Los Angeles

Northern Exploring: A Case Study of Non-Native Alaskan Education Policymakers’ Social Constructions of Alaska Natives as Target Populations

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the

requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy

in Education


Diane Beth Hirshberg


The dissertation of Diane Beth Hirshberg is approved.

Amy Stuart Wells                                

Kris D. Gutierrez                                             

Leobardo Estrada                                

Jeannie L. Oakes, Committee Chair     

University of California, Los Angeles


Table of Contents

List of Figures....................................................................................................................... iii

Vita....................................................................................................................................... v

Abstract of the Dissertation.................................................................................................. viii

Chapter 1: Statement of the problem...................................................................................... 1

Chapter 2: the Social Construction of Race and of Target Populations: Reviewing the Literature 7

Chapter 3: Methods and Setting........................................................................................... 21

Chapter 4: Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples.............................................................................. 31

Chapter 5: Defining Constructions........................................................................................ 43

Chapter 6: Bilingual Education and Rural Education.............................................................. 64

Chapter 7: Conclusion......................................................................................................... 98

Appendix A.: Interview Protocol........................................................................................ 109

Bibliography...................................................................................................................... 112

List of Figures


Figure 1: Social Constructions and Political Power: Types of Target Populations................... 35

Figure 2: Legislator Groupings............................................................................................. 88

Figure 3: Social Constructions and Political Power by Legislator Groupings........................ 183


This dissertation would not be possible without the contributions of numerous persons.  First, Professor Jeannie Oakes, my advisor, and Professor Amy Stuart Wells provided me with a phenomenal opportunity to participate in their study of detracking, a project that led me to my dissertation topic.  Second, there were the many people in Alaska who helped me, from persons who copied documents in legislative offices to those who provided me places to “hide out” between interviews and, of course, the people I interviewed but cannot credit by name.  All welcomed me with great enthusiasm, humor, honesty and openness.

I could not have completed this work without the support of my writing partners – Deborah McKoy, Jennifer Curry Villenueve and Gil Conchas during the early stages, and James Mensing during the difficult last few months.  Many more friends, too numerous to mention, listened to my griping and kept me from quitting.  And of course, special thanks go to my parents, Judith and Arthur Hirshberg, who were always there whenever I needed them!

Finally, I want to thank the children I met in Juneau, Anchorage, Barrow, Wainwright and Pt. Lay for reminding me of how important this work can be (and maybe some day I will acquire an Eskimo tongue!).


November 9, 1963                   Born, Swampscott, Massachusetts

1987                                                                                B.A, Peace and Conflict Studies

B.A., Slavic Languages and Literature

UC Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

1989-90                                                                     Research Assistant

National Center for Research in Vocational Education

Teachers College

New York, NY

1990                                                                                M.P.A.

Columbia University

New York, NY

1991-92                                                                     User Services Coordinator

ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges


Los Angeles, California

1992-95                                   Graduate Student Researcher

Department of Education


Los Angeles, California

1995                                                                                Teaching Assistant

Department of Education


Los Angeles, California

1995-98                                   Research Associate

                                                UC DATA

                                                University of California Berkeley

                                                Berkeley, CA

1998-present                            Project Director

                                                Policy Analysis for California Education

                                                University of California Berkeley

                                                Berkeley, CA


Ball Cuthbertson, B., Burr, E., Fuller, B. & Hirshberg, D. (2000). Los Angeles County Child Care Needs Assessment. Berkeley, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE).

Cunniff, J., Dillon, N., Hirshberg, D., Medlin, C. & Malvin, J. (1997). Implementation of California’s Cal-Learn demonstration project: A process evaluation (Technical report to the California Department of Social Services). Berkeley, CA: UC DATA, UC Berkeley.

Cunniff, J., Hirshberg, D., & Malvin, J. (1998). Implementation of California’s Cal-Learn demonstration project: A process evaluation. Program operation from July 1996 – December 1997 (Technical report to the California Department of Social Services). Berkeley, CA: UC DATA, UC Berkeley.

Datnow, A., & Hirshberg, D. (1996). A case study of King Middle School: The symbiosis of heterogeneous grouping and multicultural education.  Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. 1(2): 115-134.

Datnow, A., & Hirshberg, D. (1995) Charter schools: Teacher professionalism and decentralization. Private School Monitor, 16 (2): 17-23.

Datnow, A., Hirshberg, D., & Wells, A. S. (1994, April). Charter schools: An agenda for teacher empowerment?  Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, New Orleans, LA.

Hirshberg, D. & Datnow, A. (1993, October). Statewide School Choice Plans -- Charter Schools and Open Enrollment. Panel presentation at "The Choice on School Choice: California Confronts Its Educational Future," A Free Public Forum on Proposition 174. UCLA, Los Angeles, California.

Hirshberg, D. & Wells, A. S. (1994, April). The case and its context: The situated nature of detracking reform.  Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, New Orleans, LA.

Hirshberg, D. (1991). The role of the community college in economic and workforce development. An ERIC Digest. Los Angeles: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges.

Hirshberg, D. (1992). Additional resources on faculty scholarship at community colleges.  In J. C. Palmer & G. B. Vaughan, (Eds.), Fostering a climate for faculty scholarship at community colleges. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges.

Hirshberg, D. (1992). ERIC review: Community services and continuing education in the community college. The Community Services Catalyst, 22 (2), 15-17.

Hirshberg, D. (1992). Faculty development and renewal: Sources and information.  New Directions for Community Colleges, 20 (3): 95-101.

Hirshberg, D. (1992). Higher education-business partnerships: Development of critical relationships. The ERIC-Review: 2 (2).

Hirshberg, D. (1992). Research and learning information resources: Faculty development in the community college. Community/Junior College Quarterly of Research and Practice, 16 (1): 117-121.

Hirshberg, D. (1996). The social construction of race matters: A perspective on education policymaking.  Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, New York, NY.

Hirshberg, D. (1997). Northern exploring: An Investigation of non-Native education policymakers’ social constructions of Alaska Natives.  Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, Chicago, IL.

Hirshberg, D., Datnow, A., & Ray, K. Inservice on Detracking and School Change Research, November, 1993, Hanford High School, Hanford, California.

Hirshberg, D., Ray, K., & Gong, J. Inservice on Detracking and School Change Research, February, 1992, Cleveland High School, Los Angeles, California.

Interview for Charter Schools: The Promise and Pitfalls. (1994). Videocassette production, National Education Association, Washington, DC.

Jacobson, L., Hirshberg, D., Malaske-Samu, K., Ball Cuthbertson, B., & Burr, E. (2001) Understanding Child Care Demand and Supply Issues: New Lessons from Los Angeles. A Pace Policy Brief. Berkeley, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE).

Oakes, J., Ray, K., & Hirshberg, D. (1995, April). Access, press and distributive justice: Technical, normative and political changes in 10 "Detracking" schools.  Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, San Francisco, CA.

Wells, A. S., Hirshberg, D., Lipton, N., & Oakes, J. (1995). Bounding the case within its context: A constructivist approach to studying detracking reform.  Educational Researcher, 24 (5): 18-24.


Northern Exploring: A Case Study of Non-Native Alaskan Education Policymakers’ Social Constructions of Alaska Natives as Target Populations


Diane Beth Hirshberg

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

University of California, Los Angeles, 2001

Professor Jeannie Oakes, Chair

In theory, policymakers make decisions using empirical research and information that is accurate.  They use analytic tools that are appropriate to the issue under study and apply judgments based on the best interests of the policy target. This, however, is an overly rational view of the policy process.  In reality, policymakers, like all people, view the world through lenses and frames that reflect their understandings and meanings about the world and influence their policy actions and decisions.  In the U.S., these filters include perceptions of race and ethnicity.

Ideas about the meaning of race in the U.S., and how those meanings interact with policymaking, have been relatively unexplored in the field of education policy analysis.  Recognizing this gap, I set out to understand how race interacts with education policymaking. By merging sociological theories on the social construction of race with the political science theory arguing that policy targets are socially constructed, I posited that it was possible to uncover how perceptions about race influence educational policymaking in a profound way.  In a case study of eleven legislators on the Health, Education and Social Services Committees of the Alaska State Legislature I asked:

1)         How do education policymakers construct their target populations?

-  Specifically, what are Alaskan education policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives as a target population? 

2)         How do social constructions of race and ethnicity underlie these constructions?

-  Specifically, what are Alaskan education policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives as racial or ethnic groups?  Are these constructions part of how they define Natives as policy targets? And,

3)         Are these constructions related to decisionmaking?  Can this be identified?

-  Specifically, do policymakers with different constructions make different decisions?

            During my analysis, the legislators’ social constructions of Alaska Natives became discernable.  I found that their social constructions of target populations were related to the policy positions they took, and that racial attitudes had an impact.  Political ideology, which is fundamentally racialized according to critical race theory and the social construction of race, provides the link for understanding how the social construction of race impacts policymakers’ social constructions of their target populations.

Chapter 1: Statement of the problem

            In theory, policymakers make decisions using empirical research and information that is accurate.  They use analytic tools that are appropriate to the issue under study; and they apply judgments based on the best interests of the policy target or client. This, however, is an overly rational view of the policy process, and assumes that policy decisions are based purely on an objective analysis of the best data available.  In reality, policymakers, like all people, view the world through lenses and frames that reflect their understandings and meanings about the world.  These lenses and frames also influence their policy actions and decisions.  In the U.S., as in many heterogeneous cultures, these filters include perceptions of race and ethnicity (Carter & Goodwin, 1994).

            Race is a phenomenon that mediates every aspect of our lives in the United States.  It influences our economic and social class structures, socio-political relationships and our social and legal institutions, including education (Carter & Goodwin, 1994; Lopez, 1994).  Race has been intertwined with schooling issues in the United States almost since the advent of public schooling.  It has been one of the major focuses of education policymaking since the Brown decision in 1954.  Race has also been a focus of much policy research, especially as analysts try to help policymakers remedy racial inequalities in access and achievement.

            Despite all the attention to race, ideas about the meaning of race in the U.S., and how those meanings interact with policymaking, have been relatively unexplored in the field of education policy analysis.  Sociologists and anthropologists in the past two decades have taken new approaches to the concepts of race and ethnicity, arguing that these are socially constructed phenomena whose meanings are historically and socially mediated (Figueroa, 1991; Lopez, 1994; Omi & Winant, 1994; Winant, 1994).  Critical race theorists have also shown how race is an underlying construct in the U.S. legal system (Solarzano, 1998; Solorzano, 1997; Tate IV, 1997; Ladson-Billings & Tate IV, 1995; Taylor, 1998).  Yet, policy analysts, rather than addressing race as a construct for debate or study, have instead often used it as a reified, constant, genetic fact, and as a fixed variable in quantitative equations (Ladson-Billings & IV, 1995; Lopez, 1994; Tate IV, 1997).  For example, race is used as a categorical variable in many regression analyses of influences on student achievement, without regard to the meanings or limitations of the common racial categories.

            I became particularly interested in how race interacts with education policymaking during a three-year study of detracking in racially mixed secondary schools across the United States. [1]   While the primary focus of this research project was the process of change within the schools, we also sought to understand the broader social and political context affecting the reforms (see Wells, Hirshberg, Oakes, & Lipton, 1995).  Consequently, we interviewed parents, local policymakers, district administrators and community leaders in addition to school staff and students.  One of the sites we studied is located in Alaska, in a community where the population is approximately 12% Alaska Native, but the school population is closer to 25% Native.  In this city, race seemed to be central to the educational and political context we were looking at, and yet, at the same time, there was only limited acknowledgment of its role as an influence or consideration in education policymaking and schooling.

           In Alaska, Native students fail and drop out of school at considerably higher rates than non-Native students.  In the 1992-1993 school year, Alaska Natives comprised 21 percent of the school population but 30 percent of the total dropouts (Alaska Department of Education, 1994).  In urban areas, the problem is worse; in 1991 approximately 8 percent of the students in Anchorage were Alaska Native, but they represented 22 percent of the school dropouts.  They also received close to three times as many failing grades in academic subjects as did white students (Kleinfeld, 1992). [2]

            These same problems were evident in the Alaskan community we visited as part of our detracking study.  The majority of the students on the “D” and “F” grade list for one middle school were Native, despite their comprising only 32% of the school population.  In addition, the Native student dropout rate at the local high school was close to 60%.  My colleagues and I asked parents, educators, policymakers, and community leaders, both Native and non-Native, to tell us what they saw as the underlying causes and potential solutions to Native student underachievement.  There seemed to be little consensus.

            During these interviews I was struck by what seemed to be a huge gulf between Natives’ views and beliefs and those of non-Natives. Natives talked about a legacy of exclusion and racism in the schools that continues today.  Many of the non-Natives, in contrast, gave answers that sounded much like what I had heard in other parts of the country when white educators and policymakers discuss the underachievement of Latino and African-American students.  Some non-Natives stated that Native parents were not involved or interested in their children’s education, or that they did not provide good learning environments at home.  Most of these non-Native policymakers and educators were not originally from Alaska, and they talked about Native students as though these pupils were just like other "minority" students they had dealt with in the "lower 48."  These divergent views struck me as problematic.  I began to wonder how Natives and non-Natives could see such different causes for the same phenomena.

            As I conducted these interviews, I realized that I had begun this research uninformed, not knowing anything about the Native peoples who lived in the community I had entered.  Imagining that my experience was not unique, during my final visit to Alaska for the detracking study I began asking how non-Native educators and policymakers from the “lower 48” learned about Alaska’s indigenous peoples.  There seemed to be few formal opportunities for acquiring this understanding; teachers took one or two multicultural education courses, but these didn’t provide an in-depth perspective of who the Native students are, nor delve into their history and the cultures and beliefs the students carry with them.  I found that some teachers and education policymakers had picked up these understandings through prior experiences as teachers; but others, despite having lived in Alaska for a number of years, didn’t seem to have learned much about their Native neighbors at all.

            I heard comments from Native people that confirmed this.  One parent noted:

... they focus on a very small part of the Native culture, as if the totemic things, the potlatch things, were all we really did.  They have not gone deeper, they haven't explored why it is that our children act differently, and react differently to teachers.  They know nothing about the basis in the Native culture for respect, for lineage, for ties to family, or protocol.  Those things's like they don't exist, but those were the very best values of the Native community.  Those things should be studied; they should be practiced.

            It seemed to me that policymakers’ misunderstandings and misperceptions of Alaska Natives might be one factor in the underachievement of Native students.  These affect not just classroom instruction but, more fundamentally, how the education system is structured, and whether it meets the needs of Alaska’s Native peoples.  I decided to explore this hunch in the hopes that my findings might contribute to a broader understanding of the role that race plays in education policymaking

            I started by looking at the literature on race and education, but found it inadequate for guiding my queries.  There is a great deal of research on the interplay between race and education (e.g. Carter & Goodwin, 1994; Figueroa, 1991; McCarthy & Crichlow, 1993), but little seems to focus on the influence of racial attitudes and beliefs on education policymaking.  I broadened my focus, looking more generally at the literature on the social construction of race (e.g. Lopez, 1994; Omi & Winant, 1994; Winant, 1994), on whiteness (e.g. Frankenberg, 1993; Fine, Powell, Weis, & Wong, 1997a; Kincheloe, Steinberg, Rodriguez, & Chennault, 1998) and on critical race theory (e.g. Tate, 1997, Solarzano, 1997).  While useful for understanding how conceptions of race have been shaped over time, through social and legal process, and for uncovering the racist nature of legal institutions, these still do not address specifically how these constructions influence public policymaking. 

            Conversely, when I turned to research on policymaking in education, I found that there was little which addressed issues around the meanings of race and ethnicity, as opposed to structural aspects of race (e.g. segregation and tracking).  I was not able to find works that examined how racial attitudes impacted the decisions made by policymakers, although there were numerous studies demonstrating how certain education policies and practices resulted in racial stratification.  The field of education policy analysis has its roots in the positivist, rationalist and quantitative traditions of disciplines like political science, systems science and economics.  It has typically not been informed as much by sociological research (Boyd, 1988; Ozga, 1987).  Instead, much education policy research, as in other public policy analysis, has utilized race as a fixed variable in analysis, rather than as a mediating influence.  Race has been factored into equations without questioning, as though it were a constant variable similar to income or years of education.  It has been seen by some researchers as having an independent impact on students and their school success, rather than being looked at as a filter through which policymakers see the world and make choices.

            Continuing my search for relevant theories, I looked to political science for research on influences on policymakers’ decisionmaking.  I found an especially promising theory on the social construction of target populations (Schneider & Ingram, 1993), which argues that the characterization or image of persons or groups who are affected by public policy shapes both the policy agenda and the actual design of policy.  While this theory seemed most likely to guide me in my investigation, I was surprised by its failure to address issues of race or racial attitudes. 

            It seemed that to really understand the impact of race on education policymaking, I needed to use theories from more than one discipline, and demonstrate how when combined they might guide my inquiry.  I decided that extending Schneider and Ingram’s theory by incorporating ideas on the social construction of race would provide the best framework for my research and then set out to see if this theoretical framework could be explored empirically.

Research Questions

            I chose my dissertation topic because I wanted to understand how race and ethnicity interact with education policymaking to affect policy decisions.  Each theoretical area noted above contributed to my attempt to understand the phenomena in question.  However, none alone provided the comprehensive view of race and policymaking in education or social policy in general which I am sought.  I decided that to answer my question, these theories need to be combined.  By merging sociological theories on the social construction of race with the political science theory arguing that policy targets are socially constructed, I posited that it was possible to uncover how perceptions about race influence educational policymaking in a profound way.

            I used Alaskan education policymakers to investigate whether it is possible to uncover policymakers’ perceptions of their target populations as racial groups, and how these constructions are related to the education policy decisions they make.  Specifically, using theories from sociology and political science, I asked:

1)         How do education policymakers construct their target populations?

-  Specifically, what are Alaskan education policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives as a target population?  How do they define this group and their needs?

2)         How do social constructions of race and ethnicity underlie these constructions?

-  Specifically, what are Alaskan education policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives as racial or ethnic groups?  Are these constructions part of how they define Natives as policy targets?  Or even indistinguishable?

3)         Are these constructions related to decisionmaking?  Can this be identified?

-  Specifically, do policymakers with different constructions make different decisions?

            For this study, I used case study methodology.  Case study is a method that is appropriate for building theory (Eisenhardt, 1989).  It is also suitable for exploring education policymakers’ constructions of their target populations.  In this study, uncovering these constructions required getting at policymakers’ beliefs about who Alaska Natives are, and what they feel are the best or most appropriate education policies for these peoples. Survey research methods or document analysis alone could not provide the rich, complex data necessary to conduct this study.  Schneider and Ingram (1993) posit that policymakers' social constructions of target populations can be ascertained from interviews and surveys as well as through the study of texts, statutes, media, speeches and so on.  In addition, interview material is a very rich source of information which can reveal complexities and contradictions in the internal structures of educational policy-making that macro-level studies miss or gloss over (Ozga, 1987).  Darling-Hammond (1990) adds that case study methodology allows for in-depth study of policy decisions, and close scrutiny of how these decisions play out.

            The population I used in this study were the non-Native members of the Health, Education and Social Services (HESS) committees in both houses of the Alaska State Legislature from the 1995-1996 legislative session.  The data was gathered primarily through one-on-one interviews, with documents (e.g. written records of policy debates, legislation, newspapers) supplementing and triangulating the interview material.  Interviews were conducted with all but one of the members of the HESS committees.  In addition, members of the State Board of Education, top administrators in the State Department of Education, and Native leaders in the legislature, on the Board of Education and on the Governor’s staff were interviewed to gain perspective and aid in interpretation.

Importance of the study

            There are two major areas in which this study is important; the first is in the realm of extending theory, while the second is in the possibility of influencing and improving the policymaking process.  This study extends the theory of the social construction of target populations by incorporating a missing piece: theory on the role of race and social constructions of race and ethnicity.  It also represents an early attempt at empirically identifying these constructions and their connections to actual policy decisions.  In addition, this work offers a critical link between theories on the social constructions of race and ethnicity and education policy studies, providing one approach to understanding the way race influences education policymaking.

            In terms of influencing policymaking, illuminating the important but generally overlooked effect of racial constructions this study may contribute to a better understanding of the education policy process, and, indeed, decision making in any public policy area.  It can serve as a critical step in the effort to understand and potentially improve public education and other public policies affecting Alaska Natives, and all minority populations in the United States.  Despite the civil rights gains of the last thirty years, the majority of public policy makers in the nation are white, and I believe that many of them fail to take a critical look at their own racial attitudes.  Many theorists studying race, like bell hooks (1993), Nitza Hidalgo (1993), Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg (1998), and Ruth Frankenberg (1993), believe that whites need to deconstruct both their own attitudes and the concept of whiteness before they can understanding the diverse communities for whom they create programs and policies.  This work may serve to inform this process, and hopefully create a model for further research into policymakers’ social constructions of other racial groups who are policy target populations.

            Moreover research on influences on policy decisions can have a broader impact than what one might expect from studying what happened in a specific instance.  Rist (1994) argues that policymaking is a multidimensional, multifaceted and iterative process, as opposed to the more traditional conception of decision-making as a discrete event.  By acknowledging that policymaking employs an ongoing set of adjustments or changes, research does not have to be seen as influential only at specific times or on particular policy events.  Indeed, Rist continues, research best serves an "enlightenment function" rather than an "engineering function."  In other words, it is most useful when it helps create contextual understandings about issues, rather than just focusing on the specifics of individual policy initiatives.  The study proposed here meets Rist’s criteria -- it sheds light on the social context that impacts policymaking on education and other issues affecting Alaska Natives specifically, and any racially defined target population in general.

            This study also has specific relevance for the education of indigenous peoples in Alaska. By illuminating policymakers’ constructions and identifying how these were related to policy decisions, this research may create opportunities for Native peoples to identify policymakers’ ideas and beliefs which conflict with their own beliefs and identities.  It could then open up opportunities for educating education policymakers.

            This work can also have much broader implications in Alaska.  While this dissertation focuses on education policymaking, the state policymakers I am studying also make decisions impacting Natives in numerous other areas.  Hopefully, by illuminating these social constructions, I can help policymakers to examine their own attitudes about their policy targets, whether Native or defined in another way.  It may also inform these decisionmakers’ understanding of the identities, beliefs, values and attitudes of the Natives on whose behalf they make decisions and create policy.

Chapter 2: the Social Construction of Race and of Target Populations: Reviewing the Literature

            "Race will always be at the center of the American experience."  So state Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1994, p. 5).  Indeed, race has been a major area of concern and contention in education policy for as long as there has been public schooling in the United States.  However, research on education policy formation has paid little attention to the influence of social constructions of race on this process.  Tate (1997) argues that many education researchers use race only as a categorical variable in analyses, rather than as an analytical tool or theoretical lens.  They place race as a category in regression analyses in an attempt to explain why students fail or who elected officials took specific policy positions, without trying to understand how race and racial attitudes have created the situations under study.  Indeed, most education policy research that addresses race focuses on issues like desegregation, race relations in schools, or equity issues between racially defined groups.  Almost none has questioned policymakers’ conceptions of race and ethnicity, and how these might influence the decisions made.  As Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995) note, in general, race remains untheorized in education scholarship.

            Thus, the existing literature on education policymaking fails to provide sufficient guidance for my attempt to understand the intersection between social constructions of race and education policymaking.  In order to conduct my research, a transdisciplinary approach is needed, in which theories from sociology and political science are merged with education research.  The broader literature from sociology on the social construction of race offers clues for understanding how race influences decisions, but is highly theoretical, and offers little specific guidance for analyzing policy decisionmaking.  One political science theory offers an approach to understanding how decisionmakers define their policy targets, but excludes consideration of what happens when that population is racially defined.  By merging these theories across the disciplines, however, I can make the necessary theoretical links to guide my inquiry.  While my particular theoretical framework is unique, this transdisciplinary approach is not.  Indeed, as I will discuss later, it fits in with an emerging field--education policy sociology.

            In this chapter, I review some literature on the social construction of race, research on race and education policymaking, and the theory of the social construction of target populations, in light of my research question.  I will discuss how, when combined, these theoretical areas both guide my research and place me within the emerging discipline of education policy sociology. 

Social Construction of Race

            In American society, conceptions of race, especially those held by Whites, are often essentialist and reductionist.  Many people view racial groups as stable, homogeneous, and as having innate and invariant characteristics that distinguish them from one another (McCarthy & Crichlow, 1993).  They cling to common racial categories--White, African-American, Asian, Latino and American Indian--which deny the relational, variable character of racial identity and meaning, and exclude many peoples like those from East Asia or the Middle East (Omi & Winant, 1993).  The groupings are based on false assumptions including that a) people can be placed into clear-cut categories in a manner such that everyone fits into only one group, and b) each of these categories tells something of meaning about the members which distinguishes them from those in other categories (Ferrante & Prince Brown, 1998b).  By defining people according to skin color, Whites, as well as members of other "racial groups," can categorize unfamiliar peoples without acknowledging their diversity or individuality.  Moreover, these classifications become tied to assumptions about individuals’ place in society; class and race are often conflated (Carter & Goodwin, 1994).

            Recently, sociologists have begun examining and deconstructing ideas about race.  These theorists oppose reifying race, and instead argue that race is a socially constructed phenomenon, shaped by history, and closely intertwined with political and economic institutions, events and processes (Ferrante & Prince Brown, 1998a; Lopez, 1994; McCarthy & Crichlow, 1993; Omi & Winant, 1994; Ragin & Hein, 1993).  Constructed through human interaction and interpretation, the meaning and salience of race are continually reconstituted in the present (Lopez, 1994; Omi & Winant, 1993).  The work of these sociologists is supported by research in genetics, which has found that there is more variation within "races" than between groups of people commonly defined as being different racially (Begley, 1995; Hotz, 1995; Lopez, 1994). 

            Two of the leading researchers on the social construction of race are Michael Omi and Howard Winant.  In Racial Formation in the United States (1994), these sociologists argue that concepts of race shape the structure of the state and society in the United States, and are subject to continual political contestation.  They insist "that race be understood as a fundamental dimension of social organization and cultural meaning in the U.S." (p. viii), adding that "From the very inception of the Republic to the present moment, race has been a profound determinant of one's political rights, one's location in the labor market, and indeed one's sense of "identity" (p. 1). [3]   This has resulted in each racially defined minority being confronted with some form of degradation and depotism.

            Despite this history, Omi and Winant note that most mainstream researchers have seen race as a "problem" of social engineering or policy, and therefore have not looked at issues of changing racial identities and meanings, nor at the effect of race on politics.  Indeed, as noted earlier, in my search of the literature on race and education policy I found a similar gap.  Omi and Winant argue for recognizing that "the concept of race continues to play a fundamental role in structuring and representing the social world.   The task for theory is to explain this situation" (p. 55). 

            Omi and Winant oppose viewing race as something to go beyond (e.g., the creation of a “color-blind” society).  Instead, race should be thought of "as an element of social structure rather than as an irregularity within it; we should see race as a dimension of human representation rather than an illusion" (p. 55).  At the micro-social level, race is part of how people define each other.  This, however, depends on preconceived notions of race and the racialized social structure; we expect people to act a certain way according to race.  This also shapes how people relate within the larger social structure; race is used to explain social differences.  Thus, race is too embedded in the social structure to ignore it.

            As a result, Omi and Winant maintain, race cannot be represented without being placed it in the social and historical context.  Moreover, it is not possible to alter or maintain social structures without either implicitly or explicitly addressing racial issues.

            They contend that through the acknowledgement of race as a social construct, racial conflicts or controversies are now framed correctly as political issues.  In short, “race is now a preeminently political phenomenon” (p. 65).  This in no way resolves problems of injustice and conflict, but instead points to the need for a analysis of racial conflicts as fundamentally political issues that require political solutions.

            Understanding the history of racial formation is critical to understanding the present.  Omi and Winant argue that essentially, for most of its history, the US has been a "racial dictatorship."  This has had three major consequences: the defining of “American” identity as white; the rendering of the color line as the fundamental division in U.S. society; and the consolidation of an oppositional racial consciousness, which Omi and Winant believe created new "native" and "black" identities, as opposed to the identities held by the individual tribes and peoples that existed prior to conquest and enslavement.  With this history, discrimination became not just an individual belief or action, but was manifested and systematized in the structure of U.S. society.

            Omi and Winant contend that from colonial times, within the United States a racial order has linked power in the political system with racial classifications of groups and individuals.  This linkage has impacted all of the major institutions and social relationships with U.S. society, including politics, the economic structure, religion, culture, community housing patterns, and so forth.  For example, despite being the indigenous inhabitants of the U.S., American Indians, including Alaska Natives, were not granted citizenship, and all its attendant rights, until 1924 (Morehouse, 1992).

In their work, Omi and Winant analyze political trends and events throughout U.S. history, demonstrating how different racial attitudes influence the political landscape.  Unfortunately, this discussion remains primarily at the macro level.  There’s not any mention of how individual policymakers’ racial constructions influence the broader political spectrum.  Although they do discuss public leaders’ racial attitudes and policies, via public actions and pronouncements, Omi and Winant focus on these mainly as examples of large political movements (e.g., neoconservatism or the “far right”).  They don’t offer direction for tying constructions to specific policy decisions.  However, I believe that this is part of what needs to be done in order to change policy.

            Winant, in a solo piece (1994), disputes William Julius Wilson’s contention that race is declining in significance.  Despite the fact that race is not a biological phenomenon, it "remains a fundamental organizing principle, a way of knowing and interpreting the social world...race is a significant dimension of hegemony, that it is deeply fused with the power, order, and indeed the meaning systems of every society in which it operates" (p. 2).  In the U.S., racial constructs are deeply imbedded in every institution and social relationship.  He argues:

…race is a condition of individual and collective identity, a permanent, though tremendously flexible, element of social structure.  Race is a means of knowing and organizing the social world; it is subject to continual contestation and reinterpretation, but it is no more likely to disappear than other forms of human inequality and difference (p. xiii).

Therefore, "...the 'solution' to the race 'problem' is not transcendence but recognition, not denial of difference but respect for it, not coercion but democracy: more of it, better varieties of it, and the further extension of it into every realm of cultural economic and political life" (p. xiii).  Race must be accepted as an integral part of American society because identity is color-coded, the social structure is racialized, and race is socialized, despite the fact that "a clear racial identity does not, and cannot, exist" (p. 3).

            In his 1994 book, and in a later piece in 1997 on whiteness and racial politics (a fuller discussion of research on whiteness starts on page 13), Winant lays out differences he sees in racial attitudes amongst adherents of different political philosophies.  He uses the concept of a “racial project,” which is “simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics and an effort to organize and distribute resources along particular racial lines” (Winant, 1994, p. 24, italics in original).  Racial projects are inherently political.  Winant (1994, 1997) describes contemporary U.S. racial projects that span the political continuum from left to right.  Those adhering to the far right racial project, he contends, see race as a natural characteristic, view equality as a subversion of the “natural order,” and promote white rights.  Members of the New Right racial project see racial mobilizing as threat, but embrace mainstream political activity and some measure of “color-blindness.”  The Neoconservative racial project denies the importance of racial differences, and argues for a meritocratic system based on individualism.  The Pragmatic Liberal (in his 1994 work) or Neoliberal racial project (1997) discourse attempts to limit white advantages via the denial of racial differences, but also accepts cultural pluralism, and the development of transracial political agenda.  Finally, the Radical Democracy (1994) or New Abolitionist (1997) racial project recognizes race and “whiteness” as central to U.S. politics and culture, in addition to accepting and celebrating racial difference and seeking redistribution of control over the state with the goal of social equality and racial justice. 

            Winant’s arguments point out the importance of bringing issues of race in policy and politics back into a public dialogue.  He points out that “making race consciousness explicit and central to class politics means recognizing the irreducibility of race in U.S. political and cultural life and thinking about class, inequality, and redistribution in ways that take racial divisions and conflicts into primary account” (p. 33).  Even so, as in his work with Omi, he leaves this analysis at a macro-social level, and doesn’t give guidance for uncovering individual constructions of race or seeing how these affect individual decision making processes.

            Ian F. Haney Lopez (1994) extends the work of sociologists by adding a legal perspective on race and the social construction of race.  He too argues that race mediates every aspect of life in the U.S., and adds that the law has played a significant role in reifying racial identities.  Race is a confounding problem in society, and confounding the problem of race is that most people don't know what it is.  Race must be understood as a “social phenomenon in which contested systems of meaning connect physical features, races and personal characteristics” (p. 7).  As opposed to being a fixed object, race is an ongoing, contradictory, self-reinforcing process subject to the macro forces of social and political struggle and the micro effects of daily decisions.  He uses terms like Black and Asian as social groups, not as genetically distinct branches of humankind.

            Lopez points out that the meaning of race for particular groups has changed significantly during the history of the United States.  For example, in the 19th century, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were legally categorized at different times as black or white; at present, they are generally considered part of a distinct group called “Hispanic” or “Latino.”  Likewise, Alaska Natives were not considered “Indians” by early political leaders, while now American Indian/Alaska Native is considered a “racial” classification.  Thus, race must be viewed as a social construction, in which human interaction rather than natural differentiation is the source and continuing basis for racial categorization.  Humans, as opposed to abstract biological forces, produce races; the meaning-systems surrounding race change rapidly; and races are constructed relationally and comparatively, not in isolation.  White identity, likewise, is a product of social history.  Even as historical forces led to the development of conceptions of race, race is still subject to those dynamics today.  Thus, while biological race is an illusion, “social” race is not.

            Lopez argues that there are three factors influencing the social construction of race: chance, context and choice.  Chance involves the physiological, morphological characteristics a person is born with, e.g. how light or dark a person's skin is, as well as their facial characteristics and hair type.  This is only part of the equation, however, in that the context--the social setting within which races are recognized, constructed and contested--also mediates racial constructions.  In addition, Lopez argues that choice and agency are crucial ingredients in the construction of racial identities and the fabrication of race.  Persons can, in part, depending on chance and context, "choose" their race.  The clearest illustration of this is "passing"--the ability of certain individuals, like light-skinned Blacks or blond, blue-eyed Mexican Americans, to change race.  Similarly, we had a woman who was part Filipino and part-Tlingit (the Natives of the Juneau area) describe “choosing” to be Filipino rather than Tlingit:

I didn’t grow up as a Tlingit.  Because it wasn’t good to be Tlingit.  It was better to be a Philipino, and that’s another minority group.  But it was a minority group that was well respected in this community because Philipinos are labeled as very hard worker, you know, very dependable, very studious people.  So we grew up as Philipinos, we didn’t grow up as Tlingit.

Moreover, while social context constrains the choices people make, choices also can influence the social context.  The existence of agency also indicates some complicity in racial oppression, as people in part choose to accept or embody the stereotypes ascribed to their particular group.

            Lopez believes that society is unwilling to fully relinquish attachment to notions of biological race.  It remains a powerful social phenomenon, constructed along cultural, political and economic lines.  Even as people begin to question the common conceptions of it, the centrality of race cannot be denied.  Race is a major component of our experiences and identities as Americans.  Like Omi and Winant, he contends that instead of dismissing race because it is not a biological reality, we must understand the socially constructed nature of this phenomenon, and how it impacts our legal, social, and cultural institutions.

            Critical Race Theorists extend these ideas, arguing that race and racism are deeply engrained in the legal institutions and structure of the United States. As Taylor points out, CRT recognizes that “the assumptions of white superiority are so engrained in the political and legal structures as to be almost unrecognizable.” (p. 122)(Taylor, 1998) Critical Race Theory incorporates five central concepts:

1)                  Race and racism are central and endemic in U.S. society;

2)                  An interdisciplinary approach to theory is needed in order to analyze this;

3)                  A challenge to the dominant ideology, in particular to the ideas of neutrality, objectivity and color-blindness in the legal system;

4)                  Commitment to social justice; and

5)                  Recognition of the experiential knowledge of people of color (Solorzano, 1997; Solarzano, 1998; Tate IV, 1997; Taylor, 1998).

