by Frank Hopper
June 03, 2013
I was born in Juneau, although I have no memory of ever living there. My family moved to Seattle when I was only two. My Caucasian father never explained why, except to say there were too many “rednecks” in Juneau who didn’t approve of his marriage to a Tlingit woman.
So to me Alaska was a mysterious, distant, and almost mythic land we rarely talked about, a secret place where old memories from our previous life were stored. It hung in the background of my youth like a sleeping bear I was afraid of.
My mom used to drag me to ANS meetings when I was a little boy. I would play with the other Tlingit kids while my mom and her friends gave official-sounding reports to each other and discussed important-sounding things. Then they would serve Indian food such as dry fish, herring eggs, and salmonberries. I loved Indian food, although I never told my white friends because I knew they’d make fun.
As I got older I noticed greater excitement at those ANS meetings. My mom and her friends talked about the “Alaska Land Claims” and how we were going to be getting money from the government for being Indian. I didn’t understand it, but I could tell it was important.
I was in high school when the first checks came from Sealaska. I looked at my check, with my name on it, and written for over a thousand dollars. The sleeping bear had woken up and instead of eating me, it had given me money.
I never thought about where the money came from. More checks came every year after that, money just for having been born a Tlingit. I never even wondered about it. As long as the checks kept coming I didn’t care.