Last winter the rivers hardened a bit early. Fuel ran out in a number of places. This didn't only make it hard to heat houses, it made it impossible for a lot of other things to work in communities. Water quality in the Wade Hampton census district of Alaska is worse than most parts of Costa Rica or Panama, let alone the rest of the USA. Without fuel to deal with water quality infrastructure in the winter, our citizens in the scores of Western Alaska villages are beset by a situation comparable to Zimbabwe or some forlorn area in the Amazon jungle.
Because our urban-centric state legislature and executive branch have, over the decades of statehood, pandered to the false meme that people in Alaska's bush are asking for too much when it comes to infrastructure support. Essentially, especially in the Republican Party arena, it is a racist meme. But on the Democratic Party side of dealing with providing long-term support for bush communities, the elected representatives have not been able to frame the importance of this basic issue very well.
The Alaska bush provides most of the wealth ALL Alaskans enjoy.
Certainly, some rural or wilderness areas provide more wealth to be extracted and exported than others, but we are, as Wally Hickel prickly reminds us from time to time, the "owner state."
We have a responsibility to make the relationship between the cities and the bush wholesome.
Over the past three winters, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's administration has provided more rational direct support for heating fuel costs in Alaska's bush than has our state's government. Instead, bush residents have been faced with statements by legislators, recommending they go cut firewood where none exists, or by being confronted with the prospect of an overtly anti-Native Attorney General.
Governor Crazy Woman's only effort in the Alaska bush in 2009 was to bring Bibles, beads, trinkets and cookies to outlying communities. So far, the successor Parnell administration seems to be on a better track:
• Parnell has requested a Federal disaster be declared on the Yukon River.
• Parnell appears to be assessing heating and power fuel needs for the upcoming winter.
• Parnell is answering questions about the makeup, duties and goals of administration groups supposedly dedicated to solving rural problems. The crazy woman never came close to opening a substantive dialogue.
We need to push Parnell's staff further, harder and across the board on this. Now. There is little time. We may have our first frost here at Neklason Lake in Wasilla tonight.
• Demand more quick action on the fuel inventories.
• Demand toll-free numbers for all executive department rural functions.
• Demand more public input from the huge coterie of qualified Native leaders who are too often cut out of discussions about their future.
• Demand that your legislator frame these issues creatively in the upcoming 2010 session.
That might do for starters.
image - frozen-in Crowley tug and barge. I helped perform the initial compass check in Elliot Bay on this tug, when it was brand new, in July, 1982.