Rural blog

The Village is a Daily News blog about life and politics in rural Alaska. Its main author is ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins. Come here for breaking news on village issues, plus interviews, videos and photos. But that's just part of the story. We want to feature your pictures, videos and stories, too. Think of The Village as your bulletin board. E-mail us anything you’d like to share with the rest of Alaska -- your letters to the editor, the photos of your latest hunt or video of your latest potlatch. (We love video.)

Pumpkin recycling service - 11/8/2012 11:00 am

Pressed for change, leaders promise a 'new, modern AFN' - 10/20/2012 1:29 pm

Should Alaska Native elders be exempt from fishing bans? - 10/18/2012 3:27 pm

Make way for AFN - 10/9/2012 3:02 pm

Bathtime at 220°F - 10/1/2012 10:09 pm

Where the jobs will be: Mining, health care - 10/1/2012 2:07 pm

First, some advice: Don't cook angry - 9/28/2012 8:55 pm

In Bethel? Say hello - 9/24/2012 12:28 am

Pumpkin recycling service

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

Wasilla photographer Mike Criss recently posted this clip on our Anchorage Daily News Facebook wall.

Easy to imagine a similar scene is playing out across the state this month as Alaskans allow their frozen jack-o'-lanterns to linger in the snow.

I asked area Fish and Game Biologist Jessy Coltrane if she had any concerns about pumpkin-eating moose.

"We’ve never shaken our finger at people about pumpkins," she said.

Still, moose have learned to love this post-Halloween treat, and that can lead to unexpected encounters, Coltrane said.

"(If) you don’t want to open your door and have a moose standing on your porch, then perhaps you should enjoy your jack-o'-lantern away from your door."

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Pressed for change, leaders promise a 'new, modern AFN'

From Kyle Hopkins at the Dena'ina Center --

A new effort is underway to overhaul and modernize the state’s largest Alaska Native organization, Alaska Federation of Natives board member Gregory Razo told convention delegates today.

“We look forward to this time next year sharing with you a new, modern AFN,” said Razo, who represents the Cook Inlet region.

Razo will serve as chairman of a newly created 15-member committee that’s expected to propose specific changes to the non-profit in December.

The announcement follows threats by AFN members such as Fairbanks-based Doyon Limited that they might withhold dues unless changes were made. One group, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, has refused to pay convention dues until it sees action on restructuring, AFN president Julie Kitka said in an interview today.

CITC is one of the more than 400 organizations AFN represents, Kitka said. “The big thing,” she emphasized, is that AFN is undertaking a reorganization and that “everything is on the table right now.”

“They’re trying to look at AFN from top to bottom and make it better,” she said of the committee.

Some members of the Alaska Federation of Natives have sought changes big and small to the group’s power structure for years. They’ve lobbied for more tribal seats on the AFN board, changes to the convention voting process and term limits for federation leaders.

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Should Alaska Native elders be exempt from fishing bans?

From Kyle Hopkins at the Dena'ina Center --

The state's largest Alaska Native organization will consider a slew of hunting-and-fishing related proposals this week in Anchorage, including a plan that would allow Native elders to fish for food when and wherever they want.

That proposal, authored by the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, is among 43 resolutions to be considered at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention that resumes Thursday.

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Make way for AFN

Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily NewsMarc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

Make room, Anchorage. This year's Alaska Federation of Natives convention is just a week away.

The Oct. 18-20 meeting returns to the Dena’ina Civic & Convention Center with a calendar of events listed online at www.nativefederation.org. AFN today announced U.S. Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka among the featured speakers.

Akaka -- a Democrat, like fellow Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye -- joined the Senate in 1990 but chose not to run for re-election this year. He is the first and only Senator of Native Hawaiian ancestry, according to AFN. Washburn is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The annual convention is expected to draw about 4,000 to 5,000 people to Anchorage in the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives in the state. A luncheon honoring Akaka is scheduled for noon, Oct. 18, at the Downtown Marriott Hotel.

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Bathtime at 220°F

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

I’m on the hunt for traditional Yup’ik steam houses that village and Bethel transplants have built in the city. Have a secret maqi somewhere in Anchorage? Can we check it out? Send me a note at khopkins@adn.com.

Meantime, behold a clip from my first-ever steam during our recent stay in Kwethluk:

Most families in the Lower Kuskokwim River village are still years away from flush toilets and running water, but steam houses can be found on nearly every corner. A big thanks to Frank Ashepak for showing us how it’s done.

