Archive for the ‘alaska statehood’ Tag

An Interesting Alaska Fact   1 comment

The square acreage of the United States east of the Mississippi River roughly equals the square acreage of Alaska.

There are 26 states, 244 Representatives, and 52 Senators representing that east-of-the-Mississippi area. That is 296 total voices in Congress to shout down our two Senators and one Congressman.

And, people wonder why Alaska feels like it’s not treated equally to the other States?

296 to 3.

Does that seem like a fair fight when the conversation is something like ANWR?

Consider this — if you live east of the Mississippi — would you like Alaskans to be able to decide how you should live?

Posted February 5, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Example of American Colonial Attitude   1 comment

This article in the GovBeat section of the Washington Post is a perfect example of the United States’ colonial attitude toward Alaska (and Hawaii).

How states spend their cash, in 5 maps by Niraj Chokshi

What’s missing in these maps?

Alaska and Hawaii.

For the record, we are (officially) states and have been for more than 50 years.

I guess that’s a news flash.

Posted January 24, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Alaska Question   Leave a comment

The United States government was forced to convert Alaska’s status from territory (colony) to state by the United Nations Charter that the United States Department of State authored. Observers have suggested that the US never expected the international community to hold it responsible for treating its own non-self-governed territories the same as it was expecting other countries to treat theirs. That sounds about right to me. On the spot, the US had no choice, but to transition Alaska from a colony to a state.

In that transition, however, the United States and the corporate interests that had controlled Alaska as a territory were determined not to relinquish control of Alaska’s lands and resources to the people of Alaska. Rather than convert our actual status, they swapped titles. The bondage remains. In order to hide what they were doing, the federal government promised Alaska a 90% share of resource development on federal lands in Alaska. Yah!

Sounds good … except that ANILCA eliminated development on almost all federal land in Alaska. Ninety percent of nothing is …. Oops! 

The promises the US government made to Alaska were as good as any treaty made to the American Indians, I guess.

You can argue whether the evidence provides proof of fraud. Was the fraud of statehood deliberate or just the result of clumsy latter-day handling?  Evidence is not proof. It’s unlikely the question will ever be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, so the debate will continue.

To be fair, there are Alaskans who rejoice at federal control. If you own an ecotourism business and spend your winters in Guatamala instead of making a home in Alaska, non-development is money in your pocket, so what’s the problem? 

For those of us who want to live here with more dignity than zoo animals, it matters. These land issues affect us every day in negative ways and if we are truly American citizens, we believe we are owed the same respect on conservation issues as would be given to a citizen living in New Jersey or California. Sadly, we are not treated like we are truly American citizens.

So do we go on fighting for legitimacy, knowing that if nothing has changed in 150 years it is unlikely to change any time soon, or do we cease striving to remain American citizens?

That is the question.

Subsistence Priority = Racism   Leave a comment

Alaskans are caught between the history that we’ve been taught and the actual events that occurred. Ted Stevens is one of our cultural heroes, but as I’ve been showing, that image may be more propaganda than reality.

I’m not saying he was a bad man. Alaska has plenty of carpet-baggers and con men to add color to our history. Ted Stevens was not one of those. But, the actual history makes you wonder if he really had Alaska’s best interests at heart or if he was dancing to a tune played by a piper we weren’t meant to know about.

Although I find his involvement in writing the Alaska Statehood Compact and his inaction on ANILCA highly suspicious, I admit his “this is how sausage is made” argument could be viewed as politically savvy. We might be left guessing about Ted Stevens’ real feelings about ANILCA if not for the subsistence controversy.

According to Stevens (and I heard the man speak in person many times), he meant to protect subsistence Native hunting and fishing rights when he inserted into ANILCA a mandate that the state legislature grant priority to rural subsistence hunting and fishing in times of natural scarcity. The rural designation was critical, for in the new era of civil rights, race could never be permitted as a determining factor in preferential treatment.

Rural was not defined, either in the mandate or in the state statute. I live in the second largest community in Alaska, but I can be in real wilderness by driving less than an hour. What exactly is “rural”?

I don’t consider myself a rural resident, but my husband’s family (who are from New England) consider our community to be a small town, so by Lower 48 standards, I guess we’re “rural”. By the standards applied by the interpretation of ANILCA under US Fish & Wildlife regulations, rural is not Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Wasilla, North Pole, or any of the organized towns in the state. With very few exceptions, “rural” to them is a non-road system village peopled by majority Alaskan Natives.

