Back in early January, when Emmonak resident Nick Tucker wrote a letter to the Dillingham Bristol Bay Times, nobody could have predicted his action would turn into what is beginning to look like a pivotal event in public awareness of a host of problems in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. His letter resulted in a January 12th article in the Times, carried by other papers in the Alaska Newspapers Group.
The next morning Mark Dent from the Anchorage Daily News Newsreader referenced the article on the web. On the afternoon of January 13, Camille Conte at KUDO Radio in Anchorage made Tucker's letter and the issue of poverty and disenfranchisement in largely Alaska Native bush communities a compelling topic on her talk show.
On the 13th, Writing Raven, at Alaska Real, who had predicted a crisis in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and other parts of rural Alaska, appealed for assistance.
Gryphen, from The Immoral Minority sent out an email to friend in the Alaskans for Truth movement the next morning. Alaskan progressive blogs like PA, the Mudflats, Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis, and the Immoral Minority all had local posts up on the 14th. AK Muckraker from the Mudflats had a post up at HuffPo, another anonymous Alaska blogger had one at DailyKos, PA had a post up at firedoglake, and CC had Nick Tucker and others on her program live on the 14th of January.
Within hours these people, with the help of others had raised thousands of dollars for relief in the lower Yukon Delta, and to send Dennis Zaki to Emmonak to meet with residents there, and get first-hand information back to readers and viewers outside that isolated area.
The next day, the ADN Newsreader covered the bloggers' response in detail. From that time, coverage widened, becoming national as CNN showed interest in the material generated by Dennis Zaki's struggle to get to the village in the face of winter storms throughout western Alaska.
The progressive Alaska bloggers and Alaskans for Truth members who were so pivotal during the period from January 13th through 16th on this were sincerely compelled to provide immediate material assistance. We were also motivated by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's comments that had been publicized the week before, about "bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie..."
It is more than ironic that one of the results of our local bloggers' efforts has been a surge in progressive Alaska Native blogging. One new blog, featuring Native Alaskans is called Anonymous Bloggers. Its most recent post is Diary of a Proud YUP'IK Mom.
Watching attention to the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim area unfold these past 48 days has been a learning experience for hundreds, if not thousands of people. And more attention will be directed to this incredible array of poverty, lifestyle, cultural, religious, ecological and political issues throughout the late winter, spring and into the summer of 2009, because of the efforts of a small group of Alaska progressive bloggers.
Our work is just beginning.
Part Two: Cristofascist Cultural Genocide, led by Queen Esther
In several aspects of Diane Benson's work - her plays, poems and stories, for instance - incidents from her negative encounters with forced Christianization have been described. Benson grew up in a variety of circumstances, many of them horrific. Her encounters with enforced, fundamentalist Christianity were not among the worst, but they were not good. In her contributory article to Sharing Our Stories of Survival, a legal studies textbook, Benson relates:
We went to church because the church picked us up. Our foster mother had little or no money, so a drive to town was out of the question. The church told us to turn the other cheek, that God was coming back, and that with Jesus, our lives would be happy. And the church told us we couldn't wear any Native symbols. They were seen as heathen.
Working with Diane Benson on the 2006 and 2008 U.S. House campaigns, I was able to meet many Alaska Natives who shared similar experiences to Diane's with me. Listening to these stories, I was reminded of Kirk Dombrowski's highly-rated book, Against Culture: Development, Politics, and Religion in Indian Alaska. In his book, Dombrowski relates the cultural genocide aspects of evangelical, fundamentalist and - especially - charismatic Christian sects, in their effort to "save" Alaska Natives through conversion so stringent it negated the thousands of years of culture represented in Alaska tribal spiritual practices. From totem pole burnings in the late 19th century to regalia burning bonfires in Southeast Alaska in the early 1990s, to now, millennial Christianity has sought to destroy the power of Alaska Native spiritualism.
One of Dombroski's observations is key to possibly understanding ongoing efforts in Alaska by Franklin Graham's so-called ministry:
"To understand Pentecostal church membership in Southeast Alaska today, one must examine it as part of the broader interrelation within and between village communities and their surroundings.
"These communities find something dysfunctional in their own traditional beliefs that prompts them to turn from Native spiritualism to this new form of religion: Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism, in fact, challenges Native beliefs and asks members or those who want to join to question the function of native religious objects. This aspect of Pentecostalism forces members to chose one or the other between new and old. This choice ultimately changes the society members will be affected by.
"With the strong clash between traditionalism and Pentecostalism members are choosing a new social atmosphere as much as they are choosing a new religious following.
"In contrast to the popular assumption that issues of conscience are entirely personal, belief and cosmology are always social entities. They always involve acting with, upon, or against others."
I haven't yet seen an article about what I'm going to posit next here:
Graham started his interest in Alaska before Sarah Palin became governor. During the first two years of her governorship, she kept a low profile regarding her beliefs. I'm a longtime observer of her fundamentalism. Just weeks before she was elected, I called her during a radio appearance on KFQD's Dan Fagan program, asking her if her beliefs in creationism had "evolved" since our last discussion (she stated on the radio program that "both side should be taught"), and whether or not Anchorage Rev. Jerry Prevo would be given open access to her office. To the latter question, she replied that Prevo would be given the same access as any other member of the clergy.
