Racism’s Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska

Chapter 6


The Alaska Advisory Committee issues this report on the basis of fact-finding, including the record from its August and October 2001 community forums in Anchorage. At these forums, the Advisory Committee heard from elected public officials, agency directors, public and private organization leaders, and the general public; examined this record; and considered the views of all parties submitting testimony. The Advisory Committee believes the state of Alaska is in a unique position to act on a variety of concerns brought to its attention. The Advisory Committee firmly believes that the challenges presented by geography and the location of rural villages can be met by creativity, reallocation of resources, and greater use of technology.

In the area of education, the Advisory Committee is concerned about allegations suggesting a significant dropout rate for Alaska Natives and other minorities; a suicide death rate for Alaska Native youth nine times the rate for youth of all races in the United States as a whole; a disparity in the financial and human resources for educational facilities between urban and rural districts; a distressing racial/ethnic disparity in student achievement across the state; a lack of federal and state oversight of educational systems and a reluctance to withhold funds from districts not in compliance with mandates; a lack of Alaska Natives and other minorities as administrators, teachers, and noncertificated staff in school districts statewide; a reluctance on the part of the state legislature to acknowledge the consequence of the urban/rural divide in education; a lack of curriculum information on Alaska Native contributions to the state’s development; and the unintended consequences of the statewide exit examination for high school students.

In the area of employment, the Advisory Committee is concerned about allegations suggesting a lack of employment opportunities in rural Alaska; underestimation of the severity of unemployment in the villages by counting only those who actively look for work and not those who have given up because there is no work available; a lack of training centers and a cut in funding by the state legislature for any type of industrial training program in rural Alaska; a lack of industrial shop classes in rural school systems; a lack of equal employment opportunity training, particularly for those holding supervisory positions; a lack of monitoring oversight for compliance with federal and state employment laws, policies, and procedures; little use of the exit interview as an integral part of personnel management procedures; the absence of Alaska Natives and other minorities in state employment; the imposition of unnecessary requirements on job applicants; a lack of adequate measures for gauging the economic viability of rural communities; the lack of a local-hire law; and the lack of adequate data and measurement techniques to assess the promotion of employees or job classifications by race/ethnicity within state employment.

In the area of the administration of justice, the Advisory Committee is concerned about allegations suggesting a disparity in the law enforcement services provided to off-road and on-road communities; the disparity in response time for law enforcement incidents across the state; that there are no parole and probation officers in the villages; that the legislature fails to provide funds for probation and parole in the villages; that there are insufficient alcohol treatment programs in rural areas; that the state of Alaska prohibits 227 tribal governments from exercising law enforcement and providing judicial services under tribal laws; that there are no courts available in some rural areas; that trials for Alaska Natives are not before a jury of their peers because trials using the jury system are held in regional centers or large cities; and that there is a lack of public trust in the judicial system.

The concerns and complaints are not new. Many panelists noted that there have been numerous studies, reports, and recommendations to deal with the issues in education, employment, and in the administration of justice. The Advisory Committee believes the state’s elected and appointed officials and employers must confront the concerns and deal with them. The Advisory Committee agrees that it is time to implement action for constructive change. The Alaska Native community and other minorities who have initiated and added to the fabric and development of the state deserve inclusion in the process to refine and ensure growth and positive change without impinging upon cultural attributes, traits, and mores. Alaska can make a statement regarding its citizens that may prove to be a model for the growing diversity of the nation.

It is in this spirit of constructive change, that the Advisory Committee strongly recommends implementation of the following actions:


1.1    The Alaska Department of Education should adequately fund programs for rural and urban school systems to decrease the dropout rate among Alaska Native and other minority students.

1.2    The state legislature should increase funding of the educational facilities and programs for rural Alaska school districts.

1.3    An addition should be made to the statewide curriculum requiring the study of Alaska’s history dating back to the migration of its early indigenous people.

1.4    An addition should be made to the statewide curriculum that would allow rural school districts to teach local cultural elements to their students.

1.5    The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education should increase its visibility in the state and conduct additional compliance reviews of school districts, including those in rural areas.

1.6    Federal and state funds should be immediately withheld when there is evidence that violations have occurred.

1.7    The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education should ensure that the implementation of the state’s new Quality Schools Initiative and High School Graduation Qualifying Examination do not have an adverse impact on minority students.

1.8    School districts should increase their numbers of Alaska Natives and other minority certificated and noncertificated staff.

1.9    The University of Alaska system should provide access to teacher preparation programs to rural citizens within their own communities.

1.10    The state legislature and state school board should revisit the high school exit examination issue to assess whether its implementation achieves the desired outcomes. The examination process and test should be evaluated each year and updated accordingly.

1.11    Each school, particularly those in urban centers, should have a community ombudsman to bridge the gap between the needs of Native students and other minority students and the school.

1.12    An Alaska Native student achievement center should be created to collect data on California Achievement Test (CAT) scores, benchmark test scores, dropout rates, GED enrollment, attainment of higher education, and the impact of Native language and culture on student achievement.


2.1    State departments should be monitored periodically by an external agency for compliance with federal and state employment laws, policies, and procedures.

2.2    All human resource personnel should adopt the exit interview as an integral part of their personnel management procedures.

2.3    State departments should increase the recruitment, hiring, and retention of Alaska Natives and other minorities and develop procedures for promotion.