I’ve had Alaskan Natives tell me that this is straight-up reverse racism. It’s also a violation of the Alaska Constitution. 

Alaska’s constitution has its own mandate that fish and game resources must be managed according to the principle of “common use”. All Alaska residents have a equal share in all of Alaska’s fish and game resources, regardless of the population density of the community in which we live. This was a standard agreed upon by Alaska Native leaders at the constitutional convention, who recognized that if Alaska were ever cut off from resupply through Seattle, “urban” Alaskans would be much more at risk of starvation than the villagers who live amid the resource. Thus, in the 1989 McDowell case, the rural priority was struck down by the Alaska State Supreme Court.

The Alaska Supreme Court was completely right in how they ruled, but ANILCA had already mandated what would occur if the state refused rural subsistence priority. The federal government would take over the management of fish and game on federal lands.

NOTE: No other state had ever been subject to that kind of control. Alaskans were told they could avoid this by amending the constitution, which was attempted in a special session in the summer of 1990, but it failed to acquire the necessary 2/3 majority of the legislature before sending it to the people as a referendum. The voters soundly rejected the referendum, most of us because we felt it was straight up racism. Federal subsistence boards were created in subsequent years, and Alaska became unable to hold final authority of its own fish and game upon the vast majority of its lands.

Are we a state or do we remain a colony?

It would seem ANILCA, when it locked away over 60 percent of our land mass and the resources upon it and under it, returned us to colonial status … unless, of course, we never actually were a state.

Alaska’s Dutch Uncle Re-Evaluated   Leave a comment

The history of how Alaska became a state and how the United States government has proven that we are not the same sort of state as, say, New Jersey or Virginia. It’s a complicated history that is largely unknown by Americans. Even most Alaskans are not aware of this history nor the role that Ted Stevens played in it. We’ve been taught Stevens was a hero, a champion of Alaska’s interests. History isn’t so certain on Stevens’ heroic role as Alaska’s champion. I think the image may be more spin than reality.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is part of that history and it’s interesting to review it because it’s not what you might expect.

U.S. Senators Mike Gravel and Ted Stevens were at opposite purposes in this debate, which created a puzzling situation of which only the passage of time can provide a clear view.

Gravel, the liberal Democrat, served two terms as Alaska’s senator before we’d had enough of his stupidity, but in this case, he actually was working on Alaska’s side by fighting against ANILCA. Meanwhile, Ted Stevens, the Republican, took a pass. No, he did not fight ANILCA, contrary to what he put out there in the decades following the passage of the act.

Gravel, despite his many and manifold failings as a senator, was an unpredictable maverick. When senators writing their memoirs get to ANILCA — if they bother to remember that bill that typifies Alaska’s colonial status — they remember how annoying Gravel was with his quorum calls and amendments in an attempt to delay or prevent the passage of ANILCA. He assessed the impact of ANILCA in this way:

“While we in Congress may be reading the provisions one way now, the language ambiguities and regulatory tools are all laid out in the bill … frankly, I am expecting the worst … the use of the massive conservation system designations to block any further exploration or development [including recreational] of these lands, and on non-federal adjacent lands. I see our state throttled down economically over the next decade … this legislation goes for beyond what is appropriate and proper for protection. It is a question of balance. This bill does not achieve that balance … I feel we are doing the State of Alaska a great injustice, and ultimately we are doing the nation a great injustice, by not permitting the resource contributions which Alaska lands could make in meeting the full spectrum of desire and demands of human existence.”

Wow, I’m almost (almost) sorry that I helped vote the man out of office.

Stevens, meanwhile, maintained that the votes in Alaska’s interest just were not possible. Most of the American western states were as up in arms about federal abuse of authority and the lock up of land. They called it the “sagebrush rebellion”. You would think Stevens, a savvy politician well up in the ranks of the Senate by then, could have garnered at least some sympathy and quid pro quo, but he settled for playing a losing hand in order to mitigate the effects of ANILCA. As the years passed and we’ve watched ANILCA’s effects, it became obvious that even Stevens’ hopes regarding the “mitigation” of ANILCA had, as Gravel predicted, failed. Stevens admitted that in the preface of a book edited by J.P. Tangen, entitled A Report to the People of Alaska on the Land Promises Made in ANILCA – Twenty Years Later, where he wrote:

“Alaskans have continued to fight for what was agreed to in the act. From ANWR to Kantishna to Glacier Bay, wave after wave of assaults on the act’s protections [for development] have challenged the agreement.”

