By Nahaan (son of Sherman Roger Alexander)
February 05, 2013
Letter of Support for Roger Alexander, Haida Hunter, Fisher, Gatherer, and Furrier.
“I’m not saying that any of this is your fault, or even any of your grandparents did any of it. I’m saying it happened, and it happened on your people’s watch. You’re the one who benefited from it. It doesn’t matter that you’re way down stream from the actual events. You’re still drinking the water.” Dan, Lakota Elder
This writing is to provide the court room and judge a chance to reconsider finding Sherman Roger Alexander guilty of anything but being Haida. This writing is to tell of the native individuals experience against a US government. This letter is to initiate a shift in the power structure of Alaska and surrounding landmasses from an unjust way of life, to return instead, to a life in harmony and balance with the land and its original inhabitants. This letter is to provide the native corporations with an opportunity to show support for its shareholders who have had to stand in court rooms, shareholders who went without letters of support from the very organizations said to represent the tribes and native individuals.
Brief Pre Contact History
Indigenous cultures around the world have resources specific to their land and locale. The indigenous of the Pacific north west have traveled and traded with other nations all across the Pacific Rim and into the interior lands of what is now called Canada, Mexico, and north and South America’s. We are dependent on trade as a means of survival and emphasizing good relations between communities far and wide.
Hunting areas were known to be at.oow or a precious possession passed down through generations and acknowledged as clan owned and operated. Because of the deep appreciation and our dependance on these particular areas, we took great care of the land and waters and all of its inhabitants.
The Haida and Tlingit people hunted and traded sea otters since before contact as noted by several drawings of early western explorers and anthropologists such as Frederica De Laguna and G. T. Emmons as well as first hand accounts by the first Spanish to come to area of what is now called South East Alaska.
The sea otter fur was and still is used because of its softness, its warmth, and its prestige when worn. The most precious ceremonial Chilkat and ravens tail robes, aprons, and head gear is lined with this sea otter fur. Warm full length robes and cloaks are also a treasure to possess and were of great value through customary trade for countless generations.
Hearing from Tlingit and Haida elders, hunters, and skin sewers, it is also known that sea otters were traditionally kept out of bays near villages because they eat the same foods as us. The sea mammals were seen as competitors for intertidal foods that are a staple for our indigenous diets. We had traditional values emphasizing respect that ensured sea otter presence was regulated but also not over used or disrespected.
First Contact Changes to our environment
“In 1778, the British explorer Captain James Cook arrived on the Pacific northwest coast and found that there was a voracious appetite for sea otter fur from the region, in China. The next 50 years saw more than two hundred ships entering coastal waters to trade. However, this new economy soon drove the sea otter to near extinction, turned our societal structure upside down and introduced alcohol and devastating new diseases.” – That Which Makes Us Haida-Haida Gwaii Museum Press 2011
This excerpt shows that when early settlers looked at our lands and waters they saw the potential for profit and immediately began pursuit and exploitation of the sea otter and many other natural elements including fish, minerals, timber, and ores.
After forced assimilation into the modern or civilized way of life, our customary trade routes and livelihood as indigenous people was greatly effected. The hunting practice that was once a traditional way of life now had turned us into criminals with the implementation of modern laws through the American worldview. Our people were punished for speaking our languages, for holding potlatches, and for hunting in our traditional lands, when the only thing we were guilty of is being who we have always been, the descendants that our elders taught us to be.
The new borders put in place by pilgrims split many families, tribes, clans, and customary trade routes apart. It now became illegal to continue doing what our ancestors did. It is in our pre contact oral traditions, to trade skins, for other items of value that were attainable only through trade over great distances.
In 1867 $7.2 million was paid to Russia by the United States for the unjust purchase of the state of Alaska. This of course took place without consideration or consultation of the over 220 different tribes of indigenous people who had been residing, trading and hunting on the land for over 10,000 years. Russia had only occupied 2 small temporary settlements by which to claim ownership of all the lands they sold to the US. This purchase by the US was and still is non valid in the hearts of many indigenous peoples currently residing in their traditional territories.
After the dishonest purchase of “Alaska” the Unangan and Alutiiq were taken prisoner by the United States. Since the Aleut were very skilled on the water, and the most familiar with the island ocean surroundings, they were forced to hunt the fur seal in attempts to satisfy an insatiable hunger for money that was and is rooted in American greed. The United States government demanded the killing and processing of these marine mammals, or the potential hunters families would be murdered in the name of American progression and profit. This colonization over indigenous peoples, lands, and resources was and still is destroying the health and balance of everything it comes into contact with.
