'stand beside anyone'
Doyon Corporation board member Georgianna Lincoln was once considered a radical because she spoke out as a woman. Her introduction to Native politics came with 1960s activism on behalf of aboriginal land claims a movement that led, finally, to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Today, Lincoln is program director for the Tanana Chiefs a non-profit human services agency serving some 43 villages in the Doyon region. She is responsible for services ranging from housing assistance and village government to education and vocational training programs. She is immediate past president of Rampart Village Corp. and currently on the audit committee of the United Bank board.
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Can you tell me about your involvement related to the Native Claims Settlement Act?
I was active in helping through the Fairbanks Native Association to formulate meetings. We started in 1960 with lots of meetings. I was an officer then, but we all participated and contributed and helped to direct some language for the people that went to Washington D.C.
Most people who went "big league" were men. If I could go back to that time, believe me, I would be one of those people going to D.C. People have an image that the ones who really made changes were the ones in D.C. Not true. We had a lot of participation from the local levels right on up to national work. It was a working together, a unity, that caused the language to be the way it was.
What was exciting about it for you?
I don't think we really knew what the full impact would be of the claims. We didn't have the money or the resources to scope things out. The most important thing we looked at was land, and that has not changed the importance of retaining our land. We stipulated that there be no disruption of that land without our permission. Even today, there are people where I was in the '60s who do not realize what the impact is going to be in say, 1991.
Can you describe the impact of land claims on the role of women and some of the issues younger Native women will face as a result of land claims?
With the village and regional corporations or boards, you see women on those boards. Not as many as I would like to see, but you do see women active and up front.
It is not because we are being allowed to serve; we are on those boards because we are knowledgeable, because we have important background to bring, to assist and strengthen the corporations. Shareholders are the ones who elect us. Shareholders are becoming more knowledgeable about the whole process of, 'I want you to sit on that board for me. I want you to speak for me.' You are judged as to whether or not you listen well. You are watched. And notice, more women are getting elected.
That says something, that women are better listeners, more of an advocate than oftentimes men are.
I have had to battle to get to where I am today. It was never a smooth road for me, I have had to claw to get here. My message has always been, I am no less of a person than a man or anyone else. I am equal and I can stand beside anyone and be productive.
I don't come from a female point of view per se, I want to be involved in areas that are not just women. I want to be in the middle of where there are men involved because that is who I want to change. The women already know. Things for us are changing dramatically and the women recognize this. Some men in some areas are still hesitant.
Having been involved in land claims and now on Doyon's Board of Directors, what do you predict will be the impact of 1991, when the stock in the corporations goes public?
It will be chaos. There was a man who spoke at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention on a panel who said something that struck home. He noted that we are already around the bend; 1991 is not around the bend; we are there, it is tomorrow.
I feel that in 1991, we will see people who will sell out their stock to the highest bidder. We will see dissolution of primarily the village corporations into non-Native hands. Beyond 1991 five years, in 1996, people will be saying, 'I am so sorry I sold my stock. Is there any way I can get it back?'
I think that in 1991 the regional corporations are going to be pretty well set. They are not going to be feeling out different ventures, they will know what they are interested in: the natural resources, the oil and gas, the hotels, the fisheries. They will settle in on a primary business venture with some diversification. The speculation will be over.
How can you teach your people to hold onto their stock and their land?
If we want to maintain those shares held by Native people we must, it is our mandate, get out and do things that in 1991 will give them something tangible. I want to be able to say to a shareholder, 'If you want to sell you will lose this and this and this' tangible things. Maybe scholarships or losing a pension fund, a block of land, something.
You want to materialize the concept?
Yes. It is not easy to see that little dividend at the end; the dividend is nice, but when someone is offering $100,000, you have to have something to show that is going to be there year after year for them, for their children and their grandchildren.
What do you tell the young people?
Education is the most important thing; it is a priority. I don't mean only formal education, I mean the education of elders, going in and listening to their village elders. Going into village meetings, corporation meetings and asking questions. You can get a good education by knowing how to listen and getting involved. Get into your village council, your city council, health boards, the list is ad infinitum.
