'this terrible thing'
"I have this terrible thing called commitment," says Clare Swan, chief of the Kenaitze Indian tribe. "My commitment to my people is like a disease, it is so strong."
There are some 508 certified Kenaitze Indians in Alaska, mostly on the Kenai Peninsula. "Kenaitze" is a Russian word, meaning roughly "people of the river." As chief of the tribe, Swan deals with everything from promoting cultural preservation and tribal activities to battling unemployment, racism and alcoholism.
Born in Kenai in 1939, she is part Filipino and part Kenaitze. She grew up in Kenai, lived in Anchorage and Seward until the 1964 earthquake, moved to Chicago for 12 years, then returned to the Kenai Peninsula.
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The tribe to me, I feel like I am inside of an egg, and the shell is getting too small. I have been back here for two years and chief of the tribe for a year. The growing pangs are there, I am going to have to get a new skin because this one is not going to fit any more.
Questions to myself: Does the tribal council see, feel, hear me as a leader? Is it time to change? There are some real signs that we must decide; are we as a tribe going to just be left? And someone will come along and say, 'Oh is there a tribe here? Gee, I have lived here 30 years and I didn't know there was a tribe.'
You know, I lived in Chicago for quite awhile. I realized when I got back here that my culture was missing. I left here because I didn't want to see a whole place, an era, a people, dying. I missed two cultures, the layers of culture in the area. I came back and realized that we had been submerged and that did not feel good to me, so I got active.