Native Village Youth and Education News

March 1, 2009 Issue 195 Volume 3


Letter to the world from rural Alaska

Alaska Native village hits the media, flashes through the blog world and brings Alaska state officials to the scene
By Neva Reece
Condensed by Native Village

Alaska: In January Nick Tucker from Emmonak in the Yukon River Delta wrote a letter about conditions for families in his community. He spoke of choosing between food and heating fuel, parents skipping meals so children could eat, and borrowing cans of milk to feed infants.

Tucker's letter was published in the Bristol Bay Times and on the Alaska Newspapers Inc. Web site. It was quickly picked up by bloggers, the Alaska Public Radio Network and the Anchorage Daily News. Bloggers began raising money to send reporter Dennis Zaki to Emmonak to get the story.

In just a few hours, enough funds were raised for Zaki's trip with an extra $4,000 for fuel oil and other necessities. Anchorage residents collected food to be flown to the village.  .

On Jan. 16, Alaskan Commissioner Emil Notti arranged a conference call between villagers from the Yukon Delta region and state officials. Several officials then traveled to Emmonak and nearby villages to assess the situation. They spoke to villagers and had a community meeting in Bethel.

Despite his letter's success, Tucker said it was just the most recent of many requests and warnings about conditions in the Yukon Delta region. A poor fish run, a missed fuel shipment and other conditions have affected residents  for months.

A spokesperson from Notti’s office said previous requests for help could not be located.  However, other reports mentioning the impending crisis date back at least 6 months:

In July KTUU TV in aired a story on the poor fish runs and its impact on the Yukon Delta and its residents.

On July 12 departing Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan wrote state officials asking them to pay special attention to the looming crisis in rural Alaska.

In August, Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski held an Indian Affairs hearing in Bethel to discuss skyrocketing costs in rural communities.

In September,  Anchorage Mayor (now U.S. Senator) Mark Begich and School Superintendent Carol Comeau asked for help for rural Alaska.

 In October, the Alaska Federation of Natives passed resolutions asking the state address the rural crisis.

On Dec. 11, KTUU ran a story on Emmonak’s missed fuel shipment. In part, the report stated, “The icy Yukon River blocked their attempt to barge in the winter’s supply of fuel. The villagers say the fuel they have now will last them until January, at best.” Subsequent fuel shipments were flown into the village at much higher costs.

Whether or not these messages were heard or ignored, Zaki's warnings have reached many ears, and Emmonak now has the attention of the state of Alaska, and beyond. Private citizens and faith communities are extending a helping hand. Food, diapers and other necessities are being shipped in from Anchorage.  Funds earmarked for fuel costs are now being distributed to those in need.  And a month-long extension for moose hunts has been granted to Emmonak residents.


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