A two-day meeting in Sitka this weekend (Apr 1-2) will address community concerns over racism.
Tom Gamble is a former member of the Sitka Tribal Council, and a past president of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Camp No. 1.
He believes racism is more pervasive in Sitka than many realize.
“It’s a systemic problem. Nobody knows how to stop a rolling ball that’s been going so long. They want the ball to stop somehow, they just don’t know how.”
Gamble received training last summer from the First Alaskans Institute to become a local host in a program called “Advancing Native Dialogues On Racial Equities,” or ANDORE.
The project is funded by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation. ANDORE is an experiment in fostering community healing through conversation.
Gamble says that Sitka was propelled into the national conversation about racism, when a video surfaced on social media last fall showing an 18-year old Native Alaskan student being stripped and tasered by three Sitka police officers.
“People reacted to this Hoogendorn video recently. It divided the community to the extent that they wanted changes within law enforcement. It just seems like it keeps repeating in certain organizations.”
Gamble says the stories and conversation about racism in Sitka would be much different than, say, racism in Seattle. ANDORE is also not just about drawing attention to police practices. Leaders from municipal government and many local agencies have been invited to listen and learn about racial experiences.
And then? Participants are invited to home in on a solution.
“When you first start to talk about these things, there’s a checkerboard — emotions go crazy. Being able to harness that all into a productive event, to have a good moderator, a person who knows that what we’re really looking for is systemic change. We’ve seen it go on long enough, now what’s the solution? We want these people to be able to talk about their experiences — good or bad — to benefit everybody in the end.”
Gamble has two sessions of Advancing Native Dialogues On Racial equity this weekend. The first will be 6-8 PM Friday evening in the Sitka National Historical Park theater, and will include an introduction, a short presentation, and some breakout discussions.
The second session will be 9 AM – 4 PM Saturday at the Sheetka Kwan Naa Kahidi, and will focus on legal questions, policy issues, and education.
Although many community leaders have received personal invitations to ANDORE, the public is welcome to attend both sessions and share stories and ideas about bringing racial equity to Sitka.