by Edward K. Thomas
November 23, 2004
I've been here over 20 years and represent over 25,000 Tlingit and Haida people and I have a difficult time getting a letter over 300 words published in the Juneau Empire on any topic of importance to the people I represent. While I am grateful for the publishing of a number of articles on our issues, I've had personal meetings with United States Presidents and we, as a tribe, have had significant conferences on many important topics that go unnoticed by the Empire, even after we've provided press releases on these events. Yet a person who does not even live in Alaska has his own column on our issues in the Empire.
Mr. Wright was once part of the "tribal leadership" that he condemns in his article. He was the Executive Director of the Sitka Tribes of Alaska until they let him go. He has worked for both the Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Central Council) on a grant to set up a tribal college in our region. He was given full authority to push for tribal colleges in our region. He did not complete the simplest of the goals and objectives of the project and did not produce acceptable reports to the funding agencies in a timely manner. Now that he has failed at that endeavor he finds solace in criticizing those who work hard at retaining at least college scholarships for our young people. I don't ever recall before this time hearing a comment from him that more needed to be done in K-12 education. Maybe some waking up is happening here.
Mr. Wright contradicts the thrust of his own message within the article. On the one hand he suggests that corporations and tribes are the primary blame for the ills of our people and then he goes on to say, "Whatever we decide to do we can do, with or without the corporations, the tribe, or the federal government." And "if we succeed in living as Native people in a modern capitalist society, we do so despite Native corporations and tribal governments."
Tribal governments are legitimate to the people they serve. We don't need former tribal government administrators who failed at their administrative opportunities telling us that the Constitutions we use in the governance of our people are hypocritical and that our elected officials lack legitimacy. Our people take pride in governing ourselves in a dignified and orderly manner under the authority of Constitutions that our people have worked on for generations.
Native leaders of today are very concerned with the high dropout rate of this generation and will do whatever we must to increase the effectiveness of the education of our people. Dropping out or giving up is not consistent with the character of the traditional Tlingit and is simply not acceptable. Education has always been important in our traditional society.
His suggestion that we take all Native children out of public education and place them in segregated schools is not the answer. Our forefathers worked hard for the right of our children to attend public schools so that they could have equal opportunity for quality education. They based their judgment on the failures of federally run government schools in other parts of the country.
It has been proven time and again that Native children can achieve academic excellence with proper guidance and higher expectations in school and solid family support. It has also been proven that incorporating the cultures of the local people into the school curriculum helps break down negative stereotypes and leads to more cultural harmony within our schools and communities. We choose to work with school officials in a cooperative and professional manner to reach our goals.
Finally, Mr. Wright lists as a credential in his articles that he is a "former Juneau teacher" and I have not been able to find a school in Juneau that he taught in. I suggest that if you are going to have a column called "Southeast Tides" on Southeast Alaska Native issues that it be authored by somebody who lives in Southeast Alaska and is committed to making positive contributions in addressing the complexities of our issues. The article of his that you published this past weekend is so poorly written and bizarre that it isn't worth commenting on.
Edward K. Thomas
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