Even in a state whose history is populated with so many unique characters, Marvin “Muktuk” Marston stands out as one of the most incredible Alaskans of the twentieth century. In addition to organizing the Alaska Territorial Guard during WWII, a service that brought Alaska Natives into the political sphere with lasting effects to this day, Marston was as a miner, real estate developer in Anchorage, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1955-56.
While commanding the ATG, the always outspoken Marston wrote numerous memos advocating for the social and economic betterment of Alaska Natives. Although in describing his Native friends he often lapsed into the paternalistic rhetoric common of the time—“dusky-skinned,” “simple, kindly folk,” that sort of thing—Marston was a staunch advocate for equality and civil rights. There is little evidence his superiors at Fort Richardson ever acted on or even paid attention to Marston’s missives. In fact, he often found himself combating the overt racism of the officer class who believed Alaska Natives to be inferior beings who lacked the capacity for military discipline.
Reading Marston’s memos today one is struck by his foresight and passion. One can also see his thinking that led him, as a Constitutional Convention delegate a decade after the war, to speak so forcefully in support of Native land claims.
What follows is an excerpt from his “Five Point Post-War Program for the Eskimo,” an undated memo (circa 1945) that resides in the Otto Geist Collection (ATG Papers) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A biography of Muktuk Marston needs to be written; I hope a historian out there is willing to take on the task!
“In light of [Alaska Natives’ service in the ATG], I submit the following post-war program for the Eskimo, believing it to be a sound military program, as well as an humanitarian undertaking:
“FIRST, make adequate fuel supplies available immediately for all native villages by opening up nearby coal and oil deposits. There is an unestimated amount of good coal and fuel oil scattered generously throughout Alaska.
“SECOND, segregate the active cases of tuberculosis…so that young and healthy members of the family can have a fair chance to escape this prevalent plague. . . . Complete hospital equipment should be retained at each [village]. Furthermore, a long range health program should be set up and initiated immediately.
“THIRD, reestablish the reindeer industry. . . . These reindeer herds can become one of Alaska’s most valuable industries, if properly handled. . . . All too often, the Eskimo faces the winter with overalls and cotton shirt, or shoddy cloth garments, wholly inadequate for the severe northern climate. As a result, he is unable to follow his trapline, and he and his family go hungry. Even if benevolent Uncle Sam rescues him from starvation, he has been robbed of his self-reliance and independence. These reindeer herds should be a guarantee of food and clothing for him.
“FOURTH, restore and conserve as many of the tribal customs as practical. Establish a community center, so it can take its true place as the center of tribal life. In making available the so-called blessings of civilization, encourage the native to retain his racial distinction, and respect his tradition and mores.
“FIFTH, some means of travel and communication between villages, particularly in the winter season, should be devised and inaugurated immediately. In the absence of roads and landing fields, snowmobiles of some type might be used on the ice.
“The above suggestions, I consider, represent the minimum possible in any post-war program for the Eskimo. These simple, kindly folk can become happy, useful citizens of our most northern frontier, if they are considered first by the Territory. Much has been written and said about our treatment of another primitive race whose lands we appropriated. We are about to open up and develop the wealth and natural resources of the Arctic. Let it not be said that the white man sacrificed the native on the altar of his own greed.”