Final Report Made Available To The Public Online
by Dick Kauffman
May 15, 2002
By law, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has established an advisory committee in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The advisory committees are composed of state citizens who serve without compensation. The advisory committees advise the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights of civil rights issues in their states that are within the Commission's jurisdiction. More specifically, the advisory committees are authorized to advise the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on matters of their state's concern in the preparation of Commission reports to the President and the Congress; receive reports, suggestions, and recommendations from individuals, public officials, and representatives of public and private organizations to committee inquiries; forward advice and recommendations to the Commission, as requested; and observe any open hearing or conference conducted by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their states.
The report, Racism's Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska, includes the findings & recommendations of the Alaska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The findings and recommendations are based on the fact-finding and community forums which were held August 23-24, 2001, and October 25, 2001, in Anchorage, Alaska.
During the public forums, the Alaska Advisory Committee collected information on education, employment, and administration of justice concerns of particular relevance to Alaskan Natives and other minority groups in the state.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Vice Chairperson Cruz Reynoso and Commission members Yvonne Y. Lee and Elsie Meeks joined the Alaska Advisory Committee in the August forum, and U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Commission member Yvonne Y. Lee (whose term as commissioner ended December 2001) joined the Alaska Advisory Committee in the October forum.
In a statement by the Alaska Advisory Committee in the final report's letter of transmittal, "Discrimination against Alaska Natives and other minorities in the state has long been a concern of the Alaska Advisory Committee. At its meetings since 1998, members alleged that a climate of tolerance for bigotry had been developing for a number of years. Beginning in May 1999, the Advisory Committee encouraged the state's governor to convene a statewide conference on race."
At its April 26, 2001, meeting, the Advisory Committee stated they were briefed by a representative of the Alaska Federation of Natives on discrimination that he alleged had been ongoing since the Native population had been met by early explorers. A recent and overt example, he said, had been a January 2001 incident involving three youths who had videotaped themselves shooting frozen paintballs at Alaska Native victims on the streets of Anchorage.
The Alaska Advisory Committee determined that it should conduct community forums to collect data on the allegations of discrimination facing Alaska Natives and, to the extent there is overlap, other minorities. Members of the Advisory Committee focused their efforts on education, employment, and the administration of justice, and formed a subcommittee to define the parameters of the study. The Alaska Advisory Committee stated that it believed strongly that it should involve the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in this endeavor. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights decided that it would assist the Alaska Advisory Committee in obtaining information at the forums through the participation of members of the Commission.
According to the Alaska Advisory Committee, many forum participants suggested that an urban/rural divide had worked to the detriment of Native Alaskans, who for the most part reside in the state's rural villages. Forum participants alleged a lack of law enforcement, scarcity of employment opportunities, and limited educational opportunities for these rural residents. Native Alaskans who reside in the state's urban areas suggested that the situation in education, employment, and in the administration of justice also paints a picture of discrimination.
The Alaska Advisory Committee remarked that it was encouraged by the efforts of Governor Tony Knowles and of the mayor of Anchorage to deal with the issues raised since the paintball incident and that the Advisory Commission would seek to ensure that action is implemented to finally deal with the concerns of the state's Native population and discrimination in general.
The submission of the final report to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was approved by the Alaska Advisory Committee without objection. The Alaska Advisory Committee stated, "It is hoped that the report will encourage constructive change and equitable solutions. The time for action on longstanding recommendations is now, and Alaska's efforts could prove to be a model for solutions in other parts of the nation."
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