This last summer seems to have been a good one for lemmings. I even caught a few decent pictures of the little guys, but more importantly, lemmings bring friends with them.
By friends, I of course mean, predators.
Which isn’t very friendly, but…
The owls mostly left a little over a month ago. I’m sure, there area few still around, but not in significant numbers, For their own part, the foxes got a little too numerous and a little too dangerous to the two-legged population around here.
The lower 48 can seem like a foreign country, not always, but often enough. It’s strange to think so. I mean, I lived down there for over 40 years, so why would it seem so strange to me now? Anyway, it often does.
This feeling came through particularly strong last semester when I agreed to accompany a minor to a chemistry conference in San Diego. I often find myself working on the margins of my own fields, but I have to admit this one was a little bit of a stretch. So, it was with particular joy that I suddenly found myself looking at a bit of Alaskan history.
Right there in San Diego.
I had just descended below deck aboard The Star of India, one of several ships at the Maritime Museum, and there it was, a whole display on the Alaskan fish packing industry, or at least the role The Star of Indian played in shipping the products of fishing out to other parts. I was already enjoying the museum, and I long since warmed to my stay in San Diego when I saw this, and then my face lit right up.
There is something a little perverse about the trajectory that brings me here from the edge of civilization near to its centers only to find the ghosts of so many fish who’ve made that same trip themselves. Whether it’s a perverse irony or a perverse synchrony, I’m not sure, but either way these artifacts of an extractive industry shouldn’t really have surprised me. I enjoy living on the edge of nowhere, though I do so with the full benefits of the modern world to keep me warm and well connected to the rest of y’all, and of course, there is no real escape from the global economy. If places like Alaska are good for fishing, it goes without saying that when they are good enough, a fair portion of stories told about those fish will be told in other places.
Places like San Diego.
Anyway, you never know when a trip out will lead you to a little glimpse of home.
Originally named the Euterpe, this vessel was built in 1863. She hauled salmon out of Alaska from 1902 to 1923, being renamed The Star of India in 1906. As steamships came to dominate the industry, she was finally retired in 1926. Today, she is docked at the Maritime Museum, though she is still seaworthy. You can find a few videos of her out on the water.
Indigenous communities in Alaska are just like those in the lower 48!
…only not at all.
Seriously, there are some significant differences in the way these communities are defined, along with their relationship to the rest of us. I got an interesting glimpse into the differences one day about a decade back when I and a colleague were asked if we could find a local elder willing to meet by teleconference with a college class from a tribal college in the lower 48. We put the meeting together and it went really well.
But one moment from that meeting has always stayed with me.
One of the students from the outside college asked how the elder and others in the Inupiat community here on the North Slope of Alaska deal with oil companies. The elder said something to the effect that you needed strong leadership that could articulate the needs of his own community to those companies. His terms were pretty general, but the student seemed quite satisfied with his answer.
The thing is; I am pretty sure the student was asking out the local community protests with oil companies. I’m also, pretty sure, the elder was thinking about how the local community negotiates a deal with them. To be sure, that negotiation process too could involve active opposition, but for the elder in question, that kind of opposition was by no means a forgone conclusion. He was at least as concerned about a share of the profits as anything else. I do think opposition was for the student; it was the only thing he could imagine an indigenous community would want from an oil company. I don’t think either of them realized they were not really talking about the same things.
I hadn’t been here that long and so I wasn’t sure about this impression, and I really didn’t think these guys needed a white guy appointing himself as a translater anyway.
So I hesitated.
…and the moment quickly passed.
Over time, though, I’ve become even more convinced that my initial impression was correct. Of course, we can find differences between different indigenous communities in other areas, and even between different leaders in those communities. That’s not entirely new, but at least at that moment, I am pretty sure that the prior assumptions of the students in this class and those of the elder were sufficiently obvious to each that they didn’t feel the need to clarify their intentions.
But I really don’t think they were on the same page.
This last December (2021) I spent a few days in the Rasmuson library at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. They had an interesting display on statehood just outside one of their public entrances. It’s 21 total posters. (Is that the right word?) Kind of a nice tight introduction to the subject. I took pictures to share with my own students.
Thought I’d share them here too.
One of the more interesting themes brought to the fore in this series would have to be the complaints about exploitation by outsiders. The word “colonialism” even makes an appearance. Of course there is something more than a little ironic about the appearance of these themes in the rhetoric of whites just a few generations into America’s own entrance into the region, but then again, there is probably something ironic in my own swing at this issue, sitting as I am in Inupiat territory a couple generations further into that process colonization.
Meta-Irony, the white liberals burden!
I have enhanced the clarity of most of these pictures a bit and tweaked the lighting where necessary to try and reduce the light glare in a few of them. My main goal was to make the writing as clear as possible. I think you can make most of the main text out if you embiggen the pictures.
Someone (Oscar Alajandro) one from Venezuela recently put together a video on our little town in the edge of nowhere. My fiance assures me that it’s worth watching. I can see a few errors (For example, there are definitely more communities north of us than he suggests), but overall, it’s certainly an interesting view.
The occasion was Whalefest, which was held at the beginning of this November. My colleague, Linda Nicholas-Figuroa, turned me on to this gathering a couple years ago, and I found the event both enjoyable and instructive. So, I was excited to hear that the conference was back on for this year.,
We attended most of the regular conference panels by zoom, but they still had a few in-person events, hands-on stuff (necropsy goodness!) and out-doors (whale-watching). I love the area. So, my baby and I packed our cameras and headed down there with a colleague and a couple students.
There is a reason idiots like Dave Bronson get into positions of power. It sure as Hell isn’t because people they can make a public apology after equating mask mandates to the Holocaust. It’s because they make such comparisons in the first place. It’s because they are happy to pander to the first thoughts of countless morons who learn about everything from medicine to history from Fox News and the half-remembered headlines their buddies regurgitate three beers into a Friday night. It’s because they give voice to the willfully obtuse, the unteachable, and the truly deplorable among us. Those people will celebrate Bronson’s idiotic speech long after his subsequent apology has been completely forgotten.
…and the lives lost while shameless opportunists play games like this instead of instituting responsible policies will never come back, not even when some of these fools finally come around.
Yes, that’s right. The present mayor of Anchorage defended use of the Star of David by anti-maskers in a public hearing. His argument went like this:
“We’ve referenced the Star of David quite a bit here tonight, but there was a formal message that came out within Jewish culture about that and the message was, ‘Never again.’ That’s an ethos. And that’s what that star really means is, ‘We will not forget. This will never happen again.’ And I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them.”
Notice also that he explicitly identifies himself with those equating the two things.
I suppose I could explain why that is such an incredibly foolish thing to do, and a terribly stupid argument to make, but frankly, I think that should be obvious enough to anyone with any sense at all.
Sadly, that excludes more Republicans with each passing day.