Cultural Politics and the Mass Media: Alaska Native Voices

Article excerpt

Cultural Politics and the Mass Media: Alaska Native Voices. Patrick Daley and Beverly James. Champaign: The University of Illinois Press, 2004. 200 pp. $35.00.

Cultural Politics and the Mass Media: Alaska Native Voices focuses on the challenges faced by Alaska's indigenous people as they secured control of the mass media to gain long-denied rights. In it, authors Patrick Daley and Beverly James pioneer research that could be of enormous use to other minorities in search of self-determination.

Wherever possible, the researchers reach for abstractions to explain their case studies, but they are spading new ground and therein lies both the weakness and strength of this work. Happily, where theoretical applications are slim, the conversant tone used in documenting historical progression and cultural evolvement serves the reader well.

The authors first became interested in the Far North while teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1983, more than a decade after Alaska Native people had won a congressional claims settlement of $1 billion and 44 million acres to become the largest private landowners in the state. Although James and Daley left Alaska before that decade ended, they continued to monitor developments while serving as associate professors at the University of New Hampshire.

The authors begin their work with homage to indigenous communication scholar Gail Guthrie Valaskakis' theory that counterhegemonic process follows the notion of "resistance as cultural persistence. Swiftly following is the authors' premise that while there have been some positive historical movements in these directions in rural Alaska, there have also been serious reversals.

Curiously, the first reversal named is the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 which remains unprecedented, not only in acreage and monetary scope, but because indigenous Alaskans crafted the legislation to control their windfall as stockholders in regional corporations created to accommodate their vastly differing cultures.

The second setback, according to James and Daley, was the establishment of more two hundred satellite dishes "that since the late 1970s invite Alaska Natives to watch on television a consumer global culture much different than their own." James and Daley enthusiastically detail establishment of two state-funded, noncommercial, Native-controlled stations that gave voice to the traditional values of elders in northwestern and southwestern Alaska during the pre-satellite era. Then the authors track the demise of government funding and loss of local control as Alaska downsized its budget at the end of its 1980s oil boom.

The bulk of this study, however, is a history of Alaska's indigenous peoples' struggle against invasion by capitalist exploiters and missionaries that began with discovery in the mid-1700s. Leading the assault were Russian fur traders who enslaved the Aleuts. Sale of the territory to the United States brought missionaries like Presbyterian Sheldon Jackson, who wedded his church to the Native education system preaching assimilation into the dominant white culture. Monopolistic fish packers threatened Native subsistence resources. …