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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 2, 2002 - Issue 73


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Solomon Receives Award

by Tom Kizzia Anchorage Daily News
Jonathan SolomonThe Alaska Federation of Natives gave its highest award Friday to Jonathan Solomon, the Fort Yukon orator and traditional chief who is probably the pre-eminent Native leader to speak out against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Solomon, 70, received the citizen of the year award from the AFN, which cited his fight against oil drilling to protect the Porcupine caribou herd and the traditional way of life of the Gwich'in Indians.

The AFN itself is on record in support of "environmentally sound development" of ANWR. The pro-drilling stance was approved by a divided convention in 1995 after an exhausting two-hour-plus debate. When the fight was over, AFN leaders recalled Friday, Solomon restored unity with his conciliatory closing remarks.

But it was his rousing speaking style and ability to bring a room to its feet that marked Solomon's long career in defense of Athabaskan traditions.

"The Athabaskan orator is an ancient station among the people," said Will Mayo, the former Tanana Chiefs Conference president who is a standout speaker among the generation that followed Solomon's.

Mayo said speech contests among the chiefs were a high point in ancient tribal ceremonies of the region.

"They'd keep speaking, one after the other, until the last speaker was left standing and no other speaker could answer him with the same strength and wisdom and intelligence," Mayo said. "I always recognized in Jonathan this oratory, this ability to express ideas in a way that energized people."

AFN president Julie Kitka noted that Solomon is descended from a long line of leaders from the Yukon Flats.

In a short speech Friday to the convention, Solomon recalled that his political career began when he was 16 in a fight against the Ramparts Dam, a power project proposed for the Yukon River "to drown all of us in the Yukon Flat."

He said he had softened his views about opponents this year since falling ill at a conference in March and waking up in the hospital, surrounded by his family, and feeling "nothing but love."

Later in the year, when he traveled to San Francisco to receive the prestigious Goldman Award for environmental activism, he said he looked up during the ceremony and "all of a sudden all I can see are my elders, smiling down." In their presence, he said, he again felt nothing but love.

"I have the right to fight against any oil company that I want," Solomon told the convention Friday. "But you also have the right to disagree with me. And I recognize that as an elder."

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