Alaska News

Enviros sound the alarm on ANWR

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-27 16:11
A pond on ANWR coastal plain. The fate of the plain, also called the 1002 area, has been in dispute for 40 years. (Photo: USFWS)

Environmentalists are warning that the Republican plan to cut taxes could include a move that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

A draft of the Senate budget plan for 2018 is likely to emerge next week. No one expects the document to mention the Arctic Refuge by name. Lydia Weiss of The Wilderness Society said she’s concerned it will include vague instructions to the Senate Energy Committee to find a billion dollars or more in revenues.

“There is no doubt that that is an invitation to Sen. Murkowski to attach an Arctic Refuge drilling rider,” Weiss told reporters Wednesday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski chairs the energy committee. Opening the refuge to drilling is a top priority for her, as it’s been for Alaska’s congressional delegation for 40 years.

Neither her office nor Sen. Dan Sullivan’s answered questions about the strategy Wednesday. Murkowski had little to say about it, according to reporters who caught up with her.

“I have heard rumors from many of you, but I have not heard that anything has been confirmed,” Murkowski says on ANWR in Senate FY18 budget.

— Jeremy Dillon (@jeremydillonCQ) September 27, 2017

Weiss and other environmentalists say ANWR doesn’t belong in the budget.

“Drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is wildly unpopular, and always has been across the Lower 48,” Weiss said. “This is America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is public, federal land. It belongs to all of us.”

But ANWR could hold a lot of oil, and the idea of exploring it has a lot of support in Alaska.

The Trump administration has revived hopes for development. The Interior Department is trying to allow 3-D seismic work on the coastal plain.

If ANWR is included in the 2018 budget reconciliation package, it would only need 50 votes to pass in the Senate, because that kind of bill can’t be filibustered.

Several Republican senators oppose ANWR drilling, along with nearly all the Democrats, so passage is not assured.

Categories: Alaska News

2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year nominee: Karen Martin

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-27 16:05
Karen Martin is a 4th grade teacher at Tri-Valley School in Healy. She’s one of the finalists for the 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year award. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week, we’ve been bringing you the voices of this year’s Alaska Teacher of the Year finalists. There are four candidates and the Department of Education will select the winner in October. Karen Martin teaches 4th grade at Denali borough’s Tri Valley School. Martin has been a teacher for 12 years and was a scientist before she became a teacher. She said educational requirements for younger students have become more strenuous.

Listen now

MARTIN:The expectation academically for what children are expected to learn, especially early on, is more rigorous than it was when I was younger. And I think, you know, there’s a shift. It kind of impacts the whole schedule for what a school day might look like for a younger child, or even an older child. I know growing up I had three recesses and now, students in our building generally have one. More is expected of younger children, learning to read earlier, and the rigor of the content. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I think you have to be careful of a balance for a healthy life.

TOWNSEND: So let’s talk about technology a little bit. You’re teaching younger students, so maybe not as challenging as if you were in high school. But still, technology is everywhere. How does that change what you’re doing in a classroom?

MARTIN: I think there’s a lot of new skills that we need to be mindful of helping young students develop in this age of technology. And I think there’s a lot of value that comes from integrating technology in the classroom in terms of not only how — the skill set to help them use information on the internet or in other resources wisely or critically. But also, it’s a world that they understand that I don’t necessarily, and things that they learn and things that they communicate through technology that I can’t shy away from just because its not my world. Like, I think it’s important to help them develop them into that because that is their future.

TOWNSEND: Is it harder to get young children to pay attention for long periods of time? Do you see a change in attention span with students now?

MARTIN: I guess not necessarily, not necessarily because some of our most important work is to help kids engage with whatever content, whatever information, whatever learning that we are designing for them. And that that’s part of our responsibility is to help them be engaged with that and help them take ownership of that learning and be responsible for their learning. And kids, it’s fascinating to me, if you give them a choice sometimes doing something with their hands or doing something with technology, they will choose to do something with their hands.

TOWNSEND: One of the things that you said was, “I trust my students to be leaders in their own learning.” What did you mean by that?

MARTIN: As a cohort of colleagues, we’ve been looking at how do we really allow students to do their own learning? How do we allow them and when do we recognize that struggle is okay if it’s productive? You know, do we need to sell in and as teachers, we feel like that’s what we do. We need to — we’re nurturers, we come in, we have the answer, we give it to them. But really, what we do is we take away the learning. And so, part of it is being more mindful of when they’re working on their own. When they’re working together, allowing them to do the learning, to do the work of learning. And then the other part is, is I try to — every opportunity I can if there’s a learning experience or a learning intention, to create an opportunity where the students together can find the solution to a problem. I don’t — and like, the converse of that would look like I stand at the board and I show them the algorithm or I show them the solution. Instead, I’ll give them the problem and see if they come up with a strategy, and when they do, because they do, then allow them to come up and teach each other.

(From left to right) Kent Fielding, Eric Rush, Ben Walker and Karen Martin are the finalists for the 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year award. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)
Categories: Alaska News

2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year nominee: Karen Martin

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-27 16:05
Karen Martin is a 4th grade teacher at Tri-Valley School in Healy. She’s one of the finalists for the 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year award. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week, we’ve been bringing you the voices of this year’s Alaska Teacher of the Year finalists. There are four candidates and the Department of Education will select the winner in October. Karen Martin teaches 4th grade at Denali borough’s Tri Valley School. Martin has been a teacher for 12 years and was a scientist before she became a teacher. She said educational requirements for younger students have become more strenuous.

MARTIN:The expectation academically for what children are expected to learn, especially early on, is more rigorous than it was when I was younger. And I think, you know, there’s a shift. It kind of impacts the whole schedule for what a school day might look like for a younger child, or even an older child. I know growing up I had three recesses and now, students in our building generally have one. More is expected of younger children, learning to read earlier, and the rigor of the content. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I think you have to be careful of a balance for a healthy life.

TOWNSEND: So let’s talk about technology a little bit. You’re teaching younger students, so maybe not as challenging as if you were in high school. But still, technology is everywhere. How does that change what you’re doing in a classroom?

MARTIN: I think there’s a lot of new skills that we need to be mindful of helping young students develop in this age of technology. And I think there’s a lot of value that comes from integrating technology in the classroom in terms of not only how — the skill set to help them use information on the internet or in other resources wisely or critically. But also, it’s a world that they understand that I don’t necessarily, and things that they learn and things that they communicate through technology that I can’t shy away from just because its not my world. Like, I think it’s important to help them develop them into that because that is their future.

TOWNSEND: Is it harder to get young children to pay attention for long periods of time? Do you see a change in attention span with students now?

MARTIN: I guess not necessarily, not necessarily because some of our most important work is to help kids engage with whatever content, whatever information, whatever learning that we are designing for them. And that that’s part of our responsibility is to help them be engaged with that and help them take ownership of that learning and be responsible for their learning. And kids, it’s fascinating to me, if you give them a choice sometimes doing something with their hands or doing something with technology, they will choose to do something with their hands.

TOWNSEND: One of the things that you said was, “I trust my students to be leaders in their own learning.” What did you mean by that?