Some of us have been watching her appointments to various boards and commissions, and to cabinet-level positions. The conventional wisdom is that she has leaned too heavily upon an old girl and boy network from Wasilla High School and the Mat-Su Valley. This is certainly true. But closer scrutiny of these appointments should be given to her appointees' relationship to Christian sects that believe the end times are coming, or are very near.
The most famous high-level government appointment in fairly recent times whose millennialist beliefs clashed with genuine job stewardship was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior appointee James Watt. He claimed it was unimportant how quickly or thoroughly forests were clearcut, because, “We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand”
Dr. Alan Boraas observed that Franklin Graham may have been one of the people - along with ubiquitous neocon, William Kristol - who pushed Palin onto the GOP 2008 presidential ticket:
On June 30, 2008, David Brody of CBS News reported John McCain met in North Carolina with Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, director of the multimillion- dollar Samaritan's Place [sic] faith-based charitable organization. McCain was courting the religious right who, at the time, were skeptical of his social conservatism and his Christian qualifications. After the meeting Graham issued a statement praising McCain's "personal faith" and added, "We had an opportunity to pray ... for God's will to be done in this upcoming election."
Subsequent events suggest that the price of support for McCain by the fundamentalist Christian leadership would be a vice presidential candidate of their liking. Gov. Palin was a logical choice for Franklin Graham, whose ties to Alaska include a palatial, by Bush Alaska standards, second home in Port Alsworth: a community that has often served as a retreat for Christian fundamentalist leaders.
Boraas goes on to observe:
Through Samaritan's Place [sic], Franklin Graham has been the chief benefactor of the Tanailan Bible Camp building and rebuilding a church and meeting hall and guest cabins. The evangelical scion of Alaska, Rev. Jerry Prevo of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, is on Samaritan Purse's Board of Directors.
Since losing the 2008 election, Palin has been forced to the right, as she seeks to find ways to bring in what will have to average almost $70,000.00 per day between now and 2010, to keep herself in top contention for the 2012 presidential slot on the GOP ticket. The reason she was put on the GOP 2008 ticket, was that she brought the most fundamentalists, evangelicals and charismatics to McCain's plate. Any expansion for her to a wider base will not happen until after she wins the 2012 primaries.
Consequently, she appears to finally be showing her hand as an overt Christianizer. I've issued challenges to the Alaska mainstream media and to my co-bloggers before. This is the most serious one yet. I'm convinced that her board, commission and cabinet appointments are going to be more and more connected to Christianist movements than they even now are. I challenge you to prove my thesis right or wrong.
I don't believe in religious tests as qualifiers, or as disqualifiers. If the education commissioner is somewhat of a religious whackjob, I'm mostly concerned that he is also a qualified commissioner of education. If a nominee for commissioner of public safety is a religious whackjob, and excellent police administrator and a sexual harasser, it is only the third issue that would disqualify him in my mind.
Palin's desperate courting of Christianists and even Christofascists is beginning to get troubling though. In the trip a week ago to Marshall and Russian Mission, she mixed her activities as governor and as missionary, in weird ways:
Palin, with evangelist Franklin Graham at her side, arrived Feb. 20 with planeloads of food for rural Alaskans beset by a cold winter, sickening fuel costs, poor commercial fishing and staggering unemployment. The governor’s arrival scene was repeated later the same day in another Western Alaska village.
The entourage’s short visit to each village mixed a campaign-trail energy with brief elements of a church-rally.
Palin worked the adoring crowds, squeezing cheeks, bending low to pose with elders and kids and bear-hugged strangers as if they were old friends.
Nearly every resident in both Russian Mission and Marshall — each village has about 350 residents — squeezed into the community gyms where the food was distributed.
During the first stop in Russian Mission, Graham stood to speak.
The president of Samaritan’s Purse, his Christian charity used four of its planes to airlift the 75 boxes of food into Russian Mission — one box for each family. Another 99 were delivered to Marshall. The boxes weighed 44 pounds and contained 15 items.
One week before the food drop, on Valentine’s Day, Franklin Graham called Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and asked if there was anything Samaritan’s Purse could do to help the region, he said.
Parnell, who joined Palin on the trip, got back to him a couple of days later.
“(The state) kind of pulled out all the stops to do this,” Graham said.
“As your governor, we’re here to partner with Samaritan’s Purse and other churches and other people across the nation who recognize Alaska’s uniqueness and recognize that Alaska faces some challenges right now with the high costs of food and high costs of energy,” she said. “Just know that we ask for God’s blessing over this part of Alaska also and those things the state government can do to assist, we’re here to help.”
Then Palin handed out cookies — stuffed with chocolate chips — to a long line of children.
Essentially, Governor Palin, who already has proven she cannot distinguish between what is good for her family and what is good for Alaskans (she is asking for some help now, though); cannot distinguish between prayer meetings, town meetings, state aid, and religious evangelism.
