Forget about whether the state of Alaska should continue to support the existence of villages. The villages ought to be asking themselves why they should continue to support urban, suburban and wilderburban Alaska.
Truth is, urban Alaska is dependent on the continued existence of Alaska’s villages. Tell me, what exactly does Anchorage produce? Fish? Uh, no. Timber? Nope. Coal? Negatory. Oh, the urban areas could say that it is not the villages, just the land out there (and everything on or under it) that they need, but they'd be wrong.
What Anchorage, Wasilla and Fairbanks do produce is infrastructure and employees of that infrastructure through which money flows to various programs serving village Alaska. A lot of that money is federal money. And a whole lot of money that should be going to services is spent on employing people in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks and Juneau. A lot of it is spent transporting them to village Alaska.
Our urban areas produce nothing. They are where the paper is shuffled and the point through which money flows. (After a lot of it stays behind.)
Those folks, in turn, can maintain a lifestyle that allows for the growth of communities that support all sorts of ancillary services – restaurants, tanning salons, doggie day care, Nordstroms, strip malls, Range Rover dealerships – all the crap that the folks who move to Alaska but want to turn it into the place they left want and have. They all in turn can buy houses and cars and lots of toys.
And it’s not just bureaucrats and TWPs (pronounced ‘twips’) … those transient white professionals that spend a year or two our in the Bush making bank and then move out. It is high paying work, whether you’re an itinerant health care worker, or one of the army of consultants, a lawyer, or an ‘expert’ on rural issues hired to do research every time there is an EIS or project proposal. There are scores of grants funding jobs at universities, all of which poke and prod and make vague promises about how they will help lower suicide rates or foster culture or promote local agriculture or something out in the villages.
And lest the conservatives sneer at these jobs related to ‘programs’ – a large number of the skilled trades would be screwed if village Alaska disappeared. Think of every construction and maintenance project – be it building homes, improving airports, water and sewer, weatherization, school construction, boiler work, hell even the AVEC guys (that’s Alaska Village Electric Cooperative for you Outsiders or urban residents) who work on the electrical generation plants … all these people fly in and out of village Alaska and collect a big fat paycheck. We’re talking carpenters, electricians, operators, and the like. And if it is a federally funded project, they make Davis-Bacon wages (a name I’ve always found ironic.) These folks, too, spend their money in urban Alaska.
Young teachers go out to village Alaska to get experience and make much better money. Typically they stay a year or two and then leave.
The regional hubs need the villages, too. There are a lot of high paying jobs in the hubs predicated on the existence of village Alaska. That’s true of every regional corporation, be it the non-profit or for profit. What supports all the small regional airlines? It’s not flying people out to the villages. It’s flying bypass mail and freight and all those white collar and blue collar people and their excess baggage out to village Alaska to work. (Although admittedly, the price of fuel is making bypass mail much less of a profitable enterprise. Whatever did happen to the proposed changes to bypass mail last year. Seriously. I lost track of that one.)
What would the snowmachine and ATV dealers do if rural Alaska emptied out? What about the barge lines that deliver goods to communities?
All this talk of whether the State of Alaska should support Alaskan villages misses the point. The fates of urban Alaska and village Alaska are inextricably entwined.
And frankly, this is merely the economic end of the discussion. Issues of history, values, and culture trump all this. But that is for another time.