Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I Wrote a Book

Hello, faithful Arctic Brethren and ...Sisters? what's the old-fashioned way to say "sisters"?

It's been a pretty long time since I contributed to this blog, and I'm going to start posting more frequently for a while. I took all of the research I did on the Arctic Brotherhood and put it into a manuscript. Jeff Brady at Lynn Canal Publishing in Skagway decided to publish it and right this very moment it is in progress of being printed!

The main reason I wanted to write a book was the fact that this story has never been told in its entirety before. I compiled data from over a hundred sources to put this story together and weave it into what it is now - a chronological history of the organization from 1899-1931; a brief introduction to Alaska's history; and, because of my great love of Excel spreadsheets, some statistics and analysis on the Brotherhood itself. When I first became fascinated with the Arctic Brotherhood, a huge part of that fascination had to do with the fact that the club was so shrouded in mystery. No one had ever compiled all the sources to be able to definitively tell the history of the group.

When I started meeting descendants of the AB while I was living in Skagway, I started to realize that this story was more important to them than it was to me. They wanted to know about the AB because it was a part of their own history and a part of their ancestors' legacy. Because at one time I thought that one of my ancestors may have been among the ABs' ranks, I can understand this.

Beyond all of that, people don't know the significance of the Arctic Brotherhood - even people who live right where it started. People in Alaska don't realize that Alaska's petitions for statehood were begun by a member of the Arctic Brotherhood (Big Bad Wickersham); they don't realize that during the Klondike Gold Rush Alaska had no representation to Congress and they don't realize that the Arctic Brotherhood were responsible for giving Alaska that representation. Some of them realize that the Arctic Brotherhood initiated President Warren Harding into its mysteries, but they don't realize that Presidents Taft and TR were also associated with the group, or that Al Capone's chief legal counsel (a dogsled enthusiast but he name of Fink) was a member.

Since my last post (FOREVER ago) on the blog, my disillusionment with the AB has grown considerably - which, ironically, has become the number one reason i have felt impassioned to share the story of the club. I, like all of the documented members of the Arctic Brotherhood, was born into a white culture that is considered civilized and that has often marginalized those not born into such a culture. Times have changed since the AB reigned supreme, of course; back then, inter-racial marriage was illegal in a lot of places, and those who weren't born white were denied basic human rights and legal privileges that they are afforded today.

But some things don't really change all that quickly. Although laws and policies may adjust in attempts to liberate those marginalized populations - such as blacks and natives, in considering the history of the United States - the culture surrounding treatment of those marginalized populations is slower-moving. Mindsets, ideologies, and even religious beliefs about these groups of people, for some, haven't changed since the turn of the twentieth century when the Arctic Brotherhood contributed to their exclusion.

Although I was blessed beyond measure to be brought up by parents who didn't instill in me a hatred of any group of human beings, it hasn't escaped my notice that plenty of people of my generation were not so fortunate. Although I grew up having family members and close friends who were black, Indian, Asian, and Hispanic (it wasn't until much later that I met any Natives) it didn't spare me from being around people who excluded non-whites from what they considered to be equal human beings.

Unfortunately, the Arctic Brotherhood was an organization that was deliberately exclusive to whites. Nothing official states that this was their policy, but it's fairly obvious when analyzing all the sources about the AB. When they did write a letter to congress demanding that ALaska receive representation there, it was explicitly stated that the letter was written on behalf of Alaska's white residents, thus excluding the Natives.

In a time when the face of Alaska was changing from predominantly Native to predominantly White, it wasn't all that different from the process that happened en masse throughout the United States in the centuries prior. Natives' lands were invaded and taken over, there was a period of struggle, there was a period of discrimination under the law, and finally rights were granted to Natives and a degree of harmony was achieved.

And the Arctic Brotherhood did absolutely nothing to move this process forward.

It became very difficult for me to continue glorifying the conquests and joys of the Arctic Brotherhood when I became aware of their discrimination against Natives and (although this has less circumstantial levidence to point to) blacks. To that end, I think it's important to tell the story of the AB so that their story can illuminate the perils of such racism as theirs.

When I first started researching the AB, it was to try and figure out why the organization died out. I believe their racism was the main factor in that breakup. But you'll have to read the book to find out the rest of the details ;)

The book will be available in May through the bookstore in Skagway. If you're outside of Skagway, you can pre-order a copy from that bookstore (Skaguay News Depot), or wait til June when it will be available on Amazon.