The Aleut fur seal slave industry alone made in profit over 10 times the cost of what America had paid for the entire state of Alaska. Have the tribes seen any of that profit in the past or in the present? Of course not. Has the tribe been given the option to purchase their sovereignty back?
Has the millions and millions of dollars of salmon been accounted for? No. Has the large slice of profit made from the North Slopes oil been given to the tribe? No. Has the profit of gold been seen in hands of those whose lands the ore came from? No. Have our people been able to hold strong to our traditions and languages and lands through the western practice of corporations?
Our hunters and traders are our providers and when they cannot do what they have done for thousands upon thousands of years we begin to see increased use of drugs and alcohol as a solution for the new forced hopelessness found inside themselves. The traditional teachings are forced to go unused and their human spirit gets damaged as their place as a productive and specialist member of society is taken away from them.
Thus unhealthy lands and waterways, abused peoples and endangered species were born in lands where they had never previously been seen.
Present Day Issues Regarding our Sea Otter rights
“Right from my first memories, I was taught respect, respect for all things. You are no better, no more important than a grain of sand therefore you must respect even the smallest grain of sand, the smallest animal, right up to the biggest animals, like the whale.”-GwaaGhanad, Diane Brown
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was brought to life on October 21, 1972, due to the greedy and careless hunting practices by the newcomers on our traditional indigenous Alaskan land-bases. As a result of the MMPA the remaining traditional hunters and skin sewers were seen as criminal if the new laws were not strictly followed. This new law made native people pay the penalty for the greed of the settlers, which is not only unjust but genocidal. Our native people have always followed the laws of balance and reciprocity, honor and respect, traits that even the best of modern laws will not guarantee enforcement of.
Our traditional value of respect never put animals at or near extinction. Each animal has its rightful place, and life to live, in the land and sea. Ayakgwaheiagu khuwdzitee ldakhat at. Everything has a spirit. Each animal was acknowledged for having its own sense of being, its own specific place in the balance of life. Proper communication was and still is consistently emphasized between our own spirits and the sprits of the natural environment.
Roger Alexander and a dozen other native hunters were treated much in the same way drug lords or kingpins would be treated. As part of a large operation that was put in place by the federal government through Fish and Wildlife, his home was raided by 13 armed city, state, and federal agents. The agents spent 8 hours searching the entire property, interrogating Roger, and seizing over 50 untagged sea otter skins from the home.
The raid did not only diminish the fur supply of “Soft Gold Furs,” Roger and Ellen’s business, but it broke the spirit and livelihood of their award winning teamwork.
The cost of turning native hunters into criminals is very large and is paid for by taxpayers dollars. Through our funding, the government officers were sent to investigate plot and execute stings on 12 local native hunters and artists in a large government operation called operation ENHYDRA. This operation brought in 75 officers from different states to “enforce” the MMPA law and make native craftspeople into fine payers, probation and jail timers in an attempt to prevent the perpetuation of indigenous life-ways.
Roger and Ellen have spent near $20,000 in lawyer fees and travel costs to meet with court and federal officials and have been threatened into taking a plea bargain in court. These costs along with the amount of mental physical and emotional damage caused by the accusations of this case outweigh reasonable reparations to an unjust enforcement of law. Not only does this case affect the well being of Roger and Ellen, it affects the way our hunters and traders will forever approach tradition.
After 5 years of fighting the MMPA the court accepted rogers plea and gave him 6months home confinement, 1 year probation, and a $10,000 fine. Roger was pressured into agreeing to the plea bargain because of threats put forth by the federal agents. Roger plead guilty to giving 14 sea otter skulls to a non native, possessing 144 untagged skins, and selling an “illegally taken” sea otter hide. Though Roger is a traditional hunter and skin sewer operating within the boundaries of his ancestors land base, trading along his peoples customary trade routes, and carrying himself and his teachings with a great amount of respect, he along with several other native craftsmen and craftswomen have been made out to be a criminals.
Traditional skin sewers are pressured into working in less than adequate production conditions. The use of sewing machines and modern tools is frowned upon when the government tries to define what traditional native made handicrafts are. The laws and methods of enforcement are aimed at keeping native craftsmen and craftswomen unproductive and unsuccessful in their hereditary pursuits.
It has been proven in a court of law in case “Boone vs United States” that when a sea otter is shot skinned and tanned it has become “significantly altered”. Unclear lines of this law have also been the cause of many recent allegations regarding the production of native handicrafts.
Sea otter are no longer an endangered species, in fact many communities in southeast Alaska are now over run with the creatures. Sea otters eat 1/3 of its own body weight on a daily basis, this consumption by the sea otter has depleted the shellfish population and disturbed the delicate balance of life in our waters.
