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Sept. 20, 2001 Alaska Newspapers Inc. put the Sept. 11 attacks and subsistence in perspective

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2001

The attack on the World Trade Center a week ago was thousands of miles and several time zones away from Alaska, but it couldn't have hit closer to home.

The tragedy brought to a halt the rhythm of everyday life even in the state's most isolated reaches, as families struggled to cope with the horror and the military scrambled to keep all planes grounded.

Alaskans like to brag that we are a different country altogether, set apart from the United States by integrity, will and common sense.

That pretension was nowhere to be found Sept. 11, when terrorists slammed commuter jets into the Pennsylvania countryside, the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

When the center's two towers collapsed, we collapsed. As the toll of dead and missing climbed to an estimated 5,000, stunned Alaskans donated blood, prayed for victims, flew national colors and weighed the future.

Those were our families that perished, our brothers and sisters. They were black, white, Native American, Christians, Jews and Muslims. Most importantly, they were Americans.

The attack, by an unknown enemy, has drawn comparisons to Pearl Harbor. Like that event and others surrounding World War II, the struggle to come will teach us much about ourselves.

Though it wasn't until 1964 that Congress passed the Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial and religious discrimination, World War II made America realize that the same xenophobia that perverted Hitler was rampant in our own backyard.

Even today, Alaska struggles with civil rights. Ironically, the terrorist attacks were carried out just a few hours before an 11-member panel appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles planned to tackle the state's most divisive racial issue: subsistence.

In part to secure subsistence rights for Natives, the Alaska Federation of Natives recently took its agenda to the United Nations. The Alaska Constitutional Legal Defense Conservation Fund, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit to prevent a rural subsistence preference and to force Knowles to appeal the Katie John lawsuit.

The subsistence battle, as it has been known, hardly seemed worth mentioning last week. As the shock of the tragedy subsides and the subsistence issue returns to the front pages, let's remember that underneath the caustic rhetoric and the finger-pointing, we are all Americans, and we are all just human beings.

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