Speech to Ak Teaching Justice Network Conference, 03/01/2004

††††††††† I want to tell you something about the young lady sitting next to me today.† When I met her in 1971, I was an attorney with Alaska Legal Services Corporation, and her name was Molly Hootch.† She was about 16, and lived in Emmonak at the mouth of the Yukon River.

††††††††† Like thousands of other young Alaska Natives in over a hundred villages in rural Alaska, each fall she and her family had to make a difficult, almost unbearable choice between living at home, and going to high school.† They had to make this choice because the only public high schools open to a girl like Molly were hundreds of miles away.

††††††††† Molly and her family, and her community and others like it, thought this system was wrong and asked me to help them change it.† As a result, Alaska Legal Services, with the help of national experts in education law, filed the Molly Hootch case in 1972.

††††††††† We said the Stateís school system violated the requirement of the Alaska Constitution that there be public schools open to all children in the state.† We also said the high school system illegally discriminated against Alaska Natives.†

††††††††† Mollyís experience was typical.† Even though Alaska had been a state for more than a decade, the school in her village was run by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.† Molly wanted to go to high school, but the BIA school stopped in the eighth grade.† To go to high school, the State said, she had to leave home.

Molly attended ninth grade in Anchorage through the boarding home program.† In her boarding home she was treated as an unpaid servant and babysitter.† On the school bus and at school, she was teased and picked on because of who she was and where she came from.† The next year, with a better boarding home and a different school, Molly completed the tenth grade in Anchorage.† But after these two years, she had had enough.† She quit high school and stayed home to help her family.†

Her family needed her.† Her dad was a subsistence hunter and fisherman, and a single parent with no cash income.† Molly was needed to help with the household, several siblings and she worked at the village store to bring in some money for the family.††††††††

†The system that forced Molly to make that awful, impossible choice of either family or school was wrong.† Although the first Alaska Supreme Court decision in 1975 said the system did not on its face violate the Alaska Constitution, the Court promised a different result if we proved racial discrimination.† As the case went on, the evidence of discrimination was overwhelming.†

Alaska, like the Deep South, had a long history of segregation and separate schools for natives.† Local high schools were provided for virtually all non-native children.† Many non-native towns much smaller than Mollyís village had their own high school.† Over 95% of the children who had to leave home to go to high school were Alaska Natives.† There was even evidence showing that the whole boarding school system was an intentional attack on native families and culture so they would leave their villages.† As the evidence piled up, the State decided to settle.

The result was a sweeping consent decree which led to the opening of over 120 high schools all over Alaska at an initial cost of more than $150 million dollars, one of the largest, if not the largest, settlements in an education case in history.

And, as for Molly, she got more high school education in her village through correspondence study supervised by a certified teacher, provided by the State, in Emmonak while the lawsuit was pending.† She continued to work at the village store and help her family in Emmonak, and she got her GED.† She persevered, and she reached her goals.

Later, in Emmonak, she met Alvin Hymes, and they have been happily married for 25 years, living in Minnesota and coming back often to Alaska.† They have two grown sons.† She has continued to work and currently holds a responsible position with Wells Fargo Bank.† And, sheís one of the nicest, most cheerful persons I know.† Just like she was when I met her in 1971.

Emmonak finally got its high school.† In 1977, Emmonak High School dedicated its first high school yearbook to Molly, saying:

Thanks to the Hootch Case, we, and others living in Rural Alaska can obtain our education at home.† We would like to dedicate our annual to Molly Hootch of Emmonak and the other people who fought for this ideal.

Iím proud that Molly Hootch was my client.†

Iím proud of what her lawsuit accomplished.

Iím even more proud to have her as a friend.

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††††††††† Copyright, 2004 Ė Christopher R. Cooke, 4625, Anchorage, AK. 99502