22 June 2009

Making artificial borders more permeable

The Jay Treaty (USA & Britain, London, 1794), also known as the “Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation of 1794”, declared and affirmed the right of Native Americans in both the USA and Canada to cross the border between the two nations. Today any Canadian-born Native American with 50% aboriginal blood can live and work in the USA without any immigration restrictions.

The USA has never gotten around to implementing the part about duty-free transport of “proper goods” across the USA—Canada border. For its part, Canada is even less well behaved, with a case that should determine the right of First Nations people to freely cross into Canada stalled in the Supreme Court.

Aside from hoping that the above issues in aboriginal border crossing are resolved soon, I’ve been pondering proposing something to my US Senator and Representatives when I move back to Alaska. (Right now they needn’t listen to me since I’m technically a Hawaiian citizen.) I’d like to see that all aboriginal nations whose traditional territories straddle the Canada—USA border have the following rights:
  • reasonably unimpeded, expedited access across the border to traditional territories

    • this might mean that Tlingits going from New York to Ontario couldn’t expect to be quickly waved through, but they could from Alaska to British Columbia, for example

    • essentials of border security would still apply, but regular border-crossers would have some rapid crossing assurance, à la the NEXUS program, but influenced by tribal membership

  • exemption from duties and tariffs on gifts and customary trade goods (e.g. traditional foodstuffs, indigenous animal products, cultural artifacts and arts)

    • this would encourage cultural revitalization, helping revive traditional trade routes

    • this would also formalize de facto trade, relieving many people of significant border anxiety

    • determining exactly what constitutes customary trade goods would have to be left up to border officials, or beyond that the courts, although some things would be easy enough to give as official examples

    • the list would have to be equal in both directions, so if one nation determines something to be a “customary trade good” then the other nation is bound by treaty obligation to accept the definition as well

      • meaning that Canada couldn’t weasel out of allowing aboriginal transport of (small amounts of) firearms, since they were customary trade goods in the past and the USA wouldn’t have much problem with them

    • quantities would need to be negotiable, perhaps defined legally defined with a weasel word like “reasonable”, because some goods are traded in bulk (e.g. foods, furs, blankets, clothing, plant products, religious and cultural paraphernalia) but some aren’t or couldn’t be (like tobacco, live plants, live animals, precious metals and minerals)

    • some gifts and goods like firearms and ammunition would need to meet existing regulatory standards on the importing side of the border

    • it would be reasonable to require sworn statements as to the purpose of importation, and that the trade is with aboriginals and not for wider commerce

    • goods would still need to be subject to inspection

  • permission for regulated cross-border trade in certain legally obtained but restricted goods (e.g. marine mammal products, eagle feathers, migratory waterfowl)

    • this is properly part of the previous point, but there are other treaties involved that would interfere and the issues should be made explicit to avoid lengthy court battles

  • reciprocal aboriginal status in both countries (e.g. for educational institutions, medical services, etc.)

    • I am unaware if this is partially the case in the USA for Canadian-born aboriginals

    • it is most definitely not the case for USA-born aboriginals in Canada

  • given tribal membership on one side, a tribal government on the other side has the option of accepting the individual as a citizen

    • this would enhance the reciprocity of aboriginal status by clarifying what tribes individuals are enrolled in on both sides

    • tribes would have the duty of determining which individuals were enrolled but not resident in their countries, since otherwise enrollment figures would quickly inflate

    • cross-border marriages and adoptions would be much simpler given this situation, indeed they might occur more often

  • expedited review of citizenship applications

    • due to cross-border marriages, work, and other cultural connections, there is no doubt that individuals would apply for citizenship in their non-birth country

    • individuals shouldn’t have to prove “worthiness” to live with their cousins on the other side

    • worries about “welfare floods” could be discounted easily: fix the problem on the other side!
I don’t think that such things are too much to ask. After all, the USA-Canada border is essentially arbitrary in most places, and does not respect the groups who are now divided. Perhaps with some effort the two countries could draw up a new treaty which relieves both nations of existing obligations and clarifies the situation on both sides, making it as equal as possible for citizens of both countries.

The USA can continue to be generous and allow any Canadian First Nations into the USA, but I’m not really considering this. I’d like to see my suggestions applied just to the indigenous nations who are known to have had traditional territories on both sides of the border at the time that the border was enacted. This should be relatively easy to figure out by consulting existing anthropological and linguistic literature, which is pretty extensive for most North American peoples. For example, Iñupiat people didn’t exist in Canada at when the border between Alaska and the Yukon was settled. In contrast, the Gwichʼin certainly did exist on both sides, as they do today. Same for the Slave versus the Mohawk. Having a list of such groups would be a prerequisite for drafting a solid treaty.

