Story last updated at 4/18/2012 - 11:10 am
Editor's note: This submission was received in response to the story "'Sharing Our Knowledge' conference welcomes public" that was published in the March 21 issue of the Capital City Weekly.
After reading the "Sharing Our Knowledge" article, I would like to share some knowledge and Tlingit history firsthand.
My grandmother, Kaak- Da- Gaan, was from the First Wolf House along with her son, my father, Daat-Haaw-Gootch, George Suckinaw James Sr.
After my Grandfather Suckinaw stepped down as leader of Kuiu Island, he chose my father, who was youngest of three brothers, to lead. My mother, Khain Yailth Usk, Margaret Marie Kennedy James, was chosen to be his wife. She was from the First House of the Doubleheaded Raven of the Dog Salmon Clan of the Thlinadi.
Some of the clan leaders claim they are from Kuiu Island when they have never set foot on Kuiu. These so called clans, such as the Flicker house, have to be recognized by the First Wolf House of Kuiu, not at a potlatch recognizing themselves. Their grandmother was banished from Kuiu Island due to her infidelity with a Croatian immigrant.
During the smallpox epidemic in the mid-1800s, our great-grandfather GwashNaw and grandfather Suckinaw lived in the caves on Kuiu Island to escape the deadly sickness. GwashNaw made a proclamation before an audience at the mouth of the Klawock River, where the original village was, that Kuiu Island would no longer be matrilineal. Kuiu would be passed down from children to children from that point in time on. No one disputed him when the proclamation was made so it became Tribal law for Kuiu only.
The theme chosen for this year's conference was good, but I think we should make things happen in our time and not wait for those who come after us. A "Shadow Report" came from Geneva, Switzerland in regard to the United States Implementation Report submitted to the Human Rights Committee, March 2006. In the Shadow Report, it states something that most people don't know. The United States mislead the General Assembly of the United Nations by not disclosing the historical facts and independent status of the already recognized Kingdom of Hawaii and Alaska Native Nations. The United States historically recognized that both Nations as independent under the law of Nations.
The Alaska Native Nations on the Northwest coast of North America (Alaska at that time) held international discourse and trade with Tsarist Russia, the United States, and many European Nations in the first half of the 19th century. In the famous Ukase of 1821, Alexander I of Tsarist Russia, while attempting to claim Alaska, declared that the United States merchants can no longer trade directly with the Alaska Native Nations; United States merchants must now trade through the established forts and settlements.
In response to the claim, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams on behalf of United States President James Monroe declared diplomatic communications that this Territory was not part of the Russian Empire and asserted that the Natives were independent Tribes inhabiting an independent Territory. These diplomatic communications gave full citations under the law of Nations as to why Tsarist Russia did not acquire the Alaska region. The United States asserted that the Alaska Native Nations essentially possess the "title and dominion" (reference Blacks Law) with full sovereignty and independence as any European Nation under the Law of Nations.
The criteria to test whether or not any European Nation, including Tsarist Russia, could acquire the Territory of the Alaska region was based on the Law of Nations. This placed the sovereignty of the Alaska Natives on equal footing as any European Nation. The United States asserted this to protect their right to trade directly with the Alaska Native Nations. The independent nations of Alaska region enjoyed international discourse and trade with other European Nations without the interdiction of Tsarist Russia. The United States asserted that we Alaska Native Nations were free and independent in 1821 and have "title".
Alaska Native Nations are still free and have title to the lands, waters, and resources in 2012. ANCSA does not change anything. If anything, it was supposed to add to what we already had. For a matter of record when ANCSA rolled around, Suckinaw's descendants (James family) were the only ones to sign up for Kuiu. The United States has to abide by the following:
Northwest Ordinance of 1787: (1Stat.50) Article 3 assured that "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken without their consent; and, in their property, rights and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them."
Senate Resolution 76 (4) (in part), "Congress also acknowledges the need to exercise the utmost good faith in upholding its treaties with the various tribes as the tribes understood them to be."
The United States and their political subdivision have to abide by what President James Monroe said in 1821. No other entity, group or corporation can speak for the Kuiu and ShaKan. We are not "landless". The Kuiu and ShaKan have never ceded or relinquished our inherent rights, lands, waters, and resources to anyone.
For more information, contact Ambassador Ron Barnes at email@example.com or by phone at 41 22 79 541 9430 in Geneva, Switzerland.
George Suckinaw James Jr. writes from Ketchikan.