What IS Kevin Pease? Ethnicity vs. Culture in the Fairbanks Four Case

KevinMompicSince the beginning of this case there has been a tremendous emphasis on race as it pertained to the crime itself and its potential impact on motive. We have caught plenty of heat for not shying away from discussing that, but is worth mentioning that we didn’t bring that emphasis here we simply exposed the opposing vantage point on it. The first articles in this case and nearly every one written since identifies the races of those accused very specifically.

Kevin is fair-haired and blue-eyed. His family has Crow in its ancestry, but it is not his dominant ethnicity, and at the end of the day Kevin would easily and always be identified by appearance and ethnicity as white. Reporters have expressed ongoing confusion as to Kevin’s ethnicity, and one reporter recently asked, “What is Kevin? Some articles call him white, some American Indian, but all of my interviews with the supporters would lead you to believe his is Athabascan.”

It is an interesting element of the case and one to which Eugene and some supporters have spoken directly. Ethnicity and culture impacted this case from many angles. Although this is not the most pressing or urgent issue in this case, it is thought-provoking and deserves to be addressed. This post contains their well articulated thoughts on the topic.

“I don’t like this idea that  outsiders get to define who we are for us. That’s up to us. It’s like Kevin isn’t Native enough for the newspapers, but he’s Native enough for the Natives, and he’s enough of an Indian to be stuck in here with us, right? Blood quantum and all, I think that’s just a way to control people. Tell them who they are. Our words in almost any tribe for ourselves in our languages mean, the people. It doesn’t mean, the people who BIA says are of the people. It means, the people who are of, basically, each other. Us. Kevin was raised with us, around us, he’s one of us, he just is. He’s as Athabascan as anyone can be right that word just means “us”, and I don’t like reading different in the paper. Like why do they want to always make that a big point. And I don’t care they call him white there’s nothing wrong with it not like its offensive  I just care they always want to make it like, he’s different. They don’t get it. But it’s always kinda like bugged me.” – Eugene

“The idea of adoption, in Athabascan culture, is an old concept. A lot of people were adopted in. The historical and cultural fact is that Athabascans never defined themselves in the way of birth order or pedigree. That is the white man’s way of thinking. It was never ours. Our generation isn’t seeing this some new way, we are seeing it the old way.” – Ricko DeWilde

“There is a critical and misunderstood difference between ethnicity and culture. Kevin’s ethnicity and his cultural identity may be different. His perception of his place in a community or culture versus the perception of the community’s view of him may differ as well. As in, Kevin may not see himself as culturally Athabascan while the Koyukon Athabascan community may see him as a member. To Kevin specifically he grew up with Athabascans through a series of events which he did not control as a young person which is not much different than a birthright. We are born into cultural identity in the sense that we are born into a specific culture. For many and most people this may align with their ethnic makeup and for some it does not. Through experience and sustained contact he was raised culturally Athabascan. Kevin does not look at a Native person and see a ‘Native.’ Kevin sees a person and often a person he knows through a relational concept of identity (again a concept which he was exposed to culturally). This is a tricky concept to articulate but I hope at least some blog readers can and will follow.

Fundamentally, Kevin is a cultural Alaska Native. At least, that is my perception of Kevin and I know it is widely shared in the Interior Native culture of Fairbanks in particular. Kevin for example is far more culturally Athabascan than an ethnic Athabascan who was raised by Swiss Italian American parents in New Jersey and never exposed to our way of life. That person is ethnically Alaska Native and culturally not. Those adopted in are more culturally a part of a society than those adopted out.

I want to find a way to make the frustration when it comes up over and over in newspapers that identify him as white or outside Indian understandable to any random reader. When, while that may be true from a genetic or ethnic perspective, it is dismissive to us as a culture to instruct who we can consider part of our people, and further dismissive of our individual value as just human beings. The emphasis on race in these publications does not have the goal of identification although that may be the stated goal or the only motivation consciously known to the author, the categorization on this level has to do with othering the subjects. The ‘othering’ of Kevin in the beginning of this case was important. The media and community were hung up on this notion of the players. They couldn’t make a sound case for the guilt of innocent men in a crime so they had to attack their essence as a way to attack their credibility based on the social psychological perception of the situation. They placed them into roles that met the social normative and were therefore more readily accepted. They made these human individuals into archetypes – Eugene the stupid savage, Marvin the savage nature, underscoring the notion that even cloaked in apparent assimilation (valedictorian, etc) there is a savage nature; a difference which is past skin deep, George as the wild savage, and Kevin was the disturbed race traitor who associated with them.  Then there did not have to be actual motivation the public would accept the motivation was simply their nature, so different from the reader. In reality these identities were a construct which had almost nothing in common with who these people were as individuals and was only an articulation of  racial archetypes.

An attack on the identity of a cultural group weakens the position of the group. It is psychological genocide, it’s a way of eliminating a culture to take away the group’s own right to define themselves. Kevin likely views himself from many angles and in many ways, and probably has a cultural identity that is dynamic and made up of all of these roles and experiences. But from my perspective, and I know from the perspective of many within the Athabascan culture, Kevin is a member of our community and culture. He understands the traditions, the nuances of the language, the social strata, the modern history, the interconnection, he just is one of us as a people, as a specific group of people in the world. And being allowed to define yourselves does not in any way take from a person or group’s right to discuss discrimination. Quite the opposite because in fact these parameters put on a group from without are their own form of discrimination, and a under-discussed racial microaggression.” – Misty Nickoli

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