In the future, perhaps we might see boats again going up the Taku and Stikine laden with fish, grease, and eggs, and returning with meat, furs, skins, quills, and baskets. Well, more likely that people would drive laden pickups on the roads from Haines and Skagway.

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21 June 2009

Terminology for indigenous Alaskans

There’s a lot of confusion on the Intertubes about how indigenous people in Alaska should be referred to. I’ll do my small part to clarify this. I write this in several capacities: as a linguist, as a lifelong Alaskan (though temporarily away from my homeland), and as an Alaska Native.

First of all, there’s the cover term “Alaska Native”. This term refers to any person who is a member of one of the indigenous peoples of Alaska. There are a number of legal definitions, for example that defined in ANCSA. The US Census defines it as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples [of Alaska] and who mantains tribal affiliation or community attachment”. Legally, people who are Alaska Native either have one-quarter or more Alaska Native blood, or are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe in Alaska, with the latter taking precedence. The term is sometimes shortened to “Native”, which also shows up in phrases like “Native rights”, “Native sovereignty”, “Native lands”, “Native conveyance”, etc. Note that capitalization is important. The reversed “Native Alaskans” is dispreferred, particularly because it has no legal meaning. The term “Alaskan Native” is sometimes seen, probably because of nasal assimilation in speech, but again this lacks a legal definition. Google unhelpfully merges searches for “Alaskan Native” with “Alaska Native”, but the latter makes up 4.5 million of the 6 million results for the former.

The next highest level of division among Alaska Natives is not legally defined as far as I am aware, but is instead conventional. This is the distinction between “Indian” and “Eskimo”. The term “Indian” includes all Athabaskan groups in addition to the rainforest peoples east of Copper River: Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. The term Eskimo is somewhat more imprecise, because it has both linguistic and cultural definitions which are not identical. Peoples who are definitely included in the Eskimo category are the Iñupiat, Yupʼik, Siberian Yupik (Yuit), Nunivak Cupʼig, and Chevak Cupʼik. The Sugpiaq (Chugachmiut, Prince William Sound & Kenai Peninsula) and Alutiiq (Koniagmiut, Kodiak Archipelago & Alaska Peninsula) of coastal Southcentral Alaska are sometimes included among the Eskimo because their language is closely related to Central Alaskan Yupʼik, however culturally they are more distinct because of their rainforest environment. (The Sugpiaq/Alutiiq are sometimes described with a cover term “Pacific Yupik”, but neither group seems to prefer this label.) The division between Indian and Eskimo leaves out one group, the Aleut, who fit into neither category. To be inclusive, one might say “Eskimo, Aleut, and Indian”.

It must be clarified that in Alaska the term “Eskimo” is not derogatory. This is in contrast to the usual sense in Canada, where Inuit people are often offended by the term. The Canadian attitude has begun to take hold in the more educated populace of the United States, who also refer to Alaskan Eskimo people as “Inuit”. This is a mistake however, because the term “Inuit” in fact includes only the Iñupiat in Alaska, and excludes the Yupʼik and their bretheren. Using the term “Inuit” is thus irritating, and sometimes even offensive, to non-Iñupiat Eskimos in Alaska. Indeed, even the Iñupiat may be irritated by the term “Inuit” because their geographic, cultural, and political distance from the Canadian peoples is great enough that many would rather not be lumped together with them. Thus in Alaska “Eskimo” is a neutral term, and one which is well accepted by the people it describes. In contrast, “Inuit” is misplaced and should generally be avoided.

Below the level of Indian/Eskimo/Aleut, there is another level of cover terms before specific tribes are named. This level is not consistent between the various groups. The Aleut for example consitute one monolithic people, although subdivisions can be found according to region, village, and to include those resident in Russia (the Commander Islands Aleut). Probably the two most common divisions in popular use are the Athabaskan and Yupik, the latter of which is somewhat controversial.

Athabaskans in Alaska constitute a small portion of the Northern Athabaskan peoples whose traditional territories extend as far west as Manitoba and the Northwest Territories where the Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłiné) still dwell, and as far south as the Fraser and Thompson Rivers in British Columbia where the Chilcotin (Tŝilhqotʼin) live and the Nicola once dwelled. In Alaska the term Athabaskan refers to thirteen different tribes who live in the Interior, and all of whom have close linguistic and cultural connections. This term is spelled in a number of different ways, an issue that I wrote about previously.