Here's a report from another source, about the phone blitz being carried out by John Moller, Palin's brand-new Rural Affairs Coordinator:
I spoke to Jon Moller, the Rural Advisor to Gov. Palin on Sunday. He said he was going to be coming back to the YK Delta this week but I am assuming he couldn’t make it due to the weather. Mr. Moller asked me for a list of needy villages I had mentioned to him when I met him in Emmonak at the store. I gave him my list and then he asked me to prioritize it by need. Additionally, he asked for contact information for all of the villages so that he could forward that to Samaritan’s Purse. [Editor's Note: Samaritan's Purse is Franklin Graham's organization. Graham, an evangelical minister, flew to Russian Mission with Sarah Palin last week.]
I received a call from Samaritan’s Purse on Monday, and answered their questions, plus gave them additional contact information from the phone book for villages he didn’t know how to reach. They said that they would be sending 35 boxes of food here to Nunam Iqua, one for every needy family. When I called back on Wednesday, to get more information and check on the status of their delivery they appeared to be quite busy. I was told that they would call me back and answer my questions and give me a date to expect delivery but so far I haven’t heard anything.
Essentially, the new Rural Affairs Coordinator is being used as an adjunct for a missionary outfit that is seeking, in the long-run, to destroy the indigenous spiritual beliefs of the people it purports to help. This is known as cultural genocide. The fact that the owner of the group, Franklin Graham, has been implicated in strange aspects of the ongoing genocides in Africa, should give people pause.
Part Three: More to Come
Alaska's Progressive bloggers will be covering the upcoming North Pacific Fisheries Council's bycatch public hearings in Anchorage. The hearings will center on Bering Sea trawler bycatch. They will be held March 30th through April 6th at the Anchorage Hilton.
I'm going to attempt to get accredited. Dennis Zaki, Stephen Taufen and other fisheries reporters will be there, covering the intense interest in the Alaska Native side of this issue. Wesley Loy from the Anchorage Daily News will probably be covering it, too. His reports tend to be corporate-friendly, but honest.
Some of the progressive Alaska bloggers are trying to get some qualified Outside reporters in on the meetings, too, as these will be some of the most important, high-profile NOAA-controlled public meetings in the country, since the regime change at NOAA.
I hope the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents sends a delegation. Here is a link to their letter, published at Alaska Report yeserday, on this (and other) issues). Here's an excerpt:
Mr. Nick Tucker struck the nerve of the situation in an article that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on January 15, 2009 when he said, "Local commercial fishermen didn’t make any money from king salmon – a staple of the economy..."
Following the Tucker letter, a barrage of news articles and reports appeared in the L.A. Times, Seattle Times, New York Times, and CNN confirming the reasons why people were not able to meet their energy and food needs for the winter, and the lack of commercial fishing opportunity among other things. Absent in the articles and reports is the question, why is our Chinook salmon runs failing?
The Yukon River Chinook salmon stocks have never really recovered since the crash of 1998. Regulators of the fishery, both the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and the Office of Subsistence Management instituted severe commercial and subsistence fishing restrictions on our small group of in-state commercial and subsistence fishermen throughout the entire Yukon River drainage depriving our fishermen with the means of supporting and feeding their families.
Meanwhile, the Bering Sea Pollock trawl fishery continues to ravage our resources in a wasteful and destructive manner.
Kodiak-based fisheries writer, Stephen Taufen, writes, also in the Alaska Report, that:
There's a great clash occurring in the North Pacific over Chinook salmon intercepts by trawl vessels. It pits the subsistence needs of native peoples in the river systems of Arctic and Western Alaska - the Yukon , Norton Sound, Kuskokwim and Bristol Bay regions, as well as Canada - against the commercial, industrial fisheries. At the next regional federal fishery council meeting in Anchorage , starting March 30, there will be four days set aside to deal with the conflict and issues.
Some would say it's really about a more basic issue - the survival of the Chinook. They ask, "At this point, can the Yukon River Chinook salmon run ever be recovered?" Well, there's likely still time - but only if strong action takes place. Already in 2009, bycatch numbers are climbing, according to reports from crew members out West, for salmon and halibut.
Part Four: How Serious is all this?
To me, absolutely serious. Between the Seattle-based trawlers, and their pumped-up boats and money-stoked lifestyles, pitted against the poor people they've been robbing for decades; and the Franklin Graham-tied Palin administration whose beliefs hark back to James Watt's, this is one of the most serious, yet fascinating stories I've been allowed to closely witness.
Thanks to Steve, at What Do I Know? for his kind words on Progressive Alaska's coverage of these issues so far.
Update - 3:25 p.m: Bristol Bay Times has posted videos of the Palin-Graham-Prevo trip to the Delta. Very compelling is Nick Tucker's plea to Palin:
I appreciate your help. But that's barely enough. We want to get restored back to who we are. The Native people are very strong people, and this is probably the only time that they cried out for help.
Diane Benson in one of her plays
Russian Orthodox cross near Emmonak
Palin & Parnell preying
gillnets near Emmonak
a Yupik harpoon point
(again - special thanks to Oysters4me!)