Several researchers, including Solarzano (1997, 1998, 2000), Tate (1997), and Ladson Billings & Tate (1995) have looked at how Critical Race Theory (CRT) can be applied to education research.  My research fits somewhat within the practices they describe, but yet heads in a different direction.  Tate (1997) notes that “Critical race theorists recognize that the way public problems are defined can influence how laws and policies are constructed and interpreted” (p. 218).  In a similar light, I’m trying to explicate how public problems related to Alaska Native education are defined by policymakers specifically.

Solarzano (1998) writes “Specifically, a critical race theory in education challenges the dominant discourse on race and racism as they relate to education by examining how educational theory, policy, and practice are used to subordinate certain racial and ethnic groups” (p. 122).  While I am indeed looking at how educational policy is related to the subordination of a specific ethnic group in Alaska, Alaska Natives, I am doing this by deconstructing the attitudes of whites, rather than by presenting the stories of people of color.

Solarzano (1997) also notes that in public discourse, racist stereotypes are rarely used or condoned.  However, he argues that these manifest themselves in private discourse.  He proposes that it may be useful for researchers to examine the private conversations of Whites in situations where People of Color are absent, and Whites feel safe expressing their feelings about People of Color.  As a white researcher looking at white legislators, I am engaging in this process, as I had access to legislators in private settings one-on-one.

Tate (1997) argues that there is: 

…a need for theoretical perspectives that move beyond the traditional paradigmatic boundaries of educational research to provide a more cogent analysis of ‘raced’ people and move discussions of race and racism from the margins of scholarly activity to the fore of educational discourse (Tate IV, 1997, p. 196).

Tate notes that CRT focuses on stories of the “oppressed”, but I am trying to deconstruct stories of those in power – CRT focuses on the stories of people of color, not whites.  CRT theorists posit that stories by people of color can counter those of the oppressor.  I am instead deconstructing the stories of the oppressors.  Thus, while Critical Race Theory offers insights into the problems I have identified, it does not give direct guidance for the analyses I am conducting.

The emerging area of the study of Whiteness offers more insight into my work.  Much of the research on race and multiculturalism has been silent on the issue of whiteness, and its role as a race, privilege and social construction (Fine, Powell, Weis, & Wong, 1997b).  Researchers in education have been as complicit in this as those in other fields.  Fine et al. (1997) critique the approaches taken to studying race in the fields of psychology and education.  They write:

…through these two fields, whiteness has come to be more than itself; it embodies objectivity, normality, truth, knowledge, merit, motivation, achievement, and trustworthiness; it accumulates invisible supports that contribute unacknowledged to the already accumulated and bolstered capital of whiteness.  Rarely, however, is it acknowledged that whiteness demands and constitutes hierarchy, exclusion, and deprivation (Fine et al., 1997b, p. viii, italics in original).

            One of the early researchers to study whiteness is Ruth Frankenberg (1993).  She argues for recognizing a set of linked dimensions to whiteness, “First, whiteness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege.  Second, it is a “standpoint,” a place from which white people look at ourselves, at others, and at society.  Third, “whiteness” refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed” (Frankenberg, 1993, p. 1).

Kincheloe and Steinberg (1998) expand on these ideas.  They contend that individuals cannot separate what they perceive from where they stand in terms of "reality."  This lays the basis for the concept of "positionality," which means that as "our understanding of the world and ourselves is socially constructed, we must devote special attention to the different ways individuals from diverse social backgrounds construct knowledge and make meaning."  They add that critical multiculturalists are "fervently concerned with white positionality in their attempt to understand the power relations that give rise to race, class, and gender inequality...[and] are concerned with the ways power has operated historically and contemporaneously to legitimate social/educational categories and hierarchical divisions" (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1998, p. 1).

Thus it is important that researchers make whiteness visible, and to explicitly link this to race privilege (Rodriguez, 2000).  My research is an attempt to make explicit the views and attitudes of white policymakers about race, which is a first stop toward understanding how whiteness contributes to education policymaking.  While I did not set out to study whiteness, in order to understand fully how the social construction of race impacts education policymaking, I must understand the role of whiteness in the social construction of race.

            Part of understanding how race is socially constructed includes identifying how racial categories are created.  Espiritu (1992) describes this process.  She calls the lumping of members from different ethnic groups and distinct nationalities into one racial category "panethnicity."  For instance, "Asian" is a panethnicity, lumping together culturally distinct groups like Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, and Pilipinos.  “Alaska Native” also is a panethnic term--as will be discussed later, there are many diverse peoples lumped into this commonly used category.

            Espiritu contends that panethnic boundaries are shaped and reshaped through continuous interactions between external and internal forces.  Although they are externally imposed, panethnic labels have been accepted by groups like "Native Americans" and used as a political resource to facilitate organizing for social and economic power, as well as a means for interacting with others in the larger society.  However, panethnicity remains a problematic, loaded phenomenon, allowing outsiders to make gross judgments about members of the groups.  It can lead to misunderstandings about the variations in cultural norms and values between various peoples comprising panethnic groups, e.g. assumptions that all "Asians" are bookworms or all "Latinos" speak Spanish, despite the very real diversity between and amongst the groups comprising these broad categories.

            Espiritu elaborates on categorization of races or racial lumping, noting how excessive categorization is fundamental to racism in that it allows whites to order groups of unfamiliar peoples without acknowledging their diversity or individuality.  This "panethnicity," while externally imposed, is also now a political resource for members of these groups, a basis for political mobilization.  Panethnic boundaries are shaped and reshaped through continuous interaction between both external and internal forces.  Most contemporary ethnic groups are fundamentally new, and culture is less a prerequisite for identity than a socially constructed boundary for defining a group.  Ethnic groups are thus formed and altered via interactions among groups.  They often accept ascribed panethnic labels in order to allow for meaningful interaction with those in the larger society, accepting identifications intelligible to these outsiders.  Panethnic groups, though generally constructed externally, can, through increasing interaction and communication among members, produce and transform panethnic culture and consciousness.  This culture building promotes group consciousness and consolidates ethnic boundaries.

            The theorists cited above agree that race is central in U.S. society, and that it is a socially constructed phenomenon.  However, none elaborate on how these constructions impact policymaking on a micro level.  Moreover, they don’t tackle specific policy areas or policymakers in order to make these connections, as I wish to do with education policymaking.  Thus, I looked for this approach in education policy research.

Race and Education

            Despite the significant amount of research pointing to the importance of social constructions of race in America society, there is little research on how these constructions affect education.  I was unable to find any which addressed specifically how to investigate policymakers’ constructions and their possible influence on policy decisions. Still, several pieces on race and education do address racial constructs and a couple mention policy, thus offering some insight into my inquiry.

            One of the few theorists explicitly trying to explain social construction of race in education is Figueroa (1991).  However, after a highly theoretical discussion on race and its role in society (in particular in Britain), Figueroa turns his focus to school practice, and doesn’t address policymaking processes.  Like Lopez (1994), he contends that people perceive not "race" but rather phenotypical differences which they then order into racial classifications; race is a social construction or a category.  Race has no scientific validity, and only has social significance in systems of thought and social relations that are racist.  Racial boundaries arise through social processes of definition, allocation and interaction, both inter and intra-group.

            Figueroa argues that "All action and choice -- instrumental or not, reflective or 'spontaneous', rational or non-rational - take place within the context of values, symbolic systems, beliefs and assumptions, all of which in effect positively define the possibilities and set the limits" (p. 16).  Thus, in order to understand all influences on policy, it is important to include examination of policymakers’ beliefs, values and assumptions, what he terms “frames of reference.”  Figueroa defines frames of reference as sets of assumptions that inform, orient, and determine the selection of actions.  These frames "guide and inform social action, and are themselves socially generated, learned, sustained and modified" (p. 28).  Among these are their social constructions of race.

            Central to social constructions of race and ethnicity, in Figueroa’s view, are "certain largely taken-for-granted understandings - which are shared by the in-group members, are closely associated with group identity, and provide as it were a basic 'backdrop' to perception, knowledge, judgment and action " (p. 30). He refers to these as the 'racist frame of reference' and the 'ethnicist frame of reference'.

            He notes that "Racism is not just a matter of an individual's beliefs or prejudices, but has to do with the way a group (at least implicitly) defines itself in counter-distinction to what it defines as 'out groups', and the way these ‘groups' relate to each other" (p. 31).  He points to stereotypes the English typically hold about West Indians, that they are good at music or games “by nature” but poor at scholastic subjects as an example of this.  In addition to interpersonal racism, Figueroa identifies institutional racism as the means by which society disadvantages certain groups, and structural racism as how society is articulated or structured according to race.

            In defining the concept of social reality, Figueroa contends that people act on the basis of how they see situations, or how they define these situations.  What matters is not the objective view of a situation, but instead what people believe is true.  Moreover, social reality is constructed by actors through interaction with others, and within the parameters of the given.  These frames of reference are maps of knowledge and or experiences that orient actors, and serve as part of the interpretational systems.  These frames are inherent to social interaction, through which they are constructed.

            Figueroa contends that "the myths and assumptions that serve in the modern world... in defining and structuring particular situations in terms of 'race' are the racist frames of reference” (p. 35).  In his view, these help define boundaries along which power is distributed, how social relations are patterned, how social interactions are accomplished, and the way the interpretive process occurs.  He adds that these racist frames of reference are: 

...a socially constructed and socially reproduced and learned way of orienting with and towards others and the world, involving ultimately tacit assumptions, such as: there do actually exist objectively different 'races'; these share 'by nature' (or genetically or inherently) certain common characteristics, including (or closely linked with) certain social characteristics; the different 'races' are mutually exclusive if not hierarchically ordered; each person belongs to one (and only one) such 'race', thereby possessing certain physical and cultural characteristics and typically occupying a certain social location (p. 35).

Race as a concept is thus generated via racist frames of references as well as through social relations.

            Figueroa’s definition of the racist frame of reference above provides specific examples of beliefs that may be pieces of an individual’s social construction of race.  However, racist frames of reference are not determined solely at the individual level.  In addition, he notes, "...the 'big event', 'public figures of prominence' and 'strong interest groups' play particularly important roles in determining and diffusing the racist frames of reference" (p. 36).  In Alaska, one of the “big events” that changed racist frames of reference was the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1991 (ANCSA).  ANCSA was an agreement between Natives and the U.S. Government that gave Native tribes in Alaska money and land, but via a system of state-chartered corporations rather than reservations (Morehouse, 1992).  Described in more detail in Chapter 4, ANCSA has become a central event in Native – non-Native relations in Alaska, with many non-Natives perceiving Natives as having great wealth and power from the settlement, and resenting Natives for this.

            In explaining how a racist frame of reference works, Figueroa states that it:

...permits the categorization, managing and ordering of the experienced world, and provides a simple, stable explanation of various social phenomena.  It thus also provides a simple basis for action, incorporating as it does a view of the world that is both a way of accounting and a value position.  It contributes significantly to the 'definition' of group identity and self-identity (p. 38). 

In this manner, a racist frame of reference helps define boundaries by which people within a society are divided and separated.

            These frames of reference affect society’s structure, providing "... a rationale for the existing order of institutionalized racism, and a simple justification for 'racially' exploitative social practices and arrangements” (p. 39).  Therefore, he adds, it serves to maintain unequal structures and so “serves the interests of the privileged classes, of those who hold power.  It serves to produce and reproduce inequality, thus enhancing the freedom of some and limiting that of others" (ibid.).  There is for the most part a circular, mutually reinforcing relationship between the racist power structure and racist frames of reference.  The racist frame of reference both emerges from and underpins certain forms of social relations.  While Figueroa provides a useful overview of how race impacts social relationships, he doesn’t directly address policymaking issues.  He critiques a major educational policy report from Britain, but does not discuss the process by which decisions included in it were made.

            Carter and Goodwin (1994) review literature on race and racial identity theory in education.  They argue that racial identity attitudes can affect how programs are devised to foster the educational achievement of students.  These attitudes are the “thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward oneself as a member of a racial group and toward members of (another) racial group” (p. 308). They posit that the major social scientific paradigms shaping education for non-White children have, in part, been influenced by the racial identity development of White educators themselves.

            Carter and Goodwin define three paradigms regarding race that have shaped social interactions and educational policies for members of racial and ethnic groups: inferiority, cultural deprivation, and cultural difference paradigms.  These have changed over time as conceptions of race have evolved.

            The inferiority paradigm is based on the assumption that racial and ethnic minorities are genetically inferior as compared to whites.  Although such genetic arguments were dismissed by scientists long ago, this paradigm continues to resurface --witness The Bell Curve (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994).  The cultural deprivation paradigm adds a sociological meaning to race, again comparing racial and ethnic minorities to Whites in order to demonstrate the ways in which they are deviant or deprived, assumption of superiority of white, middle-class culture.  Programs like Head Start, Chapter 1 were designed in this paradigm, to compensate for the "deficiency" of minority cultures.

            The cultural difference paradigm is supposed to get away from negative connotations of deprivation or inferiority.  It is based on the idea that racial, cultural and language differences have a profound impact on the schooling experiences of minority children and on interracial interactions.  This paradigm has served as the basis for the development of multicultural education and culturally responsive pedagogy.  However, Carter and Goodwin note, this paradigm still has its roots in the assumption that white is the dominant culture, and the burden of change continues to rest on those who are racial and ethnic minorities.  In fact, some educators view racial and cultural difference as a problem to be overcome, and that these differences are based solely within the culture of the minority.  Moreover, the cultural difference perspective tends to define the cultures of racial and ethnic groups as monolithic.

            Carter and Goodwin argue that humans each understand the world from our own level of racial identification and perspective--human behavior occurs through psychological filter of racial identity.  They note that the implications of this are significant for education, both in terms of behavior and the decisions that are made.  In their one reference to policy, they posit that the racial identity development of policymakers may influence the decisions they make.  Using unequal distribution of funding as an example, Carter and Goodwin suggest that if these policymakers have low levels of development (meaning they haven’t confronted their own racism), then they may perceive non-White children as inferior and educationally deficient, and therefore as undeserving of more resources.  However, they fail to propose how this hypothesis might be investigated.

            Like Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995), McCarthy and Critchlow (1993) contend that there is a tendency to under-theorize race; many conceptions of racial inequality are essentialist and reductionist, eliminating the complexity of the multidimensionality, historical variability and subjectivity from explanations of racial difference in education.  These are essentialist because of the tendency to treat racial groups as stable or homogeneous, and as possessing innate, invariant set of characteristics distinguishing them from each other and whites.  They are also reductionist because they often locate the source of racial differences in schooling in a single variable or cause, leading to linear, monocausal models or explanations that omit political, cultural and economic contexts within which racial groups exist in schools and society.

            McCarthy and Critchlow contend that examination of the institutional and social context is critical to understanding how racial inequality operates in education.  However, they don’t extend their discussion to the policymaking arena.  Unless we look beyond the boundaries of schools and address policy formation and analysis, schools will be hampered by policies that turn a blind eye to racial issues.

The Social Construction of Target Populations

            I looked to political science literature to try to make this connection.  A promising theory is one recently proposed by Schneider and Ingram (1993), the “social construction of target populations.”  Schneider and Ingram posit that the characterization or image of policy targets--those persons or groups whose behavior and well-being are affected by public policy--is socially constructed and correlated with the kinds of policies created.  Schneider and Ingram argue that the social construction of target populations has a powerful influence on public officials, shaping both the policy agenda and the actual design of policy.  These constructions are held both by policy makers and by the general public, and they affect not only policy formulation but also how the public responds to policy decisions--whether they approve or disapprove.  Schneider and Ingram divide these constructions into four categories in a matrix, depending on whether the groups are viewed positively or negatively and whether they are powerful--economically, socially or politically--or weak.

Figure 1
Social Constructions and Political Power: Types of Target Populations [4]









The elderly




The rich

Big unions


Cultural elites

Moral majority










Drug addicts


Flag burners


            For example, K-12 students are viewed positively, but have little or no political power, while unions may be viewed negatively, but are perceived as having a lot of power. Convicted criminals are viewed negatively and lack political power.  Schneider and Ingram posit that some elements of design, in particular the policy tools used and the policy rationales offered, will differ depending on the social construction and the political power of the target population. For positively constructed target groups, then, policymakers face public pressure and are inclined themselves to provide beneficial policies, e.g. financial incentives and rewards, while for groups that are negatively constructed, external pressures and personal inclinations lean toward devising punitive, punishment-oriented policies.  Policy tools for dependent groups, like children in poverty, will differ from those for advantaged groups, like businesses.  The former may be given subsidies, but suffer from eligibility requirements that result in the labeling and stigmatizing of recipients, as well as paternalistic policies, while the latter is approached with policy tools emphasizing capacity building, inducements and entitlements. 

            The social constructions held by individuals and the public at large can remain constant, but are also subject to debate and manipulation.  For example, they point out that people with HIV were once constructed as socially deviant gay men being punished for choosing a different lifestyle.  However, with the identification of many diverse people who are HIV positive, including children and celebrities, general perceptions have changed.  At the same time constructions of gay people in general have shifted towards greater acceptance, although much bias and discrimination remains.

            Indeed, social constructions often conflict and are subject to contention.  For instance, poor persons may be simultaneously viewed sympathetically, and as deserving of assistance, and negatively, and as personally responsible for their economic conditions, depending on the political and social perspective of the "constructor".

            Political expediency plays a role in the development of policymakers’ social constructions of target populations.  Schneider and Ingram contend that "Officials develop maps of target populations based on both the stereotypes they themselves hold and those they believe to prevail among that segment of the public likely to become important to them" (p. 336).  For example, in the current political climate, policymakers changed their constructions of single parents on welfare from positive but weak to negative and weak.  This resulted in their no longer supporting policies that enable a single mother to stay at home with a young child , and instead mandating that all parents who were on AFDC (now TANF) work, regardless of the child’s age.  This would enable them to retain the support of a public that now perceives public aid recipients negatively.

            Schneider and Ingram offer one example of how the social construction of target populations overlaps directly with the social construction of race.  They note that there are persons who view minorities as members of oppressed populations who are deserving of policies appropriate to helping them improve their position, whereas others portray minorities as being powerful special interests who are undeserving of government aid.  In fact, these distinctions mirror those I found among Alaskans legislators.  The authors do not, however, tie their example to policymakers’ social constructions of race; my research represents an effort to do this.

Combining the Theories

            Schneider and Ingram argue that social constructions of target populations are measurable, empirical phenomena which can be ascertained from interviews and surveys as well as through the study of texts, statutes, media, speeches and so on.  Indeed, they note that “there has been no research on the social constructions of target populations from the perspective of elected officials” (p. 336).  This gap needs to be filled.

            Often, racially defined groups and policy target populations overlap, especially in education.  Many policies are explicitly designed to address racial issues, as in desegregation efforts and multicultural education.  However, Schneider and Ingram fail to address how racial constructs interact with policymakers' social constructions of target populations.  I propose that when a policy target group is defined in part as a racial group, policymakers' social construction of race is central to their social construction of the target population.  Thus, it follows that understanding policymakers’ social constructions of race should be part of any effort to analyze policy decisionmaking.

            Schneider and Ingram’s failure to address racial attitudes and constructions explicitly is not surprising, given the current political climate.  Like Winant (1994), Prager (1987) argues that the issue of race is not a central or explicit concern in American political discourse.  It has been in the past, during times such as the Civil War and abolition movement, and the Civil Rights movement.  Each time the "racial' problem" has arisen, it has been the focus for a debate on the meaning of the American community and the community's values.  The current silence on race, he argues, is a response both to the achievements of the Civil Rights movement and also to what the public views as its excesses.  A result of the Civil Rights movement, public life could no longer be organized around ascriptive categories of race.  While it is hard to determine whether personal attitudes have really changed, or just public convention, the result has been that "...race, as a category of public analysis - even as talk among friends - becomes suspect... Efforts to comprehend and to explain the world, where possible, are now done though social categories other than racial ones" (p. 65).  He argues that this restraint is not due to a lack of awareness of race and racial division, but rather to the lack of an appropriate public language with which the issue can be openly discussed.

            Like the sociologists reviewed earlier, Prager argues that race is a "collective" or "social representation."  He notes that "the shifting meaning of race is a function of its negotiated and contingent public character..." and adds "The specific historical meaning of race cannot be understood without referring to the dominant political-cultural tradition though which race is viewed and expressed and through which racial policy is formulated" (p. 77).

            This dissertation explicitly discusses the role of race and racial attitudes in policy analysis and decisionmaking on a micro level.  It also pays attention to context, examining the social and historical influences on social constructions of racially defined target populations in education policymaking.  To inform this work, I have taken a transdisciplinary approach, merging theories across sociology and political science to create a framework for my research.

Education Policy Sociology

            By using theories from multiple disciplines and qualitative research, the research presented here falls into the realm of “policy sociology,” which Ozga (1987) argues can bridge the gap between often a-theoretical research on education administration and policy and the more abstract, theoretical nature of educational sociology. The field of education policy research was inhabited mostly by non-sociologists until the 1970s. Prior to this time, it was comprised mostly of specialists in educational administration and social policy (Ozga, 1987).  Moreover, education was not a central topic of study among political scientists and policy studies specialists until recently.  At the same time, the narrow focus of education research specialists resulted in these scholars missing many of the new theories and methods arising in general policy studies (Raab, 1994).

            In the last two decades there has been an attack on technocratic methods of policy analysis, and increased agreement on the need for value-critical methods in the field that carefully scrutinize the value implications of the basic assumptions and concepts held by decisionmakers (Boyd, 1988; Ozga, 1987; Raab, 1994; Marshall, 1997).  The emerging field of education policy sociology, as described by Raab (1994) attempts this:

Although methods and subjects vary, policy sociologists examine the relationship between process and product, and between motive and action.  In each case, however, knowledge of the former is to be gained empirically and not on the basis of inference from the latter or by deduction from grand theory.  Hence the importance of going beyond the public pronouncements of 'policy makers' and actually talking to them, for meanings and 'assumptive worlds' are essential parts of the policy process and require to be understood if action itself is to be understood (p. 24).

Raab argues that social science, ethnography, statistical and historical analysis and macro-political theorizing have complementary values - researchers now are interested "by getting inside institutions, relationships and discourses in order to understand the exercise of power" (p. 21).  It is within this micro level that I am working, in an attempt to expand understandings of the influence of social constructions of race and of racially identified target populations on the decisions made by those in power. 

            Marshall (1997) argues that new approaches to policy analysis are needed, given that positivism has been abandoned, it has been recognized both that policymaking is not rational deliberation and that reality is socially constructed.  She argues that “If policymaking is embedded with values conflicts and ethical and philosophical debates, we need policy analysis that identifies interpretations, that clarifies values stances and the modes of access and action in policy communities” (Marshall, 1997, p. 8). She further contends that policy researchers “must identify the value-laden and various interpretations of …insiders, studying politics from the inside, uncovering evaluative presumptions and policymakers’ theoretical premises and actions” (p. 10).  My research represents an effort to undertake these new approaches.


            In this chapter, I laid out the theories that inform my dissertation, as well as where these works fail to guide me.  In the next chapter, I describe my research methodology.  My research is centered on talking with policymakers to uncover their meanings and assumptions--their social constructions of racially defined target populations.

Chapter 3: Methods and Setting

            This study investigates the role of race in policymakers’ social constructions of target populations, and the impact of these constructions on the policy decisions.  It extends the theory of the social construction of target populations by arguing that social constructions of race or ethnicity are central to these constructions.  Specifically, I examined whether it is possible to a) uncover non-Native education policymakers’ social constructions of Alaska Natives, including their attitudes and beliefs about race and ethnicity; and b) identify connections between these constructions and policy decisions.  In this chapter, I discuss methodological issues, first describing the case I chose, and then the population I studied.  I also include a discussion of difficulties in the data collection process.

The Case is the Constructions

            The case in my study is the social constructions of Alaska Natives as target populations held by non-Native education policymakers in the Alaska State Legislature.  The boundaries of the case are the boundaries of the constructions, as are defined further in later chapters.  The population of policymakers I am using in my study includes the members of the Health, Education and Social Services (HESS) committees of the Alaska State House of Representatives and the State Senate.  As I will describe later, this population is not meant to be representative of all persons who fall under the moniker of state education policymakers.  However, this group fits the requirements of this particular study.

Why Case Study

            Case study is appropriate here, since it is a method for building theory as well as for looking at the particular phenomenon in which I am interested (Eisenhardt, 1989).  Uncovering social constructions requires getting at policymakers’ beliefs about who Alaska Natives are, and what they feel are the best or most appropriate education policies for these peoples.  However, while this seems like a task that might be accomplished via some sort of survey instrument, it is far more complex and tricky.  Attitudes can’t be understood without being placed in a socio-historical context; as several of the theorists cited previously noted, social constructions of race are highly contextual and evolve over time.  Accessing this context requires investigation into the social and political history of Alaska, as well as use of multiple resources from different academic disciplines, including anthropology, history, political science and sociology.

            Yin (1989) defines the case study as an empirical inquiry investigating a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; having boundaries between phenomenon and context that are not clear; and using multiple sources of evidence.  Certainly, this is a study of a contemporary issue, with the phenomenon being influenced by context, and with multiple sources of evidence--interviews, document and policy analysis, and historical works--being utilized.  Survey research methods or document analysis alone would not provide the rich, complex data necessary to conduct this study.  Darling-Hammond (1990) adds that case study methodology allows for in-depth study of policy decisions, and close scrutiny of how these decisions play out at the local level.  While I did not conduct a detailed study of specific policy decisions, I did look for relationships between policymakers’ positions on educational policies and their constructions of Native peoples as target populations.

            Ragin (1992) argues that “a case may be theoretical or empirical or both; it may be a relatively bounded object or a process; and it may be generic or universal or specific in some way” (p. 3).  Using his conceptual map for defining a case, I contend that this study is both empirical and theoretical; it is an attempt to identify empirically what has to this point only been a theoretical construct.  In other words, Schneider and Ingram (Schneider & Ingram, 1993) have proposed the existence of policymakers’ social constructions of target populations, but note that these constructions have not been empirically documented or analyzed.  This is what I have done.  Thus, I fit into Ragin’s “Cases are Made” category, which he describes as follows:

...researchers in this [category] see cases as specific theoretical constructs which coalesce in the course of the research.  Neither empirical nor given, they are gradually imposed on empirical evidence as they take shape in the course of the research... Interaction between ideas and evidence results in a progressive refinement of the case conceived as a theoretical construct... Constructing cases does not entail determining their empirical limits...but rather pinpointing and then demonstrating their theoretical significance (p. 10).

            The research was conducted primarily through one-on-one interviews, enhanced by document analysis (e.g. written records of policy debates, legislation, newspapers).  It is important to use interviews and discussions because, as Desimone (1993) points out, language is an important factor in the development of racial constructs.  How people talk about race can indicate their attitudes, prejudices and socialization toward racial issues.  Schneider and Ingram (1993), in fact, posit that policymakers' social constructions of target populations can be ascertained from interviews and surveys as well as through the study of texts, statutes, media, speeches and so on.  Moreover, interview material is very rich source of information which can reveal complexities and contradictions in the internal structures of educational policy-making that macro-level studies miss or gloss over (Ozga, 1987).  Finally, as Wolcott (1992) notes, "Through informant interviewing, we learn about institutionalized norms and statuses" (p. 21).  These norms certainly influence policymakers’ constructions.

            Ball (1994), reflecting on interviews with policymakers, argues that data collected this way is polyvocal.  First, it presents the stories or accounts of what happened, or the ‘how’ of policymaking.  Second, the data is discourse: “ ways of talking about and conceptualizing policy, the discourses which speak policy and speak the actors...the assertions, judgments, axioms and interpretations of actors are central here...” (p. 109).  He calls this the ‘why’ of policy, which illuminates the knowledge that provides justification or explanation for the choice of certain policy solutions over others.  In this “why” I am hoping to find the influence of social constructions.  Ball also offers a third voice of the data, the interest representation.  It illuminates the structural and relational constraints and influences within and on the policymaking process, the 'because' of policymaking.  This is another way of describing the contemporary context within which policymakers make decisions.  These circumstances influence social constructions, including public perceptions.

            Ball thus argues for using interviews with policymakers, as these "can clearly illuminate the ways in which 'possibilities' are framed and articulated in relation to specific areas of policy" (p. 118).  He also cautions against ignoring the context framing these decisions, e.g., economic forces and dominant modes of political rationality.  Thus such research needs to be contextualized... "It is the interplay between figure and landscape that is important theoretically and empirically" (p. 118).  I have situated my research in the historical and political context, incorporating references to key political events and prior examples of policymaker constructions.

            Wieviorka (1992) argues that historical and sociological approaches can be combined in one case, and can complement each other.  However, he cautions that the two approaches should be combined without being confused.  In my case study, the sociological analysis has no meaning if it is not placed in a historical context.  The social constructions held by policymakers, as noted before, are mediated and influenced by changing conceptions in the broader population, which are in part affected by political events (Schneider & Ingram, 1993).  Moreover, constructions change over time, in response to many factors, as do racial constructions (Lopez, 1994; Omi & Winant, 1994).

The Sample and the Setting

            As noted previously, I selected state legislators on the Health, Education and Social Services (HESS) committees of the Alaska State House and Senate as the population whose constructions I wished to study.  State education policymakers can include a broad range of people, including state board of education members, state department of education staff, and the governor.  However, in focusing on legislators, I looked at people whose primary focus is not program implementation, but rather the framing and adoption of policies.  Moreover, in Alaska, the State Board of Education and Commissioner of Education are appointed by the Governor, and are thus directly accountable to the Governor as opposed to the public.  Legislators, in contrast, are elected representatives.  Thus, if I wanted to explore Schneider and Ingram’s contention that policymakers’ constructions are influenced in part by the public at large, it was more appropriate to look at people who are allegedly accountable to and representative of the public.

            My selection of this sample of policymakers did not result from an attempt to find a perfectly representative group of decisionmakers.  Indeed, there is no such thing; each legislative body or set of policymakers is unique to its setting.  However, representation is not a critical goal or need in my research.  Platt (1992) argues that cases should be chosen for particular intellectual purposes as opposed to traditional notions of representative samples.  She notes that “the cases on which data are directly collected may be used to represent others in a variety of ways which do not involve any logic of sampling” (p. 42).  Moreover, she adds, “There is a long tradition outside sociology of treating particular individuals or groups (monarchs, priesthoods, the proletariat) as in some special sense containing the essence of a situation; in substantive theorizing this would go with such ideas as hegemony, center (as opposed to periphery), or the great society” (p. 43).

            Wieviorka (1992) adds that "...a case may serve to signal the presence, in a historical experience, of a simple element or particular characteristic that the social scientist wants to bring to light and that constitutes an analytical category... a case may selected for what it represents in an abstract or theoretical construction" (p. 161).  Similarly, Eisenhardt (1989) contends that cases can be chosen for theoretical reasons, a process she calls theoretical sampling.  For instance, cases can be selected to extend emergent theory.  In this study, I am documenting a specific set of social constructions of target populations, and tying them to policy decisions, as opposed to defining what they are in all cases,.  I’m using one group to describe how one might understand the essence of the phenomenon.  My population is just one of any number that could serve for this research.

            In discussing how knowledge generated by case studies can be used, Stake (1994) notes that "People find in case reports certain insights into the human condition, even while they are well aware of the atypicality of the case" (p. 241).  Thus, the case study is not generalizable in the statistical sense, but rather gives clues about what might be going on elsewhere.  Stake describes three kinds of case studies: intrinsic, instrumental and collective.  An instrumental case study is one in which  "a particular case is examined to provide insight into an issue or refinement of theory.  The case is of secondary interest; it plays a supportive role, facilitating our understanding of something else... The choice of case is made because it is expected to advance our understanding of that other interest" (p. 237).  While I chose this case out of a specific interest in the phenomena I observed in Alaska, the context of my interest was much broader.  I am interested in how policy is made and can be improved.  The theories under investigation could easily be applied to many other cases; however, this particular case led me to the questions I asked.

            State policymakers are an appropriate group to study because educational policymaking, at least in the area of broad programmatic decisions and budgetary controls, is located at the state level, not the federal or local level (Mitchell, 1988).  Mitchell comments that "Reformed state legislatures are widely perceived to be the most powerful actors in educational policy making" (p. 453).  He adds that while there is a lot of decision-making on the local level, there was in the 1970s and 1980s "a substantial reduction in local control over program structure, funding levels, and patterns of expenditure" (p. 454).  Even with the current popularity of decentralization and local control initiatives like charter schools, states retain authority over standards, regulations and budgets (Datnow, Hirshberg, & Wells, 1994).

            Alaska provides a nice setting for my research because there is only one “minority” population of significant size, Alaska Natives.  In 1992, out of a total population of 570,000, 77% or 438,900 Alaskans were English-speaking Caucasians, 15.1 percent or 86,000 were indigenous Natives, although they comprised 21% of the school-age population, and the remainder were African-American (3 percent), Asian/Pacific Islanders (2 percent) and "others" (just under 2%) (Darnell & Hoem, 1996).

            Many issues in the state are often framed in “Native - White” or “Native - non-Native” terms, and emotions run high around these issues.  Because of the demographics, Alaska also offers in some ways a simpler setting than elsewhere in the U.S., and perhaps, because of the long-standing controversies around Native rights and “Indian Country” a more stark setting.  Of course, my initial reasons for selecting Alaska weren’t this logical, but serendipitously, it worked in my interest.

Data Collection

            I interviewed all but one member of the HESS committees from the 1995-1996 legislative term, a total of eleven legislators (all of the members of the HESS committee during this term were Caucasian).  In addition, I spoke with five current and former members of the State Board of Education, both Native and non-Native, the Commissioner of Education and several of her top level staff, Native legislators and legislative staff, and two top Native advisors to the Governor.  These additional interviews provided context and perspective for my study.  The interviews with Native persons, in particular, served both as guides for my analyses and examples of the diverse perspectives among Native peoples. 

            Each interview was conducted in a semi-structured format, and lasted in general between forty-five minutes and one hour.  A couple of them were shorter, due to legislators’ time constraints.  For the most part, I spoke with legislators in their legislative offices in Juneau, although I traveled to Fairbanks to interview two who were not available during the legislative session.  I interviewed the other respondents in a variety of settings, ranging from their offices to restaurants and coffee shops.  I spoke with most of the Board of Education members in Anchorage, during a multi-day meeting which I observed.  The Superintendent, her staff and the other respondents were in Juneau for the legislative session I attended. The interview protocol I used is attached as Appendix A.  I developed it using questions that arose from several sources, including my readings, the protocols used in the detracking study, and protocols used by Dr. Karen Noorhardt, a Portland State professor, in her study of non-Native teachers’ perceptions of Alaska Native students. 

            In the course of my visits to Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks, I observed public education meetings and legislative debates, collected newspaper articles, and conducted research in the State Archives in Juneau.  In Fairbanks, I searched the University of Alaska library collection of state historical documents.  Since these visits, I have searched the on-line legislative archives for copies of legislation, and I’ve utilized on-line and CD-ROM services to obtain journal and newspaper articles from both the mainstream press and the Alaska Native press.

Analyzing the Data

            My first task was transcribing all of the interviews I conducted, both from the policymakers and other respondents.  Next, as I read the interviews I developed a coding scheme to capture the common issues that arose, and developed lists of items that seem to comprise policymakers’ constructions of Natives and attitudes about issues, e.g., “not having a work ethic,” “deserving subsistence rights,” “supporting bilingual education” or “opposing rural schools.”  Some of these are descriptions of characteristics (beliefs that Natives are non- lack motivation), while others were political or social beliefs (opposition to funding for rural education, support for programs to hire Native teachers). 

            These items were placed into “conceptually clustered matrixes” (Miles & Huberman, 1984, p. 111) so that I could lay out the elements of the social constructions.  I also developed a “checklist matrix” (Miles & Huberman, 1984, p. 95) with information on the legislators, such as their background, political party, length of residence in Alaska and so forth, and to see if patterns in the conceptual matrix matched any patterns in these characteristics.  In addition, I examined the history and contemporary context of two specific policy debates, bilingual education and funding for rural education, to illuminate the attitudes of the policymakers in light of their constructions of Natives.

