Thursday, January 15, 2009

Emmonak: this is outrageous

The rural-urban divide in Alaska has never been more stark. Here's a village in the middle of economic/subsistence meltdown, so to speak, and there's hardly anything in the news about it. The villages are starting to have to choose between food and fuel oil. Back in the bad old days, people starved and died if there wasn't enough food. There was no alternative. However, we're supposedly living in modern times, in the richest state in the richest country in the world. This isn't supposed to happen in the safety net that civilization should provide.

How the hell can this occur?

Well, for one thing, our whole civilization, and in particular our state, is geared toward dependence on nonrenewable fuels and extraction and exploitation of natural resources--again, in particular the nonrenewable ones. We aren't geared toward sustainable practices and renewable resources. In some ways, the plight of this village could very well be the plight of Alaska in relation to the rest of the world: we're a colony, utterly dependent on Outside to keep us going. Emmonak's situation is a grim microcosmic example of what Alaska could find itself foundering in should we find our economic or transportation links to the Lower 48 cut or reduced.

Part of the issue here is that Palin doesn't seem to think it too urgent to keep the position of rural advisor filled. She left it unfilled for the first year of her administration, and it's been vacant again ever since Rhonda McBride resigned last October.

Another part is that it isn't like no one saw this coming. Emmonak's been jumping up and down about problems ever since the barges couldn't get through last fall. Remember that? But even before that, there's been rumbling of a building emergency. When even Hugo Chavez down in Venezuela was able to tell that heating fuel prices were having a serious effect on the villages of Alaska, why couldn't we do something about it? Chavez sent emergency supplies a year ago. Did Palin?

Well, as Kodiak Konfidential points out, Chavez is saving the villages' bacon once again. Oil state Alaska, getting foreign assistance from Venezuela:
Venezuelan government officials wasted no time in reinstating the program, which saved some 180,000 US households around $260 apiece in 2008. That covered about one month's heating bill.

Among the beneficiaries of the 100 gallons of heating oil per household were 65 Indian tribes, including those in Alaska, Montana, and South Dakota.

Alejandro Granado, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Citgo Petroleum, the Venezuelan government's Houston-based oil subsidiary, said he discussed the plan to renew the program with Chávez on Wednesday morning.

The decision "is the result of a strong commitment and a big effort on the part of Citgo and our shareholders in light of the current global financial crisis and its impact on the oil industry in general," Mr. Granado said in a press statement.
Pretty humiliating, wouldn't you say, Sarah? Too bad so little was done about this after the first oil handout. Maybe if we'd had a rural advisor in office this might have been anticipated and SOMETHING DONE ABOUT IT.

Here's some posts about Emmonak:
Alaska Real quotes from the original letter to the editor, and gives a followup.

Progressive Alaska has also been spreading the word across the blogosphere.

Mudflats rightly asks if anyone is listening.

And Denis Zaki of Alaska Report is flying out to Emmonak to film.
If you want to help, you can contact any one of several organizations in Emmonak:
City of Emmonak, (907) 949-1227/1249
Emmonak Sacred Heart Catholic Church Pastoral Parish Council Chairman, (907) 949-1011.

To assist with offsetting heating fuel costs, call Emmonak Corporation, (907) 949-1129/1315/1411

For distribution of food, contact the tribal council:
Emmanok Tribal Council
P.O. Box 126
Emmanok, AK 99581
(907) 949-1720

You can also donate to Dennis Zaki to fly him there so he can cover the story; anything beyond the cost of the trip will go to the emergency relief.

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