Going Native: Sarah Palin's Record of Ignoring the "Other"

For nearly two months now, Sarah Palin has been standing in front of large crowds in some of the most rural parts of America and declaring that she is one of them.

Yet, in her home state of Alaska, where she is governor, she largely ignores the most rural parts, where the population is two-thirds Native Alaskan.

Don’t expect members of the Alaska Federation of Natives to sing the praises of Sarah Palin when they convene at their annual convention this week. And this convention is a big deal for many Alaskans. Nearly one in five Alaskans are Alaska Native, meaning they are indigenous to the state of Alaska and come from tribes including Inupiat, Yupik, Eskimo and Aleut, but none of them seem to be on Palin’s radar.

In Alaska, rural (or “village”) is often considered synonymous with Native. Yet when Palin became governor, she picked a non-Native former journalist from the port town, Bethel, to serve as her rural affairs advisor, despite protests from state senators and rural constituents. Even more recently, Palin appointed three non-Native members to the Board of Game. This was the first time a Native would be absent from the Board. State Senator Al Kookesh, D-Angoon told a local paper [www.adn.com] that Palin’s policy has had “no measurable impact on the Native community,” despite repeatedly calling attention to her husband’s Yupik heritage.

Many of Palin’s policies–such ensuring that abortion is illegal and cuts in funding for social services–harm no one more than it does the Native population in Alaska, in which teen pregnancy rates are higher than among any other population in Alaska.

Palin’s nomination as the Republican vice-presidential candidate has further inflamed criticism against her prejudice policies. Two anchorage lawyers circulated a letter [www.indiancountrytoday.com] throughout the country that called Palin’s policies an “assault on Native peoples,” claiming that “Palin’s lawsuits are a direct attack on the core way of life of native tribes in rural Alaska.”

Journalists, activist and bloggers throughout Alaska continue to vocalize their anger and dismay at Palin’s lack of inclusiveness in her state policies. One Alaska Native blogger wrote about how much Palin’s participation the rap about her on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. It’s one thing for a sketch comedy show to lampoon stereotypes of Alaska with rapping Eskimos and a person dressed in a moose suit; it’s another thing for the Governor of Alaska to do this.

The blogger [open.salon.com] wrote:

The Eskimo stereotypes that Alaska Native people have tried to get away from for so many years were struck a bit of a blow with the Eskimo rap, enthusiastically cheered on by our illustrious governor – herself the mother of Alaska Native children.

These outcries against Palin are not only grievances, but also a warning to the rest of the country: Palin is only interested in representing her own.

This is the same we see as she canvasses the country. She has shown her preference for those like her. She has called the parts of America that are like her hometown, Wasilla, “the best of America.” Palin’s policy priority is energy, but specifically drilling in Alaska, an endeavor that would create significant revenue for her home state, almost exclusively. And never has Palin mentioned anything about education other than noting that her parents were school teachers and that she would make special education a priority for children with special needs, like her son, Trig.

These are the self-serving politics that got her into trouble with Troopergate.

Rather than hypothesizing about how Palin’s ideology and take on the issues would play out if she were elected to office, why do as Palin always invites us to do with Obama: just look at the record.

–Jamie Wong