MARTIN: As a cohort of colleagues, we’ve been looking at how do we really allow students to do their own learning? How do we allow them and when do we recognize that struggle is okay if it’s productive? You know, do we need to sell in and as teachers, we feel like that’s what we do. We need to — we’re nurturers, we come in, we have the answer, we give it to them. But really, what we do is we take away the learning. And so, part of it is being more mindful of when they’re working on their own. When they’re working together, allowing them to do the learning, to do the work of learning. And then the other part is, is I try to — every opportunity I can if there’s a learning experience or a learning intention, to create an opportunity where the students together can find the solution to a problem. I don’t — and like, the converse of that would look like I stand at the board and I show them the algorithm or I show them the solution. Instead, I’ll give them the problem and see if they come up with a strategy, and when they do, because they do, then allow them to come up and teach each other.

Categories: Alaska News

Ferry plan calls for smaller ships, public management

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-27 15:59
Crew members wrap up a safety drill on the deck of the ferry Malaspina during a sailing from Juneau to Haines Sept. 18, 2017. The ferry system faces changes to its fleet as part of a larger reform plan. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A plan to reform the Alaska Marine Highway System calls for replacing some ferries with smaller, more efficient vessels. Backers want it to be run by an independent corporation and negotiate its own labor contracts.

Listen now

Many Alaska Marine Highway ferries are showing signs of age. Fares are rising and sailings have become less frequent. Most importantly, funding is dropping, pointing to what could be dark times ahead.

“We can continue to admire the problem, and the resulting report, like has happened so many times in the past. Or, we can do something,” Marc Luiken said. He’s the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, which includes the ferry system.

And the report Luiken is talking about? It’s a near-final draft of a plan to change how the marine highway is managed, and in some cases, operated.

Jim Calvin of the McDowelll Group speaks as part of a panel on reforming the Alaska Marine Highway System Sept. 19, 2017, in Haines. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“I strongly suggest crafting legislation necessary to move this effort forward and create a public corporation that will take over governance of the system,” Luiken said at the Southeast Conference annual meeting Sept. 20 in Haines.

The report was produced by consultants for a statewide committee planning for the ferry system’s future. It’s a cooperative effort involving government and the Southeast Conference. The regional development organization formed in the 1950s to lobby for the ferry system’s creation.

The new corporation would continue to receive state and federal funds. But backers say it would provide a buffer between the ferry system and shifting political priorities. Susan Bell is a former state commerce commissioner who is with the McDowell Group, which contributed to the report.

“It’s not a complete divorce from state government,” Bell said during a panel discussion and presentation at the Southeast Conference meeting. “There’s a lot of ways that the public has accountability. There’s a lot of ways that other agencies, like departments of transportation, law and administration, can continue to support it.”

The corporation would have its own staff, overseen by a seven-member board appointed by the governor. It’s modeled, in part, on the Alaska Railroad Corp.

Former Transportation Commissioner Mark Hickey was part of the effort to create that corporation in the mid-1980s.

“If I were in charge of the world, I would do a bill where I’m as far away from all the rest of state government as I possibly can be. Have your own lawyers, do your own labor negotiations. You can’t do that completely; you’re going to be tied. But generally, push to have freedom and autonomy,” Hickey said.

An onboard diagram illustrates what’s on the ferry Matanuska’s Bridge Deck on Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Another major change is how and when the system would be funded.

Jim Calvin is senior economic analyst for the McDowell Group.

“The reason that you want this sort of advanced planning opportunity, the forward funding that can support this advance planning, is so people can plan accordingly. Particularly businesses that need long lead times to plan their business operations around the service that the marine highway can provide,” Calvin said.

The state Legislature would have to agree for the plan to work. That’s been a difficult battle for the education budget, which has had much broader support.

“Forward funding at a year in advance, in this budgetary climate? I think it’s a bridge too far,” Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican, said.

Stedman said the whole reform plan could leave the system open to deeper budget cuts. He called forward funding “a novel idea.” But he pointed to a recently identified budget switch that could leave the ferries without operational funds this spring.

“I think you’re on the wrong track. I think the forward funding issue should be to try to get it funded through June of this year,” Stedman said.

Rep. Sam Kito, a Juneau Democrat, had a different take. He said he’ll introduce legislation to forward fund the system.

A third significant operational change is labor relations.

Bell said the corporation would take over contract negotiations. That would allow it to change work rules, which could reduce staff and bring operational savings.

“We think that the system would benefit from a more direct relationship between marine highway governance and the unions. We believe not only the change to the corporate structure, but direct negotiations will enhance that,” Bell said.

The report said wages and benefits make up about 60 percent of the ferry system’s costs. It recommends moving toward smaller and simpler ships, with fewer staff.

“We’re not going to be helping the workforce,” Capt. Joan Sizemore, a marine pilot working in Southeast Alaska and a former ferry employee, said. “It seems to be that the impetus right now is to cut costs by removing people. And if you have fewer people working on those ferries, that’s fewer dollars spent in Alaska.”

The ferry reform plan calls for the fleet to remain at nine ships, the current number of active vessels.

But two large ferries, the Columbia and the Kennicott, would be gone. The same could happen to the fast ferries.

Capt. John Reeves of the Elliott Bay Design Group said several ships could be phased out and replaced.

“Some of the shorter routes, you don’t necessarily need to have a crew on board 24/7 because the vessel is just making shorter runs. So we can have a different vessel (that) has a smaller crew, it’s cheaper to operate, but still provides the same service to the communities,” Reeves said.

The ferry reform report also includes what it calls a minimal service model.

That would reduce the fleet from nine to seven ships and the annual weeks of service by about 20 percent.

The committee overseeing the ferry reform project is gathering public comments through Oct. 6.

More information is available at Alaska Marine Highway Reform Project website.

Categories: Alaska News

Ferry plan calls for smaller ships, public management

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-27 15:59
Crew members wrap up a safety drill on the deck of the ferry Malaspina during a sailing from Juneau to Haines Sept. 18, 2017. The ferry system faces changes to its fleet as part of a larger reform plan. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A plan to reform the Alaska Marine Highway System calls for replacing some ferries with smaller, more efficient vessels. Backers want it to be run by an independent corporation and negotiate its own labor contracts.

Many Alaska Marine Highway ferries are showing signs of age. Fares are rising and sailings have become less frequent. Most importantly, funding is dropping, pointing to what could be dark times ahead.

“We can continue to admire the problem, and the resulting report, like has happened so many times in the past. Or, we can do something,” Marc Luiken said. He’s the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, which includes the ferry system.

And the report Luiken is talking about? It’s a near-final draft of a plan to change how the marine highway is managed, and in some cases, operated.

Jim Calvin of the McDowelll Group speaks as part of a panel on reforming the Alaska Marine Highway System Sept. 19, 2017, in Haines. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“I strongly suggest crafting legislation necessary to move this effort forward and create a public corporation that will take over governance of the system,” Luiken said at the Southeast Conference annual meeting Sept. 20 in Haines.

The report was produced by consultants for a statewide committee planning for the ferry system’s future. It’s a cooperative effort involving government and the Southeast Conference. The regional development organization formed in the 1950s to lobby for the ferry system’s creation.

The new corporation would continue to receive state and federal funds. But backers say it would provide a buffer between the ferry system and shifting political priorities. Susan Bell is a former state commerce commissioner who is with the McDowell Group, which contributed to the report.

