Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Alaska villages facing a generational problem

Today at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, Alaska Native leaders will be talking about the problem of inmigration. I have heard this covered in various Anchorage Daily News articles and on the local news, but much of the local coverage is focused on the local problems - more stress and impact on Anchorage. Mayor Begich and Superintendent Comeau recently released a letter to Governor Palin regarding the problem. Senator Murkowski had a meeting in Septmeber about it. This coverage and local focus isn't a problem - all politics is local. Mayor Begich yesterday in his newsletter:

Human Service Providers Focus on New Rural Residents.
As evidence mounts of a large number of rural Alaskans moving to Anchorage, Mayor Mark Begich is working with local agencies to improve public services, from affordable housing to food assistance. Begich met with about a dozen Anchorage human service agency officials last week. They reported hundreds of rural Alaskans moving to Anchorage, in part because of skyrocketing energy prices and lack of economic opportunities. The Anchorage School District has more than 420 new rural students and other agencies report increased demand for services. The officials are compiling their new service needs and plan to seek assistance from the State, which provides modest support at best.

And though this is a problem, it doesn't begin to touch the problem in the villages. The stress on the cities may be a problem - MAY, because I can't figure why a huge population increase is a "boom" and measure of progress sometimes, and just a stress on the city in others.

In any case, it is the villages that are really losing on this one. Just in school funding alone, each student lost is lost funding. There are some villages - big villages even - that are now at half the students they were just a few years ago. They are having to shut down classes, buildings, and in one case, at least, the principal of the high school became principal of k-12. Then, with further lost students, the superintendent became the principal. They're losing positions, classes, resources and students left and right. And that's just the effect on the schools, not the rest of the community.

The reasons for the inmigration are many, but the huge influx right now is mostly due to energy costs. Juneau has been fairly notorious lately for its high energy costs. Yet a nearby village's energy costs - after subsidies - is literally eight times the cost. A family in the village will spend several hundred dollars a month on electricity alone. Total energy costs for some families exceed $2,000 a month. Add that to less jobs, and lower paying to begin with, and you've got an energy crisis that is not an inconvenience - it is truly a crisis.

Jobs, leadership, a generation of children - so much is being lost from the villages, yet I think the economic impact is being focused on even more than the long-term effects. The cultural loss, the leadership loss, the impacts of children who might be raised in smaller classrooms with a culturally relevant base who will now be raised in a huge classroom with no cultural base - I can't even begin to cover all the impacts, really.

I don't think we will see the true effects for some years, maybe the next generation. But we have the evidence of the past - and not such a long time ago past - that shows us what can happen when a generation of people is suddenly apart from its cultural base.


CabinDweller said...

The energy crisis is the topper, in my opinion.

Law enforcement was never adequately funded in rural areas - even though VPSOs got a raise, they really needed much more support. and in places where there is no VPSO or VPO, flying in a trooper after the fact is not helping make a safe community, it is cleaning up the mess afterward.

Murkowski (Frank) killed municipal revenue sharing. That shuttered a lot of city offices in tiny areas, and took away basic services (in places where basic was just that.) I can't recall if the Lege returned municipal revenue sharing to pre-Murkowski levels or not, but that would be a positive step.

Even the housing (HUD) that was built to address the chronic shortage of good housing in the villages - often poorly designed, not energy efficient, not suitable for our kind of winters. But some contractors made some money.

I don't know if Palin is a racist. But she seems to be largely ignorant of rural issues - she came in that way, and she hasn't bothered to learn much other than the energy crisis.

Which is embarassing, because has spent her entire life here and never bothered to look beyond Wasilla.

. said...

I think the ADN Convention economic impact is great for our town and the discussions on subsistance and fuel prices are important.

Lynn - Massage Therapist