Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rural Alaska Issues - Part 1

[Wednesday, February 25, 2009 4pm]

I know, what am I doing writing this when I should be working. Well, these issues are related to work and I'm writing this after talking to my boss over a late lunch about rural Alaska and rural Thailand and how problems are being approached in both places.

The other day the Governor of Alaska flew out to rural Alaska with Franklin Graham to deliver food to Alaska villagers who are doing poorly this winter as they were stuck with the high summer oil prices to keep them warm this winter and the economic depression is also affecting them. Furthermore, for many villages, the salmon harvest this year has been significantly lower, hitting them hard in the pocketbook (for those who commercial fish) and in the pantry (for those who subsistence fish.) See Phil's story about the Kenai and Yukon rivers. (My sense is that Phil has a good handle on these issues, though I'd like to see a bit more backup material.)

Some Alaskan bloggers seem to be reacting to what I'd call 'fighting words' on this topic, rather than trying to push the discussion further. We need to get more people into the same room and talk past the (often legitimate) anger and posturing until they see they have more to gain by understanding each other, that we are all Alaskans whether we live in villages or cities. While in the short run, one group's gain may be at the expense of the other group, ultimately, what happens to one group affects the other group. (I have to think about that. Is that just a nice phrase or is it true? Perhaps it isn't true. Perhaps some groups can do fine while other groups are screwed. I guess that's the same as affecting the others. That would make an interesting topic for Talk of Alaska, Steve. Can the cities be healthy if the villages are not?) Moving right along . . .

Alaska Dispatch praised the Governor for speaking from the heart and taking on issues that other politicians have ignored - the lack of jobs, the alcoholism and other social problems in rural Alaska.

Then AD was soundly thrashed by Celtic Diva (Is Alaska Dispatch Kidding?) who liberally quotes Writing Raven's complaints

You can only be thoughtful if you've met with the people from the communities and listened to them. Palin is calling for a change in leadership - with who? What are these leaders doing wrong? Who are they? When has she talked to them? And she gave NO solutions except to say these youth should think about leaving. So the solution is "leave the village"? She can't be a spark to "real dialogue" when she's never taken part in a dialogue! The dialogue has been going on, but Palin doesn't care to be part of it.
Phil, at Progressive Alaska, took a more measured approach to this. (Has anyone else noticed that Phil is toning down the hyperbole that's often blemished his past posts, and using his vast knowledge of Alaska to give more context and thought to issues?) He at least recognized that Tony Hopfinger of Alaska Dispatch has spent time in Alaska villages - most notably Wales - and has written some very thoughtful and probing pieces on the dilemmas of village life and how things got to be this way. Tony has given a lot of thought to this topic, serious, soul-searching thought, even if you disagree with his saying something positive about the Governor. (I hesitated to link to Phil's post because it might look like a mutual admiration society, so ignore the link back here, and just look at what he says about Tony and about the Alaska economy.)

I think that Tony and Amanda's piece is a little thin, but I also know that he's not writing from ignorance. That said, Writing Raven also makes important points - we need more Alaska Native bloggers who can write from a perspective that both understands the villages and the cities. But I'd like to see us rethinking the issues and finding new ways to talk about where people in Alaska live. We have to look at more than two options 1) Keep the Villages 2) Leave the Villages. Many people in the villages - as Tony and Amanda at Alaska Dispatch point out - are hurting. But that doesn't mean that moving them into the cities is going to improve their lives either. There are other ways to look at and think about this situation. As the President said this morning (sorry, it was on about 9:30 am here)

The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and our universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.
(I'll take 'entrepreneurs' to mean social and artistic entrepreneurs and not just people looking to make a buck.)

What I like about Phil's piece is that he puts the immediate crisis into the context of how Outsiders have disturbed the ecosystem that blessed the Yukon and Kuskokwim Delta with abundant salmon for millenia. He doesn't blast Tony and Amanda (and the Governor et al) with sarcasm here, but looks to the economic infrastructure and argues that:

Alaska survives by taking life, power and value from outside of the towns and cities, and bringing those things to market.

In ways that enrich those in the cities and Outside of Alaska and often leave the villagers impoverished.

I'm going to grind to a pause here because I realized that I was now ready to start writing what I wanted to write about, and that all this so far was intro. I'll try to get up another post soon - my perspective will be as one watching this from Northern Thailand, from an office in an organization that helps poor, rural Thai farmers. I see a very vigorous and heartening effort here to reach into small villages - both ethnic Thai and ethnic minority - to help farmers deal with the impacts of multinational corporations and free trade agreements that are radically altering Thai life. That's what I want to talk about with the rural Alaska situation in mind.

Part 2.


  1. I thought Sarah Palin is the governor of Alaska or was it the end of her career when John McCain lost the election? Maybe I am not got used to changes because we have had the same main-mayor in Budapest since 1991 or 1992 or something like that.
    I have Google Chrome and I can comment now as you can see. Did you do something or was it Firefox's error?

  2. Yes, Palin has a four year term as Gov. She has til 2010. Even a lot of non-Alaskan Americans aren't sure about that.

    I didn't change anything. Maybe it was just funny that day when you couldn't comment.

  3. Thanks, Steve, for helping on this important topic.

    Ropi, there's more than enough blame to go around. Gov. Palin's administration can do less to help the long-term viability of rural Alaska than can our Federal-level legislators. Murkowski, Young and Begich get this. The Alaska bloggers who have helped bring attention to this huge, inter-connected set of issues should be lauded for raising the awareness level to people outside our state about rural Alaska's long-term survivability.

    As Steve observes, I've been getting more focused, less snarky on this. I think it is partially because the more I learn about the complexity of these inter-connected issues, the more I realize how little I really know.

    Frankly, the more Palin's administration is kept to their minimal role in Westward Alaska affairs, the better off the Native cultures there will be in the long run.

  4. The devisiveness on these blogs was created by Governor Sarah Palin's two factions known as the TeamSarah Hate Machine and SaraPAC. Many of them are scripted and gave me the creeps. They infiltrated that entire rural issue on the blogs with Palin's mixed salade messages. They must be tossed out of Alaska - The usage of these two websites and the people to coverup her fraud and create divisiveness has to stop.
    Xango_Xango Aloha Alaskans


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