You know, when I was president of the village council, I used strict parliamentary procedures. When someone raised their hand to be recognized they had to know motions, seconds, and how to amend something because it is necessary to know these procedures in this corporate world.
We can go the village way, but we better know the corporate way, too. We need to be able to walk into any corporate room or meeting in this state and know how to overrule something, how to stop it, how to amend something, how to put it back on the table again.
That is really learning how to get and manage power.
That's right. And you learn when someone is buffaloing you. You learn how to stop it. Parliamentary responsibility and fiduciary duties are two important things to learn.
Fiduciary duties means that you are legally responsible for your actions. You are the ones that go to jail for the decisions made. If you, knowingly, make a decision that is contrary to any bylaws or what your shareholders want, and you do so with knowledge, you are legally responsible. It doesn't matter if you are the only one that votes a certain way; if that is how you feel sincerely, vote your conscience.
Out of all your activities, are there any experiences or areas where you have been most empowered to impact change?
My work with women. Just last night a young girl said, 'Georgianna, you are the only one who will yell loud enough for change, that will see that we have change.'
I am not a women's libber, but I am for equality. I will] hold to some old traditions, where it is not proper for a woman to do such and such. Yes, there are a few that I hold to, if it is something that my elders have said I cannot do. I have an old chief's necklace that I would love to wear, but the elders said I can't wear it. I hold to that; I respect that. I feel every bit as much a chief as a man, yet I won't put that necklace on.
My impact and my greatest love are different, I still hold the health field dear to my heart. There you can see results immediately. Maybe that is why I like it; when you patch someone up mentally or physically, you can see that change taking place with your eyes. So many other things you can't see.
I know that I have come a long way since 1962, when my active involvement began. I have a child, now 16, and I say, 'My God, this child is different,' so I know I am different, too.
You know, I was told back in the early days that a leader could not get along with me because I was too radical, too argumentative. I think back on those times and I'm sure I was, but I wouldn't change them because that was the only way I felt I could penetrate the system. I had to beat the table, call for points of order. Now I don't have to do those things, but it has taken me a long time to get to this point. And I don't want any other woman to have to go through what I did to get to this point, we are talking about 21 years.
What nurtured you through those years?
Strength and inner strength. The inner strength that was given to me by my mother. Like Desa said at AFN: pull back your shoulders, suck in your gut and you are as heavy as the heavies up there on the podium.
I have always acknowledged my mother because she said you are no less than anyone else, you are equal. In 4th grade, we moved from Rampart Village where we had a one-room schoolhouse and we had shoepacks and I thought they were the cat's meow. I came to Fairbanks in midterm and here were these kids in little dainty dresses and shoes; I did not want to live in Fairbanks, it was foreign to me.
Mom said, 'We'll get you some shoes.' Maybe not new shoes, maybe hand-me-down dresses and shoes, but we were equals. And she always pounded that into my head, that I was no less than anyone else.
I do get discouraged sometimes. I feel like I am a minority within a minority within a minority. Why do I have to use strong-arm tactics to get something accomplished? Why do I have to phrase my demands any different than a man? Why do I have to play games with male counterparts before I can get down to business? Why is that expected? Why all these little tactics, why do I even have to say that?
I get frustrated, then I sit back and think I am predestined. This path is cut clear for me and I am following it, willingly. Knowing that, I can take boulders and move them aside because in front of that boulder is green pastures; maybe more trouble, but nothing is insurmountable.
Mom always tells me, 'Your grandmother is looking down on you, George.' I think sometimes, I say, 'Oh grandma, does this have to be this way?'
Do you have a sense of why you are outspoken, why you have taken the risks you have and why you are willing to defy the status quo?
I feel this strength because I like me. I like who I am. I accept my role and I am confident, because, again, of this path that I am on. What will be will be, that is my motto. If today does not run out well, so be it, there is tomorrow and it will be better.
A person has to say, 'I like who I am,' before others can really like them and respect them. I try and be a person that my Native people can look at and say, 'She is not mischievous but knows the path and will carry the load.' I would like to think that I have upheld what my people would view as the qualities of a Native person they would like out front.