Sometimes you can’t see something clearly until you step back from it a bit and the whole Stevens career really boils down to this. Ted Stevens, author (or co-author) of much of the Alaska Statehood Act, refused to battle ANILCA, then came to “rescue” Alaska with titanic influxes of federal monies in order to prop up the economy, bringing Alaska under the dependency and control of the federal government, which is precisely what Gruening wanted to free the new state from in his historic American Colonialism speech.

Maybe we should rethink that whole “Man of the Century” pose.

Now, I did not like Mike Gravel. He ran my very first time at bat as a voter and I am proud to say I showed him the door, even if it meant getting the idiot Frank Murkowski to replace him. However, Gravel’s antics were able to delay the legislation, which forced Carter’s hand, causing him to unilaterally invoked the Antiquities Act in a way it was never intended, expanding executive power, and locking up Alaska’s resources for the sake of the environmental lobby. Had Gravel had some help from Stevens, playing on the sagebrush rebellion, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Congress might have voted differently in the subsequent Congress. Instead ANILCA confirmed Carter’s withdrawals and added to them, while Gravel was defeated in the Alaska open primary.

Stevens’ purported reasons for approving ANILCA seemed reasonable to a Congressional observer, but would Stevens have tried to undo federal land ownership which he himself had created when writing the Alaska Statehood Bill as an employee of the Interior Department?

Was Uncle Teddy assuaging his conscience or merely distracting us when he aimed federal largesse toward us to prop up Alaska’s economy when we could no longer sustain ourselves after the development plans of the oil boom dried up under the chilling effect of ANILCA?

Was it an attempt to help us or steer us toward federal dependency and control?

Alaskans need to answer those questions for ourselves because we need to learn from our history instead of repeating it.

Drunk on Power   Leave a comment

Alaska came into the union as a possession just after the Civil War when the federal government was drunk on newly realized power. For the first time in American history, the federal government no longer was answerable to the states. Only the Southern states lost the Civil War, but all states learned that states that argued with the federal government stood a good chance of being sorry for their impudence. As the federal government began carving out large portions of the western states for the new concept of “federal land”, the affected states were left to silently, impotently fume.

Alaska and Hawaii went nearly a century each as territories, subject to federal control over local issues that was often exercised in arbitrary and capricious ways. Alaska entered the union as the poorest state in the union. Of course, we were cowed and uncertain of our rights!

It’s important to realize that Alaska wrote its constitution during the Progressive Era, which explains (but shouldn’t excuse) a remarkable segment found in Article 12, Section 12, where the state and its people, as a condition of joining the union, acquiesce in relinquishing to the federal government the usurpation of Article I, Section 8, clause 17, thus:

The State of Alaska and its people forever disclaim all right and title in or to any property belonging to the United States or subject to its disposition, and not granted or confirmed to the State or its political subdivisions, by or under the act admitting Alaska to the Union. The State and its people further disclaim all right or title in or to any property, including fishing rights, the right or title to which may be held by or for any Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut, or community thereof, as that right or title is defined in the act of admission. The State and its people agree that, unless otherwise provided by Congress, the property, as described in this section, shall remain subject to the absolute disposition of the United States. They further agree that no taxes will be imposed upon any such property, until otherwise provided by the Congress. This tax exemption shall not apply to property held by individuals in fee without restrictions on alienation. (State of Alaska, Constitution of the State of Alaska, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, 2009)

And further, in Section 13 of the same article:

All provisions of the act admitting Alaska to the Union which reserve rights or powers to the United States, as well as those prescribing the terms or conditions of the grants of lands or other property, are consented to fully by the State and its people. (State of Alaska, Constitution of the State of Alaska, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, 2009)

Twenty five years later, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) finally got around to letting Alaska know which properties and rights, besides “forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards and other needful buildings” would be reserved to the federal government. I honestly don’t think my dad, who attended the constitutional convention as an assistant to one of the framers, thought that was what was going to happen. Had he lived to see ANILCA, I’m sure he would have been as angry as Mom and I were at the betrayal by our own government.

This is NOT what Alaskans signed up for when they chose statehood!

