Alaska Native Student Lisa Lynch Leads Indigenous Peoples' Day Celebration at JCU

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Student Lisa Lynch

Student Lisa S. K. Lynch

Professor Andrea Lanzone’s HS 290 Native American History and Traditions class welcomed student Lisa S. K. Lynch, reigning Miss Arctic Native Brotherhood, on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. Lisa, who is a Classical Studies and History major from Nome, Alaska, gave a presentation on the occasion of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This talk followed the first Indigenous People’s Day celebration at JCU that took place on October 8 in the Lemon Tree Courtyard.

Dressed in traditional clothing, Lisa began by explaining that the Miss Arctic Native Brotherhood is a pageant that values culture and knowledge of current Native issues, as well as outdoors skills. In July 2018, Lisa represented the Bering Strait region at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks.

Lisa’s grandfather started herding reindeers in the 1960s and now her family owns the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch and land in Nome, Alaska. The Reindeer Act of 1937 states that only Alaska Natives are allowed to own reindeers. Lisa, who is a reindeer herder herself, explained that subsistence hunting is very important in Alaska. For Alaska Natives it is essential to gather enough provisions to sustain their whole family throughout the winter.

Lisa explained the difference between the terms “Native Alaskan” and “Alaska Native,” which indicate two distinct groups of people. Native Alaskan refers to people who were born in Alaska but who do not rely on subsistence. Alaska Native, on the other hand, indicates people who were born in Alaska and who depend on the land for survival. Lisa also clarified the difference between the terms Inuit and Inupiaq. Inuit is an umbrella term under which various ethnic groups fall, whereas Inupiaq indicates a specific ethnic group, which Lisa belongs to.

In 1867, land in Alaska was being sold for “2 cents per acre” said Lisa. In 1959 Alaska obtained its statehood, however, there was still a lack of rights and representation. The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) was formed in 1966 with the mission to promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the entire Alaska Native Community.

Indigenous People's Day Celebration at JCU

Indigenous People’s Day Celebration at JCU. Lisa S. K. Lynch third from left, Dean Mary Merva fourth from left.

Lisa then explained that in Alaska, land rights are tied to blood quantum, which refers to the percentage of Native blood. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971/72 established that the land would be divided among 12 Native regional corporations, as a way to preserve Native culture. According to Lisa, Native culture is greatly at risk, especially the various indigenous languages, who have very few remaining native speakers. Lisa said that boarding schools had a negative effect on Native culture because those who attended were forced to give up their traditions and embrace the English language. Her grandmother was one of the last few people in her city who was fluent in Inupiaq.

Lisa concluded the presentation with some pictures of her family’s ranch, which at one point had about 10 million reindeer.

Professor Lanzone thanked Lisa for her presentation and said that she managed to illustrate very effectively many of the issues that he touches upon in class.