I came to Alaska almost 50 years ago and knew I was home

July 19, 2020
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I came to Alaska almost 50 years ago and knew I was home

I came to Alaska almost 50 years ago and knew I was home

“I grew up in Los Angeles. I was a surfer girl with long blonde hair and a bikini. My family traveled by truck and camper everywhere as a kid. Even through Mexico and Europe. We put it on a boat. We were doing to go to Alaska, but my parents canceled it. I was so mad at them, because I wanted to go. I went to an unusual college in Ohio away from my family and the west coast scene and figured out what I valued. I came to Alaska with friends after college. As soon as I arrived, I knew I was home surrounded by mountains, native culture, and clean water and air. Bundle up in the winter and you will be okay. The gear varies by the area of the state and how much wind you have. Every elementary school has a hockey rink and sledding hill. You have to like outdoor recreation in the snow and you will be good here.

I have lived in Alaska for almost 50 years. The climate is warmer now and there has been a change of population. In the 1980s, oil money hit Alaska. Before that, everything was small. We cooked everything from scratch and made our own bread. The bread at the store was terrible because it was hard to get fresh food here. I was a teacher in an Eskimo village during the 80s. I was a biology teacher, but there were only seven teachers in our K-12 school and we had to be versatile. My husband was the principal and he gave me the last assignments. We moved to the village with a newborn, a 2-year-old and 4-year-old. There was no internet yet, but you could get a couple of TV stations. English was the second language. My sons learned to speak Yupik. It was like living in another country, but getting paid in U.S. dollars. My kids grew up as the minority, but white people are the minority on earth. We have 110 languages in the Anchorage school system.

You see the Black Lives Matter signs around, but the racism in Alaska is towards the natives. Alaska had very strong Jim Crow laws for the natives. The white people heard about the segregation laws in the South and said that was what we need. There were different times for white shows and native shows at the movie theaters. Stores, restaurants, and bars posted signs that said ‘no natives allowed.’ I taught civil rights and just focused on Alaska.

There was a movement last year to recall our governor. When he took office, he minimized services and destroyed Alaska’s ferry system. We have no income tax in Alaska. This is the nation’s least-taxed state, where oil royalties and energy taxes once paid for 90 percent of state functions. We don’t have the oil revenue we used to have because of tax deductions. Oil on state land belongs to all Alaskans and we are paid an annual Permanent Fund dividend from the oil revenue. It was up to $2,000 a few years ago. This year it was $992 per resident and has been dropping in recent years because of cuts due to changes in revenue from the oil companies and the reduction in taxes they pay. Many are angry about it and there is a fair share initiative that will be on the ballot in November. Our capital is in Juneau and seems so far away. People here felt like they were doing fine and didn’t pay attention to what was happening. Then COVID hit and people aren’t doing fine. It is has been a slow roll downhill. Oil companies own this state.

Coronavirus increased when the fishing returned. Canada is doing us a favor not letting anyone in. Cruise ships and tourists aren’t coming to Alaska this summer and that is another blow to our economy. You can look around Anchorage and see that homelessness is on the rise. When COVID hit, they moved people from the street to the arena. The CARES act provided money to help the homeless and they are looking at buying motels to house the homeless, but people don’t want them housed close to their neighborhoods. It was complex how they got into homelessness and it is just as complex helping them through. Alcoholism and drug use are high in Alaska.

They are encouraging Alaskans to be tourists this summer, but we aren’t good tourists. We just go camping. My husband and I spent a winter in India ten years ago after we retired. Living in Eskimo villages where life is different and you have to accept people as they are, not who we think they should be, prepared us for India. It was amazing to see how few resources they used and come back here and see how wasteful we are.

I am a lucky person. I grew up in an unusual family and had a full life. I have raised good kids and fostered others. I learned to role model for kids how to fight fair and how to forgive. By doing this at home, you are modeling how to do it for the rest of the world.”

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