I tapped out at about 220 to 230 degrees. Kid’s stuff, Ashepak said.

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Where the jobs will be: Mining, health care

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

The number of mining industry jobs in Alaska is expected to grow 19 percent by the end of the decade, state economists report.

The Department of Labor's latest issue of Trends magazine predicts the state will add 38,749 jobs between 2010 and 2020. The fastest growth is expected in health care work, with medical and social assistance jobs expected to expand by 31 percent. (Someone has to look after all the aging baby boomers.)

Mining jobs will be the second-fastest growing sector so long as mineral prices remain steady, writes economist Paul Martz. Several mining operations are expanding or are expected to grow in the near future, Martz said, including Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, the Pogo Mine in the Interior and Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska.

No, there's no mention of Pebble in the report.

Oil and gas jobs are expected to make a full post-recession recovery, despite declining oil production:

High oil prices will also drive employment growth, with firms exploring or producing in marginal areas that could become economically viable at higher prices. But, all things considered, employment is projected to grow at less than half the rate of the overall economy.

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First, some advice: Don't cook angry

By KYLE HOPKINS
khopkins@adn.com

KWETHLUK — The simple ingredients are available at the tribe-owned village store: instant mashed potatoes, condensed milk, sugar and a handful of Crisco. Add as many blue and red berries (cranberries) as you can pick.

This is how you make Alaska Native comfort food on the Lower Kuskokwim River.

“Upriver people, they like to make akutaq out of fish,” said Xenia Nicori, 61. Remove the bones, boil the meat for 20 minutes and squeeze out any juices.

After weeks of picking blueberries, blackberries and cranberries by the gallon, Nicori was already “berried out” when our boat arrived at the village on a recent fall afternoon. Still, she agreed to deliver a crash course on making her flavor of so-called “Eskimo ice cream,” provided we help with the picking.

First, some advice. Don’t cook angry.

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In Bethel? Say hello

Kyle, Bob & friends in Kwethluk.Kyle, Bob & friends in Kwethluk.

From Kyle Hopkins in Bethel --

After a short boat ride downriver from Kwethluk -- see below -- photographer Bob Hallinen and I hope to spend the next few days in Bethel. In town? Be sure to say hello.

A couple of questions: I thought iqmik use was on the decline thanks to public health campaigns, so why is it we seem to see punk ash for sale everywhere we go?

And just how seriously are Bethel restaurants taking the citywide ban on plastic bags and foam takeout containers that city leaders approved back in 2009?

The bags at the Alaska Commercial grocery story say they're 100-percent biodegradable now, but Bethel restaurants appear to still be using disposable foam containers:

By the boxfull: Foam takeout containers at a Bethel restaurant, years after the city banned their use.By the boxfull: Foam takeout containers at a Bethel restaurant, years after the city banned their use.

...

The local Alaska Commercial store now bags groceries in biodegradable plastic.The local Alaska Commercial store now bags groceries in biodegradable plastic.

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YouTube video shows seizure of subsistence salmon on Lower Kusko

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

More on the tension over an ongoing ban on subsistence king salmon fishing along the Kuskokwim River. In this clip, residents can be seen shouting at a trooper as he appears to cut a net and seize salmon.

State and federal wildlife troopers seized nets and fish this week on the lower river, enforcing a subsistence ban aimed at protecting future king salmon runs. Elders in Akiak and other communities encouraged people to defy the ban, calling it inhumane for villagers who consider salmon a traditional food source.

Related:

-- Akiak elders told families to fish despite government ban

-- Nets, salmon seized during Kuskokwim subsistence closure

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Akiak elders told families to fish despite government ban

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

State and federal wildlife officials seized 21 nets and 1,100 pounds of salmon from Lower Kuskokwim River subsistence fishermen this week, enforcing a government ban on subsistence salmon fishing on the river.

Today, Akiak leaders say some of the fishermen were families who put their nets in the river as an act of civil disobedience encouraged by village elders. They're concern: A looming "food security emergency" brought about by the subsistence fishing ban.

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FWS video: Wolf versus salmon

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

Best part of this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service video, posted this week on YouTube? The dramatic score.

While the clip is new to the FWS YouTube feed, it was shot back in 2004 on Big Creek. That's part of the Naknek River watershed on Becharof National Wildlife Refuge, says Fish & Wildlife Service spokesman Bruce Woods.

