Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heroic Women Artists - Part Three - Diane Benson's Central Role in Alaska's Future

Thursday at noon, you will be able to watch the movie For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska on your computer. Or - possibly - on your Alaska cable-connected or satellite-connected TV. It will be shown during the luncheon of the opening day of the 2009 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, being held at Anchorage's D'enaina Center.

The movie, produced by Jeffrey Silverman, and directed by the late Phil Lucas, centers on two heroic women in Alaska's past - Alberta Schenck Adams and Elizabeth Peratrovich. These two Alaska Natives challenged the territorial civil rights paradigm during World War II that continued to give Alaska Natives second- or third-class citizen status here at the same time our first people were fighting very hard to defeat the enemies of the USA.

Tlingit civil rights activist, political maverick and multi-faceted artist, Diane Benson, created a play eight years ago, based on the story of Elizabeth Peratrovich's winning battle. Benson's play and her research for it serve as important parts of the material incorporated by Silverman into the movie. Benson plays Peratrovich in the film.

Benson's own son's almost fatal injuries in late 2005, while serving as a paratrooper for the U.S. Army in Iraq -
after his enlistment had expired - severely curtailed Benson's continuing and maturing artistic creativity, as she crafted two campaigns to unseat Alaska's sole representative in the U.S. House, Don Young.

Although Benson has sometimes been quite outspoken when asserting Alaska Native rights or defending her own tribe, clan and moiety, her longtime work on behalf of victims of sexual abuse and violence remained fairly secret until a now-hidden article by Anchorage Daily News reporter, Lisa Demer, was published on May 1, 2008:

She told the crowd in the Hilton Anchorage ballroom that she was repeatedly sexually abused in Alaska foster care, that when she was a young teenager and went to the police, a Ketchikan officer not only didn't pursue charges but said he wanted to get in on it, and that she was raped three times by age 20. She didn't even try to report those, she said.

[Benson] said she's talked publicly about her experiences for a dozen years at [confidential - see note below] victim conferences around the country, though the rapes might be news to people in Alaska. It's not the kind of thing she'd bring up as a campaign strategy, she said. She talks about the worst times of her life to offer hope to other women, she said.

"If I can be a person who can get out there and do what I do, after this violent, neglectful and abusive kind of history and still demand my dignity, find my self-respect, after all of it, so can somebody else," Benson said.

When Benson opened her 2008 campaign Anchorage office, I watched her dance Tlingit dances for the first time since her son. Latseen, was injured. When a bunch of us
held a fundraiser for Celtic Diva and Writing Raven to attend the 2008 Democratic National Convention, I watched and heard Diane sing a Tlingit song for the first time since Latseen was hurt.

Thursday I won't be able to be there and watch Diane play the role of Elizabeth Peratrovich on the screen, in front of hundreds of her Alaska Native brothers and sisters. I'll be teaching at UAA.

But I'll be there, the next day and the next, to help Diane carry forth her vision of Alaska's sustainable future.


Eileen said...

Diane is brave. She is raw red brave. She is refreshing and insightful. She was outting the corrupt cronies club long before the feds. The unfinished business is Don Young. We need a new future in Alaska and she has helped us on that path-not more of the same as Sarah has given us. She has taken her son's bravery and tragedy and used it to forge steel in both of them. Only good will come our of it. And still we are mired in these wars while our young take all the hits. can't wait to see this film on PBS, I will give you a standing ovation from the interior, Diane.

Philip Munger said...


Last winter Diane told me that she wasn't sure she was "done with Don."

Recently, two of the three Democratic Party candidates for Governor have told me they think Diane Benson would add a lot to their ticket as a Lt. Governor candidate. I haven't had an opportunity to ask the third one yet...

Blue_in_AK said...

We need people of Diane's caliber serving in government. Whether she runs for Young's seat or for lieutenant governor, she will again have my 100 percent support.

Anonymous said...

"And still we are mired in these wars while our young take all the hits."

And the White House stabs them in the back.