The ANILCA controversy of 1978-80 was often referred to by Alaskans as “D-2” at the time, in reference to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Section 17 (d) 2, authorizing the federal government to select its lands. Like with much of the Alaska lands issues controversy, there’s a history that is mostly unknown by those outside of Alaska.

President Jimmy Carter failed to obtain sought-after legislation at the end of the Congressional session in 1978, so he utilized the Antiquities Act of 1906 to withdraw 56 million acres of Alaska on executive authority, igniting a raging controversy within the state and, from some quarters, cries for Alaska’s secession. This would propel Joe Vogler and the Alaska Independence Party to national and even international attention. It would also fan the flames of the “sagebrush” rebellion, but that’s another topic.

I’ve dealt with some of that and there are more posts coming because (d)2 was Alaska starting to recognize that we are not second-class American citizens, though we’re still working our way toward what to do about it.

Avalanches Start Small   2 comments

The federal government is a perfect example of piling mistakes upon errors. Like two parallel lines which diverge only slightly, the passage of time demonstrates that a jog of only a half-degree will, over time, create a yawning gap.

To see this, we need to investigate a fundamental constitutional error that affects Alaska, creating its own tradition and momentum lasting well over a century, to the point where few even bother to investigate the merits of the controversy: federal property.

Article I, Section 8, clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution gives very lmited license to the federal government’s possession of real property:

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.

Many constitutional scholars maintain that the federal government can only own the District of Columbia, post offices, federal buildings, military docks, factories and storage warehouses. The debate over “loose” versus “strict” construction of the Constitution often comes into play here. The 9th Amendment to the federal constitution interprets this clause “loosely” in regards to individual liberty while the 10th Amendment interprets it “strictly” in regards to federal power. For clarity in such constitutional balancing acts, we usually look at the Federalist Papers to assist us. James Madison, known as “The Father of the Constitution,” confirmed this in Federalist #45 when he stated that federal powers were to be “few and defined”.

Then how did the federal government come to own the millions of acres in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, battlefields, wild and scenic rivers, and the like? That certainly doesn’t sound “few or defined”.

History – we should know it, so we can learn from it.

In 1872, Yellowstone was created as the world’s first national park. Yes, the world’s FIRST national park! It was the middle of Reconstruction, just seven years after the end of the American Civil War, which subjugated not only states rights, but also much of the Constitution. Prior to the war, the government never would have attempted such a blatant violation of Article 1, Sec. 8, Cl. 17 of the US Constitution. The people would have been up in arms. The fact that national parks became and remain popular is beside the point that they are and always were unconstitutional.

Having established this beachhead while the states and the people were thoroughly cowed by the outcome of the Civil War and a large percentage of the country remained under martial law, the Progressive Era commenced to build new parks, the National Forest system, and then wildlife refuges and monuments. Western states were delivered increasingly into federal control, making the development of resources a matter of corporate influence in Congress. Individual citizens had no voice whatsoever against such power and the states had been muzzled. It took time, of course, to change the system, to do away with the gold and silver standards, the Homestead Act, ranching and the industrialization of America. During that transition time, prospectors, merchants, settlers and entrepreneurs were able to gain property in the West in a meaningful way, temporarily obscuring the long-term effects of the policy.

We didn’t see it coming and because we don’t study history, we don’t understand what we’ve lost … unless you live some place like Alaska where the industrialization of American never came about — then you see the long-term effects and wonder …

Whatever happened to America?

Alaska’s Dutch Uncle’s Interesting History   5 comments

Some people think Alaskans got what we asked for in statehood. We voted and the plebiscite fell to statehood. I will submit that in 1955, when there was no Internet and statehood mega-fans Bob Atwood and Bill Snedden owned the two largest newspapers in the territory, Alaskans had no way to verify the claims that statehood would be a panacea for all that we were suffering as a territory. I want to believe that Bill Snedden (who was a family friend and later a great boss) was merely misinformed, but there’s evidence to support the claim that Alaskans were manipulated by some of our own leaders. Throw in that an army of occupation was allowed to vote in the plebiscite and of course statehood won, even if the people of Alaska lost.

The United States of America started with a simple idea: Americans could govern themselves.  The American Revolution was a rejection of colonialism. It was a proud moment in history that eventually led to the dissolution of colonialism around the globe.

Or did they just change the title?

In Alaska, I think they just changed the title.

Ted Stevens.jpgThe career of Ted Stevens makes you wonder. Or should.

