Alexander Dolitsky: Multiculturalism in America, Old Believers in Alaska

Russian Old Believers Church in Nikolaevsk, Kenai Borough, Alaska


The charges that white privilege, systemic racism, and critical race theories are tearing our country apart do not match the facts or the true cultural landscape in our country. 

Many Americans blame multiculturalism as a main cause and source of these three dysfunctional socio-political diversions, introduced by progressive activists/leftists.

My colleague and friend, the late Emeritus Professor of Anthropology Wallace M. Olson (1932–2015), elegantly addressed the issues of multiculturalism in his foreword in my book, “Old Russia in Modern America: Living Traditions of the Russian Old Believers.” Below is a summary of Olson’s essay. (I am a copyright holder of Olson’s foreword, with the rights to use it for educational purposes.)

As social scientists, anthropologists attempt to formulate theories that help us understand and compare societies and their cultures. These theories must be tested and evaluated against the data through field investigation or historical research. This testing of theories is critical in the areas of culture change and applied anthropology, where government agencies try to assist those undergoing socio-cultural change resulting from external pressure by dominant cultures. Efforts may fail and large amounts of resources can be wasted on projects based on a flawed or otherwise inaccurate theory. 

Some early theories in anthropology and philosophy, such as unilineal evolution, have proven to be inadequate and even misleading. We now know that societies do not progress through the same stages of cultural change. Structural-functional theories emphasize the integration of culture by showing how technology and economics, social and political systems, and beliefs and values influence each other. According to this way of looking at societies, as one part of the system changes, such as the economic condition, the social organization and religion will eventually adjust to the new situation. 

Recent research shows that societies respond to new situations, experiences, or challenges in various ways. For example, in the United States we say that our goal is to have all citizens assimilate or blend into a cohesive socio-economic union, commonly known as the “melting pot” society. A ‘melting pot’ is a country, place or region in which immigrants of various nationalities and races are assimilated with a dominant culture [Dolitsky]. 

But, in fact, many ethnic and religious groups have not ‘melted’ into the mainstream. In reality, historically, prejudice and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities have been widespread in the United States. The fact is that many people have been denied access to the benefits of life in America. Throughout the history of this country, we have demanded that our indigenous peoples—American Indians and Alaska Natives—give up their land, their traditional hunting, fishing, farming, subsistence activities, their family life, their beliefs and rites for a ‘more civilized way.’

Missionaries and government agencies have worked hard to eradicate many of the ancient traditions and cultures in the Arctic, a vast region shared by the circumpolar countries. But what has this policy done for these people besides leave them much worse off than before? In response, some groups have preferred to keep themselves separate from the dominant society; and some groups feel that they benefit much more from their separatism than by abandoning their traditional ways.

The case of the Russian Orthodox Old Believers in Alaska highlights the importance that people place on their beliefs, worship practices, and traditions. Old Believers find strength and security in their belief that they are following God’s plan. Outsiders may look at them as unusual or ‘backward’ and try to force them into a new lifestyle that conforms with the dominant society. In response, Old Believers have established what is known in modern anthropological theory as ‘boundary maintaining systems.’ That is, they have found ways to keep themselves separate and distinct from the dominant society. People build social boundaries by maintaining and preserving their own native language, appearance, foods and, most of all, their own traditional religious beliefs and practices. 

In the past, Russian Old Believers took the only option left to them if they wished to keep their faith and practices—they moved to new and remote locations. They fled their homeland to avoid persecution by hostile neighbors and oppressive governments. Some have remained in the former Soviet Union’s republics while others moved to the United States—Oregon and Alaska. The latter are a vivid example of people who are willing to give up nearly everything for their religious principles and cultural traditions. In Alaska, some feel that they have finally found a home.

The drive of dominant cultures to transform others by attacking and insulting their traditional cultures, with the dominant cultures values and beliefs, has resulted in social and psychological disaster in many regions of the world, including our own state—Alaska. The process has been based on the false assumption that the dominant and technologically-advanced culture is superior to all others. What we have to face and recognize in our public policy and planning is that we live in a pluralistic society in which we must respect the rights and cultural traditions of all people, even if they are distinctly different from our own.

There is beauty in diversity. On our national coinage is the inscription E pluribus Unum—from many to one. In theory and practice, while seeking unity, we should not fail to respect the rights of those who prefer to follow their traditional customs, religious beliefs and practices.”

In his new book “Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America,” Charles Murray, a prominent American sociologist, stated: 

“America’s most precious ideal is what used to be known as the American Creed: People are not to be judged by where they came from, what social class they come from, or by race, color, or creed. They must be judged as individuals. The prevailing Progressive ideology repudiates that ideal, demanding instead that the state should judge people by their race, social origins, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

“We on the center left and center right who are the American Creed’s natural defenders have painted ourselves into a corner. We have been unwilling to say openly that different groups have significant group differences. Since we have not been willing to say that, we have been left defenseless against the claims that racism is to blame. What else could it be? We have been afraid to answer. We must. Facing Reality is a step in that direction.”

Edited and compiled by Alexander B. Dolitsky.


  1. How thick does someone have to be to come to America from Russia, and then complain about prejudice and discrimination in America?

    There is no place on Earth that is more tolerant and welcoming than America. For someone who considers themself religious, you seem to have no comprehension of the fallen state of man.