“It’s not a complete divorce from state government,” Bell said during a panel discussion and presentation at the Southeast Conference meeting. “There’s a lot of ways that the public has accountability. There’s a lot of ways that other agencies, like departments of transportation, law and administration, can continue to support it.”

The corporation would have its own staff, overseen by a seven-member board appointed by the governor. It’s modeled, in part, on the Alaska Railroad Corp.

Former Transportation Commissioner Mark Hickey was part of the effort to create that corporation in the mid-1980s.

“If I were in charge of the world, I would do a bill where I’m as far away from all the rest of state government as I possibly can be. Have your own lawyers, do your own labor negotiations. You can’t do that completely; you’re going to be tied. But generally, push to have freedom and autonomy,” Hickey said.

An onboard diagram illustrates what’s on the ferry Matanuska’s Bridge Deck on Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Another major change is how and when the system would be funded.

Jim Calvin is senior economic analyst for the McDowell Group.

“The reason that you want this sort of advanced planning opportunity, the forward funding that can support this advance planning, is so people can plan accordingly. Particularly businesses that need long lead times to plan their business operations around the service that the marine highway can provide,” Calvin said.

The state Legislature would have to agree for the plan to work. That’s been a difficult battle for the education budget, which has had much broader support.

“Forward funding at a year in advance, in this budgetary climate? I think it’s a bridge too far,” Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican, said.

Stedman said the whole reform plan could leave the system open to deeper budget cuts. He called forward funding “a novel idea.” But he pointed to a recently identified budget switch that could leave the ferries without operational funds this spring.

“I think you’re on the wrong track. I think the forward funding issue should be to try to get it funded through June of this year,” Stedman said.

Rep. Sam Kito, a Juneau Democrat, had a different take. He said he’ll introduce legislation to forward fund the system.

A third significant operational change is labor relations.

Bell said the corporation would take over contract negotiations. That would allow it to change work rules, which could reduce staff and bring operational savings.

“We think that the system would benefit from a more direct relationship between marine highway governance and the unions. We believe not only the change to the corporate structure, but direct negotiations will enhance that,” Bell said.

The report said wages and benefits make up about 60 percent of the ferry system’s costs. It recommends moving toward smaller and simpler ships, with fewer staff.

“We’re not going to be helping the workforce,” Capt. Joan Sizemore, a marine pilot working in Southeast Alaska and a former ferry employee, said. “It seems to be that the impetus right now is to cut costs by removing people. And if you have fewer people working on those ferries, that’s fewer dollars spent in Alaska.”

The ferry reform plan calls for the fleet to remain at nine ships, the current number of active vessels.

But two large ferries, the Columbia and the Kennicott, would be gone. The same could happen to the fast ferries.

Capt. John Reeves of the Elliott Bay Design Group said several ships could be phased out and replaced.

“Some of the shorter routes, you don’t necessarily need to have a crew on board 24/7 because the vessel is just making shorter runs. So we can have a different vessel (that) has a smaller crew, it’s cheaper to operate, but still provides the same service to the communities,” Reeves said.

The ferry reform report also includes what it calls a minimal service model.

That would reduce the fleet from nine to seven ships and the annual weeks of service by about 20 percent.

The committee overseeing the ferry reform project is gathering public comments through Oct. 6.

More information is available at Alaska Marine Highway Reform Project website.

Categories: Alaska News

Painting an Oasis in prison

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-27 08:00
Inmates painted a room in the mental health housing unit at Spring Creek Correctional Center called the Oasis. It helps people calm down and regroup. (Photo courtesy of DOC.)

The Department of Corrections is the largest mental health care provider in the state, and the administrators at Spring Creek Correctional Center want to make it one of the most effective, too. They’re treating inmates who have mental illnesses with new innovations — porches and paintings.

During his three years at Spring Creek, inmate Kaleb Summitt has been in and out of segregation because of fighting.

“And now I’ve been out of seg for seven months. My new record!” he said excitedly one afternoon.

Summitt said it used to be really hard to rejoin the prison community every time he left segregation, where he was locked in a cell for 23 hours per day.

“Cause you’re locked down and you’re nervous being around people,” he said.

Interacting with other people was already a challenge because he has bipolar schizoaffective disorder and his medications weren’t adjusted correctly.

Porches at the Spring Creek Correctional Center that help inmates transition out of segregation. (Photo courtesy of DOC.)

But this time when he left, instead of going straight from segregation to open housing, called a mod, he first transitioned to a room with an indoor “porch” in the mental health mod.

In Spring Creek, the cells line the edges of one main room. The porches are like large cages around the doors of the cells. They provide a space for inmates to leave their rooms, walk around, and talk to people, but they can’t just wander freely in the communal area or have much physical interaction. Inmates are allowed out of their cells and onto the porches for at least three hours a day and eventually more.

It may not sound like much, but Summit said it gave him time to adjust to social interactions. “It’s a lot better to interact you with the mod, not just throw you out the door.”

It also gave him the chance to talk to the mental health mod mentors. The mentors are inmates from the general population who live in the mental health mod and are paid to provide guidance and support. It’s a pilot program for Spring Creek. Originally three people filled the role, but two were dismissed because they caused problems.

One mentor, Kent Matte said he understands what people leaving segregation are going through – he once spent three years in solitary confinement. Every time he left his cell he was fully restrained with two guards.

Kent Matte is an inmate mentor in the mental health housing unit at Spring Creek Correctional Center. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

“I’m an outgoing person and it affected me enough to where I thought I was starting to get a little crazy in my head,” he recalled.

When Matte speaks with people on their porches and other inmates in the mod, he tries to be a role model and help them learn to trust people.
“And the best way to reach them is to talk to them. Communicate like they’re real. Not like they’re below you,” he said. “Or, ‘You got something wrong with you, I can’t be around you.’”

Summitt said it helps him to talk to Matte. He tells Matte about problems that he doesn’t feel comfortable reporting to staff. But sometimes just chatting with Matte or even the mental health counselors isn’t enough to calm him down. Then he turns to another innovation at the prison – the Oasis.

“I love that room,” Summitt said. “It is awesome. It takes me out of the zone, like I’m not in jail anymore for a while.”

The Oasis is a regular cell with no bunks or toilet. The walls are painted with brightly colored murals of beach scenes. Waves lap onto sandy shores next to dense, flower-filled bamboo forests. Inmates can take a sound machine with them and sit on soft couches.

When Summitt said when he leaves the room he feels “refreshed. Ready to try again. I get stressed out sometimes so I just press a button – even at night- and the officer will take me over.”

Spring Creek Superintendent Bill Lapinskas poses with one of the murals in the segregation housing at the Correctional Center. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

Superintendent Bill Lapinskas decided to create the Oasis as an experiment. The institution didn’t have money to do anything fancy but he wanted to have a place where prisoners could just be people for a while. A team of inmate artists worked together to paint the room.

“This is what we could do here, right now to see if we could enact a change in behaviors and in mindsets,” he said. “Just give them something different than prison.”

A similar project is being tested for inmates in segregation at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, but it includes a large screen TV showing nature videos in a room painted green.