Let me start by saying that I admired Ted Stevens and wish he had won in 2008 instead of Mark Begich. Yes, he was found guilty of malfeasance in federal court (though that trial was later found to be full of prosecutorial misconduct), but the conviction was later set aside. I’m not actually saying I think he was innocent. I think he got careless and his hand was caught in the cookie jar. I also think that 90% of Congress has their hands in similar jars, which is something that is very wrong with our legislative system nation wide. Ted Stevens wasn’t doing anything unusual for his profession. But that’s another topic for another day.

Not withstanding his herd behavior, Ted Stevens would have won the 2008 election if he had not been found guilty less than two weeks before the election. Alaskans loved Ted because Ted brought home the pork and everybody loves pork. I personally had begun voting against him (and Don Young) in the primaries because I am convinced Alaskans need new blood in DC that is really conservative and just because we admire the past careers of politicians doesn’t not mean we should ignore their progressive tendencies. My reasons for voting against Lisa Murkowski go deeper than that.

The fact is Alaskan voters were manipulated into voting against our own interests for Mark Begich and his voting record has born that out. Begich was bought and paid for by Outside interests against the interests of the Alaska people from the get-go. I think we should have elected Stevens and then allowed him to step down. We’d have a Palin-appointed Senator of conservative (and, ugh) Republican stripe right now in DC and that would have been a VERY good thing. Democrat Mark Begich, who won by a slimmer margin than Kennedy did over Nixon (yes, against a convicted felon!) was the vote that brought us ObamaCare, which has been and will continue to be a VERY BAD thing, but he’s also voted against Alaska’s interests on several occasions over his first term. I think the whole Stevens affair was just another manipulation of Alaskans to keep us on the colonial plantation. But that’s sewage water under the bridge.

Admiration of Stevens does not mean blindness to his character flaws or the interesting ways he moved into power. If you’re interested in a more in-depth analysis of that history, please check out David Whitney’s “Seeking Statehood: Stevens Bent Rules to Bring Alaska into the Union” Anchorage Daily News, August 8, 1994 and “The Road North: Needing Work, Stevens Answers Call to Alaska” Anchorage Daily News, August 9, 1994. I’m going to hit the major points. (RE is suggesting I have the nucleus of a book with this. If I decide to go for it, I’ll explore those articles in depth).

After earning a law degree at Harvard, Stevens worked with Northcut Ely, a Washington DC private law firm that handled natural resource issues. One of Ely’s clients, Emil Usibelli of the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy Alaska was trying to sell coal to the military and Stevens was assigned to handle his legal affairs. Unable to secure employment in the Department of the Interior, he moved to Fairbanks, Alaska to work for Collins and Clasby, a private law firm. Clasby was the local attorney for the Usibelli Coal Mine (Healy is about 90 miles away and Fairbanks is the closest city). It was 1953. Stevens quickly made friends with C.W. “Bill” Snedden, the publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and statehood super-fan. Stevens had worked for Clasby for six months when U.S. District Judge Harry Pratt announced his resignation which had been delayed by several months by the request of the Eisenhower Justice Department. Pratt asked Stevens to serve in the position until Eisenhower appointed a permanent replacement. The Fairbanks Bar Association and the Alaska Republican Party Committee had already voted to support Carl Messenger for the permanent appointment, but Stevens — a yeoman lawyer with only three years of legal experience was favored by important people at the federal level. 

Many local Fairbanksans were puzzled and angered when Stevens was appointed district attorney after only six months in Alaska, displacing not just Messenger, but several longer-serving and more experienced Alaskans. Why was he selected over more qualified applicants? The question was asked at the time, but over the years, we’ve never gotten an answer and those who even remember the questions are dying off or have moved on, replaced by people who did not know to ask the questions. And thus grew the legend of Uncle Teddy — the pistol-packing DA who was tough on crime — mostly that was propaganda.

In 1956, Stevens faced off with flamboyant Anchorage attorney Edgar Paul Boyko in the second trial of Jack Mahler, a former IRS agent accused of not filing tax returns. Boyko based his defense on “no taxation without representation” and urged the jury to “strike a blow for Alaskan freedom” and move Alaska toward statehood. Mahler was acquitted and Stevens issued a statement saying that the decision would harm our statehood efforts.

