Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Human Rights Actions of Alaska Native Brotherhood & Sisterhood Camp 2 in 1940

The detailed history of racial discrimination against Southeast Alaska Natives remains to be written. Fortunately the late Dr. Walter A. Soboleff (1908-2011), an advocate for Tlingit culture and Human Rights, saved his correspondence, meeting minutes, and other records while an active and leading member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), which served to document the historic Human Rights actions of ANB and ANB’s counterpart, the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS). The materials he saved, amounting to 37 boxes of historic documents stored at Sealaska Heritage Institute, detail this effort on many levels, and are available to the public for educational research.

Recently, I reviewed the 1939-1945 ANB/ANS Camp 2 meeting minutes ledger. Reading over the joint ANB and ANS meeting for February 12, 1940, I encountered documentation speaking to Human Rights actions undertaken in Juneau by ANB and ANS.
Under the direction of ANB Camp 2 President William S. Wanamaker (1889-1944) (Tlingit of the Kiks.ádi Clan), the meeting minutes record Cyril J. Zuboff Sr. (1892-1869) raising the issue of the Juneau Sports Arena refusing to allow Alaska Natives entrance. Minutes then record proposals to address this situation, which included; 1) engaging in efforts that encouraged people from “refraining from patronizing” the arena, 2) the creation of a four member committee (two ANB men and two ANS women) to address the issue, and 3) that this committee “present a written protest at the next [Juneau] Chamber of Commerce meeting.”

These two short pages (provided below), from this old ledger, speak a great deal about the history of Human and Civil Rights and the reasons ANB and ANS fought for the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 and additional efforts.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a regional nonprofit representing the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. SHI maintains a large collection of archival materials that document the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Alaska Native Brotherhood’s 1921 Grand Camp Meeting

With the 100 year anniversary of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) occurring in 2012, many will be reflecting on the history, role, and actions of ANB.

I recently came across the ANB Grand Camp Program for 1921 (scan below). While no minutes from the 1921 meeting have survived (although SHI has published the 1920 ANB minutes), the 1921 program lists the convention’s agenda and the topics discussed. Some of the issues of the day included fishing rights, segregated schooling, Civil Rights, Human Rights, and discussions on sovereignty and land ownership, such as through a reservation system. The final open forum topic for the third day of the meeting, which poses questions for discussion on the legality and fairness of the judicial system in Alaska towards Alaska Natives, is of particular interest. Scheduled be held after a speech on the rights of Alaska Natives presented by Hon. James Wickersham, it reads;

“Open Forum. The tremendous handicap of fair trial by juries composed entirely of White men, through an interpreter, leading to the question; “Would a lone White man consent to a trial by Natives in “Indian Country.”

Such a document provides a glimpse into the history of ANB and the issues of importance to Southeast Alaska Natives nearly 90 years ago.

Credit: Program from the Walter A. Soboleff Papers, Sealaska Heritage Institute.