Jan 27, 2010

Hard times in AK villages

In class today we discuss the demographic changes that have occurred in rural areas over the last few decades, and we made predictions for Alaska's future. The majority of the class predicted growth overall in Alaska's population, depending, of course, on certain factors such as military bases and the global economy. A few people thought Alaska would lose population, and two folks were firmly on the "it depends" fence.

Folks seemed clearer when talking about rural Alaska. It is true that rural Alaska communities are under additional stressors: higher fuel prices, declining ability to hunt locally, youth out-migration, persistent lack of modern services, stress on traditional culture, etc.

I thought you might find this CNN article from last year interesting. The article describes a "perfect storm" of circumstances--poor salmon runs, unexpected weather patterns, high fuel prices--that combined to give a grime picture of rural Alaska life in winter 2009.
The portrait it paints of rural Alaska is heartbreaking. Nowhere in the article can I find the nostalgia for the old ways, or any glimmer of hope that things will be different in the future. How would sociologists analyze the portrait of rural Alaska as described in this article? Is a subsistence way of life possible anymore? Can rural Alaskans integrate modern technologies--such as snowmachines and oil heat--into their lives and yet keep some of the traditional technologies--such as hunting and gathering food? Is the picture really as bleak as the article describes? Or is it even worse? Does the state of Alaska have ultimate responsibility for ALL of its citizens, or only its urban citizens?

Photo courtesy of Dennis Zaki and CNN.

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