Why do you think women have so much trouble accepting themselves?
Society has made us feel like we must play games before we can achieve the end. Once women realize that it is not necessary, rather, you get in there and do it as a peer, not because you are female.
Being female has nothing to do with why you are in the position you are in. It has to do with how productive you are, how creative, how much you can achieve, that is what it is about. Women have to block out the fact that they are women; they can't use the fact. As a person, you are equal.
If you go into any situation and you say, 'I am an equal,' take it from there and don't let the male buffalo you, because in this time, the male will still try and buffalo you. We, as women, try to foster that idea also. Why do we have to have an Alaska Statewide Native Women's Organization? Why don't we try and get a woman on the AFN? Why not run a woman as chair of AFN? Why not elect a woman president of AFN?
We have many, many qualified women. There will come a time when we get together and nominate. We have a lot of delegates on the floor; there will come a time when we get a woman elected not because she is a woman, but because she can do the job.
It is sort of like the churches. Who holds up the church? If the women boycotted the church, the men would discover real fast who fills the pews.
Yes, but I am not saying I am putting down women who don't want to be up front. The point to me is to be productive, and that is the key for your wellbeing to feel like you are doing something that you want to do, not because someone else feels like you should do it. If you have a fight internally about what you want, then you are doing what someone else wants. If you do what you want, the internal fight ceases.
Who has influenced you the most in your life? People you credit with making you who you are today?
My mother is the top one and the greatest influence because of the strength she portrays, who she is and the respect she commands.
Her name is Kathryn Evans Harwood; she was born and raised in Rampart. She always told us who we were. You hear so many Native kids say, 'I don't know who I am I am one-half Eskimo and one-half Indian,' or whatever combination. You are Native. You don't have to divide yourself and say this half is Eskimo and the other Indian. You are Native and it requires no more than that. You don't have to adjust that for anyone.
There were seven of us children and we knew who we were from the day we were born; never any question about it. I came home from school once and said, 'Mom, I don't want to be Indian.' Mom would not accept that. She said, 'George, be proud of who you are and here is why, and don't let those kids buffalo you. You go back and hold your head up and tell them why you are proud you are Native.'
The part that influenced me, then, would have to be Native people. Not just Doyon Region, but Natives period. Native people who come up and hug you and shake your hand and smile, or any gesture that says we are proud of you. It is such an honor, especially when the elders say that. I feel so greatly honored by that.
And surprisingly, there are two men that influenced me, and only two men worthy enough to mention their names. One was Sam Kito and the other was Tim Wallis. When I sit with those two guys, I am equal and I damn well better produce as well as the next person.
Anything else you want to pass on?
To you, the young people, I would say, 'Learn how to drink, learn how to maintain. If you don't want to drink, then don't. If you are going to drink, then learn how to; don't let drinking control you.'
We have too many leaders really leaders that have been wasted because of a drinking problem. You can say, 'I don't want to drink.' You don't have to drink with your peers. It is a leader who can control their own destiny.
Productivity is the key, whether you are a hunter or fisherman. Don't sit and idle the time away. You can be productive by going to listen to the old people in the village, splitting wood for the old people. To say that there is nothing to do is unacceptable, because there is so much ahead for us to survive.
You and your children are going to be more and more of a minority. Look at statistics of demographics. We have gone from 100 percent to 60 to 20 to 15, and I think there are around 1,000 (non-Native people) per month coming into Anchorage. That means the percentage of Native people in the state dwindles and dwindles; we must be more powerful and unified.
We are depending on our young to have the inner strength and productivity to see future generations through some very trying times in terms of survival. That is a lot to put on their shoulders, but I know they can do it.
I feel really honored to have people choose me, because there are many unsung heroines who don't get the recognition. A leader is not necessarily the visible one; always there are those being trained in the background that are waiting to be called upon. When you start being involved in something, no matter what it is, it does become easier, the more experience you get. I honor those that are not named as one of the publication; they are the ones that caused me to be where I am today.