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Tribe bills Native corporation for $500,000 in 'taxes'

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

Bubbling tension between Alaska's tribes and Native corporations is nothing new. There’s a reason this year’s AFN convention theme was “unity,” after all.

But here’s something I haven’t seen before: One tribe known for pushing the boundaries of its government sovereignty powers is attempting to levy a $500,000 on its regional Alaska Native corporation.

The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council on Oct. 5 sent the half-million-dollar bill to Cook Inlet Region Inc., threatening to seize the regional corporation’s property if CIRI didn’t pay up.

Hence: This lawsuit.

CIRI wants an order from a federal judge saying the Chickaloon tribe doesn’t have the authority to tax the corporation, following 1998 Venetie case.

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Grade the state's new suicide prevention plan

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

The Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Council has released a draft five-year plan for reducing the staggering number of Alaskans who kill themselves in cities and villages across the state.

Among the recommendations:

-- State funding for suicide prevention training for school teachers.
-- Promoting programs that reduce unsafe access to firearms, such as installing gun lockers in village homes.

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Quinhagak woman launching supply shop for Native artists

From Kyle Hopkins at the Dena'ina Center --

Meet 24-year-old Rebecca Wilbur, an entrepreneur with her eye on becoming the Michael’s crafts store of Quinhagak.

Artists in the cash-poor Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta need beads and bones, leather and carving tools to make projects, she said, but it can cost more than $600 to fly to Anchorage for supplies. Wilbur’s solution: Import the craft supplies or buy raw materials from hunters and trappers in the region, and sell to artists in nearby villages.

“I want to provide the supplies for kuspuk making, for putting bracelets together,” said Wilbur, whose business is called Yup’ik Originals. “The string, beads. (Supplies for) making earrings and hair pins, and everything that I guess defines who we are.”

Voters in the Alaska Marketplace competition – a contest to win seed money to start small rural businesses – awarded Wilbur the people’s choice award at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention. She’ll take home $6,000 from the competition.

If the business model works, other supply shops could sprout up around the Y-K, she said.

“There aren’t many jobs in the community and we are hoping that with our business, we can help our artists flourish,” Wilbur said. “And at the same time, we want to encourage trappers to go trapping by purchasing their raw hides from them.”

Eventually, Wilbur hopes to buy art from artists across the region and sell the work at the Bethel Saturday market or at the AFN crafts fair.

“People spend so much time making their art that they don’t break even,” Wilbur said.


3 p.m. UPDATE: Worl named Citizen of the year

For the second time in three years, a Sealaska Corp. board member has been awarded AFN’s top honor.

Rosita Worl, vice chair for the Southeast Alaska regional corporation and president of the Sealaska Heritage Instiute, was named AFN’s Citizen of the Year today.

“I venture to say there’s probably nobody’s life that has not been touched by the efforts that she has put into her work helping the Native community over her lifetime,” AFN president Julie Kitka said.

Fellow Sealaska board member, chair Al Kookesh, won in 2009. Both Kookesh and Worl are also AFN board members.

Last year, Heartbeat Alaska host Jeanie Greene won the award.

This year's Denali award, which recognizes the achievements of non-Natives, went to John Katz, the outgoing director for the governor’s office in D.C.


1:10 p.m. UPDATE: Poll -- Can villages survive in the future?

Grab a seat at the AFN convention this year and someone might hand you a credit card-sized gadget that looks a little like a calculator. It allows the audience of hundreds to participate in informal, flash surveys and polls.

Today, more than 500 people were asked if they agree with this statement: "I think our rural communities can survive into the future.”

More than 70 percent said yes.


12:15 p.m. UPDATE: Business ideas: North Slope computer farm & kuspuks for everyone!

Former Bethel Rep. Mary Sattler has a question. Why is it that when tourists go to Hawaii, they all come home wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but when visitors leave Alaska, they're not wearing a traditional kuspuk?

Picture a cruise ship full of seniors wrapped in the lightweight parkas rather than jogging suits. Sattler told the crowd it's a business that needs to happen.

North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta pitched his own development idea. Somewhere in America, he said, there are "mega servers" comprised of fields of computers.

“Huge places that take acres and they take tons of energy to refrigerate and cool," Itta said. "I thought, ‘Hmm, you know, maybe we could try to bring some of these people up north, and they don’t have to spend so much money on refrigeration.”

Sattler, by the way, was recently elected to the Bethel City Council, she said. "I really want the pool to be built."