            While analyzing the interview data, I compiled other data, including transcripts of  policy debates, newspaper stories, and voting records on specific legislation.  I contextualized all of this information within the historic, social and political context of Native – non-Native relations, which is described in the following chapter.  This work helped inform my interpretation of the legislators’ words.

            Stake (1994) notes that "Triangulation has been generally considered a process of using multiple perceptions to clarify meaning, verifying the repeatability of an observation or interpretation.  But, acknowledging that no observations or interpretations are perfectly repeatable, triangulation serves also to clarify meaning by identifying different ways the phenomenon is being seen" (p. 241).  Trying to get the viewpoints of others to support or challenge my interpretations, I utilized the interviews I conducted with Native "informants" and also with non-Native experts in education policy in Alaska. 

Difficulties in the data collection process

            The primary interview data I collected for my dissertation has some holes in it.  This is a natural result of studying “elites” in a real policy setting, rather than working in a controllable, experimental situation.  However, it has resulted in me not having comparable information across all questions for all legislators. Thus, I cannot address all policy issues or perceptions equally for all subjects.  Below, I detail some of the problems I faced as I collected my data:

1)                  Policymakers didn’t answer all the questions posed during interviews. 

When I asked specific questions of the legislators, I didn’t necessarily get responses to them.  In one case, the legislator started talking about his views on education before I asked any questions.  When I finally was able to pose questions, he went off on long tangents, and often did not answer the question I had asked.  At the same time, he didn’t give me much opportunity to revisit topics he had ignored.  I had similar experiences with other respondents, although not to this degree.  Walford (1994) discusses this problem: "Politicians and senior government officials are well versed in controlling any information they provide, and present considerable difficulties in decoding the views expressed" (Walford, 1994, p. 5).

2)         The circumstances weren’t always under my control.

I planned my primary research visit to coincide with the legislative session.  Because the legislature was in session, I was able to find all of the legislators in one location, Juneau.  However, they weren’t all available to meet—two legislators repeatedly postponed my appointments, and I ended up interviewing them at a later date, on a separate trip to Fairbanks.  In addition, although I set up individual interviews with each legislator, two decided to combine their interviews.  Although I ended up speaking with each individually, one right after the other, the time I had with each was shortened.  Another individual double scheduled me with appointments with lobbyists.  He was in addition a reluctant participant, claiming to be someone who focuses more on health care than education issues.  Our discussion was interrupted many times by lobbyists and staff, and was ended abruptly by a call to session.  In these instances, I was unable to ask all of my prepared questions.  Fitz and Halpin (1994), in a study of education ministers in Britain, faced similar problems.  They noted, "One attribute of the powerful is that they are able to make you wait and thus determine the organization and the pace of research" (p. 34).

3)         I wasn’t in a position of power in the interviews, and was in fact intimidated in a couple of them.

One interview, which was conducted in Fairbanks, was with someone I knew to be difficult and even hostile towards some researchers (I had met another student doing research during the legislative session, and she described very difficult encounters with him).  The interview was conducted in his office, where I sat on a couch that had a wolf hide flung over the back – the setting alone made me uncomfortable.  In addition, his wife was in the office during the interview at her desk at the other end of the room.  I felt less able to challenge him with her to back him up.  Finally, he was gruff and unfriendly, and often short in his answers.  I was not therefore comfortable pursuing touchy issues in depth.  There were other legislators who definitely spoke “down” to me, rather than with me.  They seemed to approach our discussions as an opportunity to educate me, as opposed to helping me uncover what I sought.  These were often the same people who gave me their opinions without my asking questions.  This wasn’t always a problem, however; they certainly expressed their attitudes about Natives even in this mode.

4)         In contrast, there were some legislators with whom I felt very comfortable. 

            I have friends in common with all of the Democratic legislators—it’s a small state!  Indeed, I was told that one legislator phoned our mutual friend immediately after our conversation to discuss me with her.  Moreover, in general my personal beliefs about politics and society are much more in line with those held by these individuals than they are with the Republican legislators.  It is hard to know the extent to which this was clear in our interviews, and to what degree this might have biased what they said.  Certainly some of the Republican legislators thought that I shared their perspectives; one even said as much.  Still, I think that I was more careful to hide my differences from legislators than my concurrence.

            Batteson and Ball (1995) note that members of elite policy communities can be “occupationally manipulative, periodically selective and sometimes aggressively deceptive: appropriators of truth, facts, objective reality and recall nonpareil” (p. 202).  They add, “In entering the back lanes of policy processes sociologists need to attend to the ways in which informants skillfully deploy tactics absorbed from the socio-cultural world that they inhabit and within which they are contained” (p. 202-3).  By this they mean “… the way respondents are confident in regulating openness…can invalidate lines of inquiry…deflect the inappropriate…” and in general manipulate the interview process (p. 203).  They caution that the messages given by policy elites in work with researchers are “rooted in a frame of power” (ibid.).

            Thus, as I looked over the interviews, I needed to be cognizant of not only what policymakers told me, but how.  Did they answer the questions I asked?  Does it sound like they were giving me a straightforward answer, or does it appear that they were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear?  Fortunately, in Alaska it seems that the policymakers are pretty straightforward, and less “slick” than their counterparts elsewhere.  I was occasionally surprised at what they said, including comments that would be considered inflammatory elsewhere.  Still, Batteson and Ball’s caution pointed to the importance of triangulating my findings, by checking what the legislators told me against their votes or any public comments in the media.

            There are other broad issues around my research that I think are important to discuss.  Ozga and Gewirtz (1994) address some of the ethical issues that arise as researchers work to get access to elites and then figure out how to present themselves to their interview subjects.  In one of their studies of elites, Ozga and Gewirtz gave their subjects a description of their study that neither included their theoretical orientation nor described the project in Marxist sociological terms; rather, they described the research in a broader manner that also flattered their subjects.

            Likewise, I felt that I could not state to the legislators that I was trying to discover their social constructs or even that I was researching racial attitudes, for fear of biasing their responses to my questions.  It certainly is true that I am looking at decisionmaking around Native education issues, as I told them, but I gave no indication of my underlying theoretical framework.  This in some cases also led to problems whereby the legislators seemed frustrated, because I wouldn’t tell them specifically what I needed to know, or why I wanted to speak with them as opposed to other educators.

            Ozga and Gewirtz also discuss the image they present to their subjects:

…there is a particular ethical issue here, in relation to our presentation of ourselves and our project: we presented ourselves as unthreatening and rather innocent, and compounded the problem by engaging in a social relationship.  We do not know the extent to which this is a shared problem in researching education policy; we feel we cannot be the only researchers who have presented themselves in this way, or given a diluted version of their intentions in order to gain access (Ozga & Gewirtz, 1994, p. 130).

I did present myself as being rather naïve about Native education issues and interested in learning from the perspectives of the legislators, which resulted at times in the problem described above, legislators talking down to me.  Ozga and Gewirtz describe how in their research they were seen as women from a stereotypical perspective, and “thus fell ‘naturally’ into the role of attentive listener.  We were assumed to be receptive and sympathetic and colluded with that version of ourselves because it was productive for the project” (p. 132).   Likewise, I sometimes simply smiled and nodded when legislators made comments that I disagreed with, in the interest of maintaining a friendly atmosphere in the interview.  I am not sure whether this resulted in “better” data than I would have gathered had I challenged what was said to me, but I did not feel empowered to take this alternate tact.

Also, while I did not socialize with the legislators, I shared mutual acquaintances with the three Democratic legislators, and so, as noted earlier, the tone of these interviews was significantly different from that with the others.  Ozga and Gewirtz conclude that they were compromised as Marxists and feminists by not making their perspectives clear to their informants and by allowing themselves to be patronized by these people.  However, they noted that such actions are common in research: “many researchers simplify or moderate their explanations of their intentions, and select a presentation of self which will reassure the audience and assist in the enquiry.  These are compromises that we all make if we are at all self-conscious about our presence in the research” (p. 133).  While I accept this compromise, I do so with much concern and uncertainty about it.

Finally, this research emerged from a personal interest and perspective on equity, race and education.  I am biased toward supporting the rights of indigenous peoples, I believe in working toward social justice and equity in education, and I cannot pretend that I am approaching this research in a value-neutral fashion, nor do I feel that I should.

Ozga and Gewirtz are concerned that researchers in education policy for the most part tend to be neither explicit nor reflexive about the theories and values that underlie their work.  They argue that there is a need to examine the research process in a theorized, self-conscious way, by interrogating theoretical hunches and related concepts while exploring policy.  At the same time they promote reflexivity about the relationship between theory and values.

Use of a critical frame or critical theory requires a researcher “to pursue ethical research principles and to assess research activity in relation to what might be broadly termed social justice concerns” (Ozga & Gewirtz, 1994, p. 122).  Likewise, critical race theorists argue for research that is explicitly committed to social justice and the elimination of racism (Solorzano, 1997; Solarzano, 1998).  My research is intended to improve the quality of education policymaking by making explicit the influences of racial constructs on the decisionmaking process, which hopefully will lead to better education systems for all students.

            This research falls squarely within the critical frame, because it has social justice concerns.  Ozga and Gewirtz see research contributing to the goals of a critical frame in three ways:

First, it can draw attention to, and challenge, the assumptions informing policy and it can expose the effects of policy on the ground, in particular where policies increase inequality and impact unfairly on particular groups.  Second, research can set out to explain how injustices and inequalities are produced, reproduced and sustained.  Third… research can provide a basis for the development of strategies of social transformation (p. 123).

            Hopefully this work will accomplish all three goals.  Before I discuss the historic and contemporary contexts framing my work, I will briefly describe my study population, members of the Alaska State Legislature Senate and Assembly Health, Education and Social Services Committees.

·        Representative Matt Allen (D) is a white male in his early 30s.  He was born in Alaska, but was raised in the South.  At age eighteen he returned to Alaska to attend college.  He works as a laborer in construction.  His district encompasses an urban interior community.

·        Senator Tim Rogers (D) is a white male in his mid-thirties.  He was born in the midwest, and his family moved to Alaska when he was in high school.  He worked as a legislative aide, and currently runs a wholesale gift business.  His district is in Anchorage.

·        Senator Nancy Greenway (D) is a white female in her late 40s.  She was born in a northern central state.  She spent a year in Nome in her late teens, and then moved to Alaska when she was twenty-one.  She was a teacher for twenty years, and served as the president of a state teachers organization.  Her district is in Anchorage.

·        Representative Bob Forman (R) is a white male in his late 50s.  He was born in a northern central state.  He first worked in Alaska in the early 1960s, and then moved there permanently in the late 1960s.  He has been a teacher, professor and commercial pilot.  His district includes suburban and “semi-rural” communities near Anchorage.

·        Senator Sally Longworth (R) is a white female in her late 50s.  She was born in the South and moved to Alaska in the early 1960s.  She is a private business owner and taught special education for many years.  Her district covers a suburban area near Anchorage.

·        Senator Bill Walters (R) is a white male in his mid-40s.  He represents the community in which he was born, a suburban to semi-rural part of interior Alaska.  He is the owner and manager of a tourist attraction.

·        Representative Alan Gray (R) is a white male in his early 50s.  He was born in the Pacific Northwest, and his family moved to Alaska when he was in high school.   He has been a program director and business manager for a Native association, and runs a construction firm.  His district includes suburban and semi-rural communities on the Kenai Peninsula.

·        Senator Roger Silven (R) is a white male in his mid 40s.  He was born in Alaska and grew up in a suburb of Anchorage.  He is a civil engineer and a private businessman.  He represents a residential portion of Anchorage.  His background includes distant Native ancestry.

·        Representative Lois Andrews (R) is a white female in her early 60s.  She was born in the Northeast and migrated to Alaska in the late 1950s.  She is a registered nurse, and also works in the tourist industry.  Her district is in Anchorage.

·        Representative Hugh Gannett (R) is a white male in his mid-50s.  His family moved to Alaska when he was three years old.  He is a commercial real estate broker.  His district is in Anchorage.

·        Representative George Leonard (R) is a white male in his late 40s.  He was born in the deep south, and moved to Alaska in the early 1970s.  He is a general contractor, and represents an urban community in the interior of Alaska.

The Alaska State Legislature is divided into two houses, a lower house, the House of Representatives, which has 40 members, and an upper house, the Senate, with 20 members.  Each house district includes about 15,000 constituents, while senators represent approximately 30,000 residents.  House terms are two years long, and Senate terms last four years.  During the term I conducted my research, the Republicans held the majority in both houses of the legislature, while the Democrats controlled the executive branch.

All of the legislators on the Health Education and Social Services (HESS) committees in both houses were white the year I was there. [5]   They all represented communities that are “on the road system,” meaning that they are accessible by highway from Anchorage and Fairbanks, and considered either urban or suburban (although a couple of legislators described portions of their districts as being “semi-rural”).  All but one of the committee members (a House member) agreed to speak with me for the dissertation; the member who did not was a white female from an urban community.

Omi and Winant (1994) suggest that it is necessary to understand the history of racial formations and their context to interpret the present.  In the next chapter I provide a short overview of the history of Native - non-Native relationships in Alaska, including the development of public schooling in the state, and some of the early non-Native policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives.

Chapter 4: Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples

            Ragin and Hein (1993) argue that: "Race and ethnicity are historically shaped in the sense that a claim to a racial or ethnic identity also can be considered a claim to a collective history" (p. 256).  “Alaska Native,” and the major sub-groupings of Alaska Natives, are now considered ethnic or racial identities because of the annexation of Alaska to the United States, and because of Natives’ interactions with non-Natives. [6]   However, the American Indian/Alaska Native moniker, or terms like Eskimo, Aleut and Tlingit are not traditional designators or long-standing identities among the Native peoples themselves, but rather identities that emerged from political, economic and social changes.

            This shift in identity is not surprising.  Cultural identity is not a fixed phenomenon, but rather is continually reshaped in response to external factors and everyday experiences (Fienup-Riordan, 1992).  This means that the way Alaska Natives construct themselves has changed and is changing.  Fienup-Riordan notes that: “Personal and group identity among Alaska Natives today is based on ancient cultural traditions that have been modified by rapid culture change in Alaska during the last two hundred years” (1992, p. 1).

            Alaska Natives are generally divided into five major groups: Aleuts; Northern Eskimos or Inupiats; Southern Eskimos, also called Yup’iks; Athabascans, who are Interior Indians; and Southeast Coast Indians, primarily Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian.  Langdon (1993) points out that “These groupings are based on broad cultural and linguistic similarities of peoples living contiguously in different regions of Alaska.  They do not represent political or tribal units nor are they the units Native people have traditionally used to define themselves" (p. 4).  Indeed, prior to the arrival of non-Natives in Alaska (first Russians, then United States citizens), Alaska Natives were divided into several hundred societies that consisted of members of closely related family groups.  Identity was tied to the society into which they were born, not to being "Alaska Natives."  Moreover, only in certain contexts, e.g., contacts with people speaking other languages, did these peoples call themselves Tlingit, Athabascan, or so on (Langdon, 1993).  Fienup-Riordan (1994) notes that "Language, family membership, and local residence determined personal and group identity" (p. 2).

            Each of the broad groups of Alaska Natives has its own social, cultural and political traditions, which carry through to today.  Alaska is an enormous, extremely diverse state.  The Native peoples live in very different eco-systems which have influenced the kinds of societies developed; Athabascans, for example, were from inland areas and depended on large mammals for food, while Tlingits and Aleuts, among others, lived off of the sea.  Some societies were and continue to be very egalitarian, while others have very distinct social classes.  Kinship systems for some are matrilineal, while others have family units based on patrilineal ties. 

            The various Alaska Native peoples also encountered non-Natives at differing points during the 18th and 19th centuries, depending on their geographic location.  These groups had very different experiences in their encounters.  These unique histories also have impacted the way these groups’ identities have evolved; for instance, many of those who had early and sustained contact with Russians converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, while others were converted to Protestantism by Christian missionaries from the United States.  All groups, however, suffered from the impact of epidemic diseases, brought to Alaska by missionaries and other white migrants, which dramatically reduced their numbers in the early to mid-1900s (Langdon, 1993; Fienup-Riordan, 1994; Darnell & Hoem, 1996).

            Alaska Natives are very diverse, not only among, but also within these broader groupings and smaller societies.  In the detracking study, we spoke with Alaska Natives from the same background and community who had been brought up in very different ways.  These differences ranged from some being raised in more traditional settings, in which they spent summers fishing with elders, speaking Native languages and practicing indigenous religions, while others grew up in completely assimilated households in predominantly white communities, with no instruction in their cultural heritage or traditions.  One Native woman noted  “...with Native people, we’re so diverse.  We’re village, we’re urban, some of us are really into subsystems.  Some of us don’t even know I know that I’m an eagle, but from that point on I don’t know...”

            The different Native peoples have varying cultural practices and ways of interacting with each other, all of which can have an impact on interpersonal relationships as well as educational settings and structures.  As one Native parent noted:

            We've talked about that lots of times amongst ourselves, learning how to make eye contact.  Culturally, for the [Natives] down here, direct eye contact for an extended period of time is very much like two dogs staring at each other, and you're gonna cause a problem.  And I never even noticed it growing up down in this area because everyone was kind of like that.  My wife's region, they're totally opposite.  They have lots of eye contact, to the point where it's uncomfortable, and they also position themselves in closer proximity, for me, that's uncomfortable, you know.  People coming that close, looking at me, like staring, I don't think....they perceive this as the kid wasn't paying attention, or wasn't listening. And the same...I have an employee that I just hired that said that was always his problem...

When we discussed how non-Natives have a difficult time sometimes learning about these interactional and communication differences, he added that he too had similar difficulties, even as a Native:

            If I got my degree, and I got assigned, as a teacher, or got a job in Barrow, or Nome, I would be in the same boat.  And whether I was a Native or not.  And I certainly would be in the same boat out in Bristol Bay.  And, you know, those are separate regions, those are separate people, they're different.  We're Alaska Natives, somebody said, but they're all different, they have different cultures.

            Alaska Natives do not all hold the same meanings about how public education fits into their lives and communities.  In the detracking study, we found that some believed the westernized public school system should be the primary source of education for their families.  For example, one Native teacher felt that learning to succeed in the dominant society was a priority and that she and her family could learn about their heritage and culture after completing their formal education.  A Native elder, in contrast, expressed a very different view.  He argued that because he was brought up learning the traditions, language and culture of his people, he could then succeed in another system, e.g., the public schools.  These differences reflect questions that are fundamental and unresolved in debates about Native education.

            Finally, some Alaska Natives I spoke with saw themselves as being different from other groups collectively referred to as “minorities” in the “lower 48” and even in Alaska.  Both a Native professor and a Native community activist noted that Alaska Natives and American Indians have a different legal relationship with the federal government, because of their history as indigenous populations who were colonized, rather than as voluntary or involuntary immigrant groups.  They often don’t identify themselves as “minorities” but rather as Tlingits, Yup’iks and as members of their clans and family units.  One Native parent, in response to a comment that whites, when learning about “people of color,” learn mostly about African Americans or Latinos and not about American Indians or Alaska Natives, noted, “the first time a black person said that to me, I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, about people of color have got to stick together, I didn’t know what it meant.”  He and other Native respondents objected to being lumped with other groups under the label of “people of color.”  In his community, in fact, the Natives for the most part refused to work with an alliance of blacks, Latinos and Asians called the Coalition Against Racial Discrimination because their issues differed significantly.

            Ragin and Hein argue that American citizenship and national identity developed from inequality as much as from the notion of civic rights.  "From this perspective, racial and ethnic designations can be seen as residue of large-scale historical forces: wars, migrations, conquests, colonizations, acts of political and economic imperialism, and international economic changes" (p. 257).  As Lopez (1994) showed, it is possible to trace the development of racial “minority” designators in the United States through events like the westward expansion.  This event alone led to the conquest and colonization of “Indians,” annexation of land from Mexico and a “Latino” or “Hispanic” population, and the building of the railroads with Chinese labor, who eventually were labeled as non-White for the purpose of immigration control. 

            The designation by non-Natives of Alaska Natives as a racial group (part of American Indian/Alaska Natives), and Alaska Natives own political organizing as a panethnic group cannot be separated from the history of their region and their contact with Russians and Americans.  In the next section, I will briefly describe the history of Native – non-Native relations in Alaska and the development of formal schooling there. 

            There is a long history of non-Native education policymakers holding negative social constructions of Alaska Natives.  Many displayed little or no respect for the sophisticated societies and adaptive technologies Native people developed in order to survive in the far north.  Past constructions included notions that Natives were racially identifiable, uncivilized people, who needed social, cultural, and moral instruction.  Examples of these beliefs abound; I will also provide examples of early non-Native constructions of Alaska Natives, showing how these shifted over time.

A Brief History of Education in Alaska and Early Constructions of Alaska Natives

            The initial contact between Alaska Natives and non-Natives occurred under Russian occupation, beginning in 1784.  The first formal schooling in the region was initiated by Russian Orthodox priests, who began teaching Yupiks and Aleuts to read religious texts.  Russian priests learned Native languages, created alphabets, and developed texts in these languages (Krauss, 1980).  The Russian commitment to formal schooling in Alaska increased in the 19th century; by 1868 there were 17 schools and an annual appropriation of $20,000, largely due to the efforts of Father Ivan Veniaminoff.  He was so successful in pressuring the Imperial Government to support education that until 1905, Russians continued spending more money on Alaska schools than did the United States government (McDiarmid, 1984).

Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. in 1867, in an agreement which made all non-Russian inhabitants of the territory citizens of the United States except for the "uncivilized Native tribes" (Darnell & Hoem, 1996, p. 61).  For the first two decades after the sale, little changed for the indigenous people of Alaska, and outside of some Natives in the Southeast, few were aware of the transaction.  The population of non-Natives remained under 700 throughout the Russian period and into the early years of the territory (McDiarmid, 1984).  From 1867 to 1884 Alaska was under the control of either the US military or the US Collector of Customs.  During this period, Congress failed to provide mechanisms for either local government or education, leaving the latter to the American missionary movement and the Russian Orthodox clergy who remained after the sale of Alaska.  Missionaries thus became the first American teachers in Alaska.

            The dominant beliefs of those holding political power in the region were conservative and Protestant.  They supported a general policy toward indigenous people of assimilation into white, American society.  The initial goals of formal education in the North were to Christianize and "civilize" Natives in order to accommodate economic, cultural needs of the dominant Western society.  Indeed, Rev. Sheldon Jackson, the head of missionary movement in Alaska, later became the U.S. government’s first General Agent for Education in Alaska.  He promoted educating Natives to forget their home lives and get "moral as well as intellectual instruction" (Darnell and Hoem, 1996, p. 62).  The Reverend Sheldon Jackson was the most influential person in the early development of schooling for Alaska Natives.  As Alaska territory’s first General Agent for Education, Jackson stated that he wanted the schools in Alaska to "provide such education as to prepare the natives to take up the industries and modes of life established in the States by our white population, and by all means not to try to continue the tribal life ..." (Morehouse, 1992, p. 8.). Thus, the first American education policymakers in Alaska viewed traditional Native societies as uncivilized, morally deficient, and in need of change.

            In 1884, Alaska became a Judicial District of the United States.  Congress, in passing the “First Organic Act” which established the Judicial District, decreed that the Secretary of Interior provide for the education of school-age children "without reference to race," and appropriated limited funds for this purpose (Darnell and Hoem, 1996, p. 63).  However, because there were not sufficient federal funds to establish and maintain schools in Alaska, Rev. Jackson, then the General Agent for Education in the territory, was given permission to use mission schools and contract with missionaries to teach in the government-funded schools.  Thus, the early development of formal education systems under United States rule was influenced both by the Presbyterian Church, which controlled most of the early schools, and by the effect of the great distances within Alaska and between the territory and the Federal Government.  By 1888 there were thirteen government schools in operation, via contracts with Catholic, Moravian, Episcopal, and Presbyterian missions.  Three more elementary schools opened in the next two years (McDiarmid, 1984; Darnell and Hoem, 1996).

Early Constructions of Alaska Natives

In 1886, Sheldon Jackson submitted a report as General Agent of Education in Alaska on the state of education in the territory.  As an introduction, he presented an overview of the population of the state.  He estimated the population at that time as being: 17,617 “Innuit” or Eskimo; 2,145 Aleuts; 1,756 "Creoles" (as he calls descendents of Native women and Russian men); 5,100 “Tinneh;” 6,437 Tlingits; 788 Haida; and 2,000 whites (Jackson, 1886). [7]

Jackson’s constructions of Alaska Natives in as a racial group changed during his tenure.  Initially, he argued that the indigenous peoples in Alaska were not Indians:

And this native population, with perhaps the exception of the Tinneh, is not Indian.  Because many of them are uncivilized, popular opinion, without giving the matter due consideration, has frequently classed them as Indians.  This is a mistake.  The United States district court for Alaska has affirmed that they are not Indians--that they can sue and be sued, make contracts, go and come at pleasure, and do whatever any other person can do lawfully (Jackson, 1886, p. 10).

Here he defines Natives as a racial group distinct from Indians from a legal definition of their "race."  Still, he ascribes behavior as a racial trait when he notes that Natives are not all "civilized," thus causing them to be mistaken for Indians.

Jackson’s construction of Alaska Natives as being different from Indians was shared by other prominent policymakers in the territory.  In his report Jackson cited the Governor of Alaska, A.P. Swineford, who wrote in his 1885 Annual Report to the Secretary of the Interior the following:

The native Alaskans, as a rule, are industrious and provident, living in permanent and substantial homes, and all are self-sustaining.  These people, it should be understood, are not Indians. (Italics in original)  Their appearance, habits, language complexion, and even their anatomy, mark them as a race wholly different and distinct from the Indian tribes inhabiting other portions of the United States.  They are far superior intellectually, if not in physical development, to the Indian of the plains; are industrious, more or less skillful workers in woods and metals; and that they are shrewd, smart traders, all who have had dealings with them will, I think, be willing to testify.  They yield readily to civilizing influences, and can, with much less care than has been bestowed upon native tribes elsewhere, be educated up to the standard of good and intelligent citizenship (Jackson, 1886, p. 10).

            The territorial governor clearly saw phenotype and behavior as indicators of race, and constructed Alaska Natives as being more intelligent and easier to “civilize” and educate than “Indians.”

Federal officials also shared these perceptions.  Jackson quoted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, F.A. Walker from an official communication to the Secretary of the Interior on March 14, 1872, where the Commissioner stated:

For myself, I have never believed that the Natives of Alaska were Indians...The balance of probabilities seems to me to incline toward an Asiatic origin, at least so far as the inhabitants of the coast and the islands are concerned.  The inference from their geographic position, strong as it may be, is hardly so strong as the inference from their singular mimetic gifts and the high degree of mechanical dexterity which they are capable of attaining.  These are qualities characteristic of the Oriental, and they are precisely the qualities in which the North American Indian is most deficient...the Department is not concluded by any irresistible sequence to treat the natives of Alaska as Indians within the intention of the law organizing the Indian Office (Jackson, 1886, p. 10).

This decision meant that Alaska Natives, despite their being the indigenous peoples of the territory, were denied the (minimal) legal rights that indigenous peoples elsewhere in the United States were accorded.  Walker went on to describe Alaska Natives as being of "races of a questionable ethnical type occupying a positional practically distinct and apart from the range of the undoubted Indian tribes of the continent" (Jackson, 1886, p. 10).  In these comments he lumped all Alaska Natives together into one race, even as he distinguished them from the other indigenous peoples in the United States, who he grouped into the Indian category.

Still, early on there were those on the federal level who had very negative attitudes toward Native culture.  The U.S. Commissioner of Education, in his 1871 and 1872 reports called for the establishment of schools for Alaska and Aleutian Indians, because without these there were no provisions to "save its children from growing up in the grossest ignorance and barbarism" (Commissioner of Education, 1920, p. 16).

Jackson further argues that the Government had not yet treated Alaska Natives as Indians, and that the best known of the Natives have as their "highest ambition" the desire to "build American homes, possess American furniture, dress in American clothes, adopt the American style of living, and be American citizens" (p. 11).  Thus, he defined the goal of assimilation as also separating the Alaska Natives from Indians elsewhere.

Jackson did not lump all of the Alaska Natives into one group, but rather differentiated among the major groups.  In the 1886 report he described the various Native peoples by the broad categories listed earlier, which delineate by language group and location.  As he describes the “Innuit” people, he notes that "They are savages, and, with the exception of those in Southern Alaska, have not had civilizing, educational, or religious advantages" (p. 12).  However, he did admire their adaptive technology, commenting that despite their savage nature, that they make waterproof boots from seal that are more enduring and lighter than any rubber boots made by Europeans.

In his description of Aleuts and "creoles" he commented that they were very assimilated, living in single-family homes, using modern appliances, e.g., stove, kettles, dishes, and so forth, and noted that in one community of 257 one-half of the Aleuts and Creoles could read and write the Aleutian language.  In contrast, he described the culture of the “Tinneh” disparagingly, noting that "Shamanism and witchcraft, with all their attendant barbarities, prevail" (p. 16).  Similarly, he described the Haida as "like the other heathen tribes on that coast" (p. 19).

Jackson defined the role of education as promoting assimilation into America society:

It was to instruct a people, the greater portion of whom are uncivilized, who need to be taught sanitary regulations, the laws of health, improvement of dwellings, better methods of housekeeping, cooking, and dressing, more remunerative (error in original) forms of labor, honesty, chastity, the sacredness of the marriage relation, and everything that elevates man.  So that, side by side with the usual school drill in reading, writing, and arithmetic, there is need of instruction for the girls in housekeeping, cooking, and gardening...; and for the boys in carpentering...and the various trades of civilization.  It was to furnish educational advantages to a people, large classes of whom are too ignorant to appreciate them... (pp. 22-23).

He and his contemporaries assumed that the traditional ways of doing things were inadequate, or wrong, and that the social structures in Native communities, which were quite elaborate, did not constitute civilized society.  He wrote: "As the people make progress, catch the spirit of civilization, and come under the influences which emanate from the schools, they gradually begin to give up their old methods of living and adopt the American" (p. 30).

Indeed, he discussed in detail moral training, arguing that "The training of the schools should be extended to the heart as well as mind and hand" (p. 31).  He described the communal living styles of many Native peoples as wrong, condemning what he saw as children growing up in filth, the practice of polygamy, and that these conditions justified mandatory school attendance (Jackson, 1886).

            Constructions of Alaska Natives as being “uncivilized” or “savage” were shared by education policymakers in Washington D.C.  The United States Commissioner of Education in the late 1890s was W.T. Harris.  He was one of the originators of a program intended to teach Eskimos to raise reindeer for food and commerce.  In a report to Congress and the Secretary of the Interior, Harris described how from 1885 - 1894, the Bureau of Education subsidized mission schools where it could not establish Government day schools.  He argued that this was advantageous both because mission stations were located in “important centers of the native population” but also because it gave other advantages the Government could use "for its purposes of instructing the natives in the English language and in the arts of civilized life" (Harris, 1898, p. 5).  The goals of this training were to be achieved through training Alaska Natives as reindeer herders, which required that Natives not be "nomadic fishermen and hunters" but instead remain in villages year round.  This program would thus force many Natives to give up their traditional subsistence lifestyles, which included activities such as summer fish camp and other seasonal travels for hunting.  Another goal was to "render [Natives] useful to a white population which would eventually come to central and northwestern Alaska" (p. 5-6).  This last goal appeared to set Natives up as an inferior class.

            In describing the Reindeer herding program, Harris noted that "At each mission station there is constantly going on a process of selecting the trustworthy natives, those ambitious to learn the civilization of the white men, those ambitious to hold and increase property.  Reindeer entrusted to the ordinary individual savage would disappear within twelve months after the gift" (Harris, 1898, p. 6).

Contracting with missions for educational services in Alaska worked fine when the population of non-Natives was small, and Native demand for schooling was low.  However, with the gold rush, the situation changed.  More whites moved to Alaska, and opposition to mission schools grew. In 1890, 25,354 Natives and 4,298 non-Natives lived in Alaska; by 1900, the non-Natives outnumbered indigenous people 30,450 to 29,542. In 1900 new federal legislation provided for the incorporation of towns in Alaska and the establishment of school districts for white children within the incorporated towns.  These racially specific schools were created despite the 1884 law mandating schools without reference to race.  A 1905 law, known as the Nelson act for Senator Knute Nelson, further strengthened separate schools.  It created the Alaska Fund, generated by license fees collected outside of incorporated towns; while most of the money went to road construction, 25 percent was designated for the establishment and maintenance of schools for Indian and Eskimo children (McDiarmid, 1984).  Thus, one system was "devoted to the education of white children and children of mixed blood who lead a civilized life," while the other served "uncivilized Alaska Natives" (Morehouse, 1992, p. 8).  Native education remained under Secretary of the Interior, while the territorial government oversaw education for non-Native children.  As a result, there often were two schools, one federally funded and Native, and one state-funded and white, in the same city.  The government contracts with mission schools were phased out by 1905, although Government teachers in some places continued to be assigned to mission stations (Darnell and Hoem, 1996).

            In 1917, the federal government relinquished its remaining control over schools for white children in Alaska, transferring them to the territorial government.  Native schools, however, remained under the Department of the Interior.  Eventually, although no provisions were made for Native students, more Natives were enrolled in the territorial schools than in the federal schools.

            After the federal government assigned responsibility for white schooling to the territory, the first Alaska Commissioner of Education expressed his objections to having Natives in same schools as whites.  His principal reasons were as follows:

The presence of two distinct races of people and the resultant mixing of blood creates difficulties in supervision and administration.  Children of mixed blood, who lead a civilized life, are legally entitled to admission to the Territorial schools.  The question as to whether or not such children lead a civilized life is seldom, or ever, raised, and they are in most cases admitted to the schools without protest.

In communities where the children of white parentage largely predominate, there is usually no problem presented.  The same is true of schools made up entirely of children of mixed blood.  However, where the two races must mingle, there is usually a certain degree of friction, the parents of white children often keeping them out of school and securing a private teacher in order to avoid the close contact and what they consider the evil resulting therefrom. 

Full blood Alaska natives are received in some schools without protest, in others, under protest, and in still others, they are excluded entirely.  Strange as it may seem, some mixed blood schools strongly protest against the admission of full blood natives (Commissioner of Education, 1920, p. 39).

And finally, he concluded:

There are several objections to the maintenance of a unified system of schools for white and Native children, the principal ones being the irregularity of the attendance of Natives and their inability to conform to the standard of the whites in the matter of health and sanitation.  ...The highest good for both races, however, seems to require separate schools for at least a few decades" (p. 55).

Separate schools were indeed maintained for another four decades.

Alaska’s Native student education policies reflected general attitudes toward indigenous peoples throughout the United States and its territories.  Forced assimilation was seen as the principal means of controlling Native peoples in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century.  This included a policy of eradicating Native languages and religions, and "Americanizing" Indians.  At the same time, indigenous peoples in Alaska had fewer rights than non-Natives throughout the country.  It wasn't until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 that Indians, including Alaska Natives, were granted US citizenship (Morehouse, 1992).  The Meriam report, a national study of Native education published in 1928, resulted in a realignment of federal responsibility for Native education.  As a result, in 1931, Alaska Native education affairs were transferred from Bureau of Education in the Department of Interior to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  In the early 1940s, the BIA adopted a policy of assimilation for Alaska’s indigenous peoples, as they had previously for American Indians in the lower 48 (McDiarmid, 1984).

