Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Alaska village "non-emergency" emergency

"I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me. Yet, I assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all possible means — except by getting off his back."

That quote will become more clear at the bottom of this post.

Just a few of the dozens and dozens of reports, articles, letters and highlights just this year about the certainty that a Rural energy crisis was going to happen. Although it truly is an emergency right now, you might call it the slowest building emergency ever. This was not the result of earthquakes or natural disasters - people saw this coming ten miles away.

From late December, a story in Indian Country Today. The article itself is about the impending energy crisis in Rural Alaska and the people who have spoken out about it, including Begich, Comeau, Murkowski and... oh yeah - the entire Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention! The reporter notes that:

The Rural Subcabinet formed by Governor Sarah Palin in response to what many consider a crisis in rural Alaska has reportedly met, but specific information about their activities has been difficult to find.


By late October, the AFN and the mayor’s office had already voiced strong disappointment at the governor’s response to their concerns about the need for culturally vibrant and healthy rural communities. The mayor and AFN both felt that a subcabinet was a less than adequate response to the immediate

The mayor's office they are referring to here is (now) Sen. Begich, not the current, acting mayor.

The Anchorage Daily News on AFN wanting a Rural energy emergency declared back in October, as well as an article from last summer, in which Native leaders are urging the state to action on the (already present) energy problems. The solutions offered by the leadership in the summer article were, quite obviously, ignored. I can only hope they don't continue to be. Sen. Murkowski held a hearing in Bethel to discuss the outmigration because of the Rural energy crisis back in August:

"This has reached a critical point to where we will now have decide if we are going to feed our young or keep them warm," said Ron Hoffman president and CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority.

The Bristol Bay Times reported on these "rural residents" calling for help - they wanted the state to declare an energy emergency back in May:

The state needs to declare an energy disaster in rural Alaska, he wrote.
“Our disaster has been ongoing for at least five years and will continue without drastic intervention from our state.”

The "energy solution" they mention Palin announing in the article was the $1200 Palin pushed for Alaskans - already being called too little, too late for Rural residents when it was first introduced. Of course, we now know how true the detractors were now.

Even USA Today got in on the news, reporting on the oncoming fuel shortage, as barges weren't making it in:

Alaskans in rural areas will spend 40% of their annual income on energy this winter compared with 4% for the average Alaska household, according to a University of Alaska Anchorage study published in May.

I think the disparity in "where the money goes" could sink in for the people talking about how Rural folk wasted all the money. Mudflats had an excellent post on a Rural shopping trip, in the same light.

I think this is the third or fourth time I've put this out there, but the Alaska Natives Commission Report, published back in the '90s, reports on conditions of Alaska Native people, from economy to social and cultural implications, results of the loss of self-reliance and subsistence... and on, and on. It is a HUGE report, but fairly comprehensive, and, most importantly, it presents a multitude of solutions. One little bit from it, talking about Rural economy:

Beyond the limitations of little (or no) infrastructure, high costs, restricted transportation access, and the many other factors that constitute barriers to economic development (as discussed in the introductory section of this Report), if fuel were not readily available, practically any sort of market economy would be prohibited.

The report includes a quote from Leo Tolstoy I find interesting:

What the federal and state governments can do is offer mutual respect and assistance. They must be willing to give control of local issues back to Alaska Natives. They must step aside in many areas so that Alaska Natives can attempt to reconstruct honorable and dignified lives for themselves.

This will not be an easy task. People who have become accustomed to living without power tend to avoid the obligations that accompany it. Likewise, the external forces that take power — even with the best intentions — generally resist giving it back. In that regard, the following words from the works of Leo Tolstoy are appropriate to consider:

"I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me.Yet, I assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all possible means — except by getting off his back."

Many people - and administrations - have dropped the ball on this. The immediate solutions mean people need aid, but the long-term solutions have more to do with letting people live and build an infrastructure for themselves. Though the problems are many, so are the solutions.

But in light of this past year, in light of the urgent voices in the news, in the villages, in conferences speaking out about the impending crisis, the absolute certainty that fuel shortages, economic crisis and EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING was going to happen, I just want to know one thing:

Why is our governor just finding out about this?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last March 2008 it seemed unlikely that what the legislature was proposing would be very helpful. -- [N.B. thimk] How effective will Alaska windfall rebates be? -

Despite whatever people from the Unorganized Borough were saying, the state continued its bad (i.e., non-existent) public involvement. Public or community involvement is not public relations but a technical field. When the governor directs public meetings to NOT hear from the public, Bethel “town hall” meeting on AGIA or continues the Alaska executive branch trend (through 3 governors) in making it difficult or expensive to even contact our public servants-- "Also note that the Governor’s rural advisor, like so many other state offices, does NOT have a toll-free number to call. It costs 5 (five) times more to call Anchorage or Juneau than it does to call Washington, DC."-- maybe the wonder is that any information can get up the hierarchy.

In the 4 months of summer (June to Sept), 2007 (two summers ago or 607 days), nearly 15% of the population of Bethel left, citing fuel costs. [Although the data don't seem readily available, the loss seems to represent higher income families. Middle-class and professional families disappeared from the high school student body.] If 15% of Anchorage just upped and left, would anyone notice? Would the local news media say anything? Would our elected officials bring this to attention? How many neighborhood meetings would we attend?

Maybe a larger question would be-- why doesn't our government have anyone in the rural areas who knows how to look and listen and follow through? Why do we believe we don't deserve a government, legislative and executive, that does better?