The little girl peered out the car window, looking for the famous Alaska Native leader her dad
said was stopped right next to them at a light on Tudor Road.
she said. "I don't see an Indian."
do you mean? He's sitting right there," said her dad, pointing. But she still couldn't see him.
In this case,
the famous leader was Willie Hensley, an Inupiat Eskimo who has been a banker, a legislator and the commissioner
of commerce. The little girl couldn't "see" him because she was looking for fur and feathers and who
knows what else, said Al Bramstedt, general manager of KTUU-Channel 2 and father of then-4-year-old Kelsey.
couldn't see him because he didn't look like an Indian," Bramstedt said. She couldn't connect the images of
Indians she had picked up from the world around her to a distinguished looking executive driving a Buick.
'We've got a problem here.' She didn't get that at home," Bramstedt said.
happened a long time ago - Kelsey is now 18 - but Bramstedt uses the story to explain why he is underwriting a
series of image ads featuring successful Alaska Natives.
The ads are
aimed at Native children, who may have a hard time pulling positive role models from a news media preoccupied with
people in trouble.
a lot of negative focus on people getting arrested, running into difficulties, drug abuse, all those negative things,"
And it's not
just Natives. Bramstedt said he was disheartened when a local business leader told him, "Black folks are like
that; you can't depend on them." And more than once, people he considers friends have made racist comments
about "how Jews do business."
of white people still are racist," Bramstedt said. "They feel different about black people and Jewish
people and Alaska Natives."
is done to counteract racist stereotypes, kids just absorb all these subtle negative messages, he said.
being a child ... and every day of your life you hear people say you're stupid, or you won't amount to anything,
or that's how you people are. ... The goal of the ads is to get people to believe in themselves. ... to make people
proud of who they are," Bramstedt said.
of the most important rules in success is to first believe in yourself."
49, was born in Fairbanks, son of the late Al Bramstedt Sr., an Alaska broadcaster who started in the 1940s as
a radio announcer and ended up an owner of the Midnight Sun Broadcasting empire of radio and television stations.
Bramstedt Jr. is a devoted student of American history and sees racism as a blot on the republic.
you study history, you see a pattern of stupidity that's based on a lot of things, including shortsighted thinking
and racism," he said. "It's just wrong."
emotional about this," Bramstedt said. "I think people like myself need to stand up and say stop."
three ads, which begin airing this week, feature Alaska Airlines pilot Tamara Thiele; University of Alaska Anchorage
teacher Marie Meade; and Lisa Nason, owner of Stems floral shop.
up in Nome. She thinks the ads are important for rural children, who statistically have only "a small chance
of moving on to college or a trade or a profession." Seeing people like themselves who have succeeded in different
ways "will show them that they can be self-reliant," Nason said.
Meade, a UAA
Yup'ik language teacher featured in another ad, hopes they will "begin to educate people, both Native and
have no contact with Natives often accept racist stereotypes, she said, "that we're lazy, that we're uneducated.
... When people think about us, that's what they think of."
The ads will
show Natives who are "maintaining healthy lives, successful lives."
did a similar series of shorts during Black History Month last year, featuring African Americans who made important
contributions to American history. He plans to continue that project this year.
image ads are part of a contribution the station is making to the Alaska Native Heritage Center and will continue
indefinitely, he said.
* Reporter Sheila Toomey can be reached at email@example.com
Alaskan Native Heritage Center