2.4    The state must do a better job of providing employment education that includes training to succeed in the unique market economy of rural Alaska and that targets the mix of future job opportunities.

2.5    The state should conduct an analysis of state jobs and ensure that the qualifications required are appropriate for the job descriptions and do not have a discriminatory effect.

2.6    The State Department of Administration should immediately begin collecting and analyzing data on the race/ethnicity of employees and job classifications to determine whether minorities are being promoted at the same rates as nonminorities, and if not, whether discrimination is a cause.

2.7    The state should determine a better measurement for gauging the economic viability of rural communities, taking into consideration such factors as lack of economic infrastructures and participation in subsistence work.

2.8    The federal and state governments should make grants available to the State Human Rights Commission, Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, and other such commissions in the state so that they can engage in meaningful outreach and education programs to prevent discrimination.

2.9    The state legislature should adopt a local-hire law and enact work-sharing agreements between union contractors and village councils.

2.10    Labor contracts with unions should be renegotiated to meet the needs of rural Alaskans.

2.11    The State Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must develop contractual agreements that would create greater employment opportunities for rural village residents.

2.12    The state must evaluate the economic impact of its seasonal and nonpermanent work force, particularly in Native communities, and take corrective action when disparities are found.

2.13    Congress should conduct a national parity study to ensure that states are employing minorities at rates comparable to their representation in the population. States that fail to demonstrate parity in hiring should be examined more closely to determine whether there are practices or polices in place that may be discriminatory. These instances should be referred to the Employment Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation.

Administration of Justice

3.1    The state legislature should provide funds to implement probation and parole programs in the villages. This may require the reallocation of present financial and human resources.

3.2    Tribal court jurisdiction should be immediately implemented at the village level. The federal and state governments should continue to support restorative efforts with funding and technical assistance in order to allow for greater local control of justice matters.

3.3    A program should be designed and implemented that requires all village police officers and village public safety officers to undergo 1,500 hours of training at the Alaska State Trooper Academy.

3.4    Training programs should be implemented to increase public awareness of how the judicial system operates.

3.5    The state and local governments should develop effective efforts aimed at recruiting more Alaska Natives and other minorities into careers in the justice system. The court system should employ and train Alaska Natives and other minorities as paralegal professionals, court clerks, and other support staff.

3.6    The use of modern technologies should be increased to upgrade the quality and effectiveness of the judicial system in the rural areas. For example, some communities have developed video capability so that a probation officer can supplement ongoing supervision of offenders in rural communities. This has enabled individuals on probation to remain close to home. A teleconferencing procedure may work for certain court cases as well.

3.7    Efforts should be made to enlarge the pool of qualified jurors so that all defendants have the opportunity to be tried before a jury of their peers. The state often relies on a relatively small pool of residents in urban centers and rarely selects jurors from rural communities. Because of the geography of the state and the location of rural villages, this requires a creative approach.

3.8    Sentencing alternatives available to judges should be expanded.

3.9    The Alaska court system should recruit and train local interpreters in Native and common languages. Incentive pay should be provided to bilingual police officers and corrections officials who provide translation services in the line of duty. The University of Alaska system should offer a curriculum for interpreters in various languages.

3.10    Law enforcement programs should be developed to increase the number of Alaska Native and other minority officers hired by local jurisdictions and the Alaska State Troopers. As part of this effort, the state should mandate cultural diversity training for all law enforcement and criminal justice staff.

3.11    The state must develop culturally relevant prison programs, substance abuse intervention, and treatment programs.

3.12    Greater judicial reliance should be placed on village dispute resolution processes with the assistance of tribal organizations.

3.13    A disproportionate number of Native Alaskans in the legal system are forced to rely on underfunded public legal services. The state must provide meaningful support to the Public Defender Agency, Alaska Legal Services, and the Office of Public Advocacy so that all individuals in the criminal justice system are afforded competent and thorough representation.


4.1    An ombudsman office or official should be established to facilitate dialogue between the public and policymakers. The Advisory Committee’s forums revealed the need for people to voice their concerns and air grievances. The Governor’s Tolerance Commission hearings and Anchorage mayor’s workshops and hearings demonstrated the importance of allowing citizen input. The state of Alaska and each municipality and locality should establish a forum through which individuals can voice their complaints.

4.2    The state must become creative in dealing with the urban/rural divide. The state must first assess the reasons for the divide and then develop a plan to eliminate it. In doing so, the state must take into account the higher operational costs of rural communities and develop a funding formula that adequately covers the difference.

4.3    The state must spend adequate money and time in rural Alaska to train community members to take on state functions in servicing villages. This will not only create year-round jobs in rural communities, but will also reduce the amount of time it takes the state to respond to the needs of these communities and offer equal access to state services for rural residences.

4.4    The state must begin to develop rural economies that can support local government. Many forum participants believe that state-imposed funding limits amount to state neglect, particularly in rural areas. State aid to local governments should be increased to facilitate them in their governmental operations. In addition, the state should not use the provision of federal funds as an excuse to reduce its expenditures in villages.

4.5    The state legislature should adopt a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a rural subsistence priority for use of fish and game resources and place it on a ballot before the people of Alaska in 2002. The legislature should adopt a law that creates co-management of Alaska’s fish and game resources with participation of Alaska Natives and rural residents. Agreements between local entities, Native organizations and corporations, other Alaskan users, and the state and federal governments are all appropriate co-management options.