Book approaches Native history one day at a time

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2002

With entries for every day of the year, this book fills a number of purposes. First, it weaves Natives back into Alaska's rich tapestry of history. Second, it is a comprehensive resource for key events. Third, if makes for an informative and entertaining read, whether going from cover to cover or one day at a time.

"Alaska's human history did not begin with gold rushers who came north to seek their fortunes," writes Stephen W. Haycox, professor of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Haycox has written the book's foreword. "It began with Paleolithic people who first peopled the Americas more than 14,000 years ago and their descendants who established their cultures in the various regions of what is now called Alaska."

Paired with photographs and quotes, the book goes from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. Each entry is a footstep from Alaska's past that leads to today's doorstep.

With the impact of the 2000 census on state voting districts still to be resolved, it is interesting to note that on Jan. 1, 1819, a census of Alaska's population in the Russian-occupied portion of the state accounted for 391 Russians, 244 Creoles and 8,384 Natives.

Education issues across the state dominate today's headlines. That was also true on Jan. 26, 1949, when Congress established a dual education school system for Alaska, one for white children and one for Natives.

Building a harbor is one thing. Blasting it into existence with nuclear explosives is something else. That was the plan for a harbor near Point Hope, which was opposed by Inupiaq people and finally came to an official end on Feb. 1, 1969. The reason: it would be too expansive.

On March 17, 1944, Alaska Gov. Ernest Gruening wrote his support for Alberta Schenck, of Nome, who was fired from her job as an usher at Nome's Dream Theater and arrested after she objected to theater policy that forced Eskimos to sit on either the right side of the theater or in the balcony.

On April 17, 1823, a treaty between Russia and America granted permission of citizens of Imperial Russia and the United States to trade with Alaska Natives. However, Alaska Natives "had no knowledge of the treaty and were not consulted."

The Alaska Native citizenship bill became law on April 27, 1915. Any member of Native or Indian groups who had reached the age of 21 could be granted citizenship after willingly completing a process that included "throwing off those habits and customs of the old communal life which were hostile to American citizenship." It also required Natives "to learn to read and write English and give evidence that they had adopted the principles of life."

Personal notations that will ring a bell locally, including the birth of George Miller, Jr., in Kenai, on May 26, 1919. Miller was the first president of CIRI, served as president of Kenai Natives Association, and lobbied in Washington, D.C. for Native rights. He died Oct. 23, 1996. Peter Kalifornsky was born Oct. 12, 1911. He authored three books, taught Dena'ina language classes and was a frequent speaker about language and lore prior to his death in 1993.

Emil Dolchok's birthday was Dec. 26, 1923. Recognized for his effort to pass Athabascan culture to younger generations, Dolchok was named CIRI Shareholder of the Year in 1999. He also was named Elder of the Year at the Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention that year. He died May 2, 2001.

Walter Harper became the first Alaska Native to reach the summit of Denali, Mt. McKinley, on June 7, 1913. On Aug. 13, 1971, Betty Ivanoff Menard became the first Alaska Native woman to summit North America's tallest peak.

Robert "Bobby" Kvasnikoff, born June 18, 1953, was the lead guitarist and singer for the popular English Bay Band. In 1991, he learned that he had contracted AIDS.

After making the diagnosis public, he was an advocate against unsafe sexual practices until his died on Jan. 9, 1997. Aug. 2, 1869, William Seward visited Sitka, reminding residents that as long as Alaska had no more than 2,000 whites and as many as 25,000 Indians, "a display of military force was needed."

Potlatches were stopped by the Russian Orthodox Church in the early 1900s. On Oct. 6, 1979, the Dena'ina people of Kenai celebrated their first potlatch in 70 years.

Even U.S. Senator Ted Stevens' birthday, on Nov. 18, 1923, is noted. Stevens "was instrumental in the passage of the Alaska native Claims Settlement Act" and "involved major amendments made to the act since its passage."

Dec. 7, 1941, lives in infamy as the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. But in "A Reference in Time," the bloody World War II battles fought on Alaska soil are documented, beginning with the Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor on June 3, 1942.

Four days later, 1,200 Japanese troops landed on Attu and took 45 Aleuts and 2 non-Native teachers prisoner. One teacher was killed and most of the Aleuts were taken to Japan as prisoners. June 11, 1942, U.S. aircraft bombed the Japanese forces holding Attu. June 14, 1942, the federal agent on St. Paul Island received orders to evacuate St. Paul and St. George. On May 11, 1943, the U.S. advanced upon Attu. After 19 days of fighting, 432 Americans were dead and 100 wounded; and 1,791 Japanese were killed and 11 captured. On Feb. 4, 1985, the battlefields at Attu were designated national historic landmarks.

Carl Marrs, president and chief executive officer of Cook Inlet Region, Inc., writes in the book's introduction that the original goal of finding an event in Alaska Native history for every single day of the year seemed "like a feat in itself." But the creators of the book found the reverse to be true.

"Having accomplished that goal, however, we now realize that the difficulty comes in selecting which of many dates to useWe have sought a representative sample," Marrs wrote.

The database from which the material in "A Reference in Time" is pulled is continually being updated. This book, Marrs promises, "is only the beginning."

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