Spring Creek Inmates have painted murals in other parts of the prison as well, making some areas look like living rooms or storefronts. The intake area for seg has a large painting of a bird and flower that helps calm people down. The porches, the paintings, and the mentors are all part of Lapinskas’ larger mission for Spring Creek: to imbue the institution with more humanity and try to help the inmates, not just punish them.

Want to hear more Solutions Desk stories? Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or NPR.

Have ideas to share? Text ‘hello’ to 907-885-6055 and join the conversation.

Categories: Alaska News

Painting an Oasis in prison

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-09-27 08:00
Inmates painted a room in the mental health housing unit at Spring Creek Correctional Center called the Oasis. It helps people calm down and regroup. (Photo courtesy of DOC.)

The Department of Corrections is the largest mental health care provider in the state, and the administrators at Spring Creek Correctional Center want to make it one of the most effective, too. They’re treating inmates who have mental illnesses with new innovations — porches and paintings.

During his three years at Spring Creek, inmate Kaleb Summitt has been in and out of segregation because of fighting.

“And now I’ve been out of seg for seven months. My new record!” he said excitedly one afternoon.

Summitt said it used to be really hard to rejoin the prison community every time he left segregation, where he was locked in a cell for 23 hours per day.

“Cause you’re locked down and you’re nervous being around people,” he said.

Interacting with other people was already a challenge because he has bipolar schizoaffective disorder and his medications weren’t adjusted correctly.

Porches at the Spring Creek Correctional Center that help inmates transition out of segregation. (Photo courtesy of DOC.)

But this time when he left, instead of going straight from segregation to open housing, called a mod, he first transitioned to a room with an indoor “porch” in the mental health mod.

In Spring Creek, the cells line the edges of one main room. The porches are like large cages around the doors of the cells. They provide a space for inmates to leave their rooms, walk around, and talk to people, but they can’t just wander freely in the communal area or have much physical interaction. Inmates are allowed out of their cells and onto the porches for at least three hours a day and eventually more.

It may not sound like much, but Summit said it gave him time to adjust to social interactions. “It’s a lot better to interact you with the mod, not just throw you out the door.”

It also gave him the chance to talk to the mental health mod mentors. The mentors are inmates from the general population who live in the mental health mod and are paid to provide guidance and support. It’s a pilot program for Spring Creek. Originally three people filled the role, but two were dismissed because they caused problems.

One mentor, Kent Matte said he understands what people leaving segregation are going through – he once spent three years in solitary confinement. Every time he left his cell he was fully restrained with two guards.

Kent Matte is an inmate mentor in the mental health housing unit at Spring Creek Correctional Center. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

“I’m an outgoing person and it affected me enough to where I thought I was starting to get a little crazy in my head,” he recalled.

When Matte speaks with people on their porches and other inmates in the mod, he tries to be a role model and help them learn to trust people.
“And the best way to reach them is to talk to them. Communicate like they’re real. Not like they’re below you,” he said. “Or, ‘You got something wrong with you, I can’t be around you.’”

Summitt said it helps him to talk to Matte. He tells Matte about problems that he doesn’t feel comfortable reporting to staff. But sometimes just chatting with Matte or even the mental health counselors isn’t enough to calm him down. Then he turns to another innovation at the prison – the Oasis.

“I love that room,” Summitt said. “It is awesome. It takes me out of the zone, like I’m not in jail anymore for a while.”

The Oasis is a regular cell with no bunks or toilet. The walls are painted with brightly colored murals of beach scenes. Waves lap onto sandy shores next to dense, flower-filled bamboo forests. Inmates can take a sound machine with them and sit on soft couches.

When Summitt said when he leaves the room he feels “refreshed. Ready to try again. I get stressed out sometimes so I just press a button – even at night- and the officer will take me over.”

Spring Creek Superintendent Bill Lapinskas poses with one of the murals in the segregation housing at the Correctional Center. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

Superintendent Bill Lapinskas decided to create the Oasis as an experiment. The institution didn’t have money to do anything fancy but he wanted to have a place where prisoners could just be people for a while. A team of inmate artists worked together to paint the room.

“This is what we could do here, right now to see if we could enact a change in behaviors and in mindsets,” he said. “Just give them something different than prison.”

A similar project is being tested for inmates in segregation at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, but it includes a large screen TV showing nature videos in a room painted green.

Spring Creek Inmates have painted murals in other parts of the prison as well, making some areas look like living rooms or storefronts. The intake area for seg has a large painting of a bird and flower that helps calm people down. The porches, the paintings, and the mentors are all part of Lapinskas’ larger mission for Spring Creek: to imbue the institution with more humanity and try to help the inmates, not just punish them.

Want to hear more Solutions Desk stories? Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or NPR.

Have ideas to share? Text ‘hello’ to 907-885-6055 and join the conversation.

Categories: Alaska News

With an Anchorage audience, look into whale’s death begins

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 17:40
Biologists and veterinarians work Tuesday to cut blubber off a young humpback whale that washed up on a popular beach in Anchorage. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media photo)

The extraordinary sight of a 30-foot long dead humpback whale that washed up on a beach area in Anchorage has drawn dozens of onlookers to gawk at its carcass.

Listen now

Among them Tuesday were veterinarians working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who got a much closer look as they began a necropsy in the hopes of figuring out how the young whale died.

It’s a short walk from Kincaid Park to the dead whale, which, for now, sits in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. NOAA biologist Barbara Mahoney was happy about the easy access.

“It’s affordable. There’s no helicopters involved, we can have a big crew here, so this is actually a great opportunity,” Mahoney said. “And it’s a lovely day!”

Mahoney and her crew, which included veterinarians, hauled coolers, knives and other gear down a hill to the stinking, rotten whale carcass. When they arrived, multiple people, many with small children, were on the beach looking at the whale, which had been cordoned off with plastic orange fencing.

NOAA had issued a warning the day before, saying people and pets should stay away from the whale. That’s in part because of the risk of disease — they don’t know yet how it died, and it could be infectious. There’s also the risk that the smell of hundreds of pounds of whale flesh will attract bears and cause possible interactions between bears and humans.

Despite the warning, NOAA Fisheries law enforcement officer Noah Meisenheimer said he was not surprised to see so many people around the whale, which could help keep bears away.

“Bear activity’s going to be limited,” Meisenheimer said. “I mean there might be some bears that may come out at night, but during the daytime with this many people, I doubt they’ll be making a showing.”

With all their gear strategically laid out in a semi-circle around the whale carcass, veterinarian Kathy Burek gave a safety briefing to the team conducting the necropsy. That included warnings to avoid slipping on blood or blubber and staying hydrated.

Also, there’s the smell.

“Some people, depending on if they’re not used to being around things that smell bad, we have had people pass out, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but just kind of be aware of that,” Burek said. “If things are kind of closing in on you, just go ahead and sit down.”

After Burek shared a few more tips and tricks, the team set to work, first measuring the whale, then using long knives and hooks to cut and peel away the blubber. That allows them to get at internal organs like the stomach and bladder, to conduct further sampling.

Burek said they hope to examine the whale’s ear wax, which builds up annually like the rings of a tree and can tell them the whale’s age. For now they are describing it as a yearling.

Mahoney, the NOAA biologist, said there are no obvious signs of broken bones that might indicate the whale was struck by a ship.

The biologists don’t know when they’ll have answers or if they can determine the precise cause of the whale’s death, because of the decomposition.