The Athabaskan group is rather easy, but the Yupik group is harder to define. In one sense the term covers a linguistic group, anyone who speaks a Yupik language. This is at odds with both cultural and geographic definitions, however. Usually the term applies to the Central Alaskan Yupʼik, as well as to the Cupʼig, Cupʼik, and sometimes the Siberian Yupik. Linguistically the Sugpiaq/Alutiiq are included, but culturally and geographically they are very distinct. Also, some Cupʼik and Cupʼig people are vocal about their desire to be distinct from the Yupʼik, and extend this to the term Yupik as well. In general the term is usually taken to mean something like “Eskimo who aren’t Iñupiaq”, always excluding the Aleut and sometimes excluding the Sugpiaq/Alutiiq.

There is no simple term in use that refers to the Indians of Southeast Alaska, which comprises the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. A clumsy phrase “Southeast Alaska Natives” is sometimes used, as are “Southeast People” and rarely “Southeast Indians”. None of these are in widespread use, perhaps because the Tlingit are the dominant population and reference is often made directly to them. The term “Southeasterner” applies to non-Natives as well, and so is not a Native-specific term. One often hears “T&H” used in reference to the governmental entity officially called the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, or CCTHITA. The Tsimshian are not part of this tribal merger because they have the distinction of possessing the sole reservation in Alaska that encompasses Annette Island. Although culturally close to the Tlingit, the Eyak are often excluded from “Southeast Alaska Natives”. Their position at the mouth of the Copper River puts them within the ANCSA region controlled by Chugach Alaska Corp., and so today they are somewhat unfairly lumped together with their historic enemies, the Chugachmiut (Sugpiaq).

Other terminology, mostly pertaining to specific tribes and groups, is fairly well documented. I’m not going to go into those details here, especially since I’d be in unfamiliar territory when it comes to Eskimo subsubgroups. My knowledge of Eskimo culture is largely due to random conversations with people at ANMC, and so doesn’t go very deep. (My Eskimo friends are mostly city folk or townies...)

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03 June 2009

Chʼa Aadéi Yéi Unatéeg̱aa

While the rain comes down in buckets here in Honolulu as if I were actually back in Wrangell, I thought I’d post this little bit of opinion that I offered to Roby Littlefield Koolyéik’s mailing list. It’s from a question by Duane Aucoin Gastántʼ about the famous song called «Chʼa aadéi yéi unatéeg̱aa», which was offered by the Lukaax̱.ádi clan for use by all Tlingit people.

Attached is the official word from Nora Dauenhauer, Kheixwnéi, of the Lukaaxh.ádi. To some extent, hers is the final, definitive statement on the matter. As she says, people must keep in mind that it is not a “national anthem”, but is instead a passionate eulogy as well as a paean to the land of our people.

I don’t think people should have to stand up for it (or take off hats, or whatever), but if people *want* to do so I don't see why it’s a problem. I personally don’t, but I probably would doff my hat if I was wearing one.

I think the most important thing in singing it publically is to provide an explanation to the audience about the song's history and meaning. This is traditionally done with all songs, but it’s especially important when using the song of another people, whether
they are a different clan or a different nation. In explaining it succinctly to non-Tlingit, a good way to describe it might be as a song that laments the deaths of our elders and knowledge, and praises the beauty of our land.

Understanding the meaning of the song is critical for knowing when to sing it, and knowing that it is not for fun or to be taken lightly. (There are plenty of other fun songs out there.) «Chʼa aadéi yéi unatéeghaa» is what is called yadáli at shí, a “heavy” or “weighty” song, meaning that it is great at.óow that must be treated with
respect to the same extent as a clan’s crest hats, robes, or totem poles.

Another thing is that singers should try their hardest to sing the song properly and pronounce the words correctly. Again this applies to all songs, but such a yadáli at shí as «Chʼa aadéi yéi unatéeghaa» deserves this moreso than most songs. I know that pronouncing Tlingit is hard, and few of us nonnative speakers have the unparalleled gift of being able to speak Tlingit fluently, but nonetheless people must try their utmost to do so when singing, otherwise it's trivializing the songs and the work of the people who composed them.

Yéi áwé axh déixh (násʼk?) sínts,
Deisheetaan, Kakháakʼw Hít

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