Ketchikan couple lead Native empowerment groups

By Danelle Landis

Ketchikan Daily News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 9 2010 4:58 p.m. MST

In this Nov. 26, 2010 photo, Richard and Janice Jackson talk about the history of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp history at their home in Ketchikan, Alaska. Ketchikan couple Richard and Janice Jackson were elected in October as the first couple to serve simultaneously as Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Presidents since iconic civil rights leaders Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich did so in 1945.

Ketchikan Daily News, Hall Anderson, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Ketchikan couple Richard and Janice Jackson were elected in October as the first couple to serve simultaneously as Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Presidents since iconic civil rights leaders Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich did so in 1945.

"We feel gratitude to them. They did work that was very significant," Richard Jackson said.

But the Jacksons are looking more forward than back as they contemplate their year of service ahead: "We're not a mirror of them. We'll deal with today's issues."

Richard and Janice outlined their vision as co-leaders of the two Native empowerment groups.

"One of the biggest concerns is how to engage our youth, because they're going to carry this on when we're gone, so we need to get them involved now — and it's a real struggle," Janice Jackson said.

She said that some of the ways that they plan to motivate youth to become involved in Native advocacy and culture include educating them about their heritage and traditional subsistence way of life, involving them in Native dancing, and getting on the Internet, where they spend time, to interact with them.

"We've got to bridge that gap. We need to reach them," she said.

She used one of the activities she will be leading in Anchorage next week as an example: Foster kids from various Native cultures, including Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida, Yup'ik, and Aleut will gather with her, and they will create jewelry and key chains made from traditionally harvested sources, such as devil's club beads.

Beads, necklaces and two clear bags bulging with the smooth, ivory-whorled beads which she had made from the spiny native plant lay ready for travel on the Jacksons' kitchen table.

"I'm going to help them connect with their backgrounds," Jackson said. "They don't have any knowledge of Native medicine — 'What does it mean to us?'"

While she works around the table with the students, Jackson said, she will talk about Elizabeth Peratrovich, and how the ANB/ANS fought for equality for Alaska Natives before Martin Luther King Jr. worked for civil rights.

Jackson explained that through an activity like crafting, that the kids enjoy, she hopes she can "hook them in a little bit."

Another issue the couple is tackling is suicide among youth.

The problem "goes across cultures," Richard Jackson said. "It's that time in their life — especially for young men."

Janice Jackson said that they'd like to start a Facebook page to communicate with youth. "Start talking with them on that — a lot of young people are lonely.

"Language and culture is very big," she added. "That is one of the things we need to help our youth, is to connect to who they are. That's how I think we're going to get their attention."

The couple talked about the importance of education for Alaska Natives. One of ANB/ANS's big programs is its scholarship program, Janice Jackson said.

"The education you receive is going to determine your future," Richard Jackson said.

The Jacksons also listed crime and the high rate of incarceration for the Native population as an important issue they want to tackle.

Richard Jackson said he also is focused on subsistence issues. He and his wife are working on changes to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and have a $20,000 fund earmarked for this project.

"Subsistence," is a word he would like to see changed to "way of life," because "subsistence" sounds like people barely scraping by, but, "Our 'way of life' says, 'This is what we have.'"

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