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Commemorating the Signing of ANCSA; Hosted by Alaska Pacific University.  -  Part 3 - Albert Kookesh
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Edgar Blatchford: Thank you, Byron. See, there is no agenda. I’m just calling people up to say a few words. We’re going to move up through southeast Alaska, and Albert Kookesh is our next speaker, Albert was here in 1969, one of my former classmates, and now the co-chair of the AFN. Albert …

Albert Kookesh (APU)
Albert Kookesh: Thank you. Many years ago, my wife and I were walking up the stairs. We were students here, and we saw all these Native people here in the lobby and we were wondering what they were doing invading our space. Edgar mentioned that I had played basketball for Alaska Methodist University. That was many years ago, and I was a lot taller then.

It’s interesting, because I look back on my career in education -- I went to Wrangell Institute for my first year, I went to Mt. Edgecumb my second year, I went to Alaska Methodist University to get my graduate degree -- and they all closed. Mt. Edgecumb opened, reopened; and this school of course reopened as Alaska Pacific University. I was worried for a while that if University of Washington Law School closed, I would have had to start all over.

I want to take a minute to talk to you about that day, because I look back at the people who were here who were students -- and Edgar was a student here, I was a student here, many of you know Rosita Worl was a student here, Jim LaBelle, my wife Sally, we were all students here, and I don’t think any of us had an indication of what was going on, because I think we were very naïve then. We were just more concerned about getting through school. I didn’t know a John Borbridge from anybody else. He was one of the leaders in southeast Alaska, I had no idea who he was or who Byron Mallott was.

I’m one of the beneficiaries of the action they took that day. I’ve benefited from this not only in scholarships, but in the cultural awareness and the corporate structure that I’ve participated in the last couple of years. There are a couple of things we Alaska Natives have a hard time doing. One of the things that those of you who have taught school in rural Alaska or for Alaska Natives know, is Alaska Natives have a hard time looking you in the eye. Alaska Natives just don’t do that.

I remember sitting with my uncle, Walter Sobeloff, in a restaurant in Juneau one time and he said Albert, I’m going to teach you something about respect. Look across the street -- there’s a brother and a sister, both in their 80s, Tlingit people, walking toward each other. They’re going to look away from each other. They’re not even going to acknowledge each other. Watch. So we sat there and watched and these two elderly people, both over 80, walked toward each other and then looked away from each other, and walked past each other, didn’t acknowledge each other. That’s interesting, because that’s the highest form of respect. You don’t look somebody in the eye. I notice that teachers these days have a hard time with children in grade school, because they think that the child not looking at them in the eye makes them feel like they’re timid or afraid, but its just inbred into our society.

Another thing we have a hard time doing is talking about ourselves, patting ourselves on the back and saying gee, we did a great job. So Edgar and I can stand up here and look at Emil Notti and Byron and John Borbridge and Marlene Johnson and Cecil Barnes and those people who were here before us and say thank you for doing such a great job for us. While people still complain about that Settlement Act, I know some people think it was a mistake yet, I don’t. I really believe that we benefited from this, and I really thank those people who came before us for all the work they did, because I really believe personally that I’ve benefited from it.

I want to say that another thing we should pat ourselves on the back for, for those of you who don’t follow this closely, is that we got 40 million acres of land in fee simple. If we tried to do that today, we’d never make it. We’d never do it. When you go down to the lower 48 and you look at the land that the lower 48 Indians got in the whole United States in trust, their whole total acreage is 50 million acres -- in trust.

So, I feel good about that. I know other people don’t, and there are people who are still skeptics about it, but I believe that it was to our benefit. The other thing is that I really feel that when you look at the corporations that were chartered back then, not one of them is gone. Every one of them is still here, 30 years later. Not one of them has dissolved because of bankruptcy. Every regional corporation is still here, much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the many people who thought we’d be gone in a couple of years.

In closing, I just want to say this: I really believe in my heart that the Natives of the next generation are going to continue to benefit from this. The Natives of the next generation are going to be smarter than we were, they’re going to be more sophisticated that we were, they’re going to be better educated than we were, they’re going to be better financed than we were. The only thing that we haven’t made a decision on is whether they’re going to be better looking than we were. I’m sure that would probably be true too. But I think the Natives of the next generation, our Native children and our grandchildren, are going to continue to benefit from the work that people like Willie Hensley and Byron Mallott and Marlene Johnson and others have done to bring us to where we are today. Those of us like Edgar and Julie and others who were not there at the beginning, have continued to work very hard to continue to make this a reality, so we want to be able to look at the people of the next generation and say here, this is your world, do better than we did. Thank you very much for the chance to say it.

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