Do Not Refuse Us
Martha J. Sara
October 17, 1969 — US Congressional Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, Fairbanks AL
Mr. Chairman, members of the board, my name is Martha Sara. I’m an Eskimo. I was born and raised in Bethel. I’m a junior at the University of Alaska. My major is Sociology and I plan to go on and become a social worker.
On behalf of the Theata Club, which is an organization of native students on the University of Alaska campus, and on behalf of myself, I would like to say that I’m grateful for the right and am happy to take the responsibility to testify on behalf on the Native Land Claims.
Along with hundreds of other native young adults, I’ve taken the responsibility of becoming educated to better equip myself for our coming responsibilities in the management of our own affairs.
This is not an easy undertaking.
Although I am not the best example available, I will use myself. After high school I entered a school of nursing in Los Angeles. It was difficult for me because I had to overcome handicaps not faced by most American youths. I entered a different culture. Along with the dynamic process of learning what the school offered, I also had to adjust to new values and surroundings. I graduated and became a registered nurse at the age of nineteen. I was filled with a sense of accomplishment and I applied for employment at the Public Health Service Hospital in Bethel. Never before had they employed an Associates in Arts degree registered nurse — and so young. They had to get permission from Washington; permission was granted. I worked only one year when our community decided to open a Prenatal Home in Bethel through the assistance of the Office of Economic Opportunity. A director was needed with the qualifications of a registered nurse. I enthusiastically wrote a letter of application even before applications were printed. I knew the people and a lot of the future clients having worked most of the year in the Maternity Ward in our hospital.
To my delight I was hired. Complications arose, however, because someone pointed out that in order to be a Director of a Prenatal institution in the State of Alaska one had to be twenty-five years old, and I was not yet even twenty-one. Letters were written on my behalf and permission was granted from Juneau for me to keep and fill the position. The funding was unsure because the deadline for occupancy was nearing and the building was unfit for expectant mothers as far as the State Sanitarian, State Fire Marshall, and Child Welfare Institution Directors were concerned. Complete renovation of the physical plant and procurement of necessary equipment was urgent. Needless to say, I became an amateur painter, plumber, carpenter, electrician, diplomat, beggar, and petty larcenist. Local men did the plumbing, carpentry, and electrical work in conjunction with the BIA. Local boys under the Neighborhood Youth Program did the painting. Used furniture was procured from the hospital through GSA. Supplies were ordered and opening day saw us admitting our first lady. We struggled and worked for what we wanted and got it. Of course we had the assistance and backing of the agencies, but the native peoples involved made it work. We were competent and proved it.
I am here representing a body of eager, willing young adults ready to learn, work, and show our capability in the management of our own affairs. I am just one of many who are willing to struggle for an education, who are willing to work hard, the way we worked on the Bethel Prenatal Home.
We are not asking for all our land — just a portion of it — and if you grant it to us, we will have to strive very hard because what we are asking for is less than what we believe is fair. But we are capable of striving very hard.
And how shall you refuse us? You who have centuries of learning, education, civilization, colonization, expansion, domination, exploitation behind you? How shall you refuse us?
Do not refuse us because we are young! In youth there is energy, drive, ambition, growth, and new ideas. Do not refuse us because we are young! For we shall mature!
Do not refuse us because we are undereducated! We are learning fast; and utilizing our newly gained knowledge, comparing and weighing the truths and benefits of this knowledge. We know that the 40,000,000 acres we are asking for will provide a minimum protection to hunting and fishing. We understand that we need the identification with, and the feeling for our own land. We also realize that we need this land as an economic base for our people. The land will be used as a commodity in our economic base. We can accomplish this with 40,000,000 acres. $500,000,000 is a lot of money. We understand what a vital role this can play in the economic base of our people. We realize that with proper and careful handling and investment of this money we can make it work for us. We do not plan to make improvements without first establishing a sound economic base which will provide for growth and return. After this is established, then we can begin our improvements. We will then be able to maintain and expand these improvements. We realize that we can not only benefit our people, but all of Alaska. All this for $500,000,000. Do not refuse us because we are still learning! For we are fast learning!
Do not refuse us the chance to progress! We too have a dream for the progress of our land. We hold a superior position to develop our country because it is our country, and we love it. We will be more cautious in its utilization — and I deliberately use the word “utilization” instead of “exploitation”. We will weigh each prospect carefully to assure ourselves that we are making the best decision for our generation and those generations to come. We are not here to grab; we are here to live with the growth of our native land. Do not refuse us the chance for progress. For we too share the dream of progress.
Do not refuse us because you are afraid we don’t have competent leaders! I represent a generation of paradoxes. We are paradoxes in the fact that we are the closest links to the parties farthest separated in this issue. One of these groups is our beloved elders whom we left back home only a short time ago, who, along with others, still cling to the old ways and depend upon the land for subsistence. Another group is made up of our able leaders, Native and White, who are presently in positions of decision. We are close to the old ones and the people back home because, having recently left them, their problems, worries, and fears burn deep in our hearts. We know what makes them happy; we know what can fill them with contentment; we know what gives them hope. At the same time we are close to our leaders in the fact that we are striving and aspiring to their positions of decision. Native young people are rising up to meet the demands and expectations of a foreign and sometimes hostile society. The day of our leadership is not too far off. When that day of fulfillment comes, I would like to think that we can proudly take our places side by side with the present leaders to direct the affairs of our own people. In their wisdom they can quell our fears, channel our energy, help shape our innovative ideas, direct our aggression, and interpret our anxieties. Together we can provide able leader ship! Do not refuse us for fear of poor leadership! For we are capable leaders.
Do not refuse us simply because you purchased the sovereign right of our land! Our fathers since time began have paid dearly for our homeland every generation. They struggled against the harshest environment known to man and survived to teach us to do the same. Each generation paved the way for the next. Do not refuse us because you purchased this right! For our forefathers paid for it long before your forefathers had the money!
Do not refuse us because we are a minority! For this is America! We have proved in many ways that, not only do we take advantage of our rights and freedoms along with other Americans, but we are willing to, and have, fought equally for all its privileges. Our native soldiers fought and died for the United States in World War II, the Korean War, and in the present war in Viet Nam. As American citizens, we have equal rights and have taken on equal responsibility. So do not refuse us because we are a minority! For this is America!
In closing I would like to say that competence is something that has to be proven. And as young native adults we have demonstrated our abilities and are now proving it.
I would like to add that we are deeply grateful to you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to come and hear our testimonies. It is deeply appreciated. Thank you! Quyana caqneq!
Source: Alaska Native Land Claims, Part II, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, 91st Cong., 1st Sess., (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office) 1970, pp. 465-467.
Also: Representative American Speeches 1937-1997, ed. Calvin McLeod Logue, (New York: H.W. Wilson) 1997, pp. 338-340.