Within the next couple of weeks, one of the most consequential legislative sessions in recent memory will begin in Juneau. Not since the Alaska Constitutional Convention in the winter of 1955-56 has the future of our state been so intensely debated. Difficult decisions must be made, and yet, our responsibility to look for opportunity must not be neglected.
During the last few days of the Alaska Constitutional Convention, Delegate Roland Armstrong rose to make a motion.
“Mr. President, from the very beginning of this Convention it had been my hope that there might be from this Convention a statement or pledge to Alaska’s children. I believe that it is time at the close of this Convention to say to the children of Alaska, in light of this completed Constitution, that we do solemnly make a promise to them and with them in our future State, and so, sir, I would move that a committee be appointed to draw up a resolution that would be known as a pledge to Alaska’s children, this pledge to be signed by you, sir, as the President of this Convention; a pledge that would be able to be placed in every school room; a pledge that would say to them that we call upon them for their cooperation as we move toward statehood, because they will be the future citizens. I would hope that this would say that we are providing for them a place where they may practice the faith of their choice; an opportunity for education to meet today’s problems; a country filled with trees and streams, bounded by adequate laws to help them in the future; and the possibility of a future state that can be theirs where they can operate as the citizens of tomorrow. So I move, sir, for this committee.”
On the last day of the convention, Reverend Armstrong proposed the following language for a “charter for Alaska’s children.”
“You are Alaska’s children. We bequeath to you a state that will be glorious in her achievements, a homeland filled with opportunities for living, a land where you can worship and pray, a country where ambitions will be bright and real, an Alaska that will grow with you as you grow. We trust you; you are our future. We ask you to take tomorrow and dream; we know that you will see visions we do not see. We are certain that in capturing today for you, you can plan and build. Take our constitution and study it, work with it in your classrooms, understand its meaning and the facts within it. Help others to love and appreciate it. You are Alaska’s children. We bequeath to you the land, the mountains, the lakes, the skies. This is your land and we ask you to possess it.”
In 1956, Alaska was still three years from statehood. It was more than twenty years from enjoying revenue from oil. The delegates knew many challenges must be confronted, and yet, building upon the rich cultural heritage of past generations of Alaskans, they pointed forward to an “Alaska that will grow with you as you grow.” Alaska has grown, and not just economically.
“We trust you” the delegates said to Alaska’s children, then and now. They knew that as Alaska grew, it would continue to be a “homeland filled with opportunities for living.” And despite the pending obstacles, they asked Alaska’s children to “take tomorrow and dream.”
As we begin what will surely be a raucous and loud legislative session, let’s pause to look back and learn from those who led before. Let’s remind ourselves often, that our hopes and dreams for Alaska’s children should not rise and fall with the price of oil. Let’s encourage our children to dream and work hard to keep those dreams unbound to material wealth or lack thereof. We must face the economic realities of our time, but in doing so, we must not turn our backs on our responsibility to secure for our youth “a future state than can be theirs.”
The Native and non-Native leaders that constructed Alaska’s constitution looked forward for Alaska’s children. Wisely, they did not promise future wealth and riches. They did not restrict the dreams of tomorrow with the price of oil today. We should follow their lead.