Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
January 29, 2000 - Issue 02

Pride Fighting Prejudice
Ads combat sterotypes with images of successful Natives
By Sheila Toomey/Anchorage Daily News

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.

"Where?" she said. "I don't see an Indian."

"What 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.

"She 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.

"I thought, 'We've got a problem here.' She didn't get that at home," Bramstedt said.

The incident 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.

"There's a lot of negative focus on people getting arrested, running into difficulties, drug abuse, all those negative things," he said.

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."

"A lot of white people still are racist," Bramstedt said. "They feel different about black people and Jewish people and Alaska Natives."

Unless something is done to counteract racist stereotypes, kids just absorb all these subtle negative messages, he said.

"Imagine 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.

"One of the most important rules in success is to first believe in yourself."

Bramstedt, 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.

"When 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."

"I get emotional about this," Bramstedt said. "I think people like myself need to stand up and say stop."

The first 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.

Nason grew 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 non-Natives."

People who 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."

Bramstedt 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.

The Native 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

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