Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_Martin Luther King Day

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Rosita Worl: Martin Luther King, Jr., outlined the ideals for all humanity

in 2019, the Black Awareness Association in Juneau asked SHI President Rosita Worl to give a speech about the contributions of Martin Luther King. The following is her speech in its entirety.

SHI President Rosita WorlThank you Honorable and Noble People for inviting me to share this special day with you to honor and celebrate a great national hero and the rich and honorable legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

My Tlingit names are Yeidelatsokw and Kaaháni.  I am an Eagle of the Shangukeidi, Thunderbird Clan of the Chilkats.  I am from the House Lowered From The Sun in Klukwan and a Child of the Lukaax.ádi, Sockeye Clan.   

Martin Luther King is more often cited as a civil rights leader for African-American justice.  However, his leadership that led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Poor Peoples’ Campaign to seek economic justice and end poverty benefited all racial minority and ethnic groups in the United States.  They outlined the ideals for all humanity.

We, as Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, know this for a certainty and appreciate his contributions.  We have benefited and used the Voting Rights Act to ensure that Native languages are used in the election process.  We have used the Voting Rights Act to ensure that our citizens have access to the basic requisites for voting such as polling places in our rural communities. 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.  It was designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  The Act secured the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country. 

We acknowledge and pay tribute to Martin Luther King for securing this right and other civil rights for racial minorities.  However, we must also remember that it is our responsibility to ensure that the Voting Rights Act is fully implemented. 

It is our responsibility to ensure that this law, which we know continues to be challenged, is enforced throughout all of the states to allow all minorities the right to vote. 

It is our responsibility to ensure that this law, which we know continues to be challenged, is not weakened and undermined in Congress. 

It is our responsibility to ensure that schools teach our children this history and the significance of this law to guarantee that future generations will safeguard the legacy bequeathed to us by Martin Luther King

William L. Paul, Sr.We, the Southeast Alaska Natives, began our civil rights movement in 1912 with the organization of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood.  We also had a civil rights hero, William L. Paul, Sr., who sought citizenship and the right to vote for Alaska Native Peoples. We naively believed that discrimination would end after the ANB had secured the enactment of the Anti-Discrimination Act in the Alaska Territorial Legislature in 1946. However, we soon came to realize, as William Paul had articulated and lamented, that this legislation may have outlawed discrimination, but it did not end racism. 

We know and understand the pain and anguish that Martin Luther King faced as he fought for civil rights and justice.  We know that he faced great opposition and harassment, as did William L. Paul, who, like Martin Luther King, was vilified by the media and government officials. 

Yet, Martin Luther King remained undaunted in his dream to achieve political, social and economic equity for African-Americans and all minorities.  His vision led to the enactment of landmark federal legislation and changes in our society that would benefit not only African-Americans, but all of America.  These laws enriched our society.

It is our duty and responsibility to ensure that the dream and vision of Martin Luther King lives on. 

I would like to thank the Black Awareness Association for their efforts to enlighten our community on the diverse aspects of the African-American culture.  Their mission parallels that of the Sealaska Heritage Institute in promoting cross-cultural understanding and cultural diversity.  Juneau can become the model to demonstrate to our Nation that we can live in harmony while recognizing and honoring the diversity of our society.        

We must recognize the strength and power and the responsibilities that we collectively have to ensure that Martin Luther King’s dream for political, social and economic equity for all Peoples is achieved. If I may have the privilege, I would like to take a moment to honor and recognize Rosalee Walker. I see that she was a founding member of the Black Awareness Association. Rosalee was an important mentor to me when as a youth I was labeled a “Militant Indian.” She took me under her wing and taught me how to maneuver through a very conservative system. I owe her a great debt. 

Gunulchéesh.  Thank you for allowing me to share this day with you to honor this great human being, Martin Luther King, and his contributions to this Nation and the world.  May his dreams, ideals, and principles be achieved and live on forever.    

Photos: top, right: SHI President Rosita Worl; above right: William L. Paul, Sr.