Categories: Alaska News

With an Anchorage audience, look into whale’s death begins

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 17:40
Biologists and veterinarians work Tuesday to cut blubber off a young humpback whale that washed up on a popular beach in Anchorage. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media photo)

The extraordinary sight of a 30-foot long dead humpback whale that washed up on a beach area in Anchorage has drawn dozens of onlookers to gawk at its carcass.

Listen now

Among them Tuesday were veterinarians working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who got a much closer look as they began a necropsy in the hopes of figuring out how the young whale died.

It’s a short walk from Kincaid Park to the dead whale, which, for now, sits in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. NOAA biologist Barbara Mahoney was happy about the easy access.

“It’s affordable. There’s no helicopters involved, we can have a big crew here, so this is actually a great opportunity,” Mahoney said. “And it’s a lovely day!”

Mahoney and her crew, which included veterinarians, hauled coolers, knives and other gear down a hill to the stinking, rotten whale carcass. When they arrived, multiple people, many with small children, were on the beach looking at the whale, which had been cordoned off with plastic orange fencing.

NOAA had issued a warning the day before, saying people and pets should stay away from the whale. That’s in part because of the risk of disease — they don’t know yet how it died, and it could be infectious. There’s also the risk that the smell of hundreds of pounds of whale flesh will attract bears and cause possible interactions between bears and humans.

Despite the warning, NOAA Fisheries law enforcement officer Noah Meisenheimer said he was not surprised to see so many people around the whale, which could help keep bears away.

“Bear activity’s going to be limited,” Meisenheimer said. “I mean there might be some bears that may come out at night, but during the daytime with this many people, I doubt they’ll be making a showing.”

With all their gear strategically laid out in a semi-circle around the whale carcass, veterinarian Kathy Burek gave a safety briefing to the team conducting the necropsy. That included warnings to avoid slipping on blood or blubber and staying hydrated.

Also, there’s the smell.

“Some people, depending on if they’re not used to being around things that smell bad, we have had people pass out, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but just kind of be aware of that,” Burek said. “If things are kind of closing in on you, just go ahead and sit down.”

After Burek shared a few more tips and tricks, the team set to work, first measuring the whale, then using long knives and hooks to cut and peel away the blubber. That allows them to get at internal organs like the stomach and bladder, to conduct further sampling.

Burek said they hope to examine the whale’s ear wax, which builds up annually like the rings of a tree and can tell them the whale’s age. For now they are describing it as a yearling.

Mahoney, the NOAA biologist, said there are no obvious signs of broken bones that might indicate the whale was struck by a ship.

The biologists don’t know when they’ll have answers or if they can determine the precise cause of the whale’s death, because of the decomposition.

Categories: Alaska News

Even with repeal bill dead, Murkowski still not a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 17:05
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski ,earlier this year. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The latest Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday cancelled a planned vote after too many Republicans declared they would not support the Graham-Cassidy bill.

But, as of Tuesday evening, Sen. Lisa Murkowski still was not clearly saying how she would have voted on Graham-Cassidy.

Listen now

“Everybody wants to know, ‘What would you have done?'” Murkowski told reporters. “You know what?  The real question is, ‘What do we do?’ What do we do now?”

This week was the deadline to pass the health care bill as part of a budget reconciliation bill, which would have required just 50 Senate votes. Under Senate rules, the usual threshold for important bills is 60. Murkowski has been seen as pivotal to the fate of Graham-Cassidy, because she helped block a repeal bill this summer.

Now that the calendar pressure is off, Murkowski said the Senate should hold bipartisan hearings and construct a health care bill that can be thoroughly studied. She said she likes the central idea of Graham-Cassidy, that states should have more flexibility and control over their health care dollars.

“Can I get behind an idea like that? Yeah. But is the devil in the detail? Yes,” Murkowski said. “And so were we there yet? No.”

Apart from money, Murkowski said she wasn’t convinced the bill had adequate protection for people with pre-existing conditions or a strong ban on the return of lifetime limits for insurance claims.

The bill sponsors tried to sweeten the bill for Alaska, with measure after measure that would have sent money to the state. Murkowski said Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., dug into the Alaska particulars and learned how expensive it is to deliver health care in the state. Murkowski said their concern seemed genuine, beyond just courting her vote. She said they may become powerful allies in the effort to lower Alaska’s health care costs.

“If you can get people intrigued with your state and then willing to help, that makes all the difference in the world,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan didn’t declare a position on Graham-Cassidy, either. He issued a statement saying he was convinced the bill would have brought more funds to Alaska. His office said one provision in the last draft, an increase to Alaska’s Medicaid matching rate, could have brought the state as much as $4 billion over 10 years. Sullivan called the bill “compelling” but said senators ran out of time to study the effects.

Categories: Alaska News

Even with repeal bill dead, Murkowski still not a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 17:05
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski ,earlier this year. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The latest Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday cancelled a planned vote after too many Republicans declared they would not support the Graham-Cassidy bill.

But, as of Tuesday evening, Sen. Lisa Murkowski still was not clearly saying how she would have voted on Graham-Cassidy.

“Everybody wants to know, ‘What would you have done?'” Murkowski told reporters. “You know what?  The real question is, ‘What do we do?’ What do we do now?”

This week was the deadline to pass the health care bill as part of a budget reconciliation bill, which would have required just 50 Senate votes. Under Senate rules, the usual threshold for important bills is 60. Murkowski has been seen as pivotal to the fate of Graham-Cassidy, because she helped block a repeal bill this summer.

Now that the calendar pressure is off, Murkowski said the Senate should hold bipartisan hearings and construct a health care bill that can be thoroughly studied. She said she likes the central idea of Graham-Cassidy, that states should have more flexibility and control over their health care dollars.

“Can I get behind an idea like that? Yeah. But is the devil in the detail? Yes,” Murkowski said. “And so were we there yet? No.”

Apart from money, Murkowski said she wasn’t convinced the bill had adequate protection for people with pre-existing conditions or a strong ban on the return of lifetime limits for insurance claims.

The bill sponsors tried to sweeten the bill for Alaska, with measure after measure that would have sent money to the state. Murkowski said Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., dug into the Alaska particulars and learned how expensive it is to deliver health care in the state. Murkowski said their concern seemed genuine, beyond just courting her vote. She said they may become powerful allies in the effort to lower Alaska’s health care costs.

“If you can get people intrigued with your state and then willing to help, that makes all the difference in the world,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan didn’t declare a position on Graham-Cassidy, either. He issued a statement saying he was convinced the bill would have brought more funds to Alaska. His office said one provision in the last draft, an increase to Alaska’s Medicaid matching rate, could have brought the state as much as $4 billion over 10 years. Sullivan called the bill “compelling” but said senators ran out of time to study the effects.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Council OKs Stipend, anticipates further legal, financial fallout over contaminated water

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 16:38
Fairbanks City Engineer Jackson Fox says the city has tested more than 160 wells around the city-operated Regional Fire Training Center, and in areas downgradient from the RFTC, for the presence of perflourinated compounds. Many have shown levels of PFCs that exceed the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level, which can harm human health. (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation graphic)

The Fairbanks City Council approved an ordinance Monday that’s intended to help provide drinking water for property owners in an area on the city’s south side who’ve lost the use of their wells due to groundwater contamination. Mayor Jim Matherly said it’s only the first step toward addressing the mounting costs of the contamination problem.