World War II had a major impact on Alaska; by 1943, there were over 150,000 armed forces personnel stationed in the territory.  Many of these stayed after the war.  Between 1940 and 1950, Alaska’s population grew by two-thirds.  After the war, BIA officials no longer assumed that Natives wanted to remain in their villages, and began redesigning education for them.  Alaska’s boarding school program emerged after the war. [8]   This policy was manifest in the opening of Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding School in an abandoned naval facility in Sitka, which was intended to facilitate a policy of individual assimilation. In 1949, the Superintendent of the BIA in Alaska stated his support for programs which removed Natives from their villages, and urged Native students in boarding schools not to return home because "the communities cannot support them"(Alaska Natives Commission, 1994a; Darnell & Hoem, 1996, p. 71). However, until 1966, Mt. Edgecumbe was the only public boarding school in Alaska offering a secondary education to Native students who did not have access to secondary facilities in their community, which was a majority (McDiarmid, 1984)When Mt. Edgecumbe was full, Native students were sent to BIA boarding schools in other states (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994b).

Darnell and Hoem (1996) conclude that the result of this policy was that "pupils could neither succeed economically or socially in the dominant society, should they so choose, nor were they able to preserve or feel comfortable with their Native culture" (p. 71).  The lasting impact of this was a generation of Natives who viewed school as a hostile environment.

            Alaska became a state in January 1959.  The state constitution declared that legislature must maintain a system of public schools which is open to all children in the State, and free from sectarian control.  Subsequently two government reports called for the consolidation of white and Native schools, one from the State, and one from the Federal government.  The latter also called for changing the overall purposes of schools to make them meet the needs of Natives.  In the mid-1960s, a State Operated School System was implemented to manage rural schools centrally.  However, there was much dissatisfaction with this system.  At this same time, Alaska Natives began exercising greater political power.  The 1960s saw the creation of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and the beginning of challenges to state and federal control of Native lands, which coincided with the discovery of oil fields in Alaska.  These circumstances eventually resulted in passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971, a critical act for Alaska’s Native persons (Darnell and Hoem, 1996; Morehouse, 1992).  I will describe ANCSA more thoroughly later in this chapter.

Newly empowered Natives lobbied for a change in the structure of rural education.  In the early 1970s the findings of a study on how the education system could better meet Native educational needs, combined with political pressure from Natives, resulted in legislation reorganizing the administrative structure of the state’s education system.  Rural schools were placed under Regional Educational Attendance Areas (REAAs); rural Alaska was divided along regional ethnic and geographic lines into 21 autonomous school districts (now 23), each with own locally elected school board of directors charged with making local policy.  The legislation creating the REAAs did not address federal BIA schools, but these schools gradually closed under various circumstances, with the last one shutting its doors in 1985 (Darnell & Hoem, 1996).

Other efforts at school reform for Natives during the same period were less successful.  In 1970, the Alaska Legislature asked the State Department of Education to develop culturally relevant programs for Native students, and to encourage the teaching of Native studies to all students, Native and non-Native, throughout the state.  A 1971 report by the Alaska Governor's Commission on Cross-Cultural Education pointed out the need for curriculum reform to meet the needs of Native students.  However, little resulted from any of these efforts (Darnell & Hoem, 1996).

Moreover, until 1976, high school-age students from small rural communities had to leave their communities in order to continue their education.  They faced limited choices; they could attend Mt. Edgecumbe, the only public boarding school in the state, if there was space, enroll in private boarding schools in Alaska, go to BIA schools in Oregon or Oklahoma, or attend public schools in larger villages or cities and live in boarding homes.  There were many problems with the boarding school and boarding homes system.  A 1973 study found that almost 55% of village students dropped out of their school or transferred to another school; in the same study, researchers found that almost 70% of the students misbehaved, abused alcohol, or reported being homesick (Hower & Kelly, 1996).

A succession of lawsuits was brought by Native communities to try to force the state to provide secondary schooling in villages.  In 1972 an attorney in Bethel brought a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students in rural communities, which became known by the name of a 15-year old Eskimo girl, Molly Hootch.  Attorneys argued that the state discriminated against Native students, thereby denying the students’ constitutional right to an education.  The suit was unsuccessful.  However, state policymakers, with new oil money flowing into the state, decided that there were funds to create a system that would allow students to attend school in their home villages.  Under a court-approved settlement, the state agreed to create a high school in every community that had a grade school and at least 8 students of high school age.  However, the Molly Hootch agreement did not permit regional high schools, an option preferable to some villages.  120 schools were built, and in 1989, a judge terminated the settlement, ruling that the state had fulfilled its obligation under the settlement (Hower & Kelly, 1996; McDiarmid, 1984).

The current school governance structure in Alaska delegates responsibility for the daily operation of schools to local school boards, who can make policy affecting programs of local schools within the confines of general state laws and regulations.  There are three types of school districts: each first-class city in an unorganized borough is a district; each organized borough is a borough school district; and areas outside organized boroughs and first-class cities are divided into the 23 REAAs.  As of 1992 there were 57 school districts - 16 borough, 18 first-class city school districts, 23 REAAs, this is complicated by issues of relationship between Native population and federal govt, sovereignty issues (Darnell & Hoem, 1996).  The state continues to support high schools in any community with at least 8 high school students in it.  At the same time, rural students also have the option of attending boarding schools, although Mt. Edgecumbe, which closed briefly in the mid 1980s and then reopened, is still the only state-operated regional high school, and cannot accommodate all Native students who wish to attend.  Because the Molly Hootch agreement no longer is in effect, the legislature can cut funding for rural high schools without legal recrimination (Hower & Kelly, 1996).  Indeed, as I will show later, many of the legislators I interviewed expressed interest in closing rural schools.

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

            Changes in Alaska’s rural education system occurred against a backdrop of larger changes in the political and social structure of Native villages.  When Alaska became a state, Native land issues were not resolved.  However, the Alaskan statehood included an agreement for the state to claim over 100 million acres of land controlled by the federal government.  Alaska Natives organized to protect their land, creating the first Pan-Alaskan Native organization, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN).  The land dispute threatened the planned construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system.  Concern about the fate of the pipeline helped propel passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) (McDiarmid, 1984).

ANCSA, an arrangement between Natives and the U.S. government, gave grants of limited designated lands and other benefits to the Alaska Natives, and in turn extinguished aboriginal title to much more extensive lands that were traditionally used and occupied by Native peoples.  It excluded many traditional features of treaties with other American Indian tribes, like reservations and BIA trust responsibility for the land and monetary benefits of the settlement.  Instead, while giving Natives control of unprecedented amounts of money and land, ANCSA assigned responsibility for these resources not to tribal governments but to state-chartered Native corporations.  In addition to eliminating much of the aboriginal land title, ANCSA also ended aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.  Later, Congress modified this policy, including provisions for subsistence hunting and fishing preference rights in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA).  However, these rights were assigned to all eligible "rural residents," not just to Natives.  This action set up an inherent, perpetual conflict around subsistence rights, which was reflected in data I collected (Morehouse, 1992).

Disputes over political rights and resources still continue.  Many Native tribes have waged an ongoing battle for sovereignty; one case was in court while I collected data.  Regardless of the outcome of sovereignty struggles, Alaska Natives retain a special status and relationship to the U.S. Government under “Indian Law.”  Although the indigenous people of Alaska were once seen as a “race” separate from “Indians,” they now enjoy the same protections, and face much of the same discrimination and resentment as members of tribes in the “Lower 48.”  This status was mentioned by many I interviewed.



For most of the history presented above, rural Alaskans, especially Alaska Natives, had little or no influence over the education of their children (McDowell Group, 1994).  Natives in the western regions of the state were the first to contend with outsiders imposing their educational institutions, members of the Russian Orthodox clergy who followed early Russians trappers to the New World.  Subsequently, Natives throughout Alaska dealt with American missionaries who first attempted to convert Natives, and then operated the public schools in rural communities.  During the period of territorial government and into the early years of statehood, Natives had little voice, until the development of the Rural Education Administrative Areas (REAAs).  Currently, rural residents have some measure of local control, but many limitations remain.  The historic lack of local control over schools has had a lasting effect on rural communities, resulting in the disenfranchising of many Native parents.  This has been compounded in Native communities by the lingering impacts of boarding schools.  The Alaska Natives Commission (1994) described this problem, writing: “Having given the responsibility of their children’s education to missionaries and territorial school teachers during the early part of this century, most Native families and villages have never reassumed that responsibility.  Consequently, education is now perceived as being someone else's job”(Alaska Natives Commission, 1994b, p. 66).

If historic constructions do influence contemporary views, then it should not be surprising to find that there are policymakers in the 1990s whose constructions of Natives include the belief that traditional Native lifestyles and values are flawed, and that Natives should assimilate into the dominant culture.  The next chapter begins the process of exploring non-Native policymakers’ current constructions of Alaska Natives.

Chapter 5:   Defining Constructions


            In my interviews with teachers, administrators, and local school board members for the study of detracking, I found a broad range of experiences with and attitudes toward Alaska Native students.  I suspected, when I began speaking with legislators for this dissertation, that I would find a similar range.  I did not anticipate just how large this spectrum would be.  In this chapter I will describe the legislators’ attitudes and opinions about Alaska Natives as well as their beliefs about the factors impacting Native students’ success or failure in school.  The next chapter will present these policymakers’ attitudes on specific policy issues – bilingual education and rural schools – and an analysis of how these policy positions relate to the social constructions outlined below.  The final chapter will summarize my findings and weave them into the theoretical framework laid earlier in this work.

Categorizing the Legislators

Upon examining my interviews with the legislators, I found that they fell into three groups (see Figure 2).  From their descriptions of their relationships with and attitudes about Natives in general, as well as their positions on specific policy issues and perceptions of Native students’ academic achievement, two clusters quickly emerged: those who presented attitudes and policy positions which mirrored those of most of the Native peoples I interviewed, and those who seemed to hold ideas that are quite different from those of the Native respondents.  These two groups I refer to as the Advocates and the Adversaries.  The third bunch was less easy to define – their attitudes and opinions ran along a continuum that does not easily lend itself to classification, nor to placement in one of the other two categories.  They all seemed to be sympathetic towards Alaska Natives and yet took policy positions that often were contrary to those supported by many Natives.  I called them the Sympathizers.

I divided the legislators as follows:

Figure 2: Legislator Groupings

The Advocates

The Sympathizers

The Adversaries

Tim Rogers

Matt Allen

Nancy Greenway

Bob Forman

Alan Gray

Lois Andrews

Roger Silven

Sally Longworth

Bill Walters

Hugh Gannett

George Leonard

These are rough categories, and fluid groupings.  The borders are blurry – on some issues or opinions the legislators might fit better in a group other than that indicated above.  Within the Sympathizers, differences among the legislators on some issues are distinct, but they aren’t consistent enough to place them in either the Advocates or Adversaries.  Inconsistencies in attitudes and policy positions were in fact most noticeable in this group, and in some cases, their statements to me and legislative actions appear to be contradictory.  For instance, while in our interview Bob Forman said several things indicating some sympathy towards the position of Alaska Natives fighting to maintain rural schools, in legislative debate and newspaper reports he promoted spending cuts contrary to that position.  I will highlight some of these inconsistencies in my analysis; they illuminate how complex and contradictory policymaking and politics can be, and thus how difficult it may be to explain or understand fully the decisions legislators make.

The legislators described a range of familiarity and experience with and attitudes toward Alaska Natives.  These seem to be correlated with attitudes toward particular pieces of legislation or general policy issues and initiatives.  It is impossible to determine exactly how much a legislator’s construction of Alaska Natives influences policy decisions, relative to other influences like constituent concerns, lobbyists or political party positions, or to what degree constructions of race and ethnicity impact a policymaker’s perceptions of Natives versus the other factors that contribute to constructions of target populations.  Nonetheless, these constructions do seem to have a relationship to policy positions.  Moreover, notions of race and ethnicity do seem to be a piece of this picture.

All of the Advocates are Democrats, while all of the legislators in the other two groups are Republicans.  I selected the name “Advocates” for those legislators who described themselves as actively representing the interests of Alaska Natives.  They were the only group that took an explicitly pro-rural, pro-Native stance.  Moreover, their interpretations of the educational and social issues facing Alaska Natives were quite similar to those expressed by Native persons.  They identified racism as a problem in the public education system, and cited the historic oppression of Native peoples as one cause of the current social and economic difficulties in Native communities.  Likewise, their policy positions for the most part mirrored those promoted by most of the Native leaders I interviewed, as well as by the major Alaska Native advocacy organizations, and by research and opinion pieces written by academics and Native leaders.  For example, as I will elaborate on below, they generally supported bilingual education programs and continued funding for secondary schools in rural Alaska.  In contrast, the Adversaries were highly critical of rural secondary schools and one of them was absolutely opposed to bilingual education.

The Sympathizers were more difficult to analyze.  Some of their comments to me on education policy issues were much like those of the Advocates, but their votes and public statements placed them in a distinctly separate category.  It seemed like some influence--perhaps their party affiliation or the attitudes of their constituents--may have prevented them from taking a more Native-friendly stance on certain issues.  Others expressed attitudes close to those of the Adversaries, but not as strong, especially not to the degree that the Adversaries opposed the maintenance of the rural secondary schools.

The Advocates’ Experience With and Views About Alaska Natives

One piece of understanding policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives involved determining how they gained their information on Natives.  I tried to find out whether the individual legislators became familiar with Alaska Natives and their concerns through interactions in Native communities, or if all of their experiences with and learning about Natives occurred in predominantly non-Native, urban communities, directly or indirectly.  All three Advocates described living or travelling in rural Alaska.

Matt Allen, in response to my asking if he thought his understanding of Native peoples was shaped by being a long-term Alaskan, replied:

No, I think what’s really shaped my view of Alaska Natives is when I work construction, I work out in a lot of these rural villages, and, as a laborer, I’m generally, I’m working shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand with a lot of the other people from the community, and when you’re working 10, 12 hours a day you talk.  You see the lifestyles, you see the choices they’ve made in their life, and whether or not, necessarily, government, as it were, through the education system, the government, the state governmental system from my point of view in Juneau, what it has done for them, personally.  And that’s pretty much the way that I’ve, that I’ve you know formed my views on Native people, Native Alaskans.

He contrasted his experience with those of other legislators, and also talked about the impact of others’ experiences or lack of exposure to rural communities.  I asked if he thought that non-Native urban legislators had much of an understanding of rural Alaska.  He responded:

I think most urban legislators really don’t.  I don’t know how many have spent any real time in rural Alaska, I mean they might have been out on a fishing trip or a hunting trip or their past employment has made them go out for a day or two at a time to review books or whatever, but as far as spending months on end working with folk, I’m not very confident that a substantial number of elected folks in the legislature have had that, outside of the rural Alaskans.

When I asked if he saw this as impacting decisions, he replied: “Absolutely.  Absolutely.  I mean you come up with statements from urban legislators, ‘well, if they want the same type of services that we have in urban Alaska, they should move to urban Alaska’ They’re very...opposed to educational spending in rural Alaska.”

Nancy Greenway agreed that time spent travelling and living in rural Alaska was necessary in order to appreciate the differences between the cultures and lifestyles of rural and urban Alaskans.  She described her experiences in rural Alaska, noting that she had, “traveled to many, not all, but many of Alaska’s schools.”  She discussed how her time living in rural Alaska imparted to her an understanding of the differences between Native rural lifestyles and urban living:

And even if you’ve been to rural Alaska, but haven’t spent much time there, the cultural understanding and appreciation of how different it is in Savoonga compared to Juneau isn’t there.  I haven’t, my year in Nome that I thought was a very long year with a honey bucket and no running water turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me because I have an appreciation for the Eskimo culture that I would have never had otherwise.  And an appreciation for the durability of the people to live the way they have lived and to survive the cultural change from a subsistence culture to a Western culture, I mean what an amazingly difficult transition.

Tim Rogers echoed Greenway and Allen’s contentions that it was necessary to travel throughout Alaska to gain a sense of rural living.  He explained how when he was chair of the House Health, Education and Social Services he used to take members of his committee and the State Board of Education out to rural areas “…so that a bunch of these urbanites who serve on these, who tend to get appointments to boards and things, could go out and see what it’s like to live in a village without water and sewers and a one-room or two-room school house and those sorts of things…”

When I talked about how one State Board of Education was concerned that others wanted to do a schools cost analysis that used costs of materials and teachers as opposed to true cost of education in rural areas, Rogers replied:

Oh yeah that’s, this state is so diverse, as I think you have the sense that, that just a paper analysis doesn’t hack it.  And that’s why I thought it was important to get people on these airplanes and take them out there and make them go use the bathroom in an outhouse and know that they better wash their hand because there’s tuberculosis in the, or hepatitis in the, in the area because people carry honey buckets, the little kids play in the dump where the human waste is, I mean, it’s some fairly astounding things that go on in the state, and we take for granted flushing the toilet in downtown Anchorage, and some people don’t...

The Advocates’ Attitudes About Natives and Native Culture

Tim Rogers expressed an explicit valuing of diversity, in direct in contrast to the promotion of cultural assimilation by some of the Sympathizers.  He appeared willing to risk some of his political support on this issue, commenting:

Because I identify with, though I can’t personally, I identify politically with the loss of culture and what’s going on to oh 85,000 people [the population of Natives] in this state, and I, I’m the kind, I’m a liberal Democrat who celebrates diversity and thinks it’s a wonderful, exciting thing, and don’t feel threatened by people that are different from me, in whatever way that might be.  And so I lose some votes on that issue…

Rogers identified a broad range among urban Natives’ relationships to Alaska’s mainstream society and the education system.

Yeah, I think the urbanized Natives, I mean there are some folks who are completely disaffected from society, that I represent, but the folks that are, you know, playing by the rules, and trying to be successful and (reflect?) society, I believe recognize public education.  I mean they have trepidation about the public education system, because it’s where they send their kids who are discriminated against, at the various levels, and parts of town, and in different schools.  So I think there’s some trepidation about that part of the world, but that people realize that it is the way up, the way out of some of the bad situations that urban Natives find themselves in.

Matt Allen expressed concern that often one Native was seen by many legislators as speaking on behalf of all Natives.  This was a phenomenon which was demonstrated in my interviews with other legislators.  He noted:

…but generally when speaking about educational issues  if one Native legislator gets up and says well this is good, you know, all of a sudden, oh, that’s the view of the Alaska Native community, and I mean, Ivan Ivan was up on TV stumping for English as an Only Language, and it’s like of course, we were luck in that we did have Don Long from the Slope saying it’s not…

            Nancy Greenway described her concern about racism among the legislature.  I asked if there were any attempts to educate the policymakers who hadn’t spent time in rural Alaska.  She answered:

Well you know it’s something we really should work on, because, but it’s difficult because we dance on the edge of some real racist attitudes, frankly.  And, there’s everybody gets their guard up because of their former experiences with people who think one way or the other.

Despite offering a rather shallow notion of culture, e.g., that it is represented by food and dance, Nancy Greenway still wanted to facilitate understanding of diverse cultures, rather than promoting the notion that Native peoples should change and assimilate.  She described how she would create “cultural appreciation” amongst the legislators:

…But we really should as a legislature do some things to break down those barriers and those attitudes.  We never have, though, you know there’s, we’ve never had a cultural appreciation  program for the legislature, but that’s something I’d love to work towards doing.  And, if I’m re-elected this summer maybe that’s something I could work on with.  You know if we had a little committee of five people that basically represented the diversity in the legislature, we have some opportunities when groups come in from around Alaska and hold receptions for us.  Like Unalaska comes in and does a big crab feed every year, and it’s a, it’s an event that everyone goes to.  Kodiak does the same thing.  But if we made it one kind of cultural festival, where we had a chance to oh maybe taste some maktak [9] and maybe watch some of the Native dancers and sort of do those things, it might be good.  Because we sure could use an appreciation of each other’s districts. (laughs)

Greenway sounded more like the Sympathizers than the other Advocates in how she defined what Alaska Natives “want” for education.  During a conversation on bilingual education, she commented: “I mean everybody in rural Alaska wants the same thing for their kids that we want here.  They want everything.  We want every opportunity for our children, and that’s true whether you live in DC or Nome.”  What this idea didn’t acknowledge was that Natives in some communities wanted what many Whites did not – schools that taught indigenous languages and helped to maintain traditional cultural practices.

The Advocacy Role

As noted before, the Advocates alone described themselves as proponents of Native interests in the legislature.  Tim Rogers explained how he often takes policy positions in support of Alaska Natives:

…I try to be less parochial than some legislators, I never took an oath to downtown Anchorage, I took an oath to the State of Alaska, and I’m often you know called by some of the racists in my district, there aren’t many in my district, but they’re there, you know I’m called “Native Lover”… But you know I often vote with the rural interests, and I often vote, I mean I always vote for subsistence hunting and fishing rights… And so I’m often derided and I lose some votes in my district for voting for rural interests and for Native interests, frankly.

Rogers contrasted his advocacy on Native issues with the attitudes of the Sympathizers.  I asked him how much outreach he was able to do with the Native community in terms of politics and education, and whether there was much in the legislature as a whole.  He responded:

Well, not much for me at this time, because I’m not in a leadership position.  When you, just as a minority member, you don’t have a lot of stroke or a lot of, you don’t have the letterhead, you don’t have the staff, to do a lot of those efforts, you’re just sort of treading water.  When I was in a leadership role we tried to do that very aggressively.  And it takes a little while for people to trust, and to figure out, well what’s Tim Rogers all about, this white guy from downtown Anchorage in a suit, is he one of us, do we trust him, is he one of the good guys or not?  So, I mean that is a frustration of mine, that we’re not able to do more.  But in terms of Lois Andrews and Bob Forman and Sally Longworth, who control the HESS committees, it’s not their, it’s not their gig.

Similarly, Matt Allen described his efforts to look out for rural Alaskans:, “Well in the legislature... on the HESS committee, I always try to keep an eye out for rural questions, when it deals with, when we’re dealing with educational issues.”  Nancy Greenway, in response to a comment that none of the HESS committee members were from rural areas, noted that she and Rogers often were the only proponents of rural concerns:

… So, you’re right, we have nobody there who is rural, and yet Senator Rogers and I often end up carrying the rural issues.  But there should be somebody there from the rural areas because there’s so many of the public health issues in particular that are rural, and even though I’m on their side in terms of taking care of some of those things, I don’t know much about that…

I mentioned to Greenway that I had heard that some urban legislators had constituents who called them  “Native lovers” or accused them of being too concerned about rural areas.  She replied, “That’s a danger in my district too.  But there are certain things that are worth the danger, I mean I just, if I was required to be a narrow minded bigot to hold this seat, well they can have it.”

None of the legislators in the other categories expressed a similar sense of advocacy or representation for Natives.  While some were informed about and sympathetic to the preferences of Native peoples, they did not see themselves as responsible for promoting these positions.  Indeed, as I will show shortly, the Adversaries expressed to me attitudes that were unfriendly and even hostile toward Alaska Natives and their interests.  These legislators seem to view Natives as personally responsible for many of the problems affecting them.

The Advocates’ Views on School Achievement and Native Culture

The Advocates generally identified differences between Native and non-Native culture as contributing to Native students’ overall low achievement in schools.  Tim Rogers noted that Native children faced special challenges when attending public schools because they had to function in two cultures:

…and it’s the reality that kids have, that Native kids are asked to do more than white kids, they’re asked to straddle two different worlds, two different cultures, and to find meaning for themselves somewhere in between, and you have to think that good teachers and decent resources can impart the kind of knowledge and self-esteem and, we would hope, that those kids need to survive that conflict, in some places it happens and some places it doesn’t.

Greenway also identified cultural mismatch and assimilation issues as impediments to Native student success.  She noted that cultural differences created achievement problems for Native students, because standardized tests reflect mainstream culture:

…And I think it’s really wise that that State Board is representative of rural Alaska, because a lot of the, a lot of the problems in education in this state are viewed to be in rural Alaska.  And you know part of it is we use Caucasian White Man’s tests from New Jersey to measure the progress in Unalakleet, and those kids don’t know about cows and dairies and stuff like that but they know about seals and salmon and they never get tested on that.  So I always, I know there’s a lot of talk about how miserable the rural kids are doing on the tests and, I don’t, I don’t think that’s a valid measure, especially as the only measure of how they are doing.  But that’s a problem.

Greenway’s perspective on the role of culture in student failure differed from that of the Adversaries and the Sympathizers in that she saw schools’ approach to diversity as part of the problem, rather than deficiencies in Natives’ behavior.  I commented that in urban areas, there remained a concern with Native student underachievement, not only in terms of test score problems, but also with drop out rates, and high failure rates.  She responded:

And a high, high rate of teenage pregnancy, both in the rural areas and in Anchorage, but for Native students, like 10 times the national average it’s very much higher.  And a lot of what we’re dealing with are cultural assimilation problems that I’m sure even with the best of programs and services aren’t entirely avoidable.  In those schools that deal well with diversity I think we have better levels of students achievement.  The other thing for Alaska Native kids that’s bad about being in Anchorage I think is that the high schools are too big.  I mean they’re too big for somebody who’s dealing with a cultural assimilation anyway, and if I were a Native student and wanted a chance at surviving I’d rather be on the Kenai peninsula or Seward or a place where you’ve got a school that’s 400 kids, or 600 kids instead of 2000.

However, she made another statement that could be interpreted as having a deficit notion of Native parenting skills. 

…but one thing that I have noticed in rural Alaska is there’s a lot of the village involved in the school itself, with the Native language programs, that’s one area that there’s been good involvement, and the other area where there’s been a good start for parent involvement in Native Alaska has been the Head Start program.  And, so you know I always think if we could only have more of the Head Start money because I really like listening to how parents have grown as individuals and increased their parenting skills through those experiences.

It is hard to know whether she thought Native parents were in more need of parenting education, or if she misunderstood the parenting traditions parents in some Native communities, where uncles and aunts or grandparents take on discipline and educating roles rather than parents.  During the detracking study, Native parents in Juneau expressed concern about teachers not understanding these social structures in their community.

Matt Allen echoed Greenway’s comments about biased tests and the cultural mismatch between Alaska Natives’ lifestyles and the structure of the education system:

I think, I think it would be quite different, I think the type of education that Western European society has imposed on rural Alaska has been very unresponsive to the needs of rural Alaska in terms of you know the school year itself, it doesn’t recognize the need for annual harvest of fish and game resources, various whatever subsistence lifestyles which still exist, I think that the whole saying you know about standardized testing being culturally biased is particularly true in rural Alaska when they’re talking about red lights, stop lights, policemen, firemen, lawyers, courts, all this other type of stuff that if you’ve grown up in basically anywhere else in America that you’re exposed to that.  And there is no discussion about, or the tests do not reflect the lifestyles of the people there.

Allen also discussed the problems with non-Native teachers going to rural areas to teach Native students, which he felt should be replaced by the creation of programs that prepared Natives to enter the classroom:

I think that would be the big question, that and, I think my real concern is the paternalistic view that a lot of educators are, well a lot of educators go to rural Alaska with is that we’re there to help the Native Americans, versus providing the kind of K through 12 program that will prepare Native Americans to get involved into college as well as post-graduate programs so they can be teachers themselves, to go back to rural Alaska to teach in a culturally appropriate manner.

While the Advocates saw themselves as representing rural and Native Alaskans, and described the educational difficulties of Natives as originating in systematic problems rather than within Natives themselves, the Adversaries expressed nearly opposite views and attitudes, as I show next.

The Adversaries’ Experience With and Views About Alaska Native

            Only two legislators, George Leonard and Hugh Gannett, fell neatly into the category I called Adversaries, although some of Sympathizers held similar views and beliefs.  The Adversaries spoke of Natives and Native issues in ways that were oppositional or even hostile, hence the moniker.

Both Adversaries had interacted with Natives through professional work experiences, although for Gannett these interactions occurred only in Anchorage, not in rural Alaska as for Leonard.  When I asked George Leonard if he worked closely with a lot of Natives as a private businessperson he responded that before he went into legislature he worked out in “the Bush” on numerous occasions, and had a lot of first hand experience.  In contrast, when I asked Gannett about his history in working with Alaska Native Community, he first answered that there had been very little, but then noted that he had represented the Cook Inlet Regional Native Corporation, the Anchorage Regional Native Corporation, as a client for a number of years.  He also had attended school with some of the leadership from that organization.

Gannett had traveled to rural communities, however, as a legislator.  When I asked him how different the educational problems in rural areas were from those in urban areas, he replied:

I think it’s probably, you know number one I really don’t know, I mean, I don’t have enough real knowledge ‘cause I’ve not been out there to see the schools.  I’ve been out in some of the villages but I’ve not really looked at the schools per se, you know I focus on economic development and tourism and things like that, and just basic living conditions I’ve gotten into those, but I haven’t looked at the educational system.

Thus, although he didn’t see his experience in rural areas as shedding any light on education, he was familiar with the broader social and economic context within which Native students lived.

The Adversaries’ Attitudes About Natives and Native Culture

Perhaps the most telling statement about George Leonard’s construction of Alaska Natives was something that he said during a debate in the House Judiciary Committee, shortly before my first trip to Juneau for data collection.  As the committee was debating a bill that included the word indigent, Representative Leonard asked a question, stating “My question pertains to the definition of indigenous.”  He was corrected by one of the other legislators, who noted it was “indigent.”  Leonard’s reply was “Indigent, I’m sorry, I confuse that with indigenous because most indigenous are indigent” (“Alaska Ear,” 1995).  I was told about this statement by Representative Rogers, who commented:

Yes, there was a famous incident that occurred last year, with this fellow named George Leonard… and I mean, it’s just one thing after another.  He’s not an idiot, but he is vicious and ugly and I believe he has hard feelings for people that are different than himself.  And last year he was caught in a flap because he, they were talking about some bill and he meant to use the word indigenous, and he used the word indigent, and then went on, when someone corrected him, [woman’s name] I think the black woman in the house who’s a friend of mine, said I don’t think you mean indigent, all Natives aren’t indigent, or he said, there was something like that, somebody challenged him or corrected him, and he said oh well, all indigenous people are indigent so it’s the same thing.  He said words to that effect, it’s all in a newspaper article if you wanted to be exact about it, but that’s the gist of it.  And it caused a huge flap… [10]

While Leonard apparently admitted that his statement was wrong factually, he refused to apologize for what was widely seen as a racial insult.  In an editorial calling on Rep. Leonard to apologize for his statement, the Anchorage Daily News noted that he said “I have no desire to make an apology for being stupid.  That’s my mistake” (“Editorial,” 1995).

Like some of the Sympathizers, Gannett believed that the lack of assimilation by Natives was a problem in Alaska, and that Native efforts to assert sovereignty were problematic.  As I noted that the proportion of dropouts in the Native population was high compared to that in the non-Native population, Gannett commented:

I can believe that.  There’s this, (sighs) the whole issue of, I don’t want to use the word assimilation, that’s only one possible avenue, but, historically it was, it was the ability of integration between the Native and immigrant communities in the state has always been one of the biggest and still the deepest rooted problems in the state, and as our revenue pies get smaller, the schisms that are developing will worsen, this is my biggest fear, that issues like this tribal sovereignty, these are coming issues, strong issues nationally that are particularly important to Alaska, so that’s something  that really concerns me…

The Adversaries’ Views on School Achievement and Native Culture

Both Gannett and Leonard attributed poor achievement among Native students to their own lack of motivation or work ethic, rather than to problems with curriculum, language or teaching.  As we wrapped up the interview, I asked Gannett if there was anything else he thought I should be looking for in terms of Native education issues.  He responded, “...Why are they doing this?  It’s a cultural problem, probably.  There’s a lack of motivation, a lack of goal orientation.” 

I asked George Leonard if issues facing Alaska Native students were different from those facing non-Native students.  He answered:

            I think you have to take that on a student by student basis.  I don’t think there’s drastic differences in the rail belt, though there are some.  I mean we all come from different there certainly are some issues that are different.  When you get out into some of these, the bush areas, you know some of the cultural differences can be greatly magnified.  When you get out of... economy that you and I think about, it’s not so much you get out of the cash economy but you get out of quickly get away from the, the steady work type of culture, the Puritan work ethic, you get away from it... and we have that in Alaska in, in general everywhere, because we have an awful lot of seasonal employment, well this is even more exaggerated out in the bush.

The Sympathizers’ Experience With and Views About Alaska Natives

The Sympathizers varied considerably in how they described both their experiences with and impressions of Alaska Natives.  I asked Sally Longworth how, when she came to Alaska, she began to sort out information on Alaska Natives, now that she was in a position of authority.  She answered:

Well I would say that, being in a position of authority is secondary.  Being in a position where the learning curve is probably the most, the steepest hill I’ve ever climbed, because you’re not only dealing with that region of Alaska, that group of people, you’re talking about education, transportation, you know marine fisheries, marine highway, and then you’ve got resources, you know, community and regional affairs, and all these things, some of which you’ve never thought to learn about.  Some of which you’ve never... or it’s not been your interest area, you know and that’s probably the biggest thing.

She described her experiences travelling in Alaska, including a visit to the same community Nancy Greenway had visited.  However, she came to a different conclusion about the lifestyles of rural residents.  While Greenway described learning how different and difficult rural life could be, Sally Longworth saw people in rural communities as leading lives not entirely different from those in urban communities:

            …It has, I’ve enjoyed traveling, I traveled last summer to the Nome area, and then hope to go some more this summer.  It’s always good you know I went to the radio station, and went to various facilities, like the Pioneer senior adult care facility and, and what you’re always struck by are the similarities of the people, you know.  OK so it doesn’t have paved, you know everything is not paved.  OK so the buildings aren’t finished and you don’t have nice picket fences in place, but they’re still wonderful people and they’re lives are very much similar to what you find, but different, you know.  But, the learning curve is the biggest thing. It is tremendous in all the aspects, and learning about the needs of the villages and rural people, is certainly one part.  But I think you, it would be an experiential learning would be better than just hearing about it.

Bill Walters grew up in the interior of Alaska.  He saw this as sensitizing him to Native concerns, commenting:

…there’s a lot of places in rural Alaska that I haven’t been to, but I’ve been to a lot of places, and you know, tried to see the folks and, and maybe I’m a little bit more sensitive because I did grow up here so, I did see a lot of the prejudice against Alaska Natives growing up here…

Alan Gray also grew up in Alaska, in a community on the Kenai Peninsula.  He described how he worked for a Native organization for 8 years, as a recreation director, guidance counselor, and finally as a program director in a Native boarding home program.  He also agreed with those legislators who argued that it was important for elected officials to travel around the state.  He commented:

… I, there’s an old saying, and it’s, it’s caught on a little bit, some of use who feel that, that we’re a little more well-rounded than others, it’s say that before you become a legislator, the first thing you need to do is get in a plane and travel to different villages, and travel to every region of the state, and spend a little bit of time there to understand their situation and their problems.

Bob Forman described how he had worked as a teacher by profession as well as in aviation.  As a pilot, he had traveled the length and width of the state.  He noted that  experiences travelling gave him a feeling of the state as a whole.  He mentioned more than once how his experience travelling gave him a better understanding of issues impacting Natives, as I will show shortly.

In contrast to many of the Sympathizers, Lois Andrews described learning about issues impacting Alaska Natives via the media, rather than from experiences in Native communities.  In response to my asking how she got to know about these issues, she responded: “I think if you’re interested at all, you read the newspaper, they’ve done incredible coverage on the villages and their problems in the villages, plus I’m, being a nurse I see it, plus this job, it’s been, you know you see this.”

Roger Silven was unique in describing how his own ethnic background, which included distant Native blood, made him more sympathetic to Natives in Alaska:

You know what I think, I think that’s correct, and I’ll tell you what, I’m part Native myself.  I identify more with, or am thought of more as being Caucasian family rather than Alaska Native family but I’m very proud of my Alaska Native heritage, in fact I have a book right there on the table that, called “Agrafena’s Children” that is the story of our family in Alaska, and it traces the last 200 years of our family in Alaska and before that, obviously, there was a woman named Agrafena who was an Alaska Native but she married a Russian, a fellow Promyshlenniki [11] , one of those guys who came across you know to harvest birds and whatnot, and he settled, married an Alaskan and he had a family.

