June 3, 1942 was the third event in the modern history of the Unangax of the Aleutian Islands that indelibly changed our pathway. The first, in 1741, was contact with the Russian fur procurers which resulted in a near genocide. The second, occurring in 1867, was the purchase of Alaska by the United States, known for years as a folly. This event that sold the indigenous peoples of Alaska and the land for $7.2 Million put the Unangax people into the assimilation machine that forced Natives to stop speaking their language, eating native foods, practicing native religions, and associating with other natives, and being forced into speaking only English. Only then could they be considered civilized. Only then could a native who came close to this interpretation of civilized life become an American citizen. The third event, the invasion of the Aleutian Islands by the Japanese Imperial Army, led to the forced evacuation of all of the Unangax from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands to abandoned mines and fish caneries in southeast Alaska, absolutely stripping them of their civil and personal liberties. Their return, in late 1945, over three years from departure, brought them back having lost 10 to 15 percent of their population to death and back to homes and churches that had been vandilized and/or burned by the military that was supposed to protect them.
So we honor our lost villages, our lost people, our disappearing language and culture as we also honor those who gave their lives and youth to our fog-enshrouded islands in the protection of the United States. We have mitigated our anger and dispair and have come, once again, to accept our past as a way of growing and becoming strong so that we can reclaim those parts of our culture that swim at the edge of the abyss. Our mantra is, and always will be, adaptation.
Despite hail, snow, and North winds buffeting us in the face, we had a successful 2nd Women’s March in Unalaska with a focus on “Power to the Polls”. We changed our route this year to be more inclusive of various types of marchers. Our route was on more level ground with only one small hill, and we ended our march indoors where marchers could warm up immediately. There was nothing fancy about our event. We marched, we ate deliciously shared dishes, and we were so damn happy to have two wonderful women who registered people to vote and/or updated voter information.
I have no pictures of my own to share. I left my camera in the car. My worry about my 88 year old mother getting cold and wearing herself out was for naught. She pretty much led the march, marching along with her great-grandson and his teenage friends. We even had to slow her down so that parents with toddlers had a chance to catch up.
I think the best part of the march for me was the fact that in our group of about 55 hardy souls braving winter Aleutian winds, between 10-15 were teenagers; our up and coming voters. It actually humbled me a bit to bear witness to the fact that they got up on a Sunday morning and participated to the fullest. I am in awe.
In looking at this picture, you might not even think that there is much diversity in this group. They are all wearing beyond comfortable jeans and footwear. They are sporting the same t-shirt with various pullovers for comfort. They are sporting sunglasses and hats for shade…except for the kids who haven’t learned the virtues of protecting skin and eyes yet. They have all come together to support a common cause and to play a common game. (Well, common game in an uncommon location; tundra golf…not for the faint of heart.) You wouldn’t think that so many different cultures could be represented in such a small group, but without going into their personal backgrounds, I will just tell you that they represent everything.
On this day of reflection I like to think that America was brilliant at being a model for diversity and inclusiveness. How that changed mimics the changes we see on a local level. Learning about different cultures, with the result of respecting them, opens the door for open minds. Take a lesson from indigenous cultures who for millennia were inclusive of all people no matter their beliefs, skin tone, or gender identification and/or definition. Although I now believe that our ability to pass on values of diversity acceptance has become more difficult, I still believe that our ability to truly appreciate and celebrate diverse cultures stems from the generosity of those who choose to share their values and their dreams with the group as a whole.