Listen now

The council voted five-to-one to approve an amended ordinance that would provide a $2,500 stipend for two years to help pay water bills for property owners along 30th Avenue near the Regional Fire Training Center, who until recently had used their wells for drinking water.

Councilwoman Valerie Therrien said she voted no because she didn’t believe the ordinance would do enough to compensate those residents fairly for the loss of their drinking water supply.

“$2500 just isn’t enough to me,” Therrien said.

Therrien proposed paying the water bills for property owners who were most affected by the contamination for five years. The other council members rejected that motion over a concern it would cost the city too much, but agreed to her amendment to set the stipend at $2,500 – not up to $2,500.

Councilman Jerry Cleworth said the city had to draw a line somewhere.

“All I can say is it’s a compromise,” Cleworth said, “It probably won’t make very many people happy.”

The ordinance authorizes appropriating a hundred thousand dollars for the stipends. Councilman David Pruhs, who along with June Rogers cosponsored the ordinance, said the city in part modeled the stipend after the system North Pole set up earlier this year to help its residents deal with groundwater contamination caused by a chemical substance that leaked from an oil refinery in that city.

“Their stipend was $2,000 over a two-year period,” Pruhs said, “so we took their stipend and increased it.”

Tests show most of the PFC contamination at the RFTC site stems from a burn pit, where fires were set using petroleum products such as gasoline as an accelerant. Fox said a liner at the base of the pit kept soil underneath relatively clean. But PFC-laden foam sprayed by firefighters to extinguish fires in the pit slopped onto soil around it and migrated into the groundwater.
(ADEC graphic)

City Engineer Jackson Fox told Pruhs that since the Fairbanks officials learned about the contamination last year, the city has paid more than $3 million to survey the problem and clean up around the training facility. That amount also covered the cost of connecting 20 properties with the area water system operated by Golden Heart Utilities, and for providing drinking water to those and another 20 properties in the area that have yet to be hooked up.

“We could be looking at connecting another 25 or so homes next summer,” Fox said.

Fox told the council that each hookup will cost the city $35,000. Pruhs used that figure to estimate the total amount the city will have pay in the coming year to mitigate the problem.

“So we’re looking at basically 65 to 70 homes, not including a water stipend at $35,000, added on to the $3 million that we’ve already spent,” Pruhs said. “So we’re looking at (a total of) $5.5 million.”

Cleworth said that equates to about a mill-and-a-half increase in the city’s property tax. And he said that’s why the council must move quickly to limit payouts and other costs and to recover compensation from the manufacturer of the firefighting foam and other parties.

“We need to get something done by next May,” Cleworth said. “Or else the residents are going to be hit with a mill-and-a-half of property tax increase.”

Therrien asked City Attorney Paul Ewers whether he’s been notified of any legal claims filed against the city over the contamination issue.

“We don’t have any lawsuits that were filed,” Ewers said. “We’ve had basically claims inquiries, and (we’re) just starting those discussions.”

Mayor Jim Matherly told council member the city must talk with officials from other agencies that have used the training center about their possible liability. He said he talked about that with Gov. Bill Walker last week while he was in town.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Council OKs Stipend, anticipates further legal, financial fallout over contaminated water

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 16:38
Fairbanks City Engineer Jackson Fox says the city has tested more than 160 wells around the city-operated Regional Fire Training Center, and in areas downgradient from the RFTC, for the presence of perflourinated compounds. Many have shown levels of PFCs that exceed the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level, which can harm human health. (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation graphic)

The Fairbanks City Council approved an ordinance Monday that’s intended to help provide drinking water for property owners in an area on the city’s south side who’ve lost the use of their wells due to groundwater contamination. Mayor Jim Matherly said it’s only the first step toward addressing the mounting costs of the contamination problem.

The council voted five-to-one to approve an amended ordinance that would provide a $2,500 stipend for two years to help pay water bills for property owners along 30th Avenue near the Regional Fire Training Center, who until recently had used their wells for drinking water.

Councilwoman Valerie Therrien said she voted no because she didn’t believe the ordinance would do enough to compensate those residents fairly for the loss of their drinking water supply.

“$2500 just isn’t enough to me,” Therrien said.

Therrien proposed paying the water bills for property owners who were most affected by the contamination for five years. The other council members rejected that motion over a concern it would cost the city too much, but agreed to her amendment to set the stipend at $2,500 – not up to $2,500.

Councilman Jerry Cleworth said the city had to draw a line somewhere.

“All I can say is it’s a compromise,” Cleworth said, “It probably won’t make very many people happy.”

The ordinance authorizes appropriating a hundred thousand dollars for the stipends. Councilman David Pruhs, who along with June Rogers cosponsored the ordinance, said the city in part modeled the stipend after the system North Pole set up earlier this year to help its residents deal with groundwater contamination caused by a chemical substance that leaked from an oil refinery in that city.

“Their stipend was $2,000 over a two-year period,” Pruhs said, “so we took their stipend and increased it.”

Tests show most of the PFC contamination at the RFTC site stems from a burn pit, where fires were set using petroleum products such as gasoline as an accelerant. Fox said a liner at the base of the pit kept soil underneath relatively clean. But PFC-laden foam sprayed by firefighters to extinguish fires in the pit slopped onto soil around it and migrated into the groundwater.
(ADEC graphic)

City Engineer Jackson Fox told Pruhs that since the Fairbanks officials learned about the contamination last year, the city has paid more than $3 million to survey the problem and clean up around the training facility. That amount also covered the cost of connecting 20 properties with the area water system operated by Golden Heart Utilities, and for providing drinking water to those and another 20 properties in the area that have yet to be hooked up.

“We could be looking at connecting another 25 or so homes next summer,” Fox said.

Fox told the council that each hookup will cost the city $35,000. Pruhs used that figure to estimate the total amount the city will have pay in the coming year to mitigate the problem.

“So we’re looking at basically 65 to 70 homes, not including a water stipend at $35,000, added on to the $3 million that we’ve already spent,” Pruhs said. “So we’re looking at (a total of) $5.5 million.”

Cleworth said that equates to about a mill-and-a-half increase in the city’s property tax. And he said that’s why the council must move quickly to limit payouts and other costs and to recover compensation from the manufacturer of the firefighting foam and other parties.

“We need to get something done by next May,” Cleworth said. “Or else the residents are going to be hit with a mill-and-a-half of property tax increase.”

Therrien asked City Attorney Paul Ewers whether he’s been notified of any legal claims filed against the city over the contamination issue.

“We don’t have any lawsuits that were filed,” Ewers said. “We’ve had basically claims inquiries, and (we’re) just starting those discussions.”

Mayor Jim Matherly told council member the city must talk with officials from other agencies that have used the training center about their possible liability. He said he talked about that with Gov. Bill Walker last week while he was in town.

Categories: Alaska News

Yup’ik and Gwich’in political activist Desa Jacobsson dies at age 69

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 16:31
Yup’ik and Gwich’in political activist Desa Jacobsson died at age 69 in Anchorage after a lifetime of raising awareness for Native issues, including sexual violence against Native women. (Image courtesy of KTVA)

Desa Jacobsson is remembered for her weeks long fasts and multiple arrests to call attention to violence against Alaska Native women, Native rights, subsistence, and environmental issues. Today, Tuesday, that work is remembered as family, friends and supporters gather in Anchorage for her funeral.

