Report takes a look at status of Alaska Natives

Analysis aims to generate new ideas, improve dialogue with non-Natives

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A report issued Friday provides a wide-ranging look at Alaska Natives, including how the state's indigenous people are doing in areas of population, health, economics and education.

The report is an analysis of the Status of Alaska Natives Report 2004, which was prepared by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research.

The report and analysis were requested by the Alaska Federation of Natives to bring new data to, and generate fresh ideas in, the Native community - and to increase dialogue with non-Natives.

"It is the first report that was done by Alaska Natives studying Alaska Natives," said Janie Leask, chairwoman of the board of trustees for the First Alaskans Institute. "Applying Native thinking to Alaskan issues strengthens all of us in the end with a more unified, common vision."

The Alaska Native Policy Center analyzed the data for the First Alaskans Institute, a nonprofit group helping Alaska Natives.

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The report not only provides a snapshot of the status of Alaska Natives but also looks at trends over the past 15 years. The analysis concludes at least four areas need work simultaneously: improving public education, addressing health issues, creating jobs, and lowering the cost of living in rural Alaska.

Even in areas where there continue to be deficiencies, there also have been gains, said Greta Goto, director of the Alaska Native Policy Center. For example, there are more high schools but the dropout rate is troublesome, she said.

"I think it is a challenge we have to overcome," Goto said.

The report says since 1974, 155 new high schools have been built in Alaska, mainly in villages. And while 71 percent of Alaska Natives have high school diplomas now, up from 48 percent in 1980, the dropout rate almost doubled from 1998-2001.

The data show an increased migration of women and young people from rural villages to urban areas. The report says 58 percent of Alaska Natives still live in rural areas and 42 percent are in urban areas.

"More and more of our men are being left behind," said Carrie Brown, senior vice president of First Alaskans Institute.

If economic opportunities were increased and the cost of rural living reduced - especially energy costs - it would be possible for more Alaska Natives to stay in their villages and stop the "brain drain," Brown said.

The report says 33 percent of unemployed Alaskans are Natives. Per capita income is $9,113 for Natives, compared with $18,819 for non-Natives.

The report found that significant gains have been made in health care. For example, 81 percent of Native children are getting immunized - a higher rate than in the rest of the United States. The life expectancy of Alaska Natives also increased from 46.4 years in 1950 to 69.5 years in 1997.

However, the data show that obesity among Natives is increasing, as well as teen birth rates, tobacco smoking and use of marijuana.

The report says the Native population stands at 119,241, or about 19 percent of Alaskans. If the population continues to grow at the current rate, there will be an estimated 140,000 Alaska Natives in 2010 and 165,000 in 2020.

With the median age a relatively young 24, it is important to consider what to do now to provide for a better future, Goto said.

"These resulting choices will impact how our future is shaped as a people and as a state," she said.

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