The two-year grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum will fund a statewide effort by Native scholars and leaders to interview elderly Native people who were active during the statehood era and to research archival materials.
The project, A Retrospective Analysis of Alaska Statehood from a Native Perspective, will initially result in an electronic publication, said SHI President Rosita Worl, noting the institute will raise funds to print the book later.
The effort will finally add Native voices to the history of statehood, said Worl.
"We're very excited that we're going to have an opportunity to have Alaska Native people tell the story of statehood from their perspective. It's very exciting to us. It responds to an unmet need," said Worl, a Tlingit who holds a Ph.D in Anthropology and will serve as project director.
The late Native leader Frank Peratrovich was a delegate to the constitutional convention and active in the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), a nonprofit fraternal organization founded in 1912.
During the statehood era, the ANB was fighting to secure citizenship for Native people, but it's unclear how Native people felt about other issues, such as subsistence, maintaining cultural identity and land claims.
The constitution did not address the legal rights of Native people, setting the stage for later battles over land and subsistence. The project will explore whether Native peoples' views paralleled or conflicted with the framers of the constitution, Worl said.
"Were they at that time looking at the legal status of Native people that would actually set us apart from the other citizens of the state? Those are questions we really need to look at and answer," Worl said.
Some of the research will be derived from historical materials archived at SHI's Special Collections Research Center.
Materials include the Dr. Walter Soboleff Collection, more than 1,000 historical papers that document activities of the ANB from 1929 to 1995, and the Curry-Weissbrodt Collection, which documents the struggle for the legal rights of Alaska Natives prior to, during and after the statehood period.
The interviews will be conducted with Native people identified through the Alaska Federation of Natives network. In addition, non-Natives who were actively involved in the statehood discussion will be interviewed about the issues that were not addressed in the constitution.
SHI is a Native nonprofit established in 1980 to administer educational and cultural programs for Sealaska, a regional Native corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The institute's mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. Language revitalization is a priority of SHI.