Desa Jacobsson titled her final political campaign: B.O.O.B.S. It’s an acronym for Bothered Over Outrageous Budget Shortfalls. She started the campaign in January to protest the Alaska Legislature’s budget cuts to law enforcement. She didn’t want sexual assault victims left vulnerable in a state where many villages already don’t have officers. The title, B.O.O.B.S, was provocative, unapologetic, and female, just like most of Jacobsson’s work. But a cancer diagnosis in February cut her campaign short.

“There’s always a sense of pride in what she stood up for,” her daughter Teresa Jacobsson said. She grew up attending protests with her mother. “And it was difficult sometimes, because not everybody agrees with the way that she went about it, or was uncomfortable with what she was bringing up.”

Teresa called her mother’s parenting “non-traditional.” More than once, Teresa found out about her mother’s latest activism the same way everyone else did.

“I remember one time I was ironing my clothes, and I could hear my mother’s voice and I thought, ‘What the heck?’ And I looked up, and I looked at the news, and there she was,” Teresa recalled.

Jacobsson was protesting the Anchorage Police Department in the early 2000s after it became known that a number of Alaska Native women had been found dead and that the crimes remained unsolved. University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty member Diane Benson protested beside her.

“She was a ball of fire,” Benson said. “She never wanted the violence against Native women to be ignored.”

Both Jacobsson and Benson were survivors of sexual violence and wanted a different future for Native women. In 2002 they ran for Governor and Lieutenant Governor as Green Party candidates. They were the first Native women to run for these seats and won about 3 percent of the votes.

“One of my favorite memories is watching her with the press, and she would engage so easily,” Benson remembered. “She would have this glint in her eye, and big smile, and say exactly what she needed to say.”

The duo served on panels addressing sexual violence against Native women and worked to disrupt Governor Sean Parnell’s “Choose Respect” rallies. The women said that the message oversimplified and diminished the problem, while obscuring the core issue: power. Police led Jacobsson away in handcuffs at one rally when she attempted to approach Senator Lisa Murkowski who was speaking at a podium.

Jacobsson’s more famous acts of protest involved going up to three weeks without eating to raise attention for sexual violence. She called them fasts, not hunger strikes. A strike can imply violence; her campaign sought the opposite. Despite the lack of calories and the increased bodily stress, she never stopped working. Lisa Hoggblom at Bristol Bay’s domestic violence shelter remembers Jacobsson flying to Dillingham to help them during one fast.

“That’s a really hard thing to do, to put yourself under that strain to make a point, and she believed in it enough to keep on doing it while she was here,” Hoggblom said.

Jacobsson helped the shelter produce multiple videos. In one, 2005’s Heart of the Grizzly, Jacobsson looks at the camera and says: “If we look into ourselves for a solution, that requires action and that action is what quells silence and apathy. Every day and in each village we hear more and more Native women standing up.”

Jacobsson’s daughter, Teresa, said that in the days following her mother’s death she’s received a cascade of thank you’s for her mother’s actions, and the affirmation that these actions are what allowed so many others to stand.

Jacobsson was born in Hooper Bay and died in Anchorage on Thursday, September 21.

Desa Jacobsson’s family is holding a visitation for her today, Tuesday, in Anchorage at Evergreen Memorial Chapel at 11 a.m. Her burial will follow at 3 p.m. at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

Categories: Alaska News

Pre-K in Igiugig is all in Yup’ik

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 16:24
Evelyn Yanez points to pictures and says the Yup’ik name of the animal, object or activity, during a Yup’ik immersion program for infants to 5-year-olds in the village of Igiugig. (Photo by Avery Lill/KDLG)

Four kids toddle around a cozy room. There are all the items typical for a pre-kindergarten classroom — stuffed animals, puzzles and teachers.

The puzzles are the kind with a hole cut out for each piece, and each piece is labeled in Yup’ik.

School has been underway in the village of Igiugig for a couple of weeks now. This year even the youngest set are included.

The village has opened its only early childhood education program, Unglu. It is a Yup’ik immersion program for infants to five-year-olds.

Unglu means “nest.” It’s a part of the larger endeavor, Wangkuta Qanriarait Nanvarparmiut Yugestun, which means “We all speak Lake Iliamna Yup’ik.”

The village started the project with an $850,000 Language Preservation and Maintenance Grant from U.S. Administration for Native Americans.

The grant is in its third and final year.

For the past two years, language apprentices have learned the language from elders who speak Yup’ik fluently.

Apprentices have also taught in the village school 30 minutes a day, four days a week during the school year. Now, they are expanding their efforts, and elders and apprentices are teaching a handful of toddlers three hours a day, five days a week.

“It’s far more than language. It’s spiritual, mental and physical,” project director AlexAnna Salmon said. “It’s everything into becoming what the Yupik really were,”

The vision behind Unglu is for kids to learn to speak Yup’ik from their earliest days.

Loretta Peterson grew up speaking English, so she is learning her native language alongside her 16-month old daughter.

“It’s just better for her to grow up with her original language. I only knew a small handful of words before I started,” Peterson said.

And the kids are learning.

They dance to the Yup’ik songs and listen as instructors point to pictures and say the names of animals and activities in Yup’ik.

Most of children are too young to talk, but when Salmon told her son to point to different parts of his body, like his knees and toes. The three-year-old did it without hesitation.

Categories: Alaska News

2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year nominee: Kent Fielding

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 16:07
Kent Fielding is a high school English and History teacher from the Skagway School District. He’s one of the finalists for the 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year award. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Teachers can have life long influence on students. Their work is important and each year, the Alaska department of Education celebrates them by choosing a Teacher of the year. The winner will be selected in October from a group of four finalists. This week we’re bringing their voices to the air. Skagway high school English and History teacher Kent Fielding started his career in Kentucky before moving to Alaska. Fielding taught at Mt. Edgecumbe before Skagway, where he has taught for the past 12 years. He said technology, especially phones can be a challenge in school but he says in Skagway, it’s crucial.

FIELDING: Because, all my kids travel for basketball, cross country. They’re involved in almost everything. They’ve gone sometimes a week at a time. But it makes it so much easier for me to communicate to them and teach them actually online, which is sometimes what I’m essentially doing. But I can imagine, having taught in Central Hardin in Kentucky, where I had classes of 39, that it’s probably almost impossible to keep track of all the devices, particularly phones.

TOWNSEND: Understanding the relevance of events in education, historical context, is really important. How do you work to help students understand those connections so that they can really learn and engage with why it’s important to know what happened before to inform what will happen in the future?

FIELDING: You know, one thing that we talk about in the classes, this idea particularly in our current political context, is the dangers of a single story. A single story is, if the only thing you know about is Mexicans are illegal immigrants, you have a stereotype that is untrue and you can’t really see them as people. So when you start talking about this single story, and I have kids pick out their single stories because they all have single stories about something. You begin to actually be able to connect the past. It’s easy to connect perhaps to some of the things that are going on today with the white supremacy, events in Charlottesville. So the idea of understanding can also help us understand the future, understand the present.