A month later, the federal stars aligned for Stevens to obtain an Interior job back in Washington, DC. Within days of his arrival, Bill Snedden had offered his name as someone in DC who would work on statehood. Statehood became Stevens’ primary focus while at Interior as he was tapped to promote and write much of what eventually became the Alaska Statehood Act. Stevens himself later admitted it was an illegal conflict of interest (Charles Homan. “State of Dependence: Ted Stevens’ Alaska Problem – and Ours”. Washington Monthly July 11, 2007). 

What does the statehood act mandate? With 65% of the state under federal control, the critical question of the development of mineral resources could never be within Alaska’s control. It requires an act of Congress to open most of the states resources and an act of Congress requires persuading public opinion in the Lower 48, where almost no one has a proper comprehension of Alaska’s geography, demographics, economics, or climate. What gets communicated to Congress is easily manipulated by the gatekeepers of public opinion.

And, public opinion is easily manipulated. Just look how so few of us question the coincidences of Ted Stevens’ career.

Historical Manipulation   4 comments

So, I trust you did not find anything the United States Constitution that says the federal government may own/control vast quantities of land. I trust that because I can’t find it.

History, or the memory of it, can be manipulated, but it’s hard to do so when the people who lived through the events are still alive. Alaska’s destiny had been controlled by corporate interests for 80 years and when Alaska’s citizenry’s agitation for statehood began to elicit public sympathy in the Lower 48, the corporate interests had to find a way to maintain their control. The crafting of the Statehood Act and the constitution had to be performed in a way that would give the appearance of allowing home-rule while keeping colonial control very much in place.

Some historians would say that is speculation on my part, but it’s an observation based on years of talking to Alaskans who actually lived here during the run-up to Statehood. No historian of Alaska can deny that corporate interests have held control of Alaska for most of its existence as an American possession. The Ballinger-Pinchot-Katalla Affair in the early 20th century, the Kennecott Mine, Copper River Railroad, the salmon industry, the warnings of pioneer leader James Wickersham, our current lapdog status with British Petroleum, and many other examples make that evident. Alaskans have understood that our cycles of boom and bust have not been within our control. We are a marionette dancing to those who pull our strings.

On April 11, 1955, former Governor Ernest Gruening addressed the members of the Alaska Constitutional Convention at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks in what may have been the most important speech in Alaskan political history. Entitled Let Us End American Colonialism, it cited chapter-and-verse of the Declaration of Independence, making plausible comparisons between the mistreatment endured by the American colonies in 1776 at the hands of the British Empire, with the nearly 90-year Alaskan experience with the federal government.

Statehood was then touted as the great panacea for the frustration of federal control of Alaska’s economic, political and cultural destiny. At the time, Alaskan leaders viewed its achievement as a great victory for self-determination. The later development of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) seemed to bring about the realization of that dream and certainly it moved Alaska from being the poorest state in the union to being the richest, the only state that pays its citizens for their investment in the state’s resource development.

Prosperity does not equal liberty.

Just because our colonial handlers have figured out how to massage us with benefits doesn’t mean we’re not still a colony bound by colonial rules and manipulated by Outside interests.

Not just Alaskans, but Americans in general should be wondering about some of the issues I’m highlighting because, at least on paper, we are American citizens and if they can manipulate us this way, they can most certainly manipulate you in similar ways and claim Alaska as precedent.

Alaska Demands Self-Determination   Leave a comment

This is Part 7 of Ernest Gruening’s “Let Us End American Colonialism” speech from the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention. In it, he referenced the American Declaration of Independence frequently, but at the end, he assured that Alaska had no desire to be an independent nation. This is why I am not a fan of Ernest Gruening, because this was Alaska’s opportunity to demand legitimate self-determination.

The people of 1955 could be forgiven for not recognizing their plight. They truly didn’t know all their options. Unfortunately, hindsight is 50-50 and we’ll be looking at some of the reasons why they should have stopped and wondered “Why the push for statehood?”


How applicable to Alaska’s plight the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“In every stage of these oppression’s we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms. Our repeated petitions have been answered by repeated injury.”

Lest these frequent citations from the Declaration of Independence lead anyone to the conclusion that there are any among us who now desire our independence, let such a totally erroneous assumption be promptly corrected. We desire and demand an end to our colonialism. But we seek it through a re-affirmation in deeds for Alaska of the principles which launched the American experiment, and re-application of the practice that has been followed in 35 states.

