The real people of Alaska

None of Alaska’s Native peoples are properly called Eskimo.  They are, instead, the Inupiat of northwestern and northern Alaska, the Yupik of western and south central Alaska, the Athapascan Indians of the interior, the Aleuts around Kodiak, and the Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian tribes of southeast.

Inupiat is derived from the word for person, inuk, and the word for real, piaq.  Yupik is from yuk (person) and pik (real).  Like many indigenous peoples, they call themselves the real people, or real men.

After the war my Uncle Fritz went to Alaska and lived with the Natives in different parts of the state.  He went by Pettyjohn, as in the army, with no first name.  Fritz is a family nickname.  When I came to Alaska to meet him in 1969 he told me many stories about the Native people he had met, a people he had studied extensively, and loved.

He said the Inupiat word for white was hussuk, and it was said dismissively, with a lack of respect.  Hussuks were not real men, as far as they were concerned.  The few blacks they saw they called black white men.

The political leadership of Alaska’s Natives can be white or Native, Democrat or Republican.  The only thing that matters is their first political allegiance, which is the best interests of the Natives.  I served a term in the State House with old Henry Springer, a German-American who had settled in Nome, Inupiat country.  He was so politically incorrect he used to celebrate Hitler’s birthday, just to annoy people.  The only speech he gave in two years, with his German accent, was a description of what it was like to have a honey bucket for sanitation.

When I brought Babbie to Anchorage in 1974 I intended to win a seat in the United States Senate.  The only way I figured I could do it was by becoming politically active in the Republican Party.  I didn’t figure to have a lot of money behind me whenever I ran, so my appeal would have to be ideological.  I would be the most conservative politician in the state, as conservative as you can be without being a nut.

So I volunteered for Reagan for President in 1976, and got to know a few people.  One of them was Bill McConkey, who would be managing Republican Governor Jay Hammond’s reelection campaign in 1978.  He asked me to help out, which I was eager to do.  If I did Jay Hammond some good, he could be my ticket inside the world of Alaska politics.

The few people who knew me were surprised I wasn’t supporting Hammond’s principle opponent, hard core conservative Wally Hickel.  But my Uncle Fritz had told me that Hickel looked down on Alaska’s Natives, so I could never support him.

As far as I know, I was the only conservative in Anchorage who supported Hammond.  Some people didn’t like Hickel, so they all supported former Speaker of the House Tom Fink, who was just as conservative as Hickel, but normal.  I got to know Tom Fink, and think he would have been a good governor.  But he didn’t have a chance against Hickel.

Hickel had been elected Governor in 1966, then quit to become Nixon’s Secretary of the Interior.  He was crazy in his ambition, and might entertain thoughts of running for President, if he could get elected Governor again.  This was common speculation, but no one would come out and accuse him of it.  He was a wealthy and vindictive man, and anyone who crossed him might pay a price.

So, naturally enough, McConkey and the Hammond campaign asked me to do it.  I knew what my Uncle Fritz thought of Hickel, so I was happy to do so.  They made me chairman of Hands for Hammond, an imaginary volunteer group, and I issued a press release.  I came right out and said it.  The only reason Hickel is running again is so he can run for President.  He quit the job once, and he’ll quit it again.

The pro-Hammond Anchorage Daily News ran a big story about it, and Hickel was asked to react.  He was very temperamental guy, and he just blew up.  It was an ugly side of him that a lot of people knew about already.

Hammond won by 97 votes, and after reapportionment I was rewarded in 1982 by a vacant State Senate seat in a district designed specifically for me.  It was in south Anchorage, an area formerly represented in the Senate by a national board member of the John Birch Society.  But I wasn’t that good of a candidate, and only won 52-48.

I represented the conservative Republicans in my district, and was the most conservative legislator in the state.  But as far as my Alaskan identity went, I was a Hammond man.   And Jay Hammond was the finest leader the Native people of Alaska ever had.

 

 

 

 

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