TOWNSEND: You said that “For me, getting education to go beyond the clasroom is the whole point of education.” What do you mean by that?

FIELDING: Well, I think we wanna create lifelong learners. I think that’s the whole purpose of education. And this past year, we went to the Marshall Islands to study climate change, because the Marshall Islands are atolls that are meters above seawater. And they’re places that are going to be first affected by climate change along with Northern Alaska. I wanted the kids to make the connections. And in October, they’re actually hosting a climate change conference in Skagway. In the Marshall Islands, the things that we did was we’d visit high schools, we’d talk to leaders, we met with the president, Dr. Hilda Heine — the female Marshallese president. We talked to community members. We looked at the erosion of sea walls. So it was like a nonstop learning project, and now they’re promoting this climate conference, which is like their own thing.

TOWNSEND: What do you think the future of education will look like? Will it be automated? Will there still be teachers? What do you think it will be and what do you think it should be?

FIELDING: (laughs) I think we’re moving more and more to computer-based learning, more online. I don’t think we’ll ever — I hope we don’t ever –get rid of the classroom teacher because I do think the teacher is important, primarily because I think one of the big reasons why students succeed is the relationship that students have with their teachers.

(From left to right) Kent Fielding, Eric Rush, Ben Walker and Karen Martin are the finalists for the 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year award. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)
Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit poet and scholar Nora Marks Dauenhauer, 90, was culture bearer

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 15:19
Nora Dauenhauer won an Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award in 2011. (Creative Commons photo by Sam Beebe)

Tlingit poet, scholar and culture bearer Nora Marks Dauenhauer has passed away at age 90.

A fluent Tlingit speaker, Dauenhauer made countless contributions to the study and preservation of the language and oral tradition.

In 2012, she was the Alaska State Writer Laureate, and is the winner of an American Book Award among other honors.

Here is a selection of Dauenhauer reading from her poem “Salmon Egg Puller” in 2012, courtesy of Dixie Hutchinson at Sealaska Corp.

And here is Dauenhauer in “Lineage: Tlingit Art Across Generations,” a recent documentary by KTOO Public Media and 360 North.

Services information was not immediately available.

Categories: Alaska News

Sailing To North Pole, explorers find more ice than expected

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-09-26 15:18
Pen Hadow, leader of Arctic Mission, and Erik de Jong, co-skipper, aboard “Bagheera.” (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM, 2017)

A team of explorers and scientists returned to Nome last week after attempting to be the first to sail to the North Pole. The three-week expedition, called Arctic Mission, was led by British explorer Pen Hadow, who had previously trekked solo to the North Pole from Canada, across the sea ice.

Hadow said on this trip, the international crew of 10, and their trusty dog Fukimi, hoped to make a global statement about climate change.

“Reaching the North Pole, while interesting as a technical challenge, is actually going to have far more serious consequences as a global warning, or signal, that something very substantial is happening across a substantial surface area of the planet,” Hadow said.

That “something” is the melting of ice in the Arctic Ocean. The team’s two yachts, Bagheera and Snow Dragon II, spent much of their time harbored in Sitka. Both vessels are sturdily built of steel and aluminum, which allows them to navigate through ice channels not much wider than their hulls.

Frances Brann, skipper of Snow Dragon, said the ice can give a false sense of protection:

“That ice is very serene, very still, like being in a harbor — when it’s not windy,” Brann said. “If it’s very windy, it would be a place that you wouldn’t want to be, because those huge sheets of ice wouldn’t just drift slowly around: They’d be moving faster, you’d have a potential to get crushed.”

It’s ultimately that wind which made them to decide to turn back, at around 80 degrees north latitude. According to the team, that was still as far north as almost anybody has made it by water. Tim Gordon is a marine biologist and head scientist on the mission.

“It was actually very relieving to see some ice,” Gordon said. “We’d spent two weeks sailing north in what is meant to be an area that is frozen solid all year round, sailing through open water. And to know that there is still some of it that is frozen year-round was actually quite heartening for me.”

They also took heart at the amount they were able to accomplish: The crew gathered data on marine ecosystems that have been long out of reach under the ice. Gordon said this will help scientists begin to understand how things like plastic pollution, ocean acidification and increased noise are affecting these organisms.

Heather Bauscher, a wildlife biologist, said there was personal growth, too, . One research task took her away from the sailboats.

“Some fog rolled in, and there was a moment where I realized, ‘Oh man,’” Bauscher said. “It was such a sense of relief and accomplishment, too, to be able to say that we went out in this tiny little dinghy, and sat in the central Arctic Ocean, surrounded by fog, and were able to navigate our way back.”

The team hopes that missions and research like theirs will prompt more legal protections for the Arctic, citing those already in place in Antarctica. Brann, skipper of Snow Dragon, is optimistic.

“We can make change. And this is something I think those of us who have spent significant time in Alaska are aware of,” Brann said. “There’s less people, more access to our government, and they’re more likely to be responsive. I hope those of us who’ve had political successes in the past can convince those who are newer to the game that it can be done, we can make a difference, don’t just give up.”

For now, as samples are sent to England for analysis and the boats sail home to Sitka, the team said they’re just happy to be back on dry land.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska National Guard members deploying to fight ISIS

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-09-25 18:13
An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from the 210th Rescue Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard, flies during training exercises in 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Eagerton)

Dozens of helicopter pilots and maintenance personnel from Alaska’s Air National Guard are heading overseas to combat the Islamic State.

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The Guard announced Monday afternoon that 60 members of the 210th rescue squadron under the 176th Wing are deploying to assist in Operation Inherent Resolve, the United States’ military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The deployment will last four months, and airmen will be based in Southwest Asia. Major John Callahan, a spokesman for the National Guard in Alaska, declined to specify which country.

Operation Inherent Resolve began in 2014. It involves units from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines who have conducted more than 17,000 air strikes and been part of efforts to arm and assist regional allies on the ground.

The guardsmen are pilots and support crews for Pavehawk helicopters used in rescuing service-members behind enemy lines. In Alaska they regularly take part in search and rescue missions in remote and dangerous terrain.

Guardsmen are set to deploy early Tuesday morning from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Categories: Alaska News

Keynote speakers announced for Elders and Youth

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-09-25 18:10
(Dancers perform during the 2016 Elders and Youth conference in Fairbanks. Photo courtesy of the First Alaskans’ Institute)

The First Alaskans Institute has announced the keynote speakers for the Elders and Youth conference just ahead of the Alaska Federation of Natives this October in Anchorage.

The elder keynote address will be given by Clare Swan of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, a long-time advocate for Native fishing rights in Cook Inlet and on the Kenai Peninsula. Swan also served on the board of directors for CIRI, the regional corporation for Cook Inlet.

The youth keynote speaker is Chris Agragiiq Apassingok of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. The 16-year-old gained notoriety earlier this year when he landed a harpoon strike on a whale during a successful subsistence hunt. An online backlash ensued after a radical animal rights activist criticized the teenager online, sparking national attention.

First Alaskans Institute is also hosting a private dance party with Canadian First Nation’s DJ group A Tribe Called Red during the conference. It’s the group’s second time performing in Alaska.

The 34th Elders and Youth conference begins October 16th.

Categories: Alaska News

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