While the Native blood in his family was more than 150 years and 6 generations back, he still saw it as allowing him a way to understand rural Natives.  Later he added:

…And, you know, because of my heritage I can relate to folks from rural Alaska even though they may not view me as being one of us you know, when it comes to, you know a close identity with rural Alaska.  I can relate to those from rural Alaska and do on many occasions.

However, as I will discuss further, his attitudes in fact were not like those of Alaska Natives, and in some cases he seemed uninformed about Native issues and lives and concerns.

The Sympathizers’ Attitudes About Natives and Native Culture

Sally Longworth offered perspectives on Natives that were closer to those of the Advocates than any other of the legislators in the Sympathizers.  She identified wide diversity among urban Alaska Natives and their success or failure in society.  She mentioned that Anchorage was a better place for understanding Natives than her community, which is over 95 percent white, noting that in Anchorage:

…you have the best and the worst of people who come in, from the friend I have who’s a very very very successful lawyer, she and her sister, you know, and everyone in the family ascended to the highest level of education and are very successful and are definitely role models, to that person who has chosen, who has made every wrong choice there is to make in life.  You know, and they’re also there…

Sally Longworth presented a fairly mixed perspective on the differences between Alaska Natives and non-Native Alaskans.  A couple of times she stated that people are the same, e.g., when she said that she was “struck by the similarities of people” in Nome, and yet she described how Native students have different styles of interaction than non-Native students.  Like the Advocates, she noted that cultural differences do make it difficult to succeed in schools, commenting:

…and the students I see come through here who are on visitations to the capitol or you know, that kind of country - city visit, they, you know, for all the world, if you transplanted them in your community you wouldn’t see any difference, because they’ve probably traveled more than I had growing up in Texas at that age because I certainly had never been on an airplane, and they’re very familiar with that, so they have to travel further to get to the next big town, so, but their experience is different, but it’s not less.  And, the certainly with the successes you see, there’s a lot of chance for success, I think it’s still hard to, in what’s for some, maybe, a less competitive world, the idea that we compete in school, and it’s ok to do better, and to excel has to be imparted.  And that’s not always easy when you’re talking about people who don’t naturally compete in every part of their lives.

As we discussed differences in communication styles between Natives and non-Natives, she commented:

Well, I find the adult Natives who come into my office, who appear Native, pretty much on a par with most of the other people I deal with.  However, there are occasionally those who come in who communicate totally differently, that are very competent, I mean it has nothing to do with competence, or ability, that, and you start to think about what area do you think they are from.  There is a discernible difference.  Is it their family? Is it their village?  Is it their teacher?  Or was it their parents? But I could probably say the same thing for Caucasians, who, we can go on about the difference between a New Yorker, a Californian and a Texan.  OK, one’s in your face, one’s very smooth, and the other, y’all-n you to death.  And, so is that, um, important?  I think it is when you’re here trying to find out what someone wants, and you’re having to pull it out, and I think that is the nature, very often.  I find among the students who come, probably more reluctance to be, you know, shake your hand and, now, is that respect for me, or is that they’re, it’s an awesome place to be in the capitol?  I don’t know.  But …after talking to them a while, there’s a relaxed atmosphere too.

Echoing both Greenway and Green, Bill Walters stated: “I think it’s, I agree I think it’s incumbent upon policymakers to understand the Alaska Natives a little bit better and, you know, but it’s still approach it from the aspect, you know, we all want the same thing.”  He felt that there weren’t major differences between Native and non-Native people, at least in terms of their attitudes toward education.  When I asked him whether Native persons would hold the same goals or purposes for education that he has, he answered:

Most of them that I have talked to I think would give that same answer.  But then again, you know, most of them that I, most of my Native constituents are in an urban setting where they’re competing with jobs with everybody else, and even those in a rural setting are still on the highway system, so they can get to the larger communities and they are competing with jobs, with everybody else out there.  Now I’m not sure if that’s what you would hear in a rural setting in a remote community, however, I think that many of them would say the same thing, or at least many of the parents would say the same thing, because I think people are people, they want the best for their children.

It seems as though he, along with Greenway and Green, assumed that the concept of “the best” was defined the same way by different people.  The idea that Alaska Natives wanted the “same thing” was reinforced for him by a conversation he had with one Alaska Native:

…You know when I was campaigning for lieutenant governor two years ago, I had this older Alaska Native gentleman make a statement to me which really struck home.  He said you know, no matter whether we’re Alaska Native or Native Alaskan, we’re all in this boat together, we’re all one people, we gotta make the thing work.  And he was right, I mean we are all one people.  You know they have, everybody has, are people, they have, you know want to love their children, they wanna give the best to their children, you know so you’ve got to start from that basis, that we’re all, we’re all the same, we all want the same thing.

He repeated the sentiment again when I asked him how involved Native communities were in terms of educational issues, responding:  “I think they’re very involved.  I think they are involved as any other group of people.  For the simple fact that they too want the best for their kids, and they are very involved.”

Alan Gray made several comments indicating that he valued assimilation as the route to economic and social success for Natives.  While discussing the Federal provision of medical and dental care to Natives, and the money distributed through ANCSA, he commented:

…For them to become self-supporting, and they probably could’ve done a better job, but that wasn’t, it wasn’t part of their thought processes to do that.  You know, they have their house and their subsistence lifestyle to just provide for the next day or the next winter, the next summer, and that’s about as far as they normally would look.  But it’s changing a lot of course, they’re becoming more assimilated and more understanding, more Westernized.

Gray seemed to believe that traditional Native culture was deficient when compared with Western culture, commenting that assimilation led to improvement:

…So, it’s taking a long time for the assimilation, that process develop.  And it’s, it’s progressing, more and more.  And it’s, it has progressed to...a lot.  It, there’s been a lot of improvement in the 30 years that I’ve seen it.  Those who may still be commenting on it are those who haven’t been there, and are only now seeing the situation.

He emphasized that assimilation was the way to success for Natives later in our conversation.  We discussed the Native corporation I had visited in the Southeast of Alaska, and I commented on the success of the corporation, noting that they had diversified, including purchasing land holdings outside of Alaska.  He responded:

Right, so they’ve done, the Southeast Alaska Native population is, is, you look at the history of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, and that’s why it was formed, so they could learn how to get along, and compete with the whites instead of fighting them all the time, and that, you look at the history of that, and I’m not real familiar with it, but, but it’s real interesting.  So they’ve, they’re quite well assimilated, I hate to use, keep using that word all the time, but it’s the only word that’s appropriate as far as...

I asked Gray if he thought that there was a lot of familiarity with the diversity of the Native community among the non-Natives in the state.  His response indicated that he thinks about diversity in terms of phenotype and race.  He replied:

Oh no, oh no.  There’s not a lot, no.  You get, you bring an Apache up from Nevada or Arizona, show my ignorance there, Apache from Arizona I think, and so, you bring them up and put them in the village, and a lot of times you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.  As a matter of fact there’s even supposed to be some anthropological connection between I think Navajos and Athabascans, so, no there’s not a lot of difference.  My dad didn’t have any Native blood in him at all, and he looks, I see some elderly Eskimos and they look just like my Dad.

I commented that I had traveled to Alaska with a Japanese-American woman, and children kept asking where she was from.  He added:  “And you go to a lot of places, most Caucasians wouldn’t know a Korean or Japanese or Chinese difference between or sometimes Philipino, or Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, I guess that’s probably a fair analogy, I’d say.

Alan Gray seemed to have a somewhat idealized view of rural Natives’ lifestyles in rural, unlike Rogers and Greenway, who talked about the lack of sanitary facilities and the difficulty of living in rural Alaska.  In a discussion on differences between rural and urban education, he commented:

It’s intriguing for [teachers] to start living that lifestyle and appreciate that lifestyle as opposed to the sittin’ on your butt and watching TV when you get home and popping a beer …or what, cause that’s not their lifestyle, and to not do that, to realize that you just, you get ready and plan for the next day, instead of waiting until it comes and then say whoops what am I going to do, what am I doing to wear, so there’s that…

Gray, in several instances, indicated that he thought that Natives did not behave or take actions that he felt they “should” have.  While discussing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and the financial payouts given to Natives, he commented: “But they were not assimilated enough to realize what they needed to do and still what they need to do in their villages…”  Later, when I asked if there was much involvement on the part of the Native corporations or AFN in educational activities, he answered:

Not as much.  Not as much as there should be.  When I was with the Native Association that’s one thing that I wanted to do.  I wanted to make sure that the first thing that they should have done was taken two or three of their students that were juniors and seniors in high school, and make sure that they paid their way through college, they grabbed them and said hey, you do, you keep up this good work, and we’ll put you through college free of charge.  They could have made some agreement that you’ve got to come back and work for the corporation for a couple of years, but at least it would’ve been a decent paying job, not that they had to, otherwise maybe they’d have to pay for some of it, some of the loans and stuff back, but they didn’t.  They couldn’t see, even then they couldn’t see the need, the need for it.  They’re trying to do a little more now, but I don’t think they’re doing near enough.

Bob Forman offered the most detailed description of the diversity amongst Alaska’s Native peoples.  I asked him to describe what he thinks is the difference in goals for and purposes of education between Alaska Natives and non-Natives.  He replied:

Well it depends on which Native, there’s such a variety, I mean we have [a male legislator], who’s an Aleut, who says that subsistence is nonsense, the AFN should not be scrubbing that into young kids’ heads, they should be teaching them Russian and giving them degrees in business.  [Another Native male legislator], who’s from a very different history, is worried about education but he wants, Voc. Ed. sorts of things.  [A female Native legislator] is worried about education but worried more about how to get your basketball team back and forth from [her community], so to say Alaska Native I don’t think you can say, but fortunately a non-Native would have as wide a variety of criteria as well.

In another instance, he discussed the difference among Natives in terms of their political attitudes, as opposed to cultural or social practices.  When I asked Representative Forman if he had the sense that other legislators understood the diversity amongst Alaska Natives he responded:

Well collectively they surely do, I mean we’re like the 12 blind men describing the elephant, you know, maybe our little segment isn’t perfectly accurate, but when you put them all together they are.  And I hope this comes out the way I mean it, I’m not sure the Native people understand the diversity of, I mean certainly if you have a Gwich’in and a Yu’pik sit down and have a discussion about resource development and they’re going to be looking at it very differently.  But that isn’t to say they don’t understand the difference, they may not share as many common goals as someone might who views the Natives as monolithic might think they would.  We had AFN who, they passed an amendment this spring, a resolution supporting development and it was a huge controversy, they’ve been arguing about that.

I commented to Bob Forman that I had heard a lot of people discuss Natives in a very monolithic sense, which is a tendency when people discuss “minorities.”  His response indicated both his feeling that traveling through the state allowed him greater understanding of the differences among Natives, although his political opinions were not necessarily shaped by his familiarity with the different peoples.  He differentiated between those who supported exploitation of natural resources in a wilderness preserve, and those who, as he put it, did not want to “make their contribution” to state coffers: [12]

Yeah, but in a, well, I guess that’s why I said I’ve traveled, because I, I really do see great differences, I mean look at, the North Slope who lobbies for opening ANWR, and Gwich’ins, 300 miles away, who are fighting, retrenchment to keep it close, they’ll accept any state money that comes from somewhere else they just don’t want to make their contribution.

I commented that I had heard that some of the Native teachers feel that they cannot return to their villages for a while because the elders are traditionally the educators, and as younger Natives they wouldn’t be respected.  Forman replied:

Small town too, and you come in and you teach and you have to discipline someone where discipline is not perhaps a normal thing, and you have to send this kid home to your cousins and shape this kid up, and that(?criticisms not gonna)  and local politics, one young, well he’s in his 30s now, came and spoke to us about education, from Southeastern Alaska went away, got an education, got a Masters degree in Education, real exceptional because not a lot of males get advanced degrees in the Native population.  He did, came back to his home town to teach, and he was the wrong clan, the other clan was in control of the school board, he could not teach in his home town, he couldn’t get a job, he had to go to Sitka to get a job.  I mean, if you want to talk about racial politics, you could spend a whole thesis on what goes on between Aleuts and Eskimos and Athabascans and they are very intolerant of each other. We have a place in Southeast Alaska where two cities are 8 miles apart, connected by road, they are two separate school districts because we don’t get along with those people.  If we did that in an urban community we’d be in federal court.

Forman also had a cynical attitude toward Natives who had registered as tribe members in the early 1970s.  He did not see this as a result of lessening racism or increasing pride in their heritage, but rather as a means to gaining wealth from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, stating: “…For a long time, before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement, there were a lot of people who would’ve been non-Native until it became an economic advantage and then they acknowledged their Native heritage.”  His sentiment is in direct opposition to the comment made by a half Philipino, half Native woman (see Chapter 2) that it wasn’t good to be Native when she was young because of discrimination against Natives, so she called herself Philipino.

Lois Andrews recognized the diversity among Natives. She offered a brief description of differences among Natives in Alaska: “ have the Eskimo, and you have the Aleut, and then you have the Indian, and these are three different cultures.  Very great, vastly different, because of the geographic locations.”  She also differentiated between those who want to maintain their culture, and those who were more “like me” in terms of their ideas on the purpose of education.  When I asked her if a Native person and a white person would offer similar answers when asked the purpose of education, she commented:

That’s a hard question.  If you sat with a group of people, I’d say you’d come up with a bunch of different answers, if you sat with one, you’d end up with either somebody who wants to maintain their culture, and then they don’t look at education the way I do, or the way you do, because to them they don’t want to go out to California, or they don’t want their children leaving home.  Possibly to Anchorage maybe, possibly to go outside and get an education, come back and work within their village.

She both assumed that I would share her view of the purpose of education, and that maintaining culture is in conflict with an education that enables people to live and work outside of the village.  Indeed, she stated that people in villages do not need the same sort of education that white people in urban communities need, a very different view from that proposed by Sally Longworth and others:

When you, if you spend any time in the villages, the isolated villages, they’re kind, there’s no crime, there’s, it’s a different lifestyle than I’m used to, I would, probably I couldn’t take it, quote take it, but it’s a whole different culture, and they’re very comfortable with that, and they don’t need the education that we have.  And they get along really quite well.

This last comment conflicted with the statistics on violent deaths rates in Alaska; the homicide rates for Natives in small rural communities are over three times higher than for the general population of the United States and for non-Natives (Berman & Leask, 1994).  Moreover, in this statement, Andrews also contradicted what she said about what Natives “should” be doing, in terms of getting an education (see below).

            Andrews commented that Natives did not work as much as non-Natives, and appeared to devalue subsistence activities as opposed to work in the cash economy when she commented, “In Anchorage don’t forget, we probably have two parent families that are all working, and in the Native community you don’t.  I mean a lot of the mothers or fathers are seasonal working, they’re out hunting or their subsistence trapping or fishing…” Like Gray, she seemed to think that residents in Native villages were beginning to do what they “should,” in terms of obtaining an education, but not to the extent necessary:

Oh yeah, and there’s a big movement now with the Native corporations and the Native villages to get off the dependence, to get away from the government, to start being, relying on themselves.  And how they’re exactly going to funnel that into an education, that’s, to me that’s the only way they’re going to do it, is to get educated, and then come back to the villages, which many of them are doing, but not enough.

The Sympathizers’ Views on School Achievement and Native Culture

Like the Advocates, Longworth saw cultural differences as contributing to difficulties in school for Alaska Native students.  I brought up what I had heard about the term “communication disordered” when doing research in a school in Alaska, and described what one teacher told me about the children with this label who needed help developing skills to get schoolwork done.  Longworth commented:

And part of that...(long pause) you know we sometimes get caught in the ethnic/cultural part of it.  I don’t think we ever need to use it as an excuse.  But, it is a reality.  And (sigh) many, many, many, it goes back to the competition.  The observation of the clock, the parts of time.  Those are components that are not compatible with a (?), where school starts at 8:30, and lets out at 3:30, and you have lunch at this time.  Well, we may have people who don’t even get up until, I mean they have been up all night out doing something very meaningful.  How do you, you know, make those two compatible? I don’t know…

While she saw Native culture as being potentially incompatible with Western schooling, she did not necessarily lay responsibility for making changes on Natives but rather acknowledged that the schools might have to change too.

Alan Gray also identified cultural difference as a cause of difficulties in schooling, but he placed the need to change and assimilate on Natives, like the Adversaries, rather than seeing a need for schools to accommodate difference.  He elaborated on this view, in response to my asking what he saw as the cause of the high drop out rate among Native students:

It’s just, it’s just their lifestyle, it’s not their culture to sit on their butts in a school, to, in hopes of getting a job where they sit on their butts some more for the rest of their lives or until they retire.  The monetary situation is still not a part of their culture.  The carrying a wallet and i.d.s with cash in it to go to the store, give me this, give me that, that, that’s just not their lifestyle.  So, it’s taking a long time for the assimilation, that process develop.  And it’s, it’s progressing, more and more.  And it’s, it has progressed to...a lot.  It, there’s been a lot of improvement in the 30 years that I’ve seen it.  Those who may still be commenting on it are those who haven’t been there, and are only now seeing the situation.  And the suicide rate is high, and it’s because of, there’s a lot of stress on them trying to conform to Western Civilization.  And there’s the alcohol situation.  And then of course now the drug situation.  And, and it’s, it would be really interesting to, of course nobody knows why Indians or Native Americans react to alcohol the way they do, which appears to be different than the majority of Caucasians.  I’m sure it’s something chemical, but it affects them different, and I...don’t appear, I don’t want to appear to be racist but it almost appears to be a, the culture seems to have an addictive type disposition towards alcohol.  I mean once you taste it, you want more.  But, but they can, if it’s not available, they can survive just like anybody, they can survive perfectly well without it.

Gray indicated that he thought that Native students in the villages were generally at a lower academic level.

And then... and then of course from the teaching, from the educational standpoint, you always teach to the middle, and that middle is going to be a lot lower on the scale, knowledge scale, I mean as far as knowledge of math, knowledge of science, so, so you’re gonna be teaching that at a lower scale. So to prepare those for, for college, is a tougher chore.  But there’s a lot of success stories.  And that’s probably the greatest thing about it.  The greatest thing is the success stories, ‘cause you see the improvement, you see the excitement in the wanting to learn in the kid. 

Bob Forman perceived that some of the problems in rural education emerged from cultural differences between Natives and whites, which he indicated meant that Natives had to choose between assimilating in order to succeed or maintaining their own culture and living a subsistence lifestyle, but not having both options.  This was an attitude that differed from both the Advocates and Native persons I spoke with.  Forman argued:

… the graduates of high school are not functionally illiterate, attendance is a terrible problem, the parents don’t get up at 8:00 in the morning to go to work, why should the kids get up and go to school.  And, then the kids don’t know whether they’re going to function in the business world or function in the subsistence world.  They have to deal with making the choice, but you can’t have both.

Lois Andrews also identified cultural difference as a reason for Native students not succeeding.  She seemed to assume that educated Natives did not live in villages, and that Natives choosing to stay in villages did not see any value in formal schooling.  I asked her what she saw as the underlying causes of high drop out rates.  She responded:

In Natives? Oh it’s very clear to me why they drop out.  Why do they need, if they have active elders, which they do, and the elders were not educated, and the elders are doing very well in their subsistence lifestyle, hunting and fishing whaling and their whole culture’s based on that, they don’t, education is just, a lot of the time it’s just an interference.  Now if you have an educated elder, then they’re different, now it’s different altogether and the chances are that they’re not, many of them are not living in the villages.  And I want to be very careful so I don’t, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, because it is a very sensitive issue, and you have to be, so be very, very careful.

Many of the Sympathizers had less than accurate understandings of Native student achievement, particularly regarding problems in urban schools.  I asked Bill Walters how he thought Alaska Natives students were doing in school overall.  He answered:

I think it’s, I think those in rural Alaska probably are not doing as well as they could be doing.  Those in urban Alaska I think are probably doing better.  And I think part of it depends on too you know if they are students that have just come out of the bush, and all of a sudden are trying to adjust to quote the big city and the lifestyle going on in the big city, I think they have a hard time.  We see it at the university a lot, kids coming in from rural Alaska, they have a real hard time adjusting.  Now if the kids have grown up in Fairbanks or Anchorage or Juneau or Ketchikan, and they’ve already, you know, this is their lifestyle to begin with, I think they probably do just as well as any other student out there.  And probably some do probably better.  But I think it’s really an adjustment for these kids coming in from rural Alaska, just cause the lifestyles are so different.  So I think there’s, there’s a transition period where you know they fall behind and they may never, some of them may never catch up.

I commented that it seemed that it was very difficult for an outsider to walk into rural communities, given the unique nature of Alaskan culture and especially that of Alaska Natives.  Walters concurred:

Very, and that’s why you do it, a lot of teachers that are sent to rural Alaska do not last very long, they just don’t, because they just can’t handle it.  You know whether it’s the outdoor plumbing or whatever, they can’t handle it, and they have a very bad year there, their students have a very bad year because they’re having a very bad year.  That’s why we need to encourage the local school districts to hire more local folks and not only do we need more teachers coming into the cities, but certainly out in rural Alaska, coming, you know where many of these students came from, many of these teachers came from, because they’re probably best to relate to these kids than anybody can relate because they have had the same background, the same experiences, they know what the kids are going through.  They probably know what the kids are going through better than I would, even though I was born and raised here, but you know, my background’s a little bit different than what their background is.

When asked about the poor achievement of rural Native students, Roger Silven raised the barriers to parental participation as a problem.  He described older Natives as being uncomfortable getting involved in their children’s education due to their not having had access to educational opportunities, but felt that younger parents were now more likely to be involved than those from earlier generations:

But I think what, what we find is that in many cases it’s probably isn’t, it isn’t just true of Native, but I think it is very true in many Native families is a feeling, or a lack of confidence in being able to maybe relate to the culture of the, of the... the, of more the cosmopolitan U.S. culture, cause if they were raised in and grew up themselves in a subsistence economy perhaps their first language is not English, where they feel, “I don’t have the confidence to really get involved in my child’s education but I know that that teacher can teach them English and Math and Science and you know maybe themselves didn’t have advanced education, and that may be the case in many families.  I believe that it’s less true today and over the next few years will become less true as the people I would say of my generation and later probably had access to either through Sheldon Jackson or the Molly Hootch schools themselves had access to a pretty decent education, and probably in most cases through high school.  And I’m 45 so that would, I’d say maybe for those parents 45 to 50 and younger, that that’s less of an issue, and most parents of children in I’d say up through high school today are probably younger than 50.  There’d be a few exceptions to that, so I, I view it as being less of a cultural challenge than it was before.  But I still believe there is a cultural challenge…


In this chapter, I laid out how my study population, Alaska state legislators serving on the House and Senate Health, Education and Social Services committees, described Alaska Natives.  I discussed their experiences with and views of Natives, and what they saw as some of the underlying causes of poor educational achievement among the Native population.  As I conducted my initial analysis of my interview data, I found that the legislators I had spoken with broke out into three groups, which I named the Advocates, the Adversaries, and the Sympathizers.  These groupings emerged from the views expressed by the legislators themselves.  The Advocates talked about Natives from a very supporting perspective, encouraging the maintenance of Native culture, language and community, and identified problems in the institutions as primary reasons for Native difficulties in schools, rather than the culture or actions of Natives themselves.  Adversaries, in contrast, displayed almost hostile attitudes toward Natives, and blamed Natives and their culture for the failure to succeed in schools. 

Finally, the Sympathizers displayed views that fell in between the two groups.  While some indicated that Natives needed to assimilate more to succeed, others saw value in Natives retaining language and cultural practices, but saw conflict between institutions and Native culture.  Unlike Advocates, these Sympathizers did not propose changing the tests or school structure to accommodate Natives, but as opposed to the Adversaries they also did not argue that Natives should give up their language or cultural practices.

In the next chapter I look at two policy issues that are central to Alaska Native education: Bilingual Education and Rural Education funding.  Through these issues I hope to see if the legislators’ constructions of Natives, as shown in this chapter, are somehow related to the policy positions they hold.

Chapter 6: Bilingual Education and Rural Education

            In Alaska, there are two issues that frame the debate on Alaska Native education.  The first, and most contentious, is rural education, in particular, the funding.  The second is bilingual education.  Both involve issues of identity for Natives; language and ties to the land are integral to the identity of the indigenous people of Alaska.  Thus, these issues provide good vehicles for exploring the symmetry or dissonance between how policymakers construct Natives and how they view education policy issues that are central to Native life and identity.  In this chapter I will first explore legislators’ attitudes on bilingual education issues before moving into the more complex topic of rural education.

Bilingual Education Issues

The use of Native languages in school is one of the most emotional issues in education among indigenous peoples (Darnell & Hoem, 1996).  In Alaska, the debate around bilingual education differs from those in states like California and Texas.  While there is a growing immigrant population in need of services to assist them in learning English, the larger issue in Alaska revolves around the use and preservation of indigenous languages in schools. 

The Value of Indigenous Languages

Languages are not simply a means of communication.  They are also a source of identity.  Darnell comments that "it is frequently said by indigenous peoples that no component of their culture is more important to them than their language.  It is this aspect of their persona that distinguishes them from others as much or more than any other.  For most it is indeed an integral component of self-identity..." (Darnell & Hoem, 1996, p. 195).  As another researcher notes:

Languages bear within them the biases of their originators – their attitudes and values.  So that if young people grow up speaking and learning in the language of their ancestors, then certain central components of their cultural heritage are absorbed by them automatically.  If, on the other hand, a language emanating from some other culture becomes the primary language of young people, then their most important link with their own cultural past is broken, their cultural identity begins to weaken, and ultimately, perhaps the attitudes and values cherished for many generations by their people are supplanted by those of the alien culture by which the language was imposed.” (Vaudrin, Bill, cited in Darnell & Hoem, 1996, p. 178)

The survival of many Native languages in Alaska is now in doubt.  Indigenous languages there are disappearing rapidly, as they are throughout the United States (Brooke, 1998). [13]   The percentage of Natives who speak their traditional language is very small, and it is expected that by the middle of the 21st century all 15 Indian languages, both Eskimo languages and the Aleut language will be extinct.  The only possible exceptions are two Yup'ik dialects (Darnell & Hoem, 1996).

The loss of indigenous languages in Alaska is directly attributable to a legacy of policies intended to quash these languages.  While these policies are no longer in effect, their impact has been lasting and devastating.  Like elsewhere in the United States, in Alaska, educators adopted an official position in favor of suppressing and eradicating of Native languages. [14]   Sheldon Jackson, the first Commissioner of Education for Alaska and a Presbyterian missionary, was vehemently opposed to the use of Alaska Native languages in education. Krauss (1980) notes, "Sheldon Jackson epitomized the Victorian-era American educational and social philosophy of the 'melting pot' wherein all the diverse nationalities in American society were to assimilate to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant American ideal" (Krauss, 1980, p. 22).  This philosophy continues in modern-day Alaska, as is demonstrated by the comments of legislators like Alan Gray and Hugh Gannett in the last chapter.

From about 1910 until 1960, American schools, as well as most mission schools, completely forbade the use of Native languages.  Children were punished physically--slapped, beaten, and otherwise punished--for speaking indigenous languages in school.  This Federal Bureau of Education’s English-only mandate had a negative effect early on.  Fienup-Riordan (1992) notes that "The bureau's requirement that only English be used in the classroom was especially destructive to Native identity and feelings of self-worth" (p. 14).  As schools were transferred to Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) control, they maintained the anti-Native language policy (Darnell & Hoem, 1996; Krauss, 1980).

After 1960 interest in Alaska Native languages re-emerged.  In 1967 the Federal Bilingual Education Act was passed, which allowed for the first time instruction in languages other than English in public schools.  In 1968 a group of academics at the University of Alaska proposed to the State Commissioner of Education that Native languages be used in schools where children spoke Central Yu’pik.  This proposal was rejected.  However, as social unrest intensified in these communities, in 1970 the Bureau of Indian Affairs began experimenting with bilingual education in four Central Yu’pik schools (Krauss, 1980).

In 1972 the Alaska State Legislature enacted a law supporting Alaska Native languages. The statute mandated that children be introduced to education in their native language in every school in which there were 15 or more students whose dominant language was other than English.  This was later amended to a minimum of 8 students.  It required that these students have a teacher fluent in their language, as well as educational materials in that language.  However, BIA schools weren't subject to this law, while at the time of passage the majority of children speaking Alaska Native languages were in BIA schools.  Moreover, this law failed to prescribe how this would be carried out, and in most places this resulted in a lack of funding for implementing the mandate, compounded by a lack of teachers who spoke Native languages.  In addition, most bilingual education programs for Alaska Native children were transitional, intended to move children into English-speaking classrooms, rather than for language maintenance, further undermining attempts to maintain indigenous languages (Krauss, 1980; Darnell & Hoem, 1996)

The status of Native languages as subject worthy of study remains low, with little support from school boards in many communities. Krauss argues that there has been a great deal of brainwashing around Alaska Native languages.   He notes, "Generations have already been brainwashed with the notion that Native languages are inferior, (and) disadvantageous to the children in their lives and careers..." (Krauss, 1980, p. 77).  Certainly this was an attitude that some legislators shared with me, as will be shown shortly.

Most contemporary bilingual programs use Native language instruction in primary grades to move students to English language classrooms as quickly as possible, as opposed to maintaining the Native languages on an equal footing with English (Fienup-Riordan, 1992).  However, there are communities that are engaging in efforts to maintain their Native languages.  Efforts vary--some have bilingual education programs in which students are taught in both their primary language and English, while in other others the Native language is taught as a second language, as parents may not have grown up speaking the indigenous language (interview with state bilingual education coordinator, 1995, and interview with a State Board of Education member, 1995).

Alaska’s bilingual education moneys can be spent on language preservation efforts as well as more traditional uses of bilingual funds.  However, this is controversial.  Some Alaskans, both Native and non-Native, do not believe these monies should be spent to preserve Native languages.  They argue instead that this is the role of the community, and should be done outside of the schoolhouse (interviews with a current and a former Alaska Native member of the State Board of Education, 1995).

In the legislative session during which I conducted my research, two bills promoting the teaching and preservation of Alaska Native languages in the schools were introduced.  Neither bill moved out of committee in 1995, and when reintroduced in the following session, again failed to move forward.  In addition, an English as an Only Language bill was proposed, which brought out strong feelings, and heated testimony from both supporters and opponents.  It too failed to advance, but was a source of much controversy while I was there.

This section addresses several questions:

·        What are the legislators’ opinions about bilingual education?

·        Do legislators see language as an important component of identity?

·        Do they support programs to maintain Native languages or see such efforts as being problematic?

The Advocates and Bilingual Education

Two of the three Advocates were unabashed supporters of bilingual education.  Rogers and Allen both identified the preservation of Native languages as being of value.  Rogers also saw bilingual instruction as enhancing learning outcomes.  He explicitly contrasted his support for bilingual education with the attitudes of the Republicans in the legislature, noting:

…that’s a big thing with me and [a Native Legislator] as well, is that trying to preserve Native languages, and we haven’t gotten very far since these people have taken over, because you know Republicans are anti-bilingual, they believe you know, English only, English as an official language and all of that, there’s so many ramifications to that that people don’t realize.  But I know from educational experts that children who are from Native families that are Native speakers need to become fluent in their Native language to, so their brain synapses develop, so that they’re fluent in that language and then they can learn English much better.  But that if they are half and half from the beginning, they never really become competent in either language, so they are that person caught between cultures, who sound ignorant when they speak English, and they don’t sound Native when they speak their Native tongue.  And there aren’t that many places any more where you know they have the option of learning their Native language but where they are I think that’s a precious thing to preserve.  But the Republicans just think that you know, it’s an English-speaking world, and everybody ought to speak English and don’t see the value, or understand that if a kid never becomes competent in a Native language they’ll never really, they’ve never read the studies or the articles to know what’s best for the child’s development.

Rogers also made a point of defending the financing of bilingual education programs against attacks by Republican legislators, who were trying to reduce or eliminate categorical funding for bilingual education.  He described it as follows:

And, you know, we had a big fight about the education formula, and how the Republicans, you know Robin Taylor and Randy Phillips portrayed the categorical funding in the formula for bilingual as just a big rip-off.  That all these districts, and I’m sure there’s some abuses, but all these districts just denote every child as bilingual to get more money, and to rip off the urban areas even further.  And of course we ought to look at that and make sure that it’s working well, but the idea of getting rid of the categorical funding is heinous.

Matt Allen also described the high level of resistance to the teaching of Native languages in the schools.  I asked him how important bilingual education was in the state.  He answered:

In the schools it’s not, and I think that’s been very unfortunate.  Foreign languages in general, I shouldn’t even say foreign languages because Native American languages aren’t foreign, but languages in general should, I have always thought should be taught, started in the first grade.  Then everybody screams and yells about resources and that kind of stuff.  But, when you’re even talking about Alaska Native students and Alaska Native languages, any time that there’s an attempt to get legislation passed to mandate it, to require it, it’s met with the harshest resistance from the school boards.  And, or the  school board association I should say, not necessarily the school boards, or the administrators, you know, I think it’s very difficult that, because it costs money, it’s gonna require yet another teacher in the classroom, or in the school.  At least. And, I do believe there are some bilingual classes being taught around the state, but it’s not any type of concerted effort.  And I mean the state really does not have an Alaska Native language policy, which I think is sadly lacking.

In a discussion of whether Natives were viewed monolithically by non-Natives, Allen raised his opposition to the English as the Only Language proposal on the table in the legislature.

…Well I mean, English as the Only Language, I’m sure it’s been discussed in California, substantially discussed in Arizona, it’s been discussed here in Alaska, then when you bring in English, you know well what about Alaska Native languages?  You know, well that’s different.  It’s not English, and sometimes you have Native organizations that, you have people pushing Native organizations to come out in support of that kind of garbage.

Nancy Greenway was more cautious in her support of bilingual education.  She saw the tie between language maintenance and cultural preservation, but was concerned about whether bilingual education was also good for students’ learning.

I worry about the bilingual studies because they, I know from my work in the field that what children need is a good, good foundation in one language.  And I worry that we’re doing the right thing with early bilingual education, or if in fact we might be creating problems, I don’t know.  But you know it’s such a dichotomy because you want to preserve the culture and the language, and you want to be able, you want to be literate and be able to survive in the Western world.

The Adversaries and Bilingual Education

Among the Adversaries, I only spoked with Leonard about bilingual education.  He was completely opposed to bilingual education and seemed untroubled by the English as the Only Language proposal.  I asked him about the bilingual education bills that had been proposed that year, but he was not aware of them.  He answered:

Not that I’m aware of, it was... the other way around, there was a bill to establish English as the official language which didn’t fail it was withdrawn. Out of consideration for a lot of the concerned parties that wanted more time to review it.  It was thrown out there, this was the first year it was openly discussed, and it was just felt that it could sit in the mill for another year or two...

When I followed up by asking about funding for bilingual education in rural areas and Native communities he responded, “I don’t know what you mean by funding, it certainly shouldn’t take precedence over basic education.  Bilingual education, by and large, is a disaster.  You are condemning a class of people to be a minority for the rest of their lives.”

The Sympathizers and Bilingual Education

Members of the Sympathizers were not uniformly opposed to the idea of bilingual education, but they also did not actively support it.  Like the Advocates, Bill Walters identified value in preserving Native language.  However, he did not seem convinced that it was possible to have a system that maintains Native languages while providing quality education in English.  I asked him about the legislation supporting Native languages which did not move forward that session.  He answered:

No it didn’t.  The questions is, on the bill, and I’d have to pull up the bill again and look at it again, and, I think we have to be careful on those bills that, that the focus does not become just on language, that, you know quite frankly, and I think more people will realize, or will agree, there may be some people that don't but, in order to, if you’re going to come out of rural Alaska, and you’re gonna compete, you know your basic language is probably gonna have to be English.  But so, I think we have to be real careful that they, that the system does not concentrate, but that your major language will be, whatever your language is spoken but, there certainly should be the system set up there to help a lot of these kids to, to progress over into English, but at the same time, keeping their language which they have grown up with.  Like my ancestry is basically German, and one of my daughters took German, and I would have liked to have taken German to keep that, that connection to my past.  But, at the same time, my primary language, because of the system that we’re in, you know, is English, and...but at the same time it would have been nice to keep some of the, some of my heritage.  You know same with these Native kids out there, to compete, they’re gonna have to have a very good functioning grasp of the English language, but, they shouldn’t have to lose their Native tongue at the same, and that’s what’s happening out in rural Alaska, is they have, many of them have lost their Native tongue, and that’s a shame because, you know I would certainly like to speak German but I can’t.  But, you know just because I can’t it’s , I don’t want to see anybody else lose their Native language.  But at the same time they have to have a good working grasp of English in order to compete, and that’s the way it is, I mean maybe we might wish it was differently but, that’s the way it is. 

