Another Alaska

7 10 2008

We talk an awful lot about Wasilla these days. Americans now know more about the inner-workings of the city council, the library, the police department, and local churches than they ever imagined they would. We also talk a lot about the North Slope of Alaska with its oil fields, and the larger city centers of Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks. But look at a map of Alaska superimposed on a map of the Lower 48. Most of Alaska, which some call the “real Alaska,” is much larger, and much less known that the parts that make the headlines.

For every person who has lived in “the bush,” there is a different story. But universal is the opinion that bush Alaska has some very real problems, that have not been adequately addressed. The remote location of many bush communities makes many aspects of construction and infrastructure difficult. Communities often do without what the rest of us would consider basic neccessities. Health care and education face unbelievable challenges. The rates of domestic violence, rape, and alcohol abuse are alarming. Alaska State Troopers are too few, underpaid, and often underequipped.  Sadly, our previous Commissioner of Public Saftey, Walt Monegan, was on track with a plan to address some of these issues. You’ll recall that he was fired by Sarah Palin, and his termination has become the focus of the “Troopergate” investigation.

Mudflats reader Josh shares the following story.


Sarah Palin has stated in one of her now famous blurbs with Katie Couric that she was excited to debate Joe Biden to talk about energy and ideas. Interesting. Maybe if she had been doing that in her own state for the past two years, we wouldn’t have the Mayor of Anchorage, and the Anchorage School District Superintendent writing her office asking for help with a very real problem.

With growing evidence of an Alaska Native exodus from villages to the city, Mayor Mark Begich and Schools Superintendent Carol Comeau sent a letter to Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday asking her to organize an emergency task force to find ways to stem the migration. Anchorage and the state “cannot stand by and tolerate the deterioration of rural Alaska,” the letter read. (continue)

My wife and I have been teaching and living year-round in bush Alaska for the last four years, and recently moved to Anchorage. We left after trying to make changes in an extremely broken system that has been ignored and overlooked by the state and its officials for far too long. Our jobs were threatened, we had no union to go to, and therefore no recourse. Our issue was targeted at education , but the poor state of education in the bush can be easily attributed to a broader problem of isolation, poverty and lack of oversight that no one at the state level is willing to get a handle on.

Anchorage and the state “cannot stand by and tolerate the deterioration of rural Alaska,” the letter said.

The major problem that my wife and I are running into when we tell people our story is that many believe it is the Alaskan Native’s problem as a federally recognized tribe and therefore is no different than the many cases and issues that exist on the lower 48 reservations. This is not the case. Alaskan Native tribes are not a sovereign nation. There is no legal difference in the villages that exist off the road system in Alaska, and a small rural town in Kansas. The only difference is that if a small rural town in Kansas had overwhelmingly high suicide rates, rape cases, domestic violence issues, no infrastructure, no running water, poor electricity, energy bills that exceed thousands each month and no money or jobs to help cover the costs, someone would do something about it!

We became very close with a family in our village that had a child drown in a stell container of raw sewage. Let me say that again. They had a child drown in a steel container of raw sewage. Their child was simply outside playing and since there is no playground equipment for the kids to play on, they play on anything, often things too dangerous for children. In this case it was something commonly referred to as a “honey bucket.” This is a steel container where house sewage is dumped since there is no indoor plumbing.

Many of the problems that face rural Alaska are not solvable in a day, a month, even years. But, when you have a Governor bragging about her reforming ways, it does make you wonder. Why was she so unable to even start real reform in her own state over a two year period?

So as you watch Sarah Palin talking about energy issues, ask yourself one question: If Sarah Palin is so knowledgeable about energy and has had executive experience, why is the Anchorage Daily News running a story like the one above?

Sarah Palin has been in office for almost two years and managed to sell a plane, is under investigation for an abuse of power, and gave people that do not need it (including people no longer in Alaska) $1,200 rather than funding real energy relief for rural Alaskans. The Washington Post has stated in a recent article that in 2002 through lobbyist ties related to Ted Stevens and Don Young she secured $900,000 in upgrades for Wasilla’s infrastructure. There are still many rural villages today without roads, electricity, indoor plumbing, and some even have their sewage leaking into the water supply. Money is needed, but more importantly, someone that is willing to spend the time to start a conversation.