The history of Alaska Native people from our own perspective is largely underrepresented, and what is written is often biased and inaccurate, says Doyon Foundation student Jordan Craddick. That motivated Jordan, who is the grandson of Caroline Demientieff, to dedicate his studies and future career to exploring and sharing Alaska Native history, filling a significant and important need.
Originally of Juneau, Alaska, Jordan holds a bachelor’s of history from the University of Alaska Anchorage, and graduated with his master’s in northern studies-history from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in May 2013. He currently resides in Seattle, where he is enrolled at the University of Washington, pursuing his PhD in history. In the future, Jordan plans to teach at a university and continue his research on Alaska Native history.
Graduate school is expensive, and scholarships from the Foundation have been helpful, says Jordan. However, he adds, “support has been just as crucial. There is general pressure for Alaska Native youth to obtain technical training and yet Doyon has been very supportive of my advancement in liberal arts.”
Jordan’s master’s thesis, Pandering to Glory: Sheldon Jackson’s Path to Alaska, focused on Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary turned political leader, and his impact on Alaska Native people, culture and language in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
“During a class … we debated the merits of two competing articles about Sheldon Jackson,” Jordan explains. “Despite acknowledging his deliberate assault on Alaska Native culture through the enforcement of a Christian education, he was praised for providing schools and encouraging development in Alaska.”
“As I researched further, I found a considerable body of work on Jackson and yet it was mostly comprised of (excessively flattering) hero worship,” Jordan continues. “The tale of Sheldon Jackson was one-sided with Alaska Native perspective conspicuously absent. While there exists no treasure trove of source material that will restore this lost perspective, history can provide an alternate viewpoint through critical analysis.”
Jordan’s thesis first examined how Jackson arrived in Alaska and why. “… His autonomy hinged on independent fundraising … and since women provided the bulk of his funding he naturally looked to issues they were concerned with. One such issue was the status of Native Americans and the United States push for assimilation. Upon receiving a letter from a soldier stationed in Alaska in 1877, Jackson quickly realized the potential of the territory since little was known about the land or its people,” Jordan explains.
Jordan then turned his attention to what Jackson said about Alaska’s indigenous people and why. “Due to public ignorance, Jackson was free to make outrageous accusations with relative impunity and he did so to great financial success. Despite spending very little time in Alaska, Jackson toured across the United States lecturing about the unmitigated barbarity of Alaska Native people. Jackson’s success led to an obsession with Alaska and many considered him to be an expert on the land. With steady donations at his disposal, federal funds, and significant political power, Jackson’s tenure proved highly consequential for Alaska’s indigenous people.”
Jackson’s impacts on Alaska Native language and culture were significant, says Jordan. “Jackson enacted policies in Alaska where children were punished for speaking their Native tongue and, when feasible, separated from their parents … Jackson guided a coordinated effort to stamp out Alaska Native culture by conforming children to Euro-American Christian standards. The goal of eliminating Alaska Native culture was predicated on the abolishment of indigenous language … The full ramifications of Jackson’s policies will require further research,” he explains.
Jordan is exploring the possibility of publishing his thesis; it is also expected to be available in the UAF library in the future. It is currently available on the Doyon Foundation website. During an upcoming audio conference, Jordan will also share his thesis work on Sheldon Jackson and discuss his interest in contributing much-needed perspective to Alaska Native history. Additional details will be posted on the Doyon Foundation website, www.doyonfoundation.com.
Jordan Craddick’s research and resulting thesis sets out to question an iconic figure in Alaska history and rightfully adds our perspective to our own experience and those of our relations and ancestors who came before us. Historical or generational trauma is a result of a various colonizing forces at play as contact unfolded across Alaska. Former public policy, such as that which sought to eradicate Alaska Native languages, still influences our collective attitude about language revitalization efforts. The status of a Native language includes our individual and collective attitude toward the language: Do we individually support and want to forward our Native language or do we question its usefulness and value? Do we assist in the collective effort that it will take to begin to positively shifting the use of our language? Unraveling our own collective experience, and understanding the motivations of individuals like Sheldon Jackson, who heavily impacted the perpetuation of Native language, provides insight and offers strength to challenge ourselves and move beyond the limiting beliefs others have instilled or that we may have come to believe.