While Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been telling Esquire Magazine that "Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me," Alaska’s bloggers are trying to mobilize people around the United States and elsewhere to come to the aid of the Lower Yukon community of Emmonak. In Emmonak, people are having to flip coins to decide, "food or fuel."
Writing Raven, the young Tlingit activist at Alaska Real, has been writing about rural Alaska communities, as they face the most severe Alaskan winter in years. The severity varies from village to village. Some had bountiful fishing harvests last summer. More had dismal seasons. Most had to buy their winter’s heating and coooking fuels in July and August, when national fuel prices were at record levels. Alaska’s fuel prices are higher in Anchorage than almost anywhere in the lower 48. Fuel prices in rural Alaska can be three times higher than Anchorage.
Just this week a new story broke out of Emmonak. It is a small Yupik town on one of the mouths of the Yukon River. Their fishing season was one of the worst on record. Here are descriptions of the current situation there, as described in letters published in this week’s Bristol Bay Times:
P. J.: Widower and provider of five children. As of December 31, 2008, his food stamps have been cut off. He debates between buying heating fuel or food. His kids have to eat. He has to keep his kids warm at night during these very cold winter days. He is having hard time getting heating fuel and is piled up on bills, rent, water/sewer. He is behind in payments.
J. & W. M.: Family of seven. Husband, 57, provides family with his disability checks. Unable to work due to his health. Needs all the help in keeping house warm and to have enough food for the young children.
C. & J. A.: Middle aged couple, family of 5. Needs heating fuel and had his unemployment benefits denied. No more energy assistance. Having to buy heating fuel over food and sacrificing payments of electric and city water sewer to get food.
There are many more, similar descriptions from the community. Community leader, Nicholas Tucker, interviewed yesterday on Alaska Public Radio, and today, on Anchorage’s KUDO radio, describes a desperate situation that the Governor’s office refuses to deal with.
Governor Sarah Palin has left the office of Rural Advisor vacant since early October. There isn’t an interim person. Attorney General Talis Colberg is supposed to be handling the slack, but his office hasn’t returned any of my calls.
I called the governor’s Juneau office today, to find out how far along the job search is going, and whether there is somebody running the Rural Advisor job in the interim. After playing phone tag with two of the governor’s second or third echelon assistants, I was finally dealt with by a Sharon. She is the assistant of Randy Ruaro, who is handling coordination of the Rural Advisor hire.
Sharon couldn’t tell me how far along the process is. She did say that they hope to find somebody top fill the post soon, perhaps even in a month, but possibly not. She didn’t know how many more people would be able to apply for the post, or whether there is an admission deadline for applicants.
Meanwhile, Gov. Palin is using funds not being paid out for the rural Advisor post and several others that used to support village and Native infrastructure to increase staffing of her Anchorage office. The new positions are largely working on the rapidly growing public relations aspects of her job.
It may be Alaska’s fastest growing industry.
We’re hoping to send Dennis Zaki to Emmonak tomorrow, to get images and print content back to Alaska’s bloggers, and to other interested parties. Here’s what Dennis wrote to me about an hour ago, as he prepares to leave on the morning plane:
You can pass this on. All donations above the cost of the flights out to Emmonak will be donated to the people of the village. You can tell people to donate to that PayPal account and I will hand deliver a check to them… I’m pushing ABC News in New York, CNN, the BBC, and FOX to get some coverage. They want to see something first before they report about it. Right now it’s just talk. Video of bare cupboards will tell the story and get a lot more donations for the Bush. It’s not just Emmonak that’s in trouble. I’m going to try to go through Nome first, better visibility because the lower 48 has heard of Nome. DZ
I hope to have a post up here Thursday at firedoglake about the best ways to help the folks in Emmonak without any administrative waste or rip-offs. Also, I’ll be posting a set of links to articles about this situation at Progressive Alaska at least once per day through the rest of this week and beyond. So, don’t donate yet, unless you know more than I do.
Alaska blogs helping: