisdiction, examine the existing governmental entities available to Native communities in order to identify ways to increase their effectiveness in addressing village problems and achieving village goals.


The exercise of Native self-governance is hindered by the lack of knowledge and precedents in exercising authorities that currently exist. Over the course of several generations, Alaska Natives have lost the ability to influence and shape local government to successfully respond to problems in the villages.

In sheer numbers Natives constitute the overwhelming majority of citizens in communities throughout village Alaska. It follows that they should be able to control the election of governmental positions and pass and enforce ordinances consistent with the culture and traditions of the locale. The reality is, instead, a crippling perception of powerlessness. In far too many instances, this perception has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


4. The State of Alaska should establish means by which probation and parole can be carried out in the home village of the offender, utilizing the cultural and social structure of the community to both monitor and support the individual in the spirit of rehabilitation and community healing.


Statistics clearly show a disproportionately high percentage of Natives reincarcerated due to revocation of their probation or parole. The tilt of the State system toward urban rather than village options can be seen in the failure of the correctional system to develop probation and parole alternatives that return village offenders to villages. The results are new problems for Native offenders who lack many of the capabilities needed to meet the terms of probation or parole in an urban setting.

Village dispute resolution bodies should have the authority to establish monitoring and assistance teams to supervise parolees and probationers in the village. Some villagers might resist having offenders returned to the village. In some of those instances, there are serious misgivings about having someone convicted of a crime living in the village again. In most cases, however, resistance will be due to villagers' inability to confront and deal with the very real family and community problems that breed Native sociopathologies and criminality. A village-based support system would help Native offenders. It would also provide Native options for dealing forthrightly with social mediation issues in a culturally relevant manner.


5. Regional and, where practical, Village alternative corrections programs should be established by the State of Alaska for all but the most violent Native offenders; the programs, to be successful, must have adequate and culturally appropriate alcohol treatment components and be administered and/or overseen by local Native organizations.


This recommendation relates closely to the previous recommendation. Villages need to confront and deal with not only offenders but also the situations giving rise to Native violence. This can only. happen if the system is changed so that social problems, including the need for punishment and rehabilitation of Native offenders, are dealt with locally. Punishment can be achieved through the use, where appropriate, of alternatives to incarceration. When incarceration is needed, it can be accomplished closer to the offender's home village if adequate means are provided regionally and subregionally.

Most crimes (estimated to be as high as 80%) for which Native people serve prison sentences are committed under the influence of alcohol. Rehabilitation of Native offenders, it follows, rests largely in the ability to bring about successful alcohol abuse treatment. The limited substance abuse treatment programs currently available within the corrections system are fundamentally ineffective. To succeed, treatment approaches for Alaska Native offenders must be appropriate with respect to Native cultures and also in relation to the types of drinking patterns and alcohol-induced behaviors common among Alaska Natives.


The State of Alaska's Department of Public Safety enforces state law everywhere in Alaska and the state court system adjudicates both civil and criminal cases. But since the 1960s, that system has been buckling under the weight of alcohol-fueled criminal cases coming out of the Alaska Native community. There have been attempts to keep up with this ever-increasing load: new Superior Court judgeships have been created in several larger rural communities; more State Troopers have been hired; and new prisons-hove been constructed. Regardless, these efforts have not stemmed, let alone decreased, the number of Alaska Natives in various stages of the criminal justice system.

Some argue that many of the Native people in prison do not belong there. Others argue that the system is unfair and unjust and that not enough is done to help offenders once they have been incarcerated. There is certainly a basis for each of these assertions. But what cannot be denied is that Alaska Natives in question did something to bring themselves into the system. An offense occurred and, more likely than not, the victim was a fellow Alaska Native. So while it is true that the present system might provide a less-than-perfect judicial process and the corrections system might not be the best that can be achieved for Native offenders, the offenses that are committed cannot be denied.

If there is a glaring weakness in the present system, it lies in the fact that Native villages are seldom, if ever, involved. Once a village member is arrested, he or she is taken out of the village. The offender usually does not return until such time as the case has been heard in some geographically removed location or when time has been served in a State facility. Many Alaska Natives have grown to approve of this reality. It is easier to export a problem and send it somewhere else.

In light of present social deterioration and lack of governing authority found in many villages, however, sending problems away only serves to delay the necessity of facing the conditions that feed dysfunctions and lawlessness. In that respect; the current system has become a part of the problem. This is true not necessarily because people are getting unfair or prejudicial treatment, but because it robs the villages of the opportunity and the obligation of facing and dealing with their very real problems.

The law enforcement and judicial systems in Alaska need to change for many reasons where the future well-being of Alaska Natives is concerned. What should not be overlooked is that the system must change for a very fundamental reason: village involvement is needed in the disposition of civil and criminal cases that profoundly impact tribal members. The system can become a part of the solution. It can help to empower Alaska Natives, enabling them to face problems and search for solutions. The practice of passing problems to someone else and receding into denial can become a part of the past.

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