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AFN proposals: Should Columbus Day be abolished?

We've posted photo galleries from the opening day of the AFN convention on Thursday and from Wednesday night's "Quyana Alaska" dance/music performances.

From Kyle Hopkins at the Dena'ina Center --

4:45 p.m. UPDATE:

Among the other proposals scheduled for a vote this week at AFN: A call to abolish Columbus Day.

"It is unconscionable for the United States of America to celebrate and honor a person of such character of child molestation, degradation of women, genocide and enslavement of people," says a draft resolution proposed by the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents.

The association is asking Alaska's congressional leaders to propose a national ban on Columbus Day celebration and replace it with a "holiday honoring the great Native American leaders who contributed to this country."


1:40 p.m. UPDATE:

Are you a registered Democrat? A Republican?

The board of directors for the Alaska Federation of Natives -- the non-profit representing nearly 180 villages across the state -- recommends dropping your party affiliation. At least on paper.

A draft resolution proposed by the board this week calls on voters, and Alaska Native voters in particular, to switch their registrations to "undeclared."

Undeclared voters can vote for either a Democrat or a Republican in primary elections, the board argues, "and thereby vote for the candidates that most support their views and standings on the issues."

Former AFN President Byron Mallott said he supports the proposal, which would allow voters to participate in the closed Republican primaries which typically favor more conservative candidates.

“Very conservative ideologies scare the hell out of us, because of our circumstance," Mallott said, emphasizing that he was speaking for himself and not all Alaska Natives. "Because of the range of issues that affect us ... I hope it passes with a huge vote.”

Delegates will vote on the proposed resolution and about 50 others on Saturday, the final day of the convention. AFN resolutions are non-binding but signal the collective will of the state's largest association of Alaska Natives.

Which candidates stand to gain, and which stand to lose, if voters follow the board's advice? Would it make AFN endorsements and regional corporation spending more influential in electing candidates?

One unofficial theme at this year's convention is a blooming recognition that efforts to re-elect Murkowski proved the Native vote and unrestricted Alaska Native corporation spending can sway an election.

“It may be in this day and age just an urban myth that most Alaska Natives are registered Democrats," Mallott said. "For example, I’ve been registered undeclared for at least a dozen years.”

Any registered voter can choose the primary ballot that includes Democrats, members of the Alaskan Independence Party and Libertarian candidates. Only registered non-partisan, undeclared and Republican voters can choose the Republican primary ballot, according to the Division of Elections.


12:15 p.m. UPDATE:

I caught up with Rep. Don Young to ask what he meant when he told the AFN crowd that he'd like to see an Alaska Native elected to the state's sole Congressional seat. (That is Young's job after all. But he told the crowd that he won't live forever.)

So did he have a replacement in mind?

Young isn't planning to step down any time soon. He's running for re-election in 2012 and plans to run again in 2014, a spokesman said.

Meantime, I spoke briefly with Sen. Al Kookesh about behind-the-scenes tension between Alaska tribes and corporations. Kookesh has called for corporations to be recognized as part of the National Congress of American Indians ... a notion that concerns some tribal leaders, APRN reports.

I'll post Kookesh's remarks later today. He said a resolution supporting inclusion of corporations in the National Congress of American Indians has been pulled from the agenda to avoid arguments at this year's unity-themed convention.

Kookesh, by the way, said he's not interested in running for Congress. People beat you up enough when you're running for the state House or Senate, let alone a statewide seat, he said.


10:30 a.m. UPDATE: Kotzebue musher John Baker, wearing Team Baker blue, told the crowd of hundreds that Alaska Natives collectively "prevented a disaster" by re-electing Lisa Murkowski to the U.S. Senate last year.

Alaska Natives had faced a candidate "who would not represent our interests," he said. Republican Joe Miller had defeated Murkowski in the primary and village voters were one of the big reasons -- along with financial support from Alaska Native corporations -- that Murkowski won an unprecedented write-in campaign.

Baker also showed his support for the regional corporations, which "provide more private sector jobs in Alaska than any outside company or industry," he told the crowd.

The foray into politics was brief, as Baker delivered a largely inspirational message.

“Too often, when things get difficult, there’s a temptation to see ourselves as victims. I’m here to tell you today, that we’re only victims if we allow ourselves to be," he said.


The Alaska Federation of Natives convention is underway. Still time to catch Iditarod musher John Baker’s keynote speech.