Walters did not identify Native language loss as being tied to a loss of culture; he talked about his German heritage, but not in the sense of preserving the way of life associated with the language.  He was very concerned that students who want to move out of the villages be fluent in English, but did repeat that he didn’t want them to lose their Native languages.  I noted that it seemed that language issues were very different in elsewhere in the state, where there are communities that are still speaking Native languages.  He responded:

Yes, there are some communities which speak it, I mean all the elders speak it, I mean and that’s the predominant language in that, and maybe for a kid that’s never gonna go anywhere, just stay in the community, that may be great.  But if he’s gonna try to go to Anchorage or Fairbanks and get a job, he has to have a working, functioning of the English language.  Or otherwise there’s just going to be problems.  But at the same time we got to make sure that he doesn’t lose what he has.  But how do you do, it’s very hard. Extremely hard.

He concurred when I commented that in one sense Native kids have to be twice as smart as the rest of us:

In a sense, yeah, in a way, and I think one of the things, and you know I wish that it was in the system when I was going through, but a lot of the systems now are requiring even English speaking students to have a second language, and I think that’s great, we should be a little bit more, have a working grasp of another language.

I asked Bob Forman if he heard Native groups arguing much about educational issues like bilingual education, in a manner similar to disputes about rural resource extraction which he described to me.  His response indicated that he saw some people who spoke indigenous languages as being “still bilingual” and possibly not “formally educated,” and described a Native legislators’ use of his first language as “adding a little flavor” rather than as possibly conveying something that English simply could not:

No, I don’t, the arguments around education, no, from the leaders and from the people I talk with in the legislature, they I think I hear very similar arguments.  When you go to individuals who maybe are, maybe have not had a formal education themselves, or are still bilingual, English, well, Ivan Ivan, and English is not his first language and in a couple of cases he’s given his comments on the floor in Yu’pik just to add a little flavor.  Some people do well with one foot in both worlds, others don’t.  And those that do well with one foot in both worlds I think don’t have unusual expectations of education.  Those with are one foot in either world maybe have some questions about education that would be unique.

Alan Gray identified bilingual education as being a local issue.  He also identified one difficulty in implementing bilingual programs, which is the lack of teaching materials.  I asked him about bilingual education, and he answered:

That’s just up to the school districts to do, individual autonomy if they want to provide. There’s a lot, it’s a tough for bilingual, especially for Native languages, because there’s no written textbooks on it.  So that’s, that’s the problem.  And there’s a lot of effort being done by different groups to provide those, to put in writing, and put it in textbook style.

Forman presented a very mixed bag of attitudes on bilingual education.  He did not support the English as an Only Language initiative, and yet said that he saw value in there being a “common language” for all Alaskans.  He even indicated that he saw some good in the measure, though he acknowledged that it would cause more hurt than benefit.  He also did not mention the preservation of Native cultures as being a reason to oppose the initiative.  I brought up in our conversation the example of a woman in Juneau, who is half Tlingit and half Filipino, telling me that when she was growing up it wasn’t good to be Tlingit, and so, for a time, she identified herself as Filipino.  He responded:

And you know that “no dogs no Natives” stuff, that isn’t too terribly old.  We just had a bill that would establish English as the official language.  We did nothing but irritate people.  It was so watered down it probably would have passed, but I couldn’t support it. I taught communications and semantics, you know language is the purveyor of our culture, the reason we have still one country and haven’t Balkanized is the common language.  So I understand the value of that, but it wasn’t that long ago that Native kids were punished for speaking Native languages, and that dredges up such bitter memories that why do we need this bill, it could accomplish that much good maybe and this much hard feelings (showing small then big distances with hands).

While he identified language as the purveyor of culture, he did not seem to give the preservation of Native languages as a way of maintaining traditional culture as something as valuable as mandating the use of English to promote the non-Native culture.  He also seemed concerned about the potential for bilingual education to result in the use of non-standard English in the classroom:

And I get, there are many educational fads around here at the moment, I get really concerned about kids moving downwards, you know they’re just the Native we don’t want to expect too much of them, some of the very brightest minds we have are Native people but, but they are also varied and unique.  Aleuts and Tlingits, they were the businessmen and women of 200 years ago, but we also had areas in the Interior where there was little commerce, little change and they are frankly very... their horizons are very close, and they have a lot further to go as far as developing commerce and interaction than the people who were, who traded up and down the sea coast for thousands of miles.  You know, there’s a lot of generations of change involved.  I have, I think, we need to hold all non-English speaking minorities to a high level of accomplishment in English, otherwise it closes a great many doors, you know I mean, the melting pot that we have has a few rules and most of them are written in English, and that may not be good or bad, but the notion that we can teach Black English or street language or Pidgin or, I think it’s just a terrible handicap, I think, to non-English speaking people.

During hearings on the English as a Common Language bill in 1996 Forman did vote against moving the bill forward, as did all of the Advocates.

Lois Andrews and I did not discuss bilingual education issues in our interview.  However, during hearings on the “English as the Common Language” bill, as the proposal was named in 1996, she stated that she believed that people immigrate to America to become Americans and to have the advantages of Americans, part of which is to be had via the English language.  According to the transcripts “she felt strongly that making English the common language is the right thing to do” (Minutes, House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee, March 5, 1996, p. 5).  Earlier in the same discussion she noted that there were many people in the state who were reticent to address the English as a common language issue for fear of making the Native community feel that the “importance of their language is not being recognized” (Minutes, House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee, March 5, 1996, p. 2).  However, she did not raise this concern again as she expressed full support for the measure, nor did she address the obvious point that Natives who speak indigenous languages are not immigrants.


Dividing the legislators by their attitudes about bilingual education or the English-only proposition leads to similar groupings as in my initial breakdown.  The Advocates all identified the importance of bilingual education; Rogers and Allen supported it unconditionally, and while Greenway was less certain, she was actually the only one of the three to make the link between maintenance of traditional languages and cultural preservation.  George Leonard, the one Adversary with whom I talked about bilingual education, opposed it outright.

The Sympathizers expressed a variety of opinions on bilingual education that ranged greatly.  Walters who actively supported maintaining Native languages, and Gray supported letting local communities choose whether or not to teach indigenous languages, while Forman, who saw value in Native languages, nonetheless was more concerned about English competency.  Most did not want to see Native languages lost, but did not identify teaching them as a priority.

Rural Education Policy Issues

Perhaps the biggest area of contention around Native education is the issue of financing for rural education.  This topic involves disputes over whether students in rural areas should have access to a secondary education without having to leave their communities, and much anger regarding the lack of rural contributions toward the costs of schooling. While these are not exclusively Native issues, the majority of students affected by these matters are Native.  As noted in Chapter 3, in 1990, the majority of Alaska Natives lived in Village Alaska; they made up almost two-thirds of the total population in rural Alaska.  At the same time, about one-fifth of the total Native population resided in the Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna area (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994a).

During my data collection in Juneau, the legislators engaged in heated battles over rewriting the “Foundation Formula,” the state’s complex school funding formula, as well as about other rural financing topics.  The most contentious was a proposal to require the North Slope Borough, an oil-rich predominantly Native region, to contribute more to local education costs than other boroughs.  At the same time, the State Board of Education also was attempting to revise the Foundation Formula.

All of the legislators I spoke with brought up the issue of rural funding, most mentioning the lack of local contributions to schools from rural communities, and many raising the Molly Hootch settlement (see Chapter 2 for a description of this settlement). The rural education issues facing policymakers are multiple and complex. The two most central concerns are:

a)      While it costs more money to provide education in rural areas, rural communities do not pay the same level of taxes for school; and

b)      Rural schools do not prepare students as well academically as do urban schools, although they are far more successful at retaining and graduating Native students (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994b).

I address these two issues below.

Costs of Rural Education

The state has a legal obligation to provide an education to everyone, but it is difficult to make the system appear equitable when it is far more expensive to operate schools in rural communities than in urban areas.  Per students costs in rural areas are as high as $55,000 per annum in the Aleutian Islands and $22,000 in the North Slope area, although more rural districts have per-pupil costs ranging between $14,000 and $17,000 per student.  In contrast, in urban areas costs range from under $6,000 per pupil in Anchorage to just under $7000 in Juneau and Kenai (Hower & Kelly, 1996).

There is not much support for maintaining or increasing current levels of spending on rural schools among the state’s urban populace.  Over half the voters who responded to a statewide survey on education issues stated that they thought that there was an imbalance in the way funds were distributed among districts in the state.  Moreover, while these voters felt that more money should be spent per pupil in rural areas than urban areas, they did no feel that the difference between rural and urban spending should be as great as it typically has been (Hellenthal & Associates, 1995).

            At the same time that there is a dramatic difference in cost between urban and rural areas, there is also a difference in how these communities contribute toward the cost of education.  While in urban “incorporated” communities residents pay property taxes for schools, in rural areas the local communities are not taxed, although instead there is instead a significant contribution that comes via the federal government. [15]   Still, the existence of the federal contributions matters little, as the perception of inequity in contributions is firmly planted in the minds of many Alaskans and their state representatives.

            As of 1996, there were 210 rural high schools in Alaska in 49 school districts, most serving fewer than 100 students (Hower & Kelly, 1996).  Morehouse argues, "Operation and maintenance costs associated with the schools, community halls, public utilities, and other facilities made possible by state oil revenues are probably beyond the financial capabilities of many villages, without continuing assistance.  State and federal programs provide essential benefits, but they also perpetuate dependence" (Morehouse, 1992, p. 15).

As a result, as I will show later in this chapter, there is resentment among both non-Native members of the general public and legislators about the high cost of funding education for Natives in rural villages and the belief that Natives are not paying their fair share of schooling costs.  Many legislators, including some those that I interviewed, proposed both closing small rural schools and consolidating rural high schools as well as sending more rural students to boarding schools (Hower & Kelly, 1996).  Adding to these attitudes, as I discuss shortly, is the perception that Natives enjoy undue privileges due to their special status vis-à-vis the federal government.

Poor Pupil Performance in Rural Schools

Compounding the resentment over the high cost of education in rural areas are widespread perceptions that the quality of education in rural areas is poor, resulting in lower achievement among rural students, in particular Native students.  In 1995, while around 30% of the new students at the University of Alaska were from rural communities, over half the students in remedial classes were rural students.

However, urban schools fail Native students as well.  In urban schools, Native students receive a much higher proportion of failing grades than do students from any other ethnic group; in 1991 they received three times as many failing grades in the major academic areas as did white students.  Also, as noted before, in that same year while 8 percent of the secondary students were Alaska Native, 22 percent of the school dropouts were Native.  Similarly high dropout rates are found among Native students in Fairbanks and Juneau (Kleinfeld, 1992).

There are a number of reasons for Native students not flourishing in public schools.  The report of the Alaska Natives Commission in 1994 listed a number of barriers to achievement include schools' lack of cultural linkages to communities and families, a dearth of Native teachers and administrators, families and villages not understanding or appreciating importance of education and not pressing students to perform to their capabilities, and obstacles arising from difficult social and economic conditions (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994b).

The Commission found problems in both rural and urban educational settings for Native students, noting that, "In urban areas, about 60 percent of Alaska Native entering high school do not graduate, while in rural areas only 12 to 15 percent do not graduate.  However, the high rural graduation rate is countered by much lower than average student achievement levels." (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994, p. 106).  Low standardized test scores were a problem in most rural districts in the early 1990s.  In 1990,  none of the school districts in which 85 percent or more of the 8th grade students were Alaska Native had ITBS test scores that reached the 50th percentile, the national average (Kleinfeld, 1992).

Also, while the rural high schools have helped preserve Native culture, they haven't reversed the loss of Native languages and traditional lifestyles.  Nor have they enabled students to succeed within their communities.  70% of rural high school graduates, according to a University of Alaska study, remain in their villages, and most are unemployed (Hower & Kelly, 1996, p. 10).

            It’s possible to recite a litany of facts about the failure of rural schools.  However, as I was completing data collection, the story seemed to be changing.  Glenn Olson, the Superintendent of the Yukon-Koyukuk School District published a piece in the Anchorage Daily News arguing that rural schools were far more successful at educating rural and Native students than they had been twenty years earlier.  He wrote:

When Rural Attendance Education Areas were formed 20 years ago, students in regional high schools were performing poorly on standardized tests.  Currently, our students enter kindergarten testing at about the 15th percentile.  According to experts at the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, students who enter high school at the 15th percentile typically leave at the 15th percentile.  Our students, however, leave high school testing 35 points higher – at about the national average of the 50th percentile…Two decades ago, more than 60 percent of Bush students eventually dropped out, and the ancillary problems of school failure were rampant.  Today, while the dropout rate of Native Alaskans in urban high schools approaches 50 percent, nearly every student enrolled in a rural high school is on track for graduation (Olson, 1996).

            Often missing from the arguments on closing rural schools due to high costs and poor quality is the meaning of being in their village for Native students. Native identity, as noted in Chapter 4, is tied closely to the land.  One Native legislator, discussing her opposition to closing rural schools, noted “People are so tied to this land its hard to explain to someone” (Hower & Kelly, 1996, p. 5).  This attachment to the land is not one typically shared by many Americans, whose identity is carried through other aspects of their lives like religion or nation and culture of origin.

            While rural education quality and funding is a major concern in Alaska, it has to be viewed not as a stand-alone issue, but rather as a part of the much larger socio-political and economic disputes ongoing among Natives and non-Natives in the state.

Rural Issues Beyond Schooling

The issues impacting rural education policymaking are not discreet, but rather they are embedded within larger concerns impacting rural/urban and Native/non-Native relations in Alaska.  These include: the lack of economic wealth or sources of income outside of government transfer in many villages; the special status of Natives and related disputes from this, e.g., subsistence rights, federally funded services; and non-Native resentment of the current financial arrangements as well as Natives’ unique rights. [16]   On top of these, there is a high degree of regionalism in Alaska which manifests itself in ongoing disputes between rural and urban areas of the state.  All of the issues mentioned above were raised by one or more of the policymakers during our discussions.  Before I address rural education topics, it is important to introduce these broader concerns.

The Special Status of Natives: Subsistence Rights and Other Benefits

            As indigenous people within the United States, Alaska Natives enjoy a special status which sets them apart from other residents of Alaska.  They fall under many of the provisions of “Indian Law,” which gives American Indians unique rights, based on their status as “dependent sovereignties” within the United States.  These include the right to self govern (on reservations), the right to negotiate directly with the U.S. Congress, and special rights to hunt and fish.  They also have access not only to federal programs for all citizens, but exclusive rights to programs that were created solely for Indians (Morehouse, 1992). 

However, the special status of Alaska Natives is not as clear as that for other indigenous peoples in the lower 48, and indeed continues to be intensely disputed, especially by the state government and those non-Natives whose interests it often represents.  Alaska Natives don’t enjoy all of the same rights as lower 48 tribes, and historically were not included in all decisions impacting other Natives (Morehouse, 1992).  The Alaska Native Commission found that, while the federal government has determined that Native Americans are best able to govern own lives, as evidenced by policies enacted in past 25 years, "...Alaska Natives have been singled out as not falling fully under the opportunities and protections found in many of these law" (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994b, p. 60).

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) further set up different rules for Natives in Alaska.  As discussed in Chapter 4, it abolished all Native reserves and reservations in Alaska, other than one at Metlakatla, as well as aboriginal title to the more extensive lands traditionally occupied or used by these peoples.  It was written in a way that deliberately excluded the traditional features of treaties with Natives (Morehouse, 1992). ANCSA also created the perception that Natives were given much more than they deserved in terms of land and money, a perception reinforced by Alaska Natives continuing to receive some, though not all, of the special privileges accorded to indigenous peoples in the United States.  More recently, the differences between Alaska Natives and lower 48 tribes were enforced when the Supreme Court denied the Venetie tribe in northern Alaska the right to call their traditional lands, which were assigned them formally under ANCSA “Indian Country”(Hull & Leask, 2000).

            The primary issues raised by the legislators I spoke with included subsistence, Native rights to federally funded services, and the sovereignty movement.  The debate around subsistence rights is broader than simply who has the legal right to hunt or gather food in rural Alaska.  There are social, economic and political issues entailed which evoke deep emotions.  The conflict around subsistence, set up under ANCSA and ANILCA, is part of a larger political debate around the status and rights of Alaska Natives.  Morehouse (1992) notes that “…many Alaskans see the subsistence issue as a fundamental ideological conflict between equality and special privilege…” (p. 7).  He also identifies differences between the views of Natives and non-Natives on subsistence, which mirrors what I found in my population of policymakers, as I will show below:

Majority [non-Native]interests represented in state government view 'subsistence' primarily as hunting and fishing for sustenance and recreation, and activity conducted by Natives and non-Natives alike.  In this view, there is no distinctive connection to Native culture or traditions.  Natives (and many non-Natives), on the other hand, see subsistence as a vital element of Native culture and a special Native right (Morehouse, 1992, p. 16).

Indeed, authors of the Alaska Natives Commission report (1994) argue that "Subsistence is more than economics.  In addition to supplying food and other necessities, it provides people with productive labor, personal self-esteem, strong family and community relationships, and a cultural foundation that can never be replaced or duplicated by any other arrangement" (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994a, p. 61).  They contend that subsistence is a difficult issue because is about Alaska Natives and their cultures, stating that “…those who most seriously practice subsistence as a way of life are Alaska Natives.” - Congress gave preference on subsistence to rural Alaskans, contention that is meant to protect Native subsistence rights (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994b, p. 57).  They go on to argue that without subsistence Alaska Native cultures would not exist, noting that a majority of village residents choose to practice subsistence regardless of their cash income.  Still subsistence also plays a vital role in supporting local village economies:

            The economies of most Native villages in Alaska remain underdeveloped, artificial dependencies of government where few jobs and relatively small amounts of cash exist.  Without a secure protein base of wild, renewable fish and game resources, the poorest and most traditional villages are doomed to economic and social deterioration (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994a, p. 61).

Rural Economic Issues and Related Social Problems

Most of the legislators raised concerns about the poor economies in Native villages.  Statewide, Alaska Natives have the lowest per capita income of “racial” or “ethnic” groups, and comprise the largest group among those who lives in poverty (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994a).  Often, the only sources of income in villages are the payments from federal and state sources for programs like welfare, Bureau of Indian Affairs health programs and the like:

            Together, federal and state programs for Native and non-Native communities in rural Alaska sustain a major share of the local economies.  Government employment, case payments, and services accounted for as much as half of the personal income and two-thirds of the economic base of village economies in the mid-1980s.  This is why economists often refer to the "transfer economies" of Native villages.  In many villages, state and federal government transfers play a vital role in filling the gaps left by the erosion of the subsistence economy and the absence of a market economy (Morehouse, 1992, p. 15).

The impact of dependence on government aid instead of social interdependence for survival has created many social problems including alcoholism and domestic violence (Alaska Natives Commission, 1994b).

As this brief introduction has shown, it is absolutely necessary to contextualize rural education issues in the larger social and economic context of rural Alaska.  Before I discuss policymakers’ opinions regarding rural education topics, I will present their comments about the general rural issues impacting Natives and their position within the state.  Again, on all aspects of the rural education debate, there were distinct differences between the Advocates and the Adversaries, while the Sympathizers fell somewhere in between.

The Advocates and the Urban/Rural Split

Legislators across the three groups talked extensively about the divide between urban and rural Alaska, and how this regionalism impacts state politics and policymaking. While many of the legislators brought up the social and political split between rural and urban Alaska, the Advocates also tied this split to party affiliation.  Tim Rogers further tied this split directly to racial divisions.  I commented that it seemed as though Rogers felt that many urban legislators don’t have a good take on rural issues.  He responded:

            That’s right, there are lots of urban legislators who have the us versus them, you know this state lends itself to polarization in terms of economics and in politics… and when you look at the figures, and a lot of the statistics give credence to the people, the urban, white, conservative legislators who, because the Natives, you know, this last time around the Native organizations endorsed Tony Knowles, so they’re all Democrats and they’re the enemy.  And the Natives want subsistence rights protected, and the white urban hunters, the white, urban sportsmen hunters do not, so it becomes almost a race polarization, a resource polarization…

While talking with Nancy Greenway, I described learning about the rural-urban split in Alaska, and commented that it seemed like there was a lot of resentment in the urban areas.  She responded:

And it’s very, it’s very different between the political parties.  And so I think what exacerbates the split are, for those people who are looking at state government by looking at the balance sheet and looking at the numbers, the split between urban and rural gets worse, because obviously more money per capita is going out to these rural areas, where it’s difficult to deliver services, and less money into the urban area where we’ve got a lot more people and have our own set of problems.  So, if you’re just looking at numbers, you can get real parochial about your area of the state.  I believe, and one of the reasons that I’m a Democrat, rather than a Republican, is that within our caucus, within the Democratic caucus, people are more likely to look at people.  And the services, and what are good for the people of Alaska, and then you get a little bit, you break down the barriers of the parochialism, because we have a diverse population, and you can’t look at some of the people and not all of that.  So I think we have less trouble with that in our caucus but it’s real obvious on the floor when we get into a debate that we’ve got the numbers people and we’ve got the people people.

When I asked Greenway if legislators dealt with race openly, she replied:

            No I don’t think so.  And frankly the... the issues between rural and urban, a lot of them are money issues.  And in the past, and even now in some ways, but in the past in particular, the bush caucus had a pretty powerful organization that did get a lot of what they wanted, and in some cases, one might say, and a little bit more.  And so some of the people who are very resentful about the bush members have been here much longer than me, and might remember some of those things that I wasn’t here for.

The Advocates and Rural Economic Issues

Advocates and Adversaries both identified the socio-economic context of rural Alaska as one cause of Native problems, both in school and in general.  However, Advocates did not characterize Native culture as a barrier to school achievement for Natives, only the system.  I asked Matt Allen what he saw as the underlying causes of Native student underachievement.  He answered:  “I think that the whole socio-economic realm of rural Alaska in and of itself, opportunity, where’s the opportunity, why does rural Alaska have a suicide rate of 20% of kids between 18 and 25, you know, that’s absolutely sick!  That’s problems.”  Nancy Greenway echoed his concerns:

… And then of course we’ve got bilingual situations there, we’ve got lots more poverty in the rural areas, lots more alcoholism, a lot more fetal alcohol syndrome kids, and a lot more kids needing special services.  And health problems, like ears, you know, are rampant in the bush areas compared to the urban areas.  So, since there’s so much concern about the problems in the rural areas, it’s wonderful that there are rural people on the School Board, on the State Board.

The Advocates and Natives’ Special Status

Subsistence rights were brought up by several of the Advocates and Sympathizers.  Tim Rogers addressed subsistence and why he supported Natives’ subsistence rights:

…the prime conflict in the state tends to be over subsistence hunting and fishing rights and you know about all that…I mean I always vote for subsistence hunting and fishing rights, it just makes sense to me, you’re feeding your families, as your ancestors have done for thousands of years, that comes before the hunter from Germany who wants to put a moose head on his wall.  You know, or the hunter from my district who wants to put a moose head on his wall, there just has got to be a priority.  And so I’m often derided and I lose some votes in my district for voting for rural interests and for Native interests, frankly. 

The Advocates and Rural Schooling Issues

            As I noted before, the two major issues involving rural schools raised by the legislators I interviewed were the cost of rural education and the quality of rural schools.  While there were many individual differences, overall the Advocates favored maintaining and strengthening rural schools, while Adversaries expressed interest in eliminating much of the rural education system, instead suggesting alternatives including boarding schools, home schooling and regional high schools. In the coming section I first address issues around the quality of rural schooling, and then look at legislators’ attitudes about the cost of rural schools.

Quality Issues

The Advocates expressed concern about the lower quality of education offered in rural areas and the potential impact on the opportunities for Native students.  However, they saw this problem as being countered by the need for rural schools that allowed Native students to remain with their families and in their communities.  Therefore their remedies to the problem were not elimination of rural schools but rather finding ways to improve rural schooling.Tim Rogers identified tradeoffs between the benefits of maintaining rural education and the advantages of boarding schools:

But generally, I mean the last, the current crop of Native leaders were ones who, their villages invested in them with scholarships, and sent them to the finest schools in the world, in exchange for them coming back and leading corporations and leading the politics.  And they’re the kids who were shipped out of the villages to Mt. Edgecumbe, and then were sent to the best universities, and most of them have returned to be successful.  And then we had Molly Hootch, and there were the rural schools, which have been a mixed bag.  You know, you don’t get the same education in a village with 8 kids as you would if you were shipped out, but you also get to stay with your family, and maybe retain more of your cultural heritage, and go to fish camp every summer and those things, so there’s definitely been a trade-off.  And the loss of culture and loss of identity is inexorable, and the suicide rate is high, and it’s, but you can’t help but think that the positive effects of public education outweigh any negative effects…

Rogers offered a complex view of rural education, not presenting it as all good or bad, but still expressing support for the rural system.  He pointed out how difficult it is to create state policy which meets the needs of all localities:

…you know we, because of Molly Hootch, the court decision, we invested an enormous, billions of dollars in rural schools, in some places it made sense, that probably didn’t make so much sense.  And that if given a choice that village probably would have wanted to ship their kids to the next bigger village or the regional hub for a better education, and make that trade-off.  But the court, with the court it was sort of all or nothing, you know, and that’s the difficulty here in drafting a court decision or drafting a statute, is how do you make it fit everybody reasonably and fairly across the state of Alaska.  We had the same problem with the seatbelt fit, do people, do people have to be arrested or fined in a village that has no roads?  When they’re driving their pickup out to the barn to, you know, store something?  Well that’s not going to happen, no cop’s going to pick them up, but trying to make bills like that, or education policy fit the whole state, is enormously difficult.  And I know California has small schools and big schools and urban areas and, but, this state is amazing.

Allen expressed concern about the quality of rural education a number times, and identified several factors leading to poor achievement among Native students.  As discussed in Chapter 5, he viewed the cultural mismatch between the curriculum and Native life as one issue, and also poor teaching by non-Native teachers as another barrier to student learning.  He felt that rural schools left students ill-prepared for the rigors of higher education.  When I asked him what he thought were the major causes of Alaska Native underachievement, in addition to teacher preparation issues, he responded:

…When are we gonna provide, when is the university or when is the government going to quit taking a paternalistic view and start taking a more responsible view of rural education in general, I mean, it’s a nasty little cycle.  We put in ill-prepared teachers, I mean, teachers from the East Coast or wherever who are out to go have that Alaskan experience, you know, god bless em we’re gonna go out, we’re gonna go shoot a bear, we’re going live in a cabin, we’re gonna be in rural Alaska, the final frontier, you know and they get out there, and they have no concept of what they’re getting into.  They’re not adequately prepared, some would argue they’re not adequately paid, which, I mean that gets into some good arguments, but, the people who do know what rural Alaska is like don’t want to go out there, because they understand the hardships.  So, you know, you’ve a K through 12 system that doesn’t in many instances does not prepare students to attend the university.  You look at the attrition rate of rural Alaskans going into UAF, it was, it’s 95%.  That’s sad.  There are programs like Rawhide (?) that can bring, that have brought that number down to 60, 65%, which is probably a little bit more in line with what most other cultures have shown, but you know, they’re not, for one reason to another, the transition from K-12 to post-secondary loses something and then definitely from post-secondary to post-graduate, what happens?  So I think it’s a mean, nasty revolving cycle that, you know, hey, if I had the answer I’d write a law!

Conversely, he felt many legislators didn’t want to address the complexities of rural education.  I told him that when I first visited Alaska, I did not know anything about Alaska Natives.  I asked how teachers from outside of Alaska learned about Natives, and heard that there was little continuing education for them in Juneau.  I had heard that policymakers were less aware, and lots of the legislators are originally from the “Lower 48,” and then I asked if these legislators heard and respected the concerns of people from the rural areas.  He responded:

They will to some extent, as long as it doesn’t involve great complexities, I mean as long as it’s a quick fix solution, as long as it doesn’t require them to go back and review some of their paradigms that they’re working under.  You know, it’s like well, you need a new school in Noatak (?), ok, we can do that, we’ll build a new school in Noatok?  When it comes down to ensuring that teachers have the adequate tools and the adequate means to do the job, you know I’m not really sure that they do understand, or that they look far enough ahead into the future about well, if we really want Native educators involved in the educational process in rural Alaska, let’s make sure our university is doing an adequate job and doing an appropriate job.  It’s been terrible, but our School of Education at the University of Alaska has not had the best reputation.  it still doesn’t actually for putting out educators or educators who are able to go out into rural Alaska and to educate.  And I think it’s been a very big failing of our whole post-secondary system.  Why, I think people have been dealing with the school with kid gloves, that when they’re asked to do the work, they become so entrenched in their own beliefs that, you know, that’s it.  It’s been very unfortunate.

Nancy Greenway addressed concerns about the poor quality of education in rural Alaska, but more from the perspective that the measures, like standardized tests, were not adequate or appropriate for the setting:

…a lot of the problems in education in this state are viewed to be in rural Alaska.  And you know part of it is we use Caucasian White Man’s tests from New Jersey to measure the progress in Unalakleet, and those kids don’t know about cows and dairies and stuff like that but they know about seals and salmon and they never get tested on that.  So I always, I know there’s a lot of talk about how miserable the rural kids are doing on the tests and, I don’t, I don’t think that’s a valid measure, especially as the only measure of how they are doing.  But that’s a problem.

Funding Issues

The Advocates talked extensively about the lack of support for rural education funding among other legislators. Matt Allen likewise viewed rural education funding as a complex issue, acknowledging that there were problems as well as benefits.  When I asked him if he felt that the lack of experience he thought most urban legislators had impacted their decisions.  He replied:

            Absolutely.  Absolutely.  I mean you come up with statements from urban legislators, “well, if they want the same type of services that we have in urban Alaska, they should move to urban Alaska” They’re very...opposed to educational spending in rural Alaska.  Part of it you know might be, part of it might be justified, but I think well they look at and they hear extreme stories that you know, great wanton waste in Rural Alaska educational system.  Well you don’t address that by getting rid of rural education, you do that by adjusting procedures to make people accountable when that happens.  And, that’s been my big concern that we’re always looking at the tail of the dog and not the head of the dog to try to figure out what’s going on.

Matt Allen talked about how urban legislators resented spending on rural schools.  I asked him if house members talked openly about race, and he replied:

No, but when you get down in the lounge, which is the exclusive area legislators get to go get away from folks, you hear statements like, like what I was saying, you know “they want have this that, you know where we should just get rid of rural schools altogether, put ‘em in a boarding school if they want it and then go from there...” Uh, those type of mentalities start to percolate there, and then on occasion you will have somebody on the committee say something along those lines.

When I commented that people had said to me that they were comfortable talking about race he responded, “Oh they are, well, not in the positive light, not that, it’s never done, gee whiz what can we do to develop the Native community’s educational opportunities, it’s more or less “well, we’ve spent a lot of money out there, what are we getting back for it?”  He then added:

As I was saying, on occasion you do have the statements, “if they want those, or if they want education they should pay for education like every other community”  It doesn’t matter that there’s zero valuation on the land values, so there is no tax base, and if there were, there’s not a great deal of economy to generate revenue.

I mentioned that I had heard that there was a lot of lingering resentment over the ANCSA agreement.  He replied:

That’s probably getting a little bit technical when talking... I think at this level there’s a lot more lingering concerns over Molly Hootch, you know requiring rural schools, and “we paid for all that when we were rich and now we’re poor and we can’t afford it any more...” you know, “I’m tired, being from Anchorage, I’m tired of having to subsidize those schools.”

Tim Rogers also described how other urban legislators objected to paying the cost of rural education, and expressed his dismay at the arguments and attitudes of those opposing rural education funding, both in the legislature and among the public:

…and you look in terms of just schools, you look at the, the figures of how much we spend per child to educate a child in Kaktovik compared to a child in Anchorage, and you have these white urban legislators standing up and saying Anchorage School District has 40% of the kids but we only get 29% of the money, and, you know, we get 4,000, between 3 and 4,000 dollars per child through the school foundation formula, the state funding that comes from the North Slope that we all share, and, you know, we’re spending 7 or 8,000 dollars per child in this rural village, where all these Native kids are, and how grossly unfair that is.  And anybody with a brain can sit down and know that there are economies of scale in terms of the service delivery, when you’ve got 40,000 kids in the Anchorage, or 44,000 kids, whatever it is now, in the Anchorage school district, that it’s gonna be cheaper to run the school lunch program than it would be with 8 kids in some remote village where everything’s flown in, and the weather’s bad half of the year and it’s... I mean and some of the people who are smart enough to figure that out refuse to, because it’s a political thing, it’s us versus them, and when some person like Bob Forman, who’s on the, you know chairs that committee that I used to chair, co-chairs it, and represents one of the richest districts in Alaska, you know it’s the oil executives and doctors and lawyers on the hillside of Anchorage, out in those big massive homes out on the hillside, and where they don’t pay for their own police protection, you know they don’t pay taxes like we do in Fairview, well we just changed that, they hadn’t paid for their fair share of taxes, and he stands up and complains that you know the schools in his district don’t get as much money as Anaktuvuk Pass, that offends me, even though I’m from Anchorage, and they say oh well see you’re going to get thrown out of office because you’re not trying to take it from the rural areas and give it to the urban areas.  Well, I’ve looked at the facts and figures and know that maybe there should be an adjustment in the formula, that a per-capita adjustment in the formula is anti-intellectual, it’s like a don’t-bother-us-with-the-facts-just-give-us-the-money kind of argument, that offends me.

Earlier in this section, I showed that Nancy Greenway identified the difference in costs in rural and urban education as creating resentment among many Alaska residents.  She further noted that:

…more money per capita is going out to these rural areas, where it’s difficult to deliver services, and less money into the urban area where we’ve got a lot more people and have our own set of problems.  So, if you’re just looking at numbers, you can get real parochial about your area of the state.

The Adversaries and the Urban/Rural Split

Of the two Adversaries, I only spoke directly with Hugh Gannett about the rural-urban split.  However, he couched this topic in terms of not just regionalism, but also in terms of the anti-Anchorage sentiment he perceived from communities throughout the state.  I commented that it seemed as though Anchorage was looked on as the “evil big city,” much as Los Angeles is viewed by the rest of California.  Gannett agreed:

            Yes, exactly, there is huge regionalism or sectionalism in the state, as a matter of fact I wrote a senior thesis in college about the sectionalism and politics in the state of Alaska.  I think we call it regionalism in Alaska, and that was my thesis, it was about how the different parts of the state all hate Anchorage, and gang up on it, and these coalitions still exist.

However, in a less direct way examples of the regionalism in the State were provided by the opinions expressed by Hugh Gannett and George Leonard during out conversations..  Both Leonard and Gannett expressed resentment toward the wealth accumulated by the Natives in the North Slope Borough.  In a discussion on proposals to revise education funding for the North Slope Borough in order to have that entity contribute more to schools than other rural boroughs, Hugh Gannett commented: “Was that the North Slope Borough formula thing? (laughs)  (unclear) they’re right, they’re ripping us off...”

