Coal mining is becoming a frequent issue here in Alaska. The Tyonek village, I visited last week, is facing one on their doorsteps. I mention some info in the photo captions, click here for even more info.
My friend from the farmer’s market organized a kid’s camp for the natives last year. This year he did the same with less funding. The kids get to be outdoors camping and a little bit away from home. We don’t stuff the kids with things to do or not do; we just allow them to be kids and have fun. He works with the tribes to stop the coal mining. I think this trip helps him continue to build relationships and earn their trust. He's is a Jewish guy from Long Island, not a native :)
The natives have endured so much change, not long ago, and u can't blame them for not trusting outsiders. Their way of life has changed significantly. Some elders eagerly shared their stories with me. Unfortunately for me, it was hard to hear them b/c of their lack of teeth and mumbling, though they speak English perfectly. One elder was telling me he was taken from his parents and village at 8 years old and sent to boarding school, on the other side of AK. He did not know English, at the time, and was very scared. The intent was to civilize the young. First the Russians came for the animal fur. Next the whites came for timber then oil, and now they want to destroy their river and land for coal.
The teens and youth do not speak their native language. They are very Westernized. The village homes had satellites, everyone had an iphone, lots of teens had colored hair and piercings. Many of them are looking forward to leaving the village for a bigger city. I was not expecting teepees, but I was shocked at what I was seeing. Not that there’s anything wrong with colored hair and piercings (I had my fun as a teen too).
Two huge health issues are: the poor dieting and alcohol problem. Families are broken. I am not sure why they turned to junk food. Maybe it was the parents way of keeping the kids happy or when some (not all) parents are wasted, the kids are on their own at times. Research indicates that natives do not have a gene that metabolizing alcohol as we do, for more info click here. I think the village is in mourning and have lost hope. I do not feel the freedom and joy of life I felt when I was in other places in AK last year. I do not know the full history and psychological implications; these are just my quick observations and guesses.
Alcohol is also a huge problem in AK among whites as well. I think it’s the cold, dark winter months. If you don’t get outside, don’t have a hobby, don’t socialize, you can get easily depressed here. I am still concerned about the cold for myself, as August has been cold, but people keep warning me it’s the darkness that can get u.
We camped 4 nights and had to head back towards home quickly. Dana was playing the 2nd annual Salmomstock Festival, a weekend long music festival supporting clean water etc for healthy fish. We got in for free that night with Dana. It was such a change from village camp and we started bumping into Homer peeps. We stayed for the last act that ended at 12:30am. I was very cold even with all my layers and pretty beat. It was about an hour north of Homer. I was glad to be home, in bed. Overall, it was a great week with great people! Thank YOU all! Click here for more pix.