Alaskan survey / Alaskan TV
Native survey says life is better
TRENDS: Villagers less likely than those in cities to be "doing well."
By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK
(Published: October 27, 2007)
FAIRBANKS -- A first-of-its-kind statewide survey of Alaska Natives shows
prevailing concern about the future of their home villages, even among
Natives who have moved far away.
Underscoring that concern is the survey's finding that more urban Natives
who were surveyed say they are "doing well" compared to those who are
living in the Bush.
The survey -- which also revealed positive trends for Alaska Natives'
quality of life -- was based on group discussions with Natives from around
the state and random phone surveys with hundreds of Natives and
non-Natives. The First Alaskans Institute, a think tank devoted to Native
policy issues, published the survey.
The institute's leaders unveiled the findings at the annual Alaska
Federation of Natives convention, which ends today in Fairbanks.
Among the findings:
66 percent of Natives surveyed said their life is better compared to
their parents' lives at the same age.
62 percent of urban Natives surveyed said they were doing well, but only
39 percent of rural Natives said they were doing well.
About 75 percent agreed that the desire among Alaska Natives in the rural
areas to live traditionally -- but with modern conveniences -- is causing
confusion and conflict for young Natives trying to plan their futures.
Young Native men saw substance abuse as less of a problem than did
Natives as a whole, and Native women saw domestic abuse as more of a
problem than Native men did.
Ranked by priority, the top three issues of concern identified by Alaska
Natives were education, preserving cultural identity, and fuel and
"We're doing OK but there are a number of different issues out there facing
us, whether its heating oil, out-migration (from villages to urban areas),
issues of young men ... The question for the native community is can't we
start addressing those now?" said Janie Leask, the institute's president.
"Do we have to wait until ... people are totally-out-migrated (from
villages)?" she said.
The institute hopes to hold a follow-up meeting with AFN and Native
professional groups in the spring to discuss how to act on the survey's
finding, she said.
A GCI executive announced Friday at AFN that his company has formed an
alliance to create an Alaska Native television channel.
The Alaska Native Cable Network will begin by running programs on GCI
Channel 1 in the second half of next year and ultimately will get its own
cable channel, according to GCI.
Programs will include documentaries on Native art, culture and history,
news, sports and weather. Ultimately, GCI hopes to broadcast the station as
a profit-making enterprise, Ron Duncan, GCI president, said.
The planned cable network is a partnership of GCI, AFN, Isuma Productions
and other organizations, said AFN president Julie Kitka.
Willie Hensley, a longtime Native leader involved with Isuma Productions,
said that the notion of a Native television station has been in the works
for some time.
The station could involve feeds from "literally every village in Alaska"
and it will help tie Natives together, he said.
Isuma will oversee the program's management and finances.
A Sealaska Corp. executive told AFN delegates Friday that despite economic
growth among Alaska Natives, their cultural homeland -- the villages -- are
getting left behind.
The regional and village Native corporations don't have the capacity to
generate all of the rural economic growth that is needed, Chris McNeil,
chief executive of Sealaska, said.
He said a key factor to positive growth in the villages is innovation on
the local level, and as an example , McNeil pointed to AFN's year-old
Alaska Marketplace program, which has given large financial rewards --
between $15,000 and $60,000 -- to entrepreneurs who come up with innovative
More than $500,000 in awards were given to roughly 20 of the 62 finalists
who competed in the program this year.
But some trends, especially out-migration of skilled workers, are working
against the village economy, he said.
"The regional corporations have been thinking very hard about how we can
bring everyone up together," he said.
A string of speakers at AFN Friday -- including Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska
-- also discussed the need to reverse the negative trend in the villages.
Stevens said success could come from creatively finding "something in the
village that the rest of the world wants."
He also pointed out some positive trends in the villages -- through funding
from the Denali Commission, for example, fewer communities are in
"I'm so glad to hear the focus is now on the villages," Edward Itta, the
North Slope borough mayor, said to the delegates.
"It is getting so difficult out there yet we are so fortunate," he said.
The AFN leadership presented two major annual awards on Friday.
McNeil, the Sealaska executive, received AFN's Citizen of the Year award,
for his work on behalf of Natives -- trying to get a bigger voice for
Natives on the state level and his cultural activities.
Carol Daniel, a veteran attorney, was given the Denali Award, reserved for
a non-Native. Daniel was co-counsel on the Katie John subsistence lawsuit
and has been involved in numerous other lawsuits on behalf of Natives.