New book highlights Tlingit women

By Eric Morrison
Juneau, Alaska (AP) 7-08

The Alaska Native Sisterhood has accomplished a great deal over the years in education, civil rights and public service that many people are unaware of, ANS Executive Committee member Doloresa Cadiente said.

“A lot of people don’t know today the accomplishments that have been made by the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood that really impacted all people who live in the state of Alaska, in all walks of life,” she said.

The newly published “In Sisterhood: The History of Camp 2 of the Alaska Native Sisterhood” is one of the first books to detail Tlingit women’s accomplishments and contributions to society, editor Kimberly Metcalfe said.

“They’re women who have just pretty much been ignored by history, and I’m just hoping this (book) will put them in the limelight and show everybody what an interesting culture it is and how much these women have accomplished,” she said.

Copies are available at Hearthside Books or from the Web site

The book began to take shape in 2001, when the National Park Service issued a nearly $35,000 grant to fund the project. After seven years and hundreds of hours of interviews, editing and design, the completed book details the nearly 100-year history of the ANS and has more than two-dozen oral histories of Camp 2 women.

“We put in for (the grant), and I think our idea was unusual because we wanted to hone in on one specific group of women and the fact that women’s history are not done very often, especially Native American women,” Metcalfe said. “So this was a group of mostly Tlingit women who there was really nothing written about.”

Marie Williams Olson, who has spent two terms as president of ANS Camp 2, said the organization has been very active over the years in many endeavors, including championing for equal education for Alaska Native students.

“I think that’s always been our mission because there was a time when schools were segregated. Not anymore,” she said emphatically.

The approach of the ANS has evolved over the years to keep up with the contemporary issues and concerns, Olson said.

“At one time it was just for kids to go to school,” she said. “Now it’s go on to college and getting a four-year degree is nothing compared to a master’s or a Ph.D.”

The organization has remained as relevant today as it was when it was formed nearly a century ago shortly after the ANB formed in 1912, Cadiente said.

“There was a lot that was accomplished then. There’s a lot that we’re working on today just to protect and enhance what was already worked on, but there is still a lot of work out there still coming down the pike,” she said.

The ANS has built a strong reputation over the years for its activism, Cadiente said.

“I always feel when we talk about the Alaska Native Sisterhood, when they see our banners coming, it’s a matter of respect,” she said. “They know something is going to be done.”

Metcalfe said she has come to realize how important it is to tell the stories of these women now because of their age.

“I certainly hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but over the course of getting this done, gosh, there’s probably been 12 of them who have died since then,” she said. “You realize going along that these people are so elderly and fragile that it was the perfect time to get it out.”

One of the main purposes of the book was to highlight the organization for the younger generations, Metcalfe said.

“We need more members, and that’s one of the reasons we put out this book,” she said. “That was one of the driving forces behind it, to let younger women know the history of the organization and to know how much these women have done.”

Olson, who pointed out that ANS membership is not restricted to only Natives, also said she hopes the book will inspire more people to join the organization.

“I would hope that it would wet their curiosity and prompt them to come to a meeting because we don’t have closed doors,” she said. “We learned from racial segregation not to.”

“I think it will lend understanding of the organization and its commitment that it has not only to our people but our communities,” Cadiente added.