I commented to George Leonard that there was a lot of tension during the debate I heard about whether the North Slope Borough should contribute more toward education.  He responded:

            Well, the North Slope Borough is... the result of considerable political favoritism.  I mean it was created... out of a lot of moneyed influence to provide an extremely large tax base to an extremely small number of people, we’re talking 5800 people (I:  In the whole borough...) the whole borough, with a tax base of, I believe it’s 1.2 billion dollars per capita (I: exclamation...)  I might be wrong, it might be more than that.  Um... the vast majority of the North Slope Borough has no justification for having any taxable authority over much of the region... that industrial base provides a tremendous tax base.  And the state law is structured where we have a, we have a property tax on oil-field related facilities, that’s the only state-wide property tax we have, oil-field related, we have a very convoluted tax structure on oil, extremely convoluted, it was designed, it was designed to squeeze every dime that we can out of the oil industry.  The exemption is that those oil properties that are within organized boroughs or tax authorities can also tax that property, and that tax is deducted from the tax that we do at the state...The North Slope Borough, which is a huge geographical area, I mean it’s half the size of the state of Texas , if that were just limited to where they have a population base, there would be several billion dollars of taxable properties that would go into the state treasury instead of going to the North Slope Borough. 

As I show later, some Sympathizers expressed similar sentiments.

The Advocates and Rural Economic Issues

Both Gannett and Leonard identified economic problems in the rural villages as a significant issue for Natives.  When I mentioned that I had heard that there were few economic opportunities in the villages, Hugh Gannett commented:

            That’s right, the villages, we have created (unclear) we have supported  and created infrastructure in, with our enormous oil wealth, and locked in and institutionalized these villages that don’t have any kind of an economic dynamic of growth and decline and expiration, I mean we’ve interrupted a natural cycle of human population dynamic, and that’s a problem, because now we have a situation where we have to spoon feed all of these people.

George Leonard addressed socio-economic issues as being problematic in rural Native communities, like the Advocates.  When I mentioned to Leonard that I also had heard that there were high teen pregnancy and school dropout rates among Native Alaskans, he answered:

            I don’t know that it’s higher for Natives than it is for non-Natives, it could be... We have, statewide, we have a real problem in that area, a real big problem.  ... I’ve never thought of it as a Native - non-Native issue but maybe it is (?) all I know, and then does that break down to...Natives living in the rail belt versus Natives living in the Bush, I don’t know.  The bush communities have real social problems, I mean they really do, the ... the lack of a viable economy in those areas affects people in more ways than just economically it affects their sense of self worth.

I commented to George Leonard that I had heard a lot of concern regarding the lack of revenue generating industry in rural communities.  He responded:

            Well the demographics tell the story, I mean the...villages in Bush Alaska are... the region as a whole is not shrinking in population but it’s not growing like the rest of the state, it’s being left behind.  The population in the rural areas is becoming void of your young adults. It’s populated by the very young and the very old.  And the young adults are emigrating to the areas where they can find a better lifestyle, or whatever it is they are looking for, employment, or whatever.

After acknowledging that there was not a lot of time during the legislative session, I asked if these topics were discussed in the HESS committee meetings.  He replied:

Well we do have a lot of time we just have a lot of things to do... No, I don’t think we have spent a lot of time, I think there are some general philosophical discussions but usually we’re more focused on specific issues. ... I mean we get focused on, you take all of what you’re talking about and then you narrow it down to a problem in quality of education, narrow it down to a problem with fetal alcohol syndrome, so you get into each of those individual problems you get into some of those broad philosophical discussions but, we recognize serious problems in Alaska in general and we recognize that many of our social ills are exaggerated in the rural areas. 

The Adversaries and Rural Schooling Issues

Both Gannett and Leonard criticized rural schools and the Molly Hootch settlement. Each argued for eliminating small rural schools and for using boarding schools or other options in their stead.  Gannett discussed his preference for boarding schools as opposed to local high schools in rural communities, stating that they were better because they removed Native students from their villages and exposed them to the dominant culture:

            ... the most successful, you should look at this, the most successful group of Alaska Native leadership leaders came out of the boarding school programs at Mt. Edgecumb, Chilaco Chimawa (sp?) when they exported our students out of the town, we had the Molly Hootch settlement case, it created high schools and other schools in small communities, it probably ruined, the kids lost their opportunity to go out of their village and learn what the rest of the world was like, both in the Native and white cultures and the United States and the world, and get a potentially better education at those schools.  They were separated from their families which was unfortunate, and many times, if I had the money, I’d send one of my grandkids to military school in lower Slovobia if I could afford it right now it would be good for him he needs it!  You know, excuse me...  so I mean I think that the Molly Hootch settlement was a very big negative for education, and I would believe in boarding schools, I don’t think every small community should have a secondary education school near the community they should you know consolidate, and they can export, import whatever I think you need to look at those kinds of things.

I mentioned that I had heard of a push to expand the number of boarding schools in the state.  He commented, “Yeah I think that would be good I really do, I mean there’s a push to close down Mt. Edgecumbe too, you so now, I don’t know, it doesn’t cost the student, so I don’t know, I’ve heard these things, I’m not experienced in them.”

As I noted earlier, George Leonard was critical of small rural high schools. As we discussed options for rural education, he commented, “Well we have communities in Alaska that have a school only because the faculty has enough students to keep the school doors open.”  I told him that I had met someone who had enough children in her family to have a school.  He responded:

            Oh, yeah you can hire somebody that’s got four or five kids who are school aged and that gives you enough to put you over the minimum, which I think is eight, to have a school.  Um, I think, there have been considerable discussion, it hasn’t gone anywhere yet, there have been considerable discussions to raise those standards, set it at, require 25 students to have a school. ...  It doesn’t mean that they have to go off to boarding school ‘cause there are other means of education, there’s home schooling etcetera etcetera.  And there are many places in the world that very successfully use that, and we use a lot of it here in Alaska, there’s a lot of people right here in the borough who do home schooling. It gets down to the formula for quality education.  It takes students, parents, teachers, you have to have all three that care.  And home schooling unless the parents, no schooling works if the parents aren’t concerned.

Leonard clearly believed that small rural schools had failed and many dismissed concerns raised by others regarding the lack of Native teachers and other obstacles.  I noted that I had heard a lot of concern regarding the lack of Native teachers in rural schools.  He responded:

Oh I think people are always looking for an excuse to complain, an excuse perhaps to promote a personal agenda.  I don’t see, number one where you can say there’s any lack and number 2 where you can possibly even begin to suggest there’s any form of discrimination.  We have a serious problem in that our educational system out in the bush, which is a big experiment started back in ‘74, it’s been a failure.  We have condemned a whole generation of Alaskans to be the product of a failed system, and we’re going through this stage right now, do we perpetuate that failed system or do we look to make some serious changes.

George Leonard also did not support maintaining the current system of rural schools.  When asked how state policymakers might address issues of Native student underachievement, Leonard commented:

            Well, I think... you’d be hard pressed to find a majority that felt that the... I forget the name of the gal, the Molly Hootch, that thinks that the Molly Hootch decision has been good (interruption in tape).  Hootch as an out of course settlement has expired (q: I didn’t know that...)  It’s my understanding it expired two years ago, and even then it certainly could have been challenged in court again.  I think we’re wrestling with it now, with where we’re going.  The schools that were built under Molly Hootch are on the verge of physical collapse, where are we going to go?  I don’t know the answer, but I don’t think we’re going to duplicate the Molly Hootch...

Unlike George Leonard, Gannett did identify issues around whites teaching in villages as impacting Native achievement.  However, he ascribed the problems to the village residents and teachers not getting along, rather than the more sophisticated analyses of Allen and others around cultural differences between teachers and villagers and the attitudes of the teachers.  When I asked Gannett how different the educational problems in rural areas were from those in urban areas, he replied:

…I think the biggest problem as I take it though is recruitment, retention, and the relationship with the White, Caucasian teacher in these different cultural settings, and the ability of those villagers and those people to get along properly and to have good relations.  Sometimes it’s wonderful…

Funding Issues

Both Adversaries were opposed to the current structure of rural school funding.  While talking with Hugh Gannett, I noted that the rural/urban split seemed to be a major tension in the state, which I saw as I sat through a debate on SB 70, the North Slope Borough formula.  Gannett echoed Leonard’s critique of the wealth held by the North Slope Borough, in light of the low level of taxes paid by the local residents:

            Was that the North Slope Borough formula thing? (laughs) … they’re right, they’re ripping us off...  Tell you what, the federal disparity rules, and stuff like that, did you see that? I mean, I guess you get to exempt the top and the bottom schools, and that is just, just awful.

Leonard expressed his concern about the way education is funded in Alaska, and the disparity created by greater contributions to this funding by urban communities.

            …the foundation formula is an issue, I don’t think you could find 6 people in Fairbanks who understood it.  I don’t.  We have a formula that takes away the legislatures’ responsibility for appropriations and do it by formula, and (?...)I don’t think we’re going to take on that, but very clearly the state provides education in the unincorporated boroughs, local communities provide substantial support for education in the incorporated boroughs.  There’s a big disparity.

The Sympathizers and the Urban/Rural Split

Members of the Sympathizers also identified the rural-urban split in the state as a major determinant of politics and attitudes in Alaska.  I described to Bob Forman how I had met teachers who’d been in Alaska for 15 or 20 years and yet still didn’t seem to have a real deep understanding of Alaska Natives’ history, politics and culture.  He responded, turning the context to how Natives don’t understand non-Native history:

            Well, and that’s true, because we’re such a big state, that we really are very...geographically chauvinistic.  I mean Southeastern is Southeastern and they want, it’s not just Native, they don’t want anything to do with the rest of Alaska at all.  And they don’t have much understanding of non-Native history.  And Southcentral and Anchorage think the world revolves around Anchorage, and we’ll never move the capital to Anchorage because Fairbanks and Juneau and Bethel will fight because they don’t want too much localization…

Sally Longworth described the phenomenon clearly:

And I think it all kind of goes together, and particularly if you see floor votes and I’ve always said we don’t have partisanship based on political parties, we have issues based on urban/rural. And it’s unfortunate because very often, the goals and the needs and the desires don’t conflict, they just don’t happen to be the same.  And the same resource is provided for both.  And so, you end up, and it’s not that they have any less respect for me because I live in you know, a road system area, or that I have any less respect for them because they’re in a remote, or in a village setting.  That’s not it at all.  It’s just that the resource doesn’t go far enough to give everyone everything they want.  And so you end up dividing on some votes.

Alan Gray addressed the regionalism in the state:

And, because, because a lot of decisions we make are based on regionalization.  The Native interest, the bush, bush interests, urban interests, fishing interests, timber interests, oil interests.  All of those things have different impacts on different regions of the state.  And we are a real large state, geographically, acre-wise, and we have all, all types of situations to consider.  We have the, the Native, aboriginal village situation, which is, which really is a third world problem.  They have third world problems out there.

Like Leonard and Gannett, Gray also saw Natives as deliberately trying to trick non-Natives out of wealth.  As we discussed the wealth of the North Slope Native Corporation:

…and of course you know with property taxes based, and of course property including oil rigs and processing plants and pipelines is all property, and that’s why they created the North Slope Borough, that included Prudhoe Bay, so they could tax all those facilities, and that’s where their money comes from (DH: that’s very nice!) Yeah, pretty shrewd, another ‘trick the white man ploy,’ and it’s fine, and it’s fine, I don’t care, nobody has...

The Sympathizers and Rural Economic Issues

I asked Gray what do he thought would be needed to address underachievement and dropout rates, and what he’d say to the commissioner of education about these issues.

            It’s, it’s more of a social issue than an educational issue.  So it’s, it wouldn’t be the Commissioner of Education I’d be talking about, talking to, it’d be the Commissioner of Health and Social Services, and, and it’s, again it’s... it’s hard to say because what they want may not be what us in control of the purse strings want them to have.  I’m not even so sure if providing sewage systems and water systems in all the villages is the thing to do.  They’ve gotten along plenty without it, but, but then there’s, you know I’m sure I would, after a discussion I would say yes that we need to do that, when you give it enough thought, because, because of increased population and influx of different people since they do have their airports and people are going to be coming and going, the spread of diseases, the influx of different foods, and the outgoing of foods and things, and the pollution of the waters that go by most of the villages is different than it was a hundred years ago naturally.  So, there’s a, all those things that we just have to keep up with and try and provide as best we can.

He later added:

…But it’s becoming more and more, and I’m even, even with my knowledge of rural Alaska I’m still concerned about their economic base.  Because we do give them money, and they do have an economic base.  It’s just they are not familiar with how to develop it.  And if they don’t have to develop it, and we keep giving them all their services for nothing, why should they?  So you keep riding the gravy train as long as you can, and then, and then when you’re cut off, they’ll find a way.

Gray was one of two Sympathizers who saw economic growth underway in rural areas. I asked him if the state was at a point where the economic conditions were about to change. He replied affirmatively:

            Yeah, they’ve already made a lot of strides in rural Alaska to provide some economic base.  The CDQs, the community development quotas are really, that’s a real smart, innovative process, one of those things like gee why didn’t I think of that, I mean it’s a really good, it’s a really good deal where we’ve districted the fisheries from areas, we’ve created little districts for them.  And say, ok all you villages in this area, that’s yours.  Everything in that area belongs to you, so, so they can contract with any fishing fleets that come in that area.  They can’t fish themselves, because they don’t have the processors, the big ships, and boats that can go out into the ocean and catch those fish, but they have control over all the fleets within their area.  They can say we’ll let you fish in our area for 10% of your profit, or 10% of the fish.  We’ll also let you fish there if you build a processing plant in our village.  And so that employs people and it generates revenue for that area.  So that’s a real innovative thing.  And you see Native villages now building little, building lodges for tourists to come in and stay, and it’s been, it should be a great deal.  I mean everybody in the United States should take 2 or 3 days and go out to a Native village in Alaska and see what it’s like to live there for a couple days, I mean with no running water, no plumbing, no electricity, it’s, there is electricity, but it’s quite rustic.

Bill Walters, like Gray and unlike Bob Forman, did not see economic development as necessarily having to be in conflict with traditional lifestyles or culture.  I mentioned that I had heard concerns that subsistence did not bring in capital or earnings, and that some had questioned whether it was possible to have subsistence along with other kinds of earnings.  He commented:

Oh I think you can, and I think quite frankly, I kind of like to look at the Kotzebue experience, and Kominko Red Dog mine, where the Red Dog was, was not state land, but it was NANA land, the corporation up there, the Native corporation.  They leased the land to Red Dog, or Kominko, the Red Dog mine, but one of the stipulations is OK, you know we’ll lease this and give you good rates and everything, but you’ve got to train our local folks to be able to do this.  And what they have found is that you know they still like their subsistence lifestyle.  So what a lot of these, they work for six months, and they’re off for six months, and then they have another resident come in and take their place for the next six months, and they have got, it’s kind of a job sharing, but it’s six months at a time job sharing.  And that has worked very well, and in fact an interesting statistic that a lot of people don’t realize, Kominko has a 52% shareholder hire in NANA.  The corporation themselves only has a 39% shareholder hire.  Which is, you know, an interesting statistic.  But I think that’s an example of it can work, where you get, you bring in the local residents, you train them, you still let them partake of their local lifestyle, if they so wish to partake, because there’s a lot that don’t, you know that could care less.  But many of them do, and probably the majority of them do, want to partake in the lifestyle that they’re used to.  But I think that’s a situation where you can have both, you can have economic development and still maintain the lifestyle that many of them want.

            Sally Longworth echoed Hugh Gannett, in arguing that government support for the creation of rural towns led to problems. I mentioned that I had heard from other legislators that providing education in villages was acceptable except that there were no economic opportunities for the residents in these communities.  She responded:

            Well I think that’s absolutely right.  And I think there are a lot of places where there aren’t opportunities and see that’s where you get to the conflict of, you go back kind of to the old libertarian view, is it government’s role to maintain locations of population when there is no revolving dollar, where there are no products made, where no service has been created?  Because, a community funded by government to sustain the community when no product is provided, is produced, no service is provided, other than the government piece that goes in to provide the schools and community (?) have we done anyone a favor?  Or have we created another island, ok and then people who are on islands become desperate, see?  And it’s a conflict, because it’s, that theory would not be well-received, and I’m not saying I think we should go out and prioritize which villages should stay and that’s not what I’m saying at all.  I’m saying the conflict comes because there comes a point where there’s no reason to create a job, cause there is not a job.  And we can’t arbitrarily and artificially make a job when there’s been no new product and no new service.  And, it sorta speaks to, perhaps, I don’t know for sure, the nature of the indigenous people of Alaska, that many of them know that, and it’s why they were nomads.  Cause they could live in this (?) in this (?)(unclear)  but we have told the nomads they must settle.  What was the logical place to settle?  By the river.  What do Alaskan rivers do?  They erode, and overflow, and ruin, we rebuild the city.  I mean, so, at some point, there has to, there are some hardships, and there has to be a conscious choice to say I want to stay in this location.  But I may have to live on my own and that’s not a message a lot of people want to hear.  And I don’t want to be the person in charge of implementing this cause it’s just a question I have.  Government can only go so far in furnishing schools and airports, a town sewer, a post office, you know whatever, and then at some point, a product, something I don’t know a goal or a product, something has to be produced to create new dollars.  If they’re going to have a cash economy.  There are the other kinds.  Ok, so it used to not be a cash economy, and it was based on products that you got whether it was birds, deer, fish, you know or meat.

Forman echoed George Leonard, describing the study that found that young people were leaving their villages: [17]

…there’s another study that just came out with and they interviewed kids from the interior of Alaska, where the winters are much more, much longer and much more severe, and they don’t, they don’t plan in five years now, plan to be in their villages.  In fifteen or twenty or thirty years they plan to come back, but they don’t plan... and how do you keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen the ferry and that’s sort of...

He continued to discuss how many urban students want to attend college out of state, and then added:

… the problem that they have in the real small villages is that it’s not that comfortable a place to live, and so you get an education then you have to use it, and then you become comfortable with some of the amenities that education brings, it’s very challenging to go back.  When you do go back, in many cases, you are criticized then because for being too white or you’re you see all the things that need to be done and you jump into to do them and then you’re pushy.

Lois Andrews brought up the socio-economic context of rural Alaska, in particular around public health issues, as being critical to the schools context.  I mentioned that two people had told me that they felt that the major barriers to school success were health issues, both basic sanitation and drug and alcohol abuse.  She concurred:

Well see they have the best, well drugs and alcohol is a terrible problem.  Access to toilets, you know, there’s a major problem when you have a small village of say 50 people, do you put an 11 million dollar sewer system in there, I mean do you do that?  A lot of these villages were from nomadic tribes that just sat here and said we’re gonna build here, and they’re a small community, they subsist very well on the resources, as they grow, and as the health care keeps them alive and growing and having more and more and larger and larger families, then you have a community that needs toilets, and needs fresh water, and they’re not in the situation where they can get it from that community, and that’s a major problem.

I asked Lois Andrews whether if I questioned a Native and a white person the purpose of education, they would come up with the same answer.  She responded:

That’s a hard question…If you sat with a group of people, I’d say you’d come up with a bunch of different answers, if you sat with one, you’d end up with either somebody who wants to maintain their culture, and then they don’t look at education the way I do, or the way you do, because to them they don’t want to go out to California, or they don’t want their children leaving home.  Possibly to Anchorage maybe, possibly to go outside and get an education, come back and work within their village.  We’re in a very, we’re in great turmoil right now…and it’s very painful, because nobody’s really sure where they want to go.  And we have not only the whole cultural, but we also have subsistence and the language and the money problems because you realize in a Native village there isn’t, there aren’t jobs, and so if welfare depends on being employed, you’re in a whole lot of hurts, there aren’t any jobs, so what do you do?  And if you say yes you have subsistence, then what do you take the welfare check away?  There’s a value to subsistence, so that whole thing is pretty testy.

The Sympathizers and Natives’ Special Status

Despite her statement that there was a value to subsistence for Natives, Lois Andrews also openly resented the special rights for subsistence activities that Natives have.  When I asked Andrews if Assembly and Senate members were comfortable discussing racial issues or talking about Native Alaskans openly she replied:

            No, I don’t think so.  I think we’re, at this moment we’re at really kind of an impasse because we’ve got this subsistence issue coming up, and I don’t know if you follow that subsistence issue, it’s very, very, subsistence is an issue that’s going to be coming before us because the federal government says you will allow rural Natives to feed on everything that walks and are excluding me, I mean they’re excluding me as an Alaskan, and my kids because we live in the city, and you know people who live out in the bush, and Natives can have better subsistence rights than I can, and I just don’t think that’s fair

She also described the Native health system in a manner emphasizing that the benefits came at no cost to the Natives. 

…The, their health issue, they have an incredible system that would not function anywhere else in the world.  They have health, village health aides that are well-trained to care for the whole health issues in their community unless they have an emergency and then they get either phone contacts from the closest city, Bethel or wherever, or they fly them in and out to one of the bigger hospitals.  They have very, really very, they have I would say good, good health coverage.  And of course, it’s all paid for by Indian Health Service, you realize that.

Alan Gray made similar comments about Natives’ special status.  I commented to him that I had heard of resentment around the ANCSA settlement.  It seemed to me that some Alaskans questioned why they had to spend so much state tax money in Native communities when Native corporations had received a large settlement under ANCSA.  He responded:

            That, that’s been a, that’s been a question ever since ANCSA became law, as you may be familiar with, there’s the termination clause in the trust status that the federal government has accepted, and is part of, part of law, federal law, and ANCSA did not terminate the trust status of the Federal government.  We gave them a billion dollars and 400 million acres of land or something like that, and a lot of people, yeah, without, without being real familiar with the law and finding out all the discussion and debate that took part during ANCSA, a person can be completely lost… But, but there was not termination, as everyone knows, they still have the Alaska Native Hospital, so Natives get their medical and dental is still provided for them, and so a lot of people think well, how come we still do that?  We gave you all this money?  Couldn’t you build a medical clinic in your village?  And, and they probably could have, and they have, to some degree, some of them have done that…

The Sympathizers and Rural Schooling Issues

Quality Issues

            As with other rural education issues, the Sympathizers expressed a broad range of attitudes about rural schools, both around the quality or practicality of the schools and the costs.  Unlike Tim Rogers and Bill Walters, Bob Forman did not believe that Native children could function simultaneously in both a traditional society and the “business world.”  However, this was in fact the goal expressed by many Natives to me and in written documents.  He described some of the problems in rural education, noting that despite it costing up to $40,000 per year to educate some first graders:

… the graduates of high school are not functionally illiterate, attendance is a terrible problem, the parents don’t get up at 8:00 in the morning to go to work, why should the kids get up and go to school.  And, then the kids don’t know whether they’re going to function in the business world or function in the subsistence world.  They have to deal with making the choice, but you can’t have both. 

Bill Walters sounded a lot like the Advocates when he discussed the need to find ways for Native students to have the option to stay in their village or move to an urban location.  I asked him if he thought that there were different issues facing Alaska Native students in comparison to non-Native students.  He responded:

Yeah, there probably is.  And, if you’re in urban Alaska, and you’re born and raised in urban Alaska, I don’t know if those issues are as predominant if you’re born and raised in rural Alaska.  I think there are some real concerns about the, in rural Alaska, what we’re seeing, and I think we’re seeing it in many small communities across the United States, but maybe even more so in rural Alaska, that are losing their youth to the big cities.  There’s nothing out there, especially in rural Alaska, there’s no jobs, really, to speak of.  So what do we do to help develop the lands out there so people can get jobs, and people will stay in the village.  And they’re going to Anchorage and Fairbanks, and I know a lot of the elders have real concerns because they are losing a lot of the traditional lifestyles or at least the... or at least the heritage that they grew up with.  And it’s a real concern among the elders out there.  And then when they move, like I mentioned earlier, there’s really an adjustment problem.  And quite frankly, a lot of these kids are getting lost in the cities.  And they become statistics.  So yeah there is some differences, you know in the education.  How do you, how do you create an economic base out there so that these kids will want to stay in Sleetmute and you know live in Sleetmute, and continue on with those lifestyles, but at the same time give them the education so that they can compete in the rest of Alaska, if they should decide “I don’t want to live in Sleetmute any more, I want to go to Juneau.”

Walters expressed concern about the cost of rural high schools but his solution was not boarding schools for all students, like Leonard or Gannett, but rather regional schools, an idea supported by some of the Advocates as well as some Native leaders.  His proposal was couched in concern that students not be sent too far from home but that they also have solid educational opportunities.  I commented that there was concern about high drop out rates amongst Alaska Natives students and asked if he had a sense of major causes underlying the drop-out rate.  He responded:

Well, part of it is a lot of these kids are coming in from rural Alaska and they’re just not prepared for the bigger city.  Now the bigger discussion I think that we’re gonna have to have at some point, you know can the state continue to afford to build you know a little high school in every community in the state of Alaska.  We’re probably rapidly getting to the point that we cannot.  And, so, do we do regional high schools?  Or what do we do.  Now there was a proposal that was put forth by the community of Nenana, which is about 50 miles south of here, now the community of Nenana is about 50% white, 50% Native.  The school board’s about the same, I mean it’s a pretty integrated little community.  What they wanted to do, to give an example, is they wanted to build a regional high school there in Nenana, and have Native students come in there.  It was pretty well backed by all different, the old, all the different groups in the community.  And focus not only on the, because two things, first of all, since it had a very strong Native community within there, there was felt, and a lot of the Native parents in Nenana said we will help shepherd these kids to make sure that they’re watched out over and that they don’t lose ties to their families back home and that you know there will be some change in the culture for them yes, but not as drastic as if they’re going to Fairbanks.  But at the same time we can take bus trips to Fairbanks 50 miles away, and give them, you know take them in for the day, and you know take them to theater, take them to the play and give them some of that culture experience at the same time. 

Again, Walters sounded more like the Advocates, discussing the trade-offs between the disadvantages of small rural schools versus the effects on Native youth of not being able to attend schools in their village.  I told him that I was surprised to find out that Alaska did not have a mechanism to allow for regional high schools, and that it would require re-writing education statutes to create this.  Walters responded:

We’d have to re-write some things and get it set up.  Although we do have a regional high school in Mt. Edgecumb, and for a while there was a push to close Mt. Edgecumb but then there became the realization that maybe this does work.  And part of the problem too when you get these small little high schools out in some little community where there’s maybe two students, what kind of well-rounded education really can you give them because you’re only gonna have one teacher out there, and he’s gonna have to probably be teaching some of the elementary students too.  You certainly are not probably not gonna have shop and all those things too.  So there is some, you know, some validity to you know, the discussion of bringing people together so you can give them a more rounded education because you can have several teachers there in several disciplines.  Now there’s a down side, because you are yanking those kids out of the community.  The question is, at the high school level, are most of them ready to go and do that.  Now at the grade school level, the answer certainly is no, none of them are ready to do that.  But probably most high school students are probably ready to, well, there’s few that will probably would not be but, and that’s a touchy question, and as a person that has, you know a very strong family background, that’s a tough question for me to answer.  You know I had a hard time putting my kid on the airplane to go to college, and she ended up finding that she was missing family a lot more and she was going to go back East, and she found that that was not the culture for her so she ended up back here enrolled at the University of Alaska.  But I understand that, I mean it’s not easy for a separation you know when you have, are trying to keep a strong family for your kid to go halfway across Alaska.  I mean if we were Rhode Island maybe that’s one thing, but you know when you’re a thousand miles from one end to the other end, that’s a long ways away for kids, to be sending kids in some cases.

Funding Issues

All of the Sympathizers expressed concern over the status of rural school funding.  I asked Bob Forman if there had ever been a lawsuit to equalize education spending or change the spending formula, noting that in California a suit resulted in most school funding being at the state level rather than under local control in order to equalize spending.  He replied:

There have been attempts, not very successful, to re-write the formula.  In this past summer the State Board of Ed spent a good bit of money and six months, and got right up to making a decision and then boom, they realized that any, in current economic realities to re-write the formula there will be winners and losers, and everybody votes for the part that they win.

Forman was concerned that rural education spending was being used to bolster the economy of villages artificially.  I commented that I had just received the State Department of Education study on rural education.  He encouraged me to read it, and added:

What purpose, now where we differ in the Native - non-Native is what purpose do we want the schools to serve, and that doesn’t always involve education, it involves basketball courts, it involves three of the five jobs that are available, it involves being significant in matter and counting(?) because it involves creating an artificial economic island.

I mentioned that one person pointed out that the public school may be only source of electricity in a village.  He commented: “Water, maybe.  And should we be using education to supply electricity, water or jobs, that’s a whole other story.”  I asked if it were possible that proposals to make the North Slope Borough pay more toward schools would it just result in a direct tax on the oil corporations.  He commented that it was an interesting idea: “…it’s been for years all the money comes from the state and many of these rural areas pay little of nothing and they’re an anomaly prior to the oil they were receivers not givers, and you know it’s a real interesting constitutional question about whether you can reverse that flow…” and make the borough residents pay for education.

While Forman did not say to me directly that he thought some rural schools should be closed, he did make that point during a Health, Education and Social Services Committee (HESS) meeting a few weeks before my visit.  Then he argued that the state needed to “streamline and consolidate or even close small schools that aren’t educationally or economically viable.”(1996b), number 708.  He also expressed this sentiment in a newspaper interview, noting “We simply don’t have the money to keep so many rural schools open.”  He also argued that “Every dollar that the state spends in small rural schools deprives Native students, the majority of whom live in Anchorage or Fairbanks.”(Hower & Kelly, 1996), p. 14.  During the HESS meeting he also raised the issue of unequal educational contributions, noting the disparity created by residents of REAAs providing little or no local contribution to education costs versus that provided by members of communities where contributions are as high as was legally allowed (1996b).

I asked Forman who influenced education policy in the state.  He responded by commenting on how the oil industry was, in his view, funding schools in the state: “I think business leaders are powerful in influencing education, they’re very frustrated with the product that we’re producing, and because we don’t have an income tax, people in the oil industry are paying for our schools, so they’re influential.”

            Sally Longworth also described how differences in urban and rural tax contributions led to urban residents feeling that rural citizens did not contribute enough toward the state funds.  She argued that this was not a racial issue, even as she pointed to Native-specific legislation like ANCSA as underlying these feelings.

            Well you heard that the, the conversation that quickly comes about where, among some residents of Alaska there’s a feeling that one part of Alaska is funding most of the education and another part of Alaska is a recipient of that funding.  And it has to be changed.  That’s not a conversation we need to be having, that’s not an argument we need to be having.  And based on the constitution or ANILCA and ANCSA and all of those wonderful pieces we have a system that says certain places won’t be taxed.  Certain lands aren’t taxable.  Well that creates a little anxiety amongst people, and it’s not anyone’s fault, but the discussion is going to continue until there’s felt like it’s a little more equitable.  And again, as far as I’m concerned, that is not a racial discussion at all.  But it is, I see what my district contributes, and I see the struggles that my district is going through, and yet, and I know what my neighbors are paying in taxes, and then I watch a comparable district somewhere else or a little smaller district and gee whiz, this is different.  Different isn’t necessarily bad, but there is great frustration on the part of some districts.

I remarked that this seemed analogous to how most residents of California resent Los Angeles County, or how in New York State the City of New York is resented. She concurred, continuing:

And you know then you wanna, you can quickly get into, you know you come back to some of the purer approaches to this, and, how we, should we just have a voucher system, whereby everyone gets so much, and if you are in Area A you get that cost differential on your voucher, and if you’re special ed you get another piece of money and you decide which school where you want to spend it at, and maybe this conversation comes to that.  The people of this state don’t seem very tuned into vouchers, but the amendment that was added on one of the budget proposals the other night that the foundation formula would not be used after January of 97, and that is a major step.  Now the Department of Education and the State Board are working on that foundation re-write, and we were trying all last summer and it got to the committee and they rejected all three, at the final meeting they rejected all three proposals.  So I don’t envy them their task.  This may be a little firmer timeline, with the message out there.

I commented to Bill Walters that there seemed to be a lot of tension around funding formula.  He agreed, and explained the complexity of the school funding system:

There’s, yeah.  And the funding formula is a very complicated formula.  I don’t know of anybody in the state that I could sit down and tell you what it all does and how to work it. I think there may be one or two, but they’re computer nerds in the back room that knows how to plug in the numbers.  It’s a very complicated formula, it’s, there’s probably a lot of, and just because it is complicated there’s probably a lot of inequity built into it.  I know that you’ve talked to a lot of educators around the state.  You know they feel they’re not getting enough.  Of course I think all the legislators are probably feeling they’re not getting enough for their district.  But you know what is the cost of living, say for Fairbanks compared to Anchorage or Juneau or Sleetmute of what, you know, that’s hard, you know, it’s hard to really understand what it is and to determine it on a year to year basis.  Unfortunately, we are like any other legislature.  When we try to rewrite the formula, many times it ends up into a political battle and it’s whoever happens to be the strongest at the time, whatever delegation is the stronger, which gets maybe more than their fair share.  At some point we’re going to have to revisit the formula, because these school districts are very ingenious, if we put something in there, they know how to take advantage of it to get more money.  There should be a way that we can uncomplicate the formula a little bit.

I added that there also seemed to be a rural/urban split over who should get extra money, and a feeling that the school districts in the North Slope, as well as the Native corporations had a lot of money.  Walters concurred:

Oh yeah, and they have, it’s probably one of the richest taxations in the world.  And that’s, there’s like any other state, I mean there’s a lot of poor school districts, of course there’s a lot of very rich school districts.  And unfortunately most of the poor school districts are probably in rural Alaska, but the state gives them more money too per student than they do say in Anchorage or Fairbanks.  Uh, you know and one of the raging discussions going on in the state right now, and it’s related to this, is how much should local communities contribute to their own education.  In rural Alaska right now, or in most parts of rural Alaska, the state is contributing 100% of education, and if you go to the cities, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan, the state is not contributing 100%, there is local participation.  And there was this bill that was passed this year in the state senate, although it died in the house which would either do two things.  It would either force communities or areas into organized boroughs, mandatory boroughs, or if just they did not want to go in organized boroughs, and many communities don’t because there’s no taxation, they would still have to pay a taxation to the state that could be used for education.  And it’s a question which is really a burning question, in urban Alaska, because you know they say wait a minute.  The state of Alaska, you’re giving 100% to these folks, you’re not to us, something’s not fair.  And it’s, you know it’s something that we’re going to have to look at.  Part of the thing too, and this is part of probably from my conservative background, is that I’ve found, you know at least in my opinion, and I’ve seen is bear out is, you know if somebody hands you a dollar bill, you tend to spend it anyway, I mean it’s just really no concern.  But if you have to you know chip in a quarter of that dollar, you tend to be a little bit more careful in how that dollar is spent.  And, you know I think probably in rural Alaska we may, we may not be getting the biggest bang for our buck just because there’s no incentive for them to be more careful in how they spend their dollars.  So that’s an issue.  It’s kind of a side issue, but it’s very important in what’s happening in education in the state of Alaska.

            Echoing Green’s comments, Alan Gray indicated that he felt that urban Alaskans’ animosity toward Alaska Natives was understandable because of the lack of taxation in rural Alaska.  As we discussed whether there was antagonism between other legislators and Alaska Natives in their districts, he commented:

            Definitely, definitely.  If you haven’t been around the Native population at all, or lived in an area where there’s a lot of Natives, where there’s a Native culture, it’s hard to understand, because Anchorage legislators are, you know they’ve worked all their life, most of them are professionals, they pay taxes, they’ve been involved in different things, and they know where their tax dollars are going, and they look at bush, and there’s not tax dollars being paid, and there’s a lot of tax dollars being spent in the bush, but there’s not tax dollars, no revenue base, no revenues coming from the bush.  So it’s obvious that... and it’s a, you know probably a psychologically proper, natural thing for there to be some animosity that, hey, you’re getting everything and not paying anything for, and we’re working our butts off and we’re giving it all to you, and I don’t want to, I don’t want to do that any more.  Sort of, sort of a friction created from that, that standpoint.