We Alaskans believe–passionately–that American citizenship is the most precious possession in the world. Hence we want it in full measure; full citizenship instead of half-citizenship; first class instead of second class citizenship. We demand equality with all other Americans, and the liberties, long denied us, that go with it. To adapt Daniel Webster’s famous phrase uttered as a peroration against impending separatism we Alaskans want “liberty and union, one and inseparable, now and forever.”

But the keepers of Alaska’s colonial status should be reminded that the 18th century colonials for long years sought merely to obtain relief from abuses, for which they–like us–vainly pleaded, before finally resolving that only independence would secure for them the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” which they felt was their natural right.

We trust that the United States will not by similar blindness to our rights and deafness to our pleas drive Alaskans from patient hope to desperation.

We have been challenged in the course of Congressional debates to show as a pre-requisite that admission of Alaska to statehood would be beneficial to the nation. That test was never applied to earlier territories seeking and securing statehood. But we gladly accept that challenge and willingly subscribe to it as a condition.

The development of Alaska, the fulfillment of its great destiny, cannot be achieved under colonialism. The whole nation will profit by an Alaska that is populous, prosperous, strong, self-reliant–a great northern and western citadel of the American idea. Statehood would automatically bring us far along that high road.

Nothing could more pathetically reveal the lack of understanding regarding Alaska, and the poor advice concerning Alaska that is given and accepted in the highest places, than the presidential pronouncement in the last state-of-the-union message.

“As the complex problems of Alaska are resolved that Territory should expect to achieve statehood.”

Bless us! The complex problems of Alaska are inherent in its territorial status; they are derived from its colonial status; they will be largely resolved by statehood and only by statehood.

As was promptly called to President Eisenhower’s attention this was like the old story of telling a youngster he must learn to swim before going into the water!

So we return to the proposition that America can scarcely afford to perpetuate its colonialism. Our nation is attempting to lead the world into the pathway of peace. No goal could be more worthy. But to lead effectively, it must not only practice what it preaches. It must carry out its solemn commitments. It can scarcely be critical of nations that break their pledges and break its own. It must first cast the beam out of its own eye before attempting to pull the motes of its neighbors’ eyes.

For the United States has pledged its good name and good faith in treaties and agreements far more recent than the Treaty of Cession of 1867. Not that our nation’s responsibility for not carrying out those original pledges in regard to Alaska is diminished by the passage of time. But there are recent and even contemporary commitments which demand fulfillment.

Article 73 of the United Nations Charter, dealing with non-self-governing territories–and that includes Alaska which must make annual reports to the U.N.–pledges the signatories:

  • “To the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories is paramount,” and further pledges them
  • “To insure . . . their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses,” and, finally, and this is most pertinent, it pledges them
  • “To develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions. . . . “

The United States pledged itself to that ten years ago. If the English language has not lost its meaning and the United States its integrity, it should some time ago have, and should now, in any event, “take due account of the political aspirations” of Alaskans and enable them to develop the self-government which they seek.

There is an even more recent commitment–the Pacific charter–signed a year ago, in which the signatory nations, including the United States, pledged themselves “to uphold the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” and to re-enforce that principle the signatories further pledged that they were “prepared to continue taking effective practical measures to insure conditions favorable to orderly achievement of the foregoing purposes,” namely self-government.

We are agreed that there is only one form of self-government that is possible for Alaska. And so we are drawing up the constitution for the State that we fervently hope will soon come to be. That hope, it is encouraging to note, is shared by the great majority of Americans. If our 88-year experience inevitably leads to strictures of the colonialism that has ruled us, let us remember that it is a course not sanctioned by American public opinion. The Gallup polls, which last recorded an 82 per cent support of Alaskan statehood, the endorsement of virtually every important national organization, demonstrate clearly that the forces in and out of government which would deny Alaska statehood–in fact the government itself–do not represent prevailing American sentiment.

It may be regrettable-or not-but every generation must fight to preserve its freedom. We have twice in a lifetime participated in our nation’s fight to preserve them. In Alaska we still have to win them.

This Constitutional Convention is an important mobilization. But the battle still lies ahead, and it will require all our fortitude, audacity, resoluteness–and maybe something more–to achieve victory. When the need for that something more comes, if we have the courage–the guts–to do whatever is necessary, we shall not fail. That the victory will be the nation’s as well as Alaska’s–and the world’s–should deepen our determination to end American colonialism.

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