I received a very thought provoking e-mail to my column about going back to Barrow. It’s not a perfect world and I didn’t mean my column to imply that it was some kind of utopia. But my belief is that people in the bush are fighting for their lives in ways we can barely imagine because we live in the same culture we were raised in and can’t begin to understand what it’s like to try and straddle both worlds.
Anyhow, this was my response to the e-mail. I think the writer had some good points about the problems in the bush but I think you miss the bigger picture when you don’t stay in a community long enough to really get to know it and its struggles to cope with modern life.
Thanks for expressing your feelings. I fully appreciate what you’re saying. Life in the bush is not a living myth. It’s real life being led in real time and some really horrible things are happening. But I think you need to live in the Bush long enough to become at least a little integrated into the community before you can appreciate what that community is facing and the honest efforts it’s making to overcome its problems. Barrow is hardly perfect. I work as a GAL with the court system there with abused and neglected kids and can tell you stories that would raise the hair on your neck. On the other hand, I know wonderful families there who are working hard to make sense of the two worlds they’ve inherited and to make it work for their children.
Yes, kids’ diets can be horrifying since non-native food was introduced. On the other hand, I sit here in Anchorage and read articles about vending machines in our schools that dispense pure sugar. You would think there would be a unified outcry against them. You’d be wrong.
I see kids here eating pizza or McDonald’s for dinner 5 out of 7 nights a week because their parents work and don’t have time to cook. Their diet is no more nor less healthy than in some bush villages. We non-natives just seem to feel obligated to make a lot more noise about a problem without ever really doing anything about it. The Alaska Native tends to be more silent and doesn’t make a great noise about a pretend solution for a problem. The bad diets kids eat cuts across all racial and geographic lines in this state.
As for the Ilisagvik College, it is now fully accredited and has a new president who is making it work as it has never worked before. It is now a Microsoft accredited training center, can award AA degrees and has a healthy student body that is interested in getting an education.
The bush may not be perfect. There are still lots of problems. But local people are working hard to address those problems. They may not have an instant answer or solution, but they will keep trying. People who just drop in on them for a season or two and then leave and pronounce the situation hopeless are people who have no sense of the rhythms of history and just how long some processes take.