  2. To Forrest McDonald: Who is complaining about prejudice and discrimination in America? And what it has to do with Russia? Read the article again and make an effort to understand its content.

  3. I’m not so sure that Arctic people in circumpolar countries are worse off than prior to contact with the Western/European way of life. Sure there are certain times when that may have been true in various aspects but by and large currently I think as a group they are better off. Getting rid of the slavery alone seen in Arctic and Subarctic people was a major advancement, removing the imminent threat of starvation is a pretty big deal, ending the various wars and raiding parties makes day to day life a little better, not to mention life expectancy, birth mortality rates, basic hygiene, the list goes on and on.

  4. Yup, Dolitsky picks up the same old time worn theme; blame the missionaries for ruining the magnificent native culture . Sorry Dolitsky, expected better,far better!!

  5. The text is mostly written by Dr. Wallace Olson, addressing the issues of the multiculturalism in America. I am an editor and compiler of this piece. Please read carefully this article and try to understand its objective.

  6. To John H Slone: The main objective of this article that multiculturalism in our country is not responsible for emergence of the white privilege, systemic racism and critical race theories. Progressive activists/leftists introduced these three racist destructions in our country. Our country has been multicultural almost since its beginning—it is our strength, not weakness.

  7. It is very commonly said, in error, that, “our diversity is our strength.” This contention is fundamentally in error. To paraphrase B Shapiro, by that logic, a street gang distributing heroin to school children would be a good thing as long as the gang-members included a diverse spectrum of Blacks, Latins, Asians, females, transgenders, etc. As a corollary, a church choir consisting only of Filipinos is a bad thing due to its lack of diversity. The fact is, our strength is not in our diversity but rather our decency.
    To remain the truly greatest of all nations in history we must always seek to promote and strengthen our decency to each and every individual regardless of their identity.
    I challenge you. Dr Dolitsky, to name one American alive today who stole land from any other American without reparations. Please give me just one name.

  8. To Wayne D Coogan: I understand and agree with your statement: “To remain the truly greatest of all nations in history we must always seek to promote and strengthen our decency to each and every individual regardless of their identity.” Let me add to your statement – cohesiveness and humility.

  9. I think the last political/philosophical discussion I had with Alexander was at his home in Juneau where we had a pretty traditional Russian meal of pork, potatoes, and cabbage and retired to comfortable chairs with a crystal bowl of ice filled with shot glasses of good Russian vodka to use for punctuation marks. I don’t know that we solved anything, but the process was pleasant.

    Dr. Olson’s forword represents the reason we barely teach Alaska History; we can’t agree on what our history is. Dr. Olson represents the academic liberal view of American/Alaskan History. Steve-O and Mr. Coogan represent the common view of Alaskans who don’t have a string of initials behind their name.

    In my observation, the salient characteristic of the successful separatist groups is that they were and are truly separate and do not ask for anything other than trade and limited social intercourse with the larger society. The flashpoint with other minority groups, notably blacks and native-Americans is that they have wanted to maintain a separate culture and even legal system while being largely provided for by the larger culture.

    The Mormons endured significant discrimination and even suppression even after they largely left the Eastern US for Utah and the West. The US forced UT to foreswear a major tenet of Morman believe, polygamy, in the Constitution as a condition of Utah becoming a State. The Mormons take more part in the larger culture than say the Amish, Mennonites, and Old Believers, but they still insist on a separate culture in terms of faith and family, and a century and more later, that polygamy thing still raises its head.

    Alaska tried to divorce itself from the old federal intergovernmental relation with Native tribes and groups and its hierachial, authoritarian structure. It was among the first US states or possessions to grant de jure if not always de facto civil rights to aboriginal people. ANCSA was an attempt to completely escape from the “dependent sovereign” model of the federal reservation system. The ANCSA system has been far from universally accepted nor has it been universally successful. The sovereignty advocates who want to return to dependent sovereign status are a minority, but a strident one, and in the larger culture it isn’t hard to find a conversation, at least in private, about perhaps just making rural Alaska the BIA’s problem once again.

    Until the last decade or so the difficulties here simmered below the surface and rarely came into public view. The Left and academia are never reluctant to try to push a wedge into American society so there is an endless supply of apostles of division trying to splinter US society.

  10. To Art Chance and others: Art, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Next time you are in Juneau, I will cook for you a traditional Ukrainian meal to avoid Russian conspiracy theories. In fact, I taught Alaska Studies at the Alyeska Central School, Alaska Department of Education for 18 years. It was a well-balanced course; and students learned a great deal about our State. I was always in the center in my teaching.

    Dr. Wallace Olson was a liberal person, married to a prominent Tlingit woman, Marry Olson. His foreword in my book addresses important social issues whether someone agrees with his position or not. But Wallace Olson was not an extreme Left, as most anthropologists and historians in our academia today. I introduced Olson’s foreword in my piece to demonstrate that multiculturalism and/or ethnic diversity in our country are not responsible for the “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” and “critical race theory” nonsense, created by Progressive activists/leftists. That’s all.

  11. MY REmoved comments were in regard to my white forbears. ONE WAS A direct descendent of James Madison and was here amazingly early and married a russian orthodox lady. The other two were from different european states. Family anecdotes and photographs show clearly a deep appreciation for the second amendment from James Madison’s descendent while the others from Europe didn’t display second amendment interest. I find that cultural diversity among white men was parochial and interesting.

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