Among the highlight’s so far:

-- AFN President Julie Kitka told the crowd that the feds’ changes to subsistence oversight have fallen short. She is calling for a “Native-plus” subsistence priority.

AFN co-chairman Al Kookesh has said that a Native-plus-rural priority would mean that Alaska Natives who move from villages to the cities would still get first crack at subsistence hunting and fishing -- even in times of shortage. It would take Congressional action to make that happen.

-- Anticipated cuts to federal funding to Alaska Natives and Alaska Native programs is “nothing short of another form of termination by the United States,” Kitka said.

-- “I would be no more prouder in my life than to have an Alaska Native be a United States congressman,” says U.S. Rep. Don Young. (Does he have anyone in mind?)

I'll be posting updates on here and on Twitter through the day, and posting recaps and stories at adn.com and in print, so check back.

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Iditarod champion Baker: "I won’t pretend that living in rural Alaska isn’t difficult at times"

Kyle Hopkins / ADNKyle Hopkins / ADN

From Kyle Hopkins at the Dena'ina Center --

Iditarod champion John Baker told the story of his historic win to hundreds of young people from villages around the state earlier today at the First Alaskans Elders and Youth Conference.

Baker, who is part Inupiaq and lives and trains in Kotzebue, this year shattered the Iditarod speed record by three hours. It was the 48-year-old Baker's 16th try at the race and his first victory.

He will deliver the keynote speech at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention beginning Thursday.

“I won’t pretend that living in rural Alaska isn’t difficult at times. It just means that we have to work a lot harder,” Baker told the youth delegates, who gave the musher a pair of standing ovations.

Afterward, the audience peppered Baker with questions about his dogs, his future in the sport and even how a proposed road to Nome might change the race. Here’s a sampling of the musher’s responses, edited for length and clarity:

Q. Now that you’ve won the Iditarod, do you have another dream?

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Kids these days: Meet the teens of the Elders & Youth conference

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

The First Alaskans Elders & Youth Conference continued today in downtown Anchorage, where kids from villages across the state huddled with elders to talk about Alaska's past, present and future. We asked some of the young delegates about why they're here and what's important to them.

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Murkowski to hold Senate hearing on suicide at AFN

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

Time to see some old friends. Alaskans from around the state are beginning to arrive in Anchorage for this year's AFN convention.

Read the agenda here.

Look for keynote speaker and 2011 Iditarod champ John Baker to hit town early next week. This will be the Inupiaq musher's first visit to the annual convention, which is the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives in the state.

“This is actually a time of year that I’m normally training quite heavily," said Baker, who spent the day running 17 dogs, including leaders Snickers and Velvet, on roads circling Kotzebue.

Even before breaking the Iditarod speed record, Baker regularly spoke to rural Alaska students about perseverance and never giving up. That message may be something of a theme at this year's convention, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to hold a Senate hearing about the state's devastating youth suicide rates.

The meeting will be a field hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Murkowski says:

As for his keynote speech Thursday, Baker said he doesn't plan to talk about suicide specifically.

“I can only share the experiences that I have as far as making sure that I’m willing to work hard even though sometimes it’s easier for me to give up in the Iditarod," he said. "I just keep trying hard and never quit.”

The convention theme this year is "Strength in Unity."

Baker said that idea will be part of his talk. "How the dog team’s success is always working together as a team," he said.

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Deadly outbreak among North Slope seals: Borough statement

The North Slope Borough today issued the following statement on the mysterious outbreak that has killed dozens of seals along the North Slope.

Alaska Dispatch reports that the borough Department of Wildlife Management has never documented a similar outbreak in the region.


From the North Slope Borough:

Diseased Seals Found Along Arctic Coast

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Weather Service warns of coastal flooding along Chukchi Sea coast

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

The National Weather Service is warning of potential coastal flooding today through Friday morning along the Chukchi Sea Coast, including Point Hope, Shishmaref and Kivalina:

Minor coastal flooding may inundate areas of Kivalina and Shishmaref while significant beach erosion may occur on the south and west facing areas of Kivalina and other coastal areas from Cape Krusenstern to Point Hope.

Forecasters today also are warning of gale winds all along the western coast of the state, from Cape Beaufort and Point Hope south toward Dall Point. That warning is in effect until Thursday morning.

A high-surf advisory has been issued for St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait coast through 4 p.m. Thursday.

Do you live along the coast? Can you tell us about the weather in your home town? Email khopkins@adn.com.

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