To see people all around the nation band together to help out a village in Alaska is a wonderful sight. Donations of food are being flown in, cash donations have come from around the world. The media, and blogger, attention has had the effect of poking a stick in the side of the State, and several prominent Alaskan politicians and leaders have spoken out.
(My previous posts about Emmonak, #1, #2... Mudflats on Emmonak... ADN on Emmonak.)
Of course, with the good, must come the less savory. As I watch the story unfold, and try to do what I can, I must also address some that which goes on that doesn't help at all - and in fact can make it more difficult. That is, people spreading around ignorance.
The blatant racism toward Alaska Native people is not new to me, yet I cringe (and I imagine many other Native people as well) when Native issues are brought up in public. Why? Because you get to hear so consistently comments about just how unproductive, deceitful, lazy, greedy, and probably drunk Native people are. Comments like this on ADN, regarding how Native people (in general!) squander all their money:
"In the future the State of Alaska should hold the PFD's for all native households and only issue them out in monthly amounts."
I wish people who made these remarks knew how each one feels like a punch in the stomach.
I don't know why this person feels the government should hold back money from me, and give it to her freely, only handing it to me like an allowance for a child. I admit I've never learnt the lesson my grandma tried to teach, and dismiss such people as ignorant, and move on. I wish I could, but they are EVERYWHERE. On the Internet, much more so.
So here are a few of the more consistent issues I see coming up. Mind you, none of them are new... just revisited for this issue.
The people got themselves into this mess through their own negligence/ ineptitude/ greed/ laziness (etc., etc.) so don't waste your own food/time/money.
I address this first, and I hope it is not taken as me agreeing with it, because there is too much evidence that it certainly is not true. But even if every word of that were true - when your neighbor's house is on fire, you don't go twenty rounds on whether it was their own fault or not. To expland on the metaphor, take the recent fires in Anchorage. I suggest the next fire that happens, the fire department only respond if the owners can prove they didn't cause the fire in any way. A little child might be hurt in the process? No matter. These people need to learn.
As for if it really was Emmonak's fault or not, please, PLEASE look at all the evidence before making this judgement. I can gaurantee there are people in Emmonak who don't handle their finances well, or at all. I gaurantee there are people who have bought things like expensive toys, alcohol, cell phones. But look at the whole region. For that matter, look at Rural Alaska as a whole. It is not thriving, and it has not been for years. There is a reason for this other than every single person in that region sucks at handling their money.
The native corporations should help.
They should, and they are. Most of the social services come from nonprofits, however, and they... you know... DON'T MAKE A PROFIT. And "the corporations should help" is not code for "the government that serves me doesn't have to serve people who belong to Native corporations." Many times this is said by people who have no idea what they really do, other than, "They hand out tens of thousands of dollars to all the Native people." Example: This past year, I finally became a shareholder (not all Native people are - most under 40ish aren't shareholders.) My check this year? Just over $150. No, not a thousand - $150. I do not belittle what I got - but to suggest this is good enough to live on is laughable. It literally did not buy me three tanks of gas for my car. In the village, it would buy much less. Other corporations give out more, but most don't. Look at the landless 13th Regional Corp. - it literally shut its doors and went belly up this year. In other words - you have to know what you're talking about before making this argument.
Didn't these people live off the land for thousands of years? Don't they keep talking about this supposed "subsistence lifestyle"? Why don't they keep doing that, and stop whining about needing money and electricity?
This is really one of the more frustrating for me to hear. First - okay, I'll take you up on your proposal. But you know, to truly live off the land like we did a thousand years ago, we have to have ALL the land. A thousand people absolutely cannot live off of twenty square miles of land. There was a reason people were so spread out, and much of it had to do with needing x amount of land to support x amount of people. Not to mention that to support yourself completely by the land is a full time job, and would require that all those gaming laws and limits be dropped. So yeah - if the state of Alaska, private businesses and citizens, and federal government are willing to give up all land, all laws, I'm willing to start talking about requiring everyone live "like they used to."
But really - WHY DO WE NEED TO DO THAT? I believe the people making this argument are the same people who, depending on the circumstance, also wonder why we can't learn how to just "be American." Get respectable jobs, speak "proper" English, learn to drive a car for Pete's sake. It's either/or. There is a push and pull for Native people of needing to maintain that cultural image, and yet prove you can be a productive citizen in the modern world.
Why don't they band together and help each other out?
Uhh... they are. I honestly don't even understand these comments. Please show me all these people who aren't. Every single family the man interviewed was in pretty rough shape.
They need to move out of the villages.
This is part of that push and pull. The need to stay and maintain the culture of millenia past vs. modernity and "don't stand in the way of progress." As if Native people in the city are faring that much better anyways. There are more opportunties for jobs and schooling, yet so many of the crime rates go higher. Is loss of culture and family, ties that go back, quite literally, to the ice age, an acceptable loss to gain city life?
Rural Alaska needs to stop asking for stuff - they are subsidized like crazy.
Let me say this. Everything worth anything in Alaska comes from Rural Alaska. Please think on that. What are our biggest state moneymakers?
The obvious - oil?
Rural (No, folks, the tourists don't save all their lives to see Anchorage. It's just a convenient stopover.)
My mother pointed out a comment in the ADN addressing this. How true. Rural Alaska gives and gives. The resources are taken over and over - most of them nonrenewable. The people who get the big bucks from these Rural Alaska resources live in Anchorage, live in Texas, live in England. By and large, even most of the jobs created by these industries do not go to Rural Alaskans. They go to people from Outside. I think Rural Alaska has given its share.
I'm not trying to pour cold water over a fire that needs to burn, but it appears to me this is all these kind of comments do in the first place. I certainly don't believe everyone in Emmonak has acted perfectly, but I don't for a second believe everyone else NOT in Emmonak has either.
I just hope that the people that are so hateful about helping don't lose a job, have expensive medical problems, have a house burn down, or have anything remotely tragic happen to them. They might then have to be subjected to scrutiny of everything they've ever bought, why they didn't save more, whether they should have had that many kids in the first place, and a judgement of whether they deserve help at all.
I did a little of what I could for the people in Emmonak. Not because Emmmonak needs help more than the next village. Not because I dug into their finances and deemed them worthy enough. Not because, despite the "obvious" sins of the parents, the children should at least get some food.
They asked for help. They needed help. They are human beings. That is all I need to know.