I asked Lois Andrews if she had been lobbied regarding certain bills and issues by Native corporations, the Alaska Federation of Natives, or other Native organizations, or if there was much involvement otherwise by Natives in politics.  She answered:

Primarily, the ones that would be out there lobbying would be a sobriety, concerning alcohol-related diseases or illnesses or a ???, what we do with them in the community, who pays for them, and that kind of thing, and the other thing is the school is to make sure that there’s enough money for schools.  As the system stands now, it’s pretty equal, but urban are getting less than rural.  And so when there’s a big move to equalize that, then it’s not fair for the rural people.  And so that’s the only time you’re going to get the Natives in there.  But it’s very little.


            The attitudes about rural education that emerged from my conversations with Alaskan legislators ranged widely, from support for maintaining rural schools and strengthening the teaching force and curriculum among the Advocates to closing rural schools and forcing all children to attend boarding schools or be home schooled among the Adversaries.  And, as with bilingual education, the Sympathizers ranged between these two ends of the continuum.  In the next chapter, I will bring together the policymakers’ constructions of Natives, as laid out in Chapter 5, and the positions taken on policy issues in this chapter to see whether any relationship between these can be drawn.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

In this dissertation, I set out to explore the following three questions:

1)         How do education policymakers construct their target populations?

-  Specifically, what are non-Native Alaskan education policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives as a target population?  How do they define this group and their needs?

2)         How do social constructions of race and ethnicity underlie these constructions?

-  Specifically, what are Alaskan education policymakers’ constructions of Alaska Natives as racial or ethnic groups?  Are these constructions part of how they define Natives as policy targets?  Or even indistinguishable?

3)         Are these constructions related to decision-making?  Can this be identified?

-  Specifically, do policymakers with different constructions make different decisions?

After completing interviews with eleven of the twelve legislators sitting on the Health, Education and Social Services Committees in both houses of the Alaska State Legislature, all of whom were white, I began looking at their responses in view of my research questions, and in light of the theories I outlined in Chapter 2.  These include the Social Construction of Target Populations, the Social Construction of Race and Critical Race Theory, among others.  In this chapter I bring together the data, the theories, and the questions I asked to see if, indeed, it is possible to begin identifying policymakers’ social constructions of their target populations and the underlying social constructions of race.

            In my analytic work, I began by exploring the policymakers’ general attitudes toward Alaska Natives, trying to uncover their social constructions of Alaska Natives.  I then looked at how these legislators described the causes of academic failure among Alaska Natives, to see if these descriptions contained more indications of how the legislators viewed Natives.  Indeed, there were sharp distinctions in how policymakers defined the causes of low achievement among Native students, and these added to my understanding of their constructions of these policy targets.

I then looked at two policy areas which are of particular relevance to Native education: bilingual education and rural schooling.  In this I was attempting to see how legislators’ policy positions mirrored or differed from the social constructions I identified.  I wanted to see if it looked as though policymakers’ constructions of Natives as policy targets lined up with their constructions of Natives as an ethnic or racial group – In other words, do policymakers’ social construction of Alaska Natives as a racial or ethnic group impact their social construction of Natives as target populations?

As I examined my data, I found that patterns emerged.  As I discussed in Chapter 5, the distinct views of Alaska Natives expressed by the legislators led me to divide them into three groups which I named “Advocates”, “Adversaries” and “Sympathizers.”  The group that I called “Advocates” saw Natives as being culturally different from non-Natives, but did not see this as a negative, but rather as something to be embraced.  They then located the source of problems between Natives and schools and high rates of Native student failure being from a cultural mismatch in which the schools were not responsive to Native culture, rather than seeing the problem as being within Native cultures.  As a result, they indicated that schools needed to change their curriculum, tests, and approaches to teaching, including the hiring of more Native teachers, in order to rectify the problem.  Furthermore, unlike any of the other legislators, they all recognized that there was racism within the Legislature and talked of their role in looking out for the interests of Natives, in rural Alaska as well as in their own districts.

In contrast, the two legislators who fell into the category “Adversaries” described Natives negatively, and as needing to change.  They identified a lack of motivation or work ethic as underlying high Native failure rates in school, and implied that the solution to the situation was for Natives to change and assimilate, by leaving their villages, as opposed to having educational institutions change.  The so-called “Sympathizers” presented a mixed bag, some demonstrating a deep appreciation for the different Native cultures, others calling for assimilation.  In general, they expressed concern over loss of Native culture, and at the same time articulated the attitude that Natives should assimilate into the mainstream culture.

In Chapter six, I showed out how the different groups of legislators approached two central education issues impacting Alaska Natives, bilingual education and rural education funding.  The patterns that I identified in Chapter 5 were mirrored in the policy stances that were expressed in Chapter 6.  The Advocates took positions favoring bilingual education (with the exception of Greenway, who was not sure of her position), and supported maintaining and improving rural schools and the level of rural education funding.  They also identified a need for more Native teachers in rural schools and, in the case of Greenway, in urban schools.

The Adversaries expressed opposite views, favoring cuts in rural education spending and the closing of rural schools and proposing instead the use of boarding schools.  One of them was fundamentally opposed to bilingual education, and thought that concerns about the lack of Native teachers reflected attempts to find excuses for Natives’ poor educational performance. Both Adversaries also expressed resentment toward the perceived wealth of certain Natives, and about the tax structure in rural Alaska, under which Natives do not pay property taxes.

Sympathizers again fell somewhere between the Advocates and Adversaries.  Most expressed at least some resentment over the tax structure that they saw as favoring Natives and rural villages, as well as over Native access to federally funded medical care, the perceived wealth of Natives in the North Slope and subsistence rights.  Some thought bilingual education was acceptable in communities that wanted it, and many were opposed to additional rural school funding.  None, however, were quite as extreme in their overall views on rural education as either the Adversaries or the Advocates.

After working with the data, it appeared to me that the policymakers’ social constructions of Alaska Natives were discernable, and not entirely unique; these constructions were shared among like-minded individuals.  I was able, based on the constructions, to divide the policymakers into three groups.  These same divisions were also, for the most part, reflected in the policy positions taken by the members of each of the groups.  In other words, dividing the legislators according to policy positions rather than constructions of Alaska Natives as policy targets would have led me to create roughly the same groupings.  It does seem as though social constructions of target populations are related to policy positions of policy makers, as Schneider and Ingram (1993) have theorized.  Moreover, it appears that racial attitudes and constructions are a piece of this puzzle; Alaska Natives are a racially defined group, and there were distinct differences in both how the members of the groups talked about Natives and the positions they took on policy issues pertaining to race.

Still, the groupings I developed were not perfectly uniform, and the Sympathizers in particular was a problematic category for me.  In some places, Forman sounded more like Gannett and Leonard when he argued for closing rural high schools.  Yet, his comments on bilingual education reflected more sensitivity to language issues than that displayed by many others in either the Adversaries or Sympathizers.  Andrews expressed dismay about Native rights and privileges, sounding more like the Adversaries, but then was supportive of Native choices around staying in villages and maintaining traditional lifestyles.  And on the other end, Sally Longworth made many comments that reflected sympathy for Natives and the difficulties they faced in school, sounding more like Nancy Greenway than other Sympathizers.  And yet, she thought that resentment over the additional cost of rural education and other rural services was justifiable and was not convinced that multicultural education was important enough to have as part of the curriculum for all children, but was rather something to keep elective.

           Trying to understand this, I turned back to the literature.  How do I understand these groups?  And, more importantly, in what way are social constructions of race part of policymakers’ social constructions of Alaska Natives as target populations?  Many of the theories that I have looked at in my literature review offer ways of understanding my data, but none stands alone in explaining how race interacts with policymakers’ constructions.  Still, the data, and some of the theories, together seem to lead toward an empirically based theoretical framework explaining how the social construction of race is linked to social constructions of target populations. 

            Schneider and Ingram write “the social construction of a target population refers to (1) the recognition of the shared characteristics that distinguish a target population as socially meaningful, and (2) the attribution of specific, valence-oriented values, symbols, and images to the characteristics” (p. 335).  Alaska Natives are clearly a population that is “socially meaningful” for policymakers in Alaska.  They are a “pan-ethnic” group to whom policymakers have ascribed certain characteristics and values, as I have shown.  These constructions, however, vary among the legislators, which is in keeping with Schneider and Ingram’s contention that “competing officials champion different constructions of the same groups” (p. 336). 

Schneider and Ingram, however, fail to explain concretely how social constructions are developed or enumerate the factors that comprise these constructions.  They contend that policymakers “develop maps of target populations based on both the stereotypes they themselves hold and those they believe to prevail among that segment of the population likely to become important to them” (p. 336).  However, my data contradicts this assertion in some cases.  The Advocates clearly challenged what they identified as some of their constituents’ views of Native, stating that they were willing to lose their seats rather than change their beliefs or policy positions.  In other words, the personal belief systems of these legislators, which I would argue include political ideologies, seem to impact their social constructions of target populations.  Indeed, policymakers’ political ideologies and party affiliations were aligned with the policy positions they took as well as with the constructions of Alaska Natives they shared.  The most politically conservative legislators I interviewed also were those who became the “Adversaries,” and they held very different constructions from those of the more moderate Republicans, who all fell into the “Sympathizers” and the left-leaning Democrats, all of whom I called “Advocates.” 

Other factors that appeared to contribute to the development of social constructions of Natives also seemed to be mediated either by racial constructions or political ideology.  For example, it appeared that policymaker interactions with Natives, and the “real time” spent with them, were related to policymakers’ constructions.  Greenway and Allen had spent the most time working closely with Natives in Rural Alaska, and there were many commonalties in their constructions of Natives as target populations.  But, there were intervening factors that seemed to keep some legislators who had similar experiences from drawing like conclusions.  Nancy Greenway and Sally Longworth were both educators who spent time in the same rural communities.  However, in the end there were differences in their interpretations of these experiences that appeared to be related more to political ideology than the impact of the visits.  Likewise, Rogers and Gray were white males of similar age working in the same industry, but they had significantly different views on racial diversity.

Political ideology is an important factor in education (and all) policymaking.  Scribner, et al., (1994) write:

Ideological belief patterns are expressed in terms of how individual players apply their personal experiences to the decisions and policies made in political arenas (i.e., in schools, districts, state and federal bureaucracies), and, likewise, how players with similar beliefs and attitudes view such issues as quality, the purpose and size of government, the inevitability of change or the virtues of stability and order (Scribner, Reyes, & Fusarelli, 1994, p. 202).

This ideology impacts policymaking as the experiences and values of those in positions of power shape their policy agenda.  Moreover, different ideologies lead to distinct policy agendas; as an example Scribner, et al. contrast the positions of presidential administrations that have promoted a social justice agenda emphasizing equality of educational opportunity and fiscal equity with those who have advocated for a limited government role in education.  However, Schneider and Ingram fail to discuss explicitly the role of ideology in the development of policymakers’ social constructions of their target populations.

            In Figure 3, I identify how the Advocates, Adversaries and Sympathizers members fit in with Schneider and Ingram’s matrix of the social constructions of target populations and power.  The members of the Advocates construct Natives as being “Dependents.”  Advocates view Natives quite positively, but see them as needing someone to look out for their interests, as indigenous Alaskans do not have adequate power or representation in legislative matters.  The Sympathizers fall somewhere between viewing Natives as Dependents and as Contenders.  Green, Walters and Silvenseem to have favorable views of Natives but do not see them as powerful, while Forman, Andrews and Gray describe Natives more negatively and as having power from the monies raised by taxation of oil properties as well as from their special rights and privileges.  Finally, the Adversaries’ views of Natives fall between the Contenders and Deviants categories, in that they share with the Sympathizers the perceptions of Natives as having wealth and undue privileges but do not necessarily see them as having political power.

Figure 3: Social Constructions and Political Power by Legislator Groupings [18]




















In defining the elements of their matrix, Schneider and Ingram argue that “Dependent” groups are not given the kinds of resources that are accorded the more powerful groups falling into the “advantaged” category.  They write of Dependents that, “officials want to appear to be aligned with their interests; but their lack of political power makes it difficult to direct resources toward them.  Symbolic politics permit elected leaders to show great concern but relieve them of the need to allocate resources” (p. 338).

I disagree with Schneider and Ingram’s assertion that when different policymakers’ constructions of a group places them in the same category, in this case the one they call “Dependent” it leads all policymakers to the same policy choices.  While I think their description of how Dependents are treated matches the Sympathizers’ attitudes toward Natives quite accurately, it does not work as well for the Advocates, who I do see as also fitting into this category.  The Advocates appeared to be genuinely interested in trying to reallocate resources in order to move Natives into a greater position of power, into the category that Schneider and Ingram call the “advantaged.”  They wanted to see real structural change that advances the status of Natives.  In contrast, the Sympathizers seemed to want only symbolic change for Natives, e.g., allowing them to institute multicultural education on their own time, and while showing “great concern” for the loss of Native languages and culture, still insisting on Natives assimilating into the mainstream culture.  Again, political ideology and racial constructions seem to be a reason for these variations within the same categories.

            Given that Schneider and Ingram do not address how political ideology or the social construction of race impact the social construction of target populations, I looked to theories on the social construction of race to see if they helped me explain how these pieces fit together.

Howard Winant (1994, 1997) treats the social construction of race and political ideology as fundamentally the same phenomenon.  He states, “Indeed, the very meaning of political labels such as conservative, liberal, and radical has been transformed by ongoing debates about race, including those on affirmative action, social welfare policy, and immigration reform” (Winant, 1994, p. 174).  As I noted in Chapter 2, in his discussion of racial hegemony in the United States, Winant describes five “racial projects,” laying out the racial discourse and political agenda of varying political ideologies.  Three of these “projects” (as described in his 1994 work) mirror my policymaker categories.  The “New Right” as he calls it falls in neatly with my “Adversaries” who argue against special privileges from the state for people identified racially and for closing rural high schools and forcing Native students to attend boarding schools, where these Natives would be assimilated into the mainstream culture.  “Neoconservatism” is a category that could cover most of the “Sympathizers” in that his definition includes denial of the salience of racial differences and support for what he terms conservative egalitarianism as well as meritocracy.  Finally, his project called “Radical democracy” describes the “Advocates” well; they explicitly accept and celebrate racial difference, and support redistributive policies and structural change. [19]   These policies include spending in rural Alaska aimed at improving education within Native villages so that students may maintain their traditional culture while gaining skills for success in the Western world.  Rogers explicitly stated that he embraces diversity, and Greenway argued that diversity in the teaching force benefits not only Natives, but also her grandchildren and other non-Natives.  Indeed, Winant argues that the “solution” to the race problem is recognition and respect for racial differences, not denial or transcendence of race.  The Advocates came closest to meeting this ideal, when both Greenway and Rogers embraced differences, and Allen talked openly about racism among non-Natives legislators. 

Winant is in agreement with the Critical Race Theorists, who argue that race is central to the larger social, economic and political structures of the United States (Solorzano, 1997; Taylor, 1998).  However, while linking race and political ideology in the U.S., the theorists looking at the social construction of race still don’t provide a guide to how race impacts the policymaking process.  Howard Winant shows that there is a relationship between racial attitudes and political ideology, but doesn’t explain the role these attitudes play in policymaking.  The critical race theorists likewise show how race underlies the fundamental structure of the legal and social systems in the United States but fail to demonstrate how political ideology based on these racialized structures impacts policy decisions.  At the same time, Schneider and Ingram, who argued for the theory of the Social Construction of Target Populations fail to address how race acts as a mediator for these social constructions of policy targets and the resultant decision-making. But acknowledging that political ideology is part of the picture, as Schneider and Ingram do, and that political ideology is fundamentally racialized, as do critical race theory and the social construction of race, links the two theories.  Political ideology is the mediator for understanding the role the social construction of race plays in policymakers’ social constructions of their target populations.  It must be emphasized that political ideology in this context is not just that which refers to positions on the policy spectrum, e.g., conservative, liberal or radical, but political ideology as Winant describes it, as racial projects.

Neither Winant nor the Critical Race Theorists explain how race and political ideology came to be linked.  For this, I turned to both the literature I reviewed earlier, and an additional work from the field of political science.

Researchers looking at Whiteness identify race as impacting political ideology in the United States. Kincheloe and Steinberg (1998) contend that race has served a role in defining political ideologies on both the right and the left.  They note that right-wing leaders, in response to the civil rights movement, have created a form of identity politics based on whiteness, which promotes values like the Eurocentric cultural canon, "family values," and English-as-the-only-language legislation.  However, the most thorough study of how race impacts political ideology in the United States was done by Carmines and Stimson (1989).

In their work Issue Evolution: Race and The Transformation of American Politics, Carmines and Stimson contend that race is transforming American politics.  They argue that in trying to understand how the diverse aspects of American political life are connected “race is the connector” (p. xiv).  Moreover, they call race “a transforming element in the political ideologies” (p. xv).  In an analysis of presidential platforms, political party platforms, congressional votes and public voting behavior, Carmines and Stimson determined that in the two decades following the Civil Rights movement, racial concerns became central to the national political agenda (muck like Kincheloe and Steinberg, 1988).  They contend that a partisan transformation based on racial issues occurred during this time period, and resulted in the Democratic party coming to represent racial liberalism, and the Republican party becoming known for racial conservatism.  They call this the “ideological fusion of racial with other political beliefs” (p. 119). 

Indeed they found that “by 1972 race had become ‘nationalized’ as a central issue in American politics, giving shape and form to many voters’ political belief systems” (p. 131).  Functionally, this means that, “not only do racial attitudes help to perform the structuring functions often associated with the liberal/conservative dimensions, but much of the meaning of this ideological dimension is apparently racial in nature” (p. 132).  Finally, they state that, “racial matters are central to the apparent connotation of the terms of left/right discourse” (p. 135).  The end result is that political ideology and the social construction of race are now, as Winant (1994, 1997) contends, one and the same.  Carmines and Stimson write:  “Racial attitudes are now tightly linked to prevailing political ideology.  Once separable, it is now all but inconceivable to be a liberal and not a racial liberal or to be a conservative and not oppose activist racial policies” (p.185).

While not addressing political ideology, critical race theorists and researchers investigating “whiteness” still offer an important perspective on the comments made by legislators regarding race and racial attitudes.  Tate (1997) notes that “A belief in color blindness and equal process… is illogical in a society in which specific groups have been treated different historically and in which the outcomes of this differential treatment continue into the present” (Tate IV, 1997, p. 229).  Kincheloe and Steinberg (1998) point out some of the fallacies behind the color-blind construct.  They argue that it acts as a new "discourse of white victimization" that only works "if we assume that being Whites is no different from being any other race or ethnicity" and at the same time white privilege is denied despite when its existence and effects are obvious” (p. 15).  This describes the complaints of Lois Andrews and others that expressed resentment over Natives' special rights to subsistence hunting and fishing activities, as though white Alaskans had the same history of and need for these activities. Taylor (1998) writes that,

“The danger of color blindness is that it allows us to ignore the racial construction of whiteness and reinforces its privileged and oppressive position.  Thus, whiteness remains the normative standard and blackness remains different, other, and marginal.  Even worse, by insisting on a rhetoric that disallows reference to race, blacks can no longer name their reality or point out racism”(Taylor, 1998, p. 123).

Rains (1998) adds that whites who engage in this allegedly "benign" response to race operate under the misguided assumption that they can be absolved of any responsibility for unequal treatment.  Moreover, this approach also works to deny and erase the identity of those treated in this manner, denying persons of color "their right to have their own identities as well as the values, histories, contributions, language and richness of such identities" (Rains, 1998, p. 93).  Emerging from the "privilege" of whiteness this approach trivializes the experiences of people of color and ignores the history of poor treatment that many have endured.  Moreover, as Frankenberg (1993) points out, by asserting that under the skin Americans are all the same, then it implies that any failure to achieve is by definition the fault of people of color themselves.

The members of the Sympathizers fit this description.  Whiteness is still at the center of the world that they understand; White structures are “natural” and the accommodation of difference that they are willing to make is only at the edges, and does not allow for fundamental structural change.  The Sympathizers were sympathetic to Natives, and the difficulties they face due to not being from the dominant culture, but the burden of change remains on Natives, not on the greater society; Natives should assimilate, and “do the right thing.”  Sympathizers identify bi-culturalism as acceptable for those coming from non-dominant culture, but as something that should not be imposed on members of the majority.

Rains also notes that some whites take a stance of "racial neutrality" in which they deny race and color.  Embedded in this approach is a desire to "universalize whiteness in an attempt to absolve racial differences.  It is benignly assumed that such a comment is a compliment" (p. 94).  Whiteness is not racialized for the Sympathizers or Adversaries, or even for Nancy Greenway.  The comments that "we all want the same thing" or "they are just like you and I" reflect this “race neutral” viewpoint.

Solarzano (1997) points out that a cultural deficit view of minority students has become the norm in social science research, in spite there being little empirical evidence supporting this position.  One policy outcome of this has been an educational model that focuses on the acculturation of minority students to the values and behaviors of the dominant group, while criticizing, downplaying and ignoring the behaviors and values of the minority cultures.  This was definitely a perspective expressed by the Adversaries and many of the Sympathizers.

The theories focusing on race within educational structures, as opposed to the larger political realm also contribute to the picture.  As noted earlier, Carter and Goodwin (1994) argue that there are three paradigms of race and education that evolved over time, two of which offer insight into the legislators.  While none of the legislators displayed a stance as radical as that encompassed by the inferiority paradigm, the Adversaries did seem to fit into the cultural deprivation paradigm.  They argued that Native students should leave their villages in order to escape the negative cultural traits that they identified leading to poor academic achievement.  The cultural difference paradigm very much mirrors the statements of the Sympathizers.  This paradigm is based on the idea that racial, cultural and language differences have a profound impact on the schooling experiences of minority children, but maintains the assumption that white is the dominant culture, and the burden of change continues to rest on those who are racial and ethnic minorities.  The cultural difference paradigm mirrors what Winant (1994, 1997) defines as “Neoconservatism.”  Carter and Goodwin add that some educators even view racial and cultural difference as a problem to be overcome, much like the stance of “racial neutrality” that Rains (1998) describes.  The Sympathizers advocated for assimilation, and for viewing “people as people” who all want “the same thing.”  These views did not challenge the dominant white ideology, and indeed seemed to assume that there was no problem in assuming that Natives shared the same end goals and values as non-Natives.  This perspective helps me understand this group.  Even though my “Sympathizers” represent a broad spectrum of attitudes about race and Native issues, they all still do not want to challenge the fundamental structures of society that leave “white” as the unchallenged norm.

In Alaska, it is possible to see concrete examples of how race is a fundamental part of the political, economic and social structure.  Many of the policymakers I interviewed argued that the rural-urban divide, not Natives versus non-Natives was the fundamental issue in Alaska.  They did not want to acknowledge, or could not see, the central role of race in the political and social structure of their state, and the nation at large.  However, this division is inherently Native versus non-Native.  For one, the demographics of the state inherently make this divide a racial issue.  Although large numbers of Natives live in urban areas, the villages are predominantly Native, and urban communities are predominantly non-Native.  In 1999, the populations of the two rural boroughs and four rural census areas were over 75 percent American Indian/Alaska Native.  At the same time, the residents in the eight urban or suburban boroughs and three similar census areas (all on the “railbelt”, e.g., communities from Fairbanks down to Anchorage, as well as the Kenai Peninsula, and the capital, Juneau), were over 75 percent non-Native.  While Anchorage had the largest number of American Indians and Alaska Natives of any area in the state, these persons still only accounted for 8% of the borough’s population.  These figures are very similar to those from the 1990 census (Williams, 2000).  But aside from the demographics, the very issues that comprise the rural-urban split – subsistence, control and exploitation of natural resources, taxation, rural education costs – all divide along Native and non-Native lines, and have their roots in the historic relationships between Natives and the United States.  It is not possible to untangle or separate the rural-urban divide from the Native/non-Native dichotomy; they are inherently intertwined.

            The situation in Alaska is emblematic of the phenomena described by critical race theory and the theory of the social construction of race, that race underlies all of the social and political structures in the United States.  It impacts the decisions made by policymakers, as well as response to these decisions in the broader public arena.  It is not possible to uncover why policymakers make the choices they do, about education as well as other important public policies, without looking at the impact of social constructions of race as a part of the social constructions of target populations.

Recommendations for Further Research

            The research conducted for this dissertation represents only a first stab at understanding empirically policymakers’ social constructions of target populations and the role of the social construction of race in these, and thus it is not perfect.  It is hard to determine all the possible connotations of some of the statements made by the legislators without asking them for clarification.  Indeed, if I had had the time and resources, I would have gone back after transcribing the initial interviews and asked some of the legislators what they meant when they made certain statements.  Unfortunately, circumstances did not permit this.  It is also hard to know whether these same legislators would have censored or otherwise altered those statements at a later time.  The literature also did not completely explain all of the phenomena I saw.  Indeed, there are other academic disciplines, like Psychology, that might be able to add to my understanding and explanation of the data I collected.  Nonetheless, it appears that this research can contribute to understanding the relationships between the theories discussed and how, when combined, they may help advance attempts to decipher policy decisions.

            There is, obviously, much more work that could be and should be done in this area.  I only scratched the surface of the concept of “whiteness’ and how the work in that field added to my understandings.  Further explicating the role of whiteness within the social construction of target populations that are racially defined would be a valuable endeavor.

Another piece that needs further research is the empirical examination of how social constructions of target populations are developed.  There are many influences, as laid out by Schneider and Ingram, and trying to figure out what they all are, and how each operates, is important.  I would like to have done even more work with my case studies, to explore how policymakers balance historical constructions of Natives, constituents’ views, personal ideologies and beliefs, party platforms, and other factors.  It is critical that researchers continue to delve more deeply into the meaning-making and constructing of policymakers. 

            Omi and Winant (1993) state: “The concept of race continues to play a fundamental role in structuring and representing the social world.  The task for theory is to explain this situation” (p. 55).  Explicating the role of race within policymakers’ social constructions of target populations is, indeed, one way of doing this.

Implications for Policymaking

            My work has some direct implications for policymakers in Alaska, as well as relevance to all situations where white policymakers are making decisions on behalf of people of color.  If they are interested in making better policies and decisions for Alaska Natives, non-Native Alaskan policymakers would be wise to develop more self-awareness regarding their position of power as whites and members of the dominant society.  Likewise, all White policymakers within the United States would benefit from such an exercise.  However, it is unlikely that the Sympathizers or Advocates, or others sharing their perspective, are going to be open to such radical self-examination.  It is also unlikely that a fundamental shift in ideology, and the basic notions underlying these beliefs, like racial attitudes, will occur in this population.

A more politically acceptable effort would involve developing more awareness of Alaska Native cultures, histories, and beliefs among legislators.  While the ideologies and beliefs of the Sympathizers and Adversaries might not allow them to move significantly toward sharing the views of Natives, they might be more accepting of ideas and proposals that they currently dismiss if they had more familiarity with and understanding of Natives and Native interests.  Certainly, at least getting the legislators out to villages for longer visits could make a difference in some of their attitudes.  I was privileged to spend some time visiting Native villages in the North Slope.  I started in Barrow, a city of 4500, which is majority Native, and then traveled to Wainwright, a Native village of around 550 residents, almost all Inupiat Eskimo, and Pt. Lay, a small village of only 200 residents, again almost all Eskimo.  In all three communities, I saw large-scale public works projects underway or recently completely.  These included water and sewage treatment facilities and schools, all of which I was told were being financed by the North Slope Borough, as the state of Alaska had failed to appropriate funds to build these, as had once been promised.  I also saw the old school houses from Bureau of Indian Affairs days – one was a rather ramshackle wooden structure that had since been converted to housing.

In my visit I experienced life without running water or sanitation facilities, using “honey buckets” and showering only once in a public shower facility.  I certainly could appreciate the comments of Nancy Greenway and Tim Rogers on the importance of white people seeing how Natives live, and learning about the challenges of life in the far North.  At the same time, I found the communities very welcoming – stark, barren-looking places (to me) were filled with warm people, and children who proudly showed me their towns and tried (in vain) to teach me words in Inupiaq, the language of Inupiat Eskimos.  I witnessed a whaling celebration, where successful whaling teams were honored for bringing food to the entire community, as well as to villages elsewhere that had not had as much success.  I was offered but (in a stupid vegetarian moment) did not partake in goose soup and maktak.  I did not understand the invocations given in Inupiaq, but I heard the pride as well as the spiritual nature of the ceremony.  I also saw the commitment of Natives to using the wealth they had gained through oil money and ANCSA to improving the well-being of the community as a whole.  I heard that the borough expenditures on new facilities would most likely bankrupt the borough.  It was evident that the priorities were around building a healthy community, not on increasing and hoarding individual wealth.

            I think if the legislators were at all open-minded, and spent more than a few hours in any of these communities, they might be willing to consider different options for funding rural schools and supporting bilingual education and multicultural curricula.  Even if they are not going to deconstruct their attitudes on race or engage in an academic debate on the meaning of whiteness, I do feel the legislators would be moved and impressed by what I saw.  Hopefully, such learning would lead to better decision-making by those in power, and improved opportunities for Alaska Natives.  Such an outcome is absolutely necessary.

Appendix A.: Interview Protocol

A.     General Information

1)      Are you from Alaska originally?  If not, Where are you from, and how long have you been in Alaska?

         (for legislators & board members)  What do you do professionally?

         (for State DOE) Describe the responsibilities and duties of your current position?

2)      How long have you held your current elected/appointed office?

3)      How did you get involved with education issues?

         How did you get appointed to this position/why serving on education committee?

4)      Are you identified with particular constituencies or issues?

5)      Who do you consider powerful in influencing education policies?

         Do educational issues influence elections?  In what ways/what issues?

6)      What do you see as the goal or purpose of education?

         Is it the same for Alaska Natives as for non-Natives?

B.      Policymakers and Alaska Natives

7)      What experiences have you had with Alaska Natives?

8)      How would you describe your relationship with the Alaska Native community?

9)      Are Alaska Native students different from non-Native students?  In what ways?

10)    Are the issues facing Alaska Natives different from those facing other students in Alaska?

11)    Are different policies needed to meet the needs of Native students as opposed

         to those of non-Natives?  (explain further...)

12)    Do you think it’s important for policymakers to understand Alaska Natives’ history and cultural background?

13)    How did you learn about Alaska Natives and the issues affecting them?

14)              How concerned or interested are Board/Assembly/Senate/State Dept with racial issues?   Do members of the Board/Assembly/Senate talk among themselves about matters related to race?  When?  Only in formal settings, when on agenda or otherwise? What comes up in these discussions?  How often do these discussions occur?  How comfortable do people feel during these discussions?

15)    How unified is the Board/education committee/staff with regard to these issues?

C.     Educational Issues and Alaska Natives

16)    There is a great deal of concern about the high drop out rate, and poor success

         of Alaska Natives in school.  What do you think are the major underlying causes?  What do you think are the best ways to address these issues?

16a)  Do you think that there are differences in how you would address Native

         underachievement in rural versus urban schools? 

         (difference predom. white versus predom. Native, mixed classes?)

17)    Are the schools making a difference in the lives of Native students?

         Are there out of school influences that have a greater impact on student success

         than the school does?

18)    How involved are local communities in education?

         Who would you say is most involved?

         Is it different between Native and non-Native communities?

19)    How involved are Native peoples in general?  How about the corporations, other

         Native organizations?  How powerful are they?

20)    What sort of outreach is there to the Native community?

21)    What state policies are specifically aimed at Native students?  (I know a bit

         about Indian Studies and Johnson O’Malley, are there others?)

         Which of these do you think are most effective?

22)    I understand there is concern about the lack of Native teachers in Alaska?  Is       this a problem in your view? 

23)    One thing I have heard about in Alaska is the classification of students as Communication Disordered.  Educators I’ve spoken with have indicated that it is a category into which primarily Native students are placed.  Can you tell me something about this?

24)    Is there any thought of establishing Native schools, like the tribal schools in the

         lower 48?  Why or why not?

25)    Do you think that bilingual education is important?  How about multicultural education?

26)    Is there anything else you think I should know?  Anyone else you think I should speak with?


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[1] This project was funded by the Lilly Endowment.  Principal Investigators were Jeannie Oakes and Amy Stuart Wells.

[2] There are many more statistics one can cite on this problem.  For example, in the early 1990s only about 67 percent of Alaska Native students completed high school, as compared to the total overall statewide graduation rate of 75 percent.  Lower achievement could also be measured by the level classes taken by students; while 43% of all students in Alaska took 2nd year Algebra in that same time period, only 11 percent of Alaska Natives took it  (Alaska Natives Commission 1994a, p. 107).

[3] However, it is important to note that for Alaska Natives, any identity as a “racial group” has been developed only as a result of interaction with the dominant society; otherwise, their identities are tied to membership in particular tribal groups.  This is discussed further in Chapter 4.

[4] Schneider and Ingram (1993, p. 336)

[5]   As mentioned earlier, one member, Roger Silven, proudly pointed out his Native ancestry.  However, he described himself as being more “Anglo” in his thinking.

[6] My use of the term Alaska Natives, a panethnic identifier, is acceptable to the indigenous peoples of Alaska.  Darnell and Hoem (1996) note that Alaska Native "is a term used to collectively identify all distinctly different Native groups found in Alaska.  It is the term preferred by the Native people to identify themselves as a pan-Alaskan population with common needs and aboriginal rights"  (p. 49).

[7] “Innuit was an incorrect identification of the Inupiat and Yupik peoples – Inuit peoples live in Canada and Greenland.  Tinneh refers to Athabascan Indians, who are closely related to the Dine’e, or Navajo and Apache peoples of the American southwest.

[8] There already was in place a boarding school system for indigenous students in the lower 48.  It was developed in the 19th century by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) with the intent of assimilating indigenous students; by 1881, there were 68 boarding schools throughout the country, serving 3,888 students (McDiarmid, 1984) .

[9] Skin and blubber of a bowhead whale, a central part of the traditional diet of Inupiat Eskimos.

[10] Part of this quote was deleted in order to avoid printing a potentially libelous statement by the respondent.

[11] The “roughneck Russian peasants” who worked for the Russian-American Company on Kodiak Island.  These peasants helped enslave Alaska Natives (Mitchell, 1997) .

[12] The Gwich’in are opposed to drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge because they are concerned that it will disrupt the migration and breeding of one of the largest caribou herds, the Porcupine Herd, in the state.  They depend on the caribou for food and other resources that enable them to maintain their traditions.  The Inupiat Eskimos on the North Slope stand to benefit economically from drilling in the Refuge.  As they are primarily a whaling and fishing community, they do not have the same cultural or subsistence reliance on caribou.

[13] While 175 Indian languages are still spoken within the United States, only 20 of these are spoken by mothers to their youngsters.  70 languages are used only by grandparents, and another 55 are spoken by 10 or fewer tribal members (Brooke, 1998) .

[14] [14] Not all missionaries had Native language eradication as a goal.  The Russian missionaries created alphabets for the Native languages of the people they converted, and published primers and religious works in these languages, in particular Aleut and Yupik.  Catholic missionaries initially had similar policies (Krauss, 1980) .

[15] Shirley Holloway, the State Commissioner of Education, responded to legislators arguing that residents of the rural unincorporated boroughs within Regional Education Attendance Areas do not contribute local taxes.  Referring to Public Law 874, she pointed out in a newspaper editorial:

The federal government, in effect, pays for the REAA’s local contribution through the Federal Impact Aid program.  This program’s purpose is to offset the inability of local governments to levy taxes against federal lands for education.  For REAAs, this impact aid translates into $26 million in local contributions, or 16 percent of their total education budget” (Holloway, 1998) .

[17] This is in contrast with research cited earlier that found that 70% of the village high school graduates stay in their villages, despite the high unemployment rates.

[18] Based on Schneider and Ingram (1993, p. 336)

[19] [19] Winant’s description in his 1997 work of the “New Abolitionist Racial Project” does not fit this as well with the Advocates as his 1994 use of “Radical Democracy.”  The New Abolitionist project, as he describes it, is more of an intellectual and research effort to make explicit the “invention of whiteness” as well as the role of race or the evolution of white supremacy as central in U.S. politics and culture (see (Winant, 1997) , pp. 47-48).