There have been attempts at opening up sea otter hunting for everyone including the descendants of settlers that put the sea otter in endangerment in the first place. Yet the United States still continues with its unjust legal actions on native hunters who wish to continue their hereditary way of life.
The MMPA is a law that has avoided being particular for a specific reason, and that is, to use the laws grey areas to further justify the oppression of native people.
Through the case of Sherman Roger Alexander vs. United States and similar cases of the recent past, we need to realize that the MMPA and the way the federal government chooses to approach enforcing this law, and laws similar to it, is unjust.
There is no justification that we as Tlingit and Haida people should have to pay someone else for permits to hunt on our own traditional lands. Since we are the caretakers of our lands it should be up to our own people to issue and continue to defend and perpetuate our customary hunting grounds and trade routes.
The Fish and Game will only put the same very sea otter skins that they confiscated on an open market to sell for their own profit as they have done in the past. This fact has also been proven by the case “Boone vs. United States.”
If the United States were to consider the following guide lines set forth by the United Nations, the case of “Sherman Roger Alexander vs United States” and cases like it would likely have been dismissed in a respectable and just court of law.
UN indigenous laws
Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,
Reaffirming that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind,
Concerned that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,
Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources,
Convinced that control by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them and their lands, territories and resources will enable them to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions, and to promote their development in accordance with their aspirations and needs,
Recognizing that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment,
Acknowledging that the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights2 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,2 as well as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,3 affirm the fundamental importance of the right to self-determination of all peoples, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,
Convinced that the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples in this Declaration will enhance harmonious and cooperative relations between the State and indigenous peoples, based on principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith,
1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
As we can see by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, several of their guidelines have been violated by the United States not only in the case “Sherman Roger Alexander vs United States” but since first contact with Europeans in 1492.
Not only is it our inherent right to have leadership over what has always been ours, but it can proven that the indigenous inhabitants have indeed more than bought back the state of Alaska many times over. It is time for the indigenous nations of Alaska to decide whether or not being a part of the United States is still beneficial to each of our tribes and each of us individuals within those tribes.
It is time for the United States to recognize the sovereign nations that have existed prior to this country’s creation and for the presidents and house, judicial and common folk to hold themselves accountable for the un-excusable actions of the Unites States’ past.
Because of the continued mistreatment of our native people in situations like Rogers, it is vital to commit ourselves as native people to the improvement and reclamation of our living standards, socio-political abilities, and authorities of our lands, waterways, resources and ways of life.
Our indigenous people should not have to pay for the mistakes of the colonizers. Our native people are not criminals because of the laws put in place in the last 50 years, or in the last 200 years. We are still more than capable of keeping the land in a healthy balance as we have done for thousands of generations, and we intend to continue doing so.
This writing is to provide the court room and judge with a chance to reconsider the judgement finding Sherman Roger Alexander guilty of breaking modern day laws. Instead the court, judge and government should acknowledge that Roger is Haida and is only guilty of being who his people have always been. This writing is to tell of the native individuals experience against a US government. This letter is to initiate a shift in the power structure of Alaska and surrounding landmasses from an unjust way of life, to return instead, to a life in harmony and balance with the land and its original inhabitants. This letter is to provide the native corporations with an opportunity to show support for its shareholders who have had to stand alone paying out of pocket for all expenses, shareholders who went without letters of support from the very organizations said to represent the tribes and native individuals.
Tlingit, Paiute, Inupiaq
About: “Nahaan áyá xhát. Dakhl’aweidi naaxh xhat sitee. Keet gooshi hit daxh. Jilkaat khwaan áyá xhat. Paiute kha Deikeenaa axh eesh hás. Lukaaxh.adí axh daakanoox’u. Xh’atasaakh axh leelk’wu hás. Ghaanaxhteidí axh saayí du kaani yan áwé. Axh eesh Kowstee yoo duwasaak’w.
My Tlingit name is Nahaan. I am people of the upper sand bar of the Stikine River and Lake Atlin area of the Yukon territory. My roots go back to a house called the dorsal fin house of Klukwan. My fathers people are the Paiute of California and the Haida of Haida Gwaii. My precious outer shell are the Sockeye people of the Haines area. My grandfathers people are the Inupiaq people of Nome. My namesakes in-laws are the Woodworm people of Klukwan. My fathers name is Sherman Roger Alexander.”
“The Wolf at Twilight, An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows”. Literature. Kent Nerburn. New World Library 2009
“Interview with Roger Alexander”. Video. Frederick Olsen
“Aleut Story”. Video. Marla Williams
“People of the Seal”. Video. Kate Raisz
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration & 42 degrees North film.
“United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”