My turn: Time to consider a new state of Northwest Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2008

As soon as the avalanches hit in Juneau, 17 state officials met to review Juneau's request for an energy emergency declaration. They were led by Gen. Craig Campbell, commissioner of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

No state declaration emerged but the point is, as far as I know, there was no state emergency team convened to review the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative's fuel emergency. What is with that?

There seems to be a double standard of care to Alaskans depending on where they live. I don't want to think that is true but more and more evidence piles up that leads one to that regrettable conclusion.

Maybe it is time for villages across the state, where most of the natural renewable and nonrenewable resources reside, begin to think of seceding from the state of Alaska and create a Northwestern state of Alaska. Those of us that live north of Anchorage and west of the Alaska Range are often given short shrift in Juneau. I think that the concentration of political power in Anchorage is not in the best interests of those of us that live in the rest of the state. Maybe Fairbanks could be the new capital of the new state of Northwestern Alaska.

The idea of a Northwestern State has been talked about by us in the villages for a long time. Now that it looks like many of our issues will never be attended to satisfactorily, it may be time to reawaken that debate and move the idea of a new Northwestern Alaska state forward.

Anchorage has the lowest cost of living, has few renewable resources and even less nonrenewable resources, and a large population that all of us in rural and remote Alaska subsidizes. Anchorage takes most of our meager disposable incomes by providing much of the legal, accounting, engineering, food and transportation services for us. And, many of our Native corporations have substantial capital investments in Anchorage that could move out to our more rural and remote communities across the state.

Anchorage legislators, for the most part, have never lived in rural and remote Alaska and therefore have a difficult time empathizing with our needs. We have tried unsuccessfully for many years to enshrine subsistence into the state's constitution; we have a totally inadequate police force in our villages; our schools are closing and falling apart; the justice system leaves us with much to be desired by seeing so many of our woman raped and murdered in Anchorage with no meaningful program to address it; our school student dropout rate is the highest in the nation; our economies in our villages are virtually nonexistent; health care delivery for our citizens and veterans is shameful at best; there is no running water in many of our villages; suicide rates are very high; our airports need to be extended and lighted; human waste disposal is still a very serious problem; many of our villages have serious erosion issues that need immediate remediation; and our energy needs are totally ignored and need immediate resolution.

We have few Native people in our university system; few Native school superintendents and Native teachers in our schools; few Alaska Native State Troopers, never had a Native Supreme Court Justice and few if any superior court judges, very few Alaska Natives in policy making roles in our state departments, and little or no influence in the overall policy making that affects our daily lives and our future. The list could go on and on and on.

Because it is useless to fight the Anchorage political power house, we need to find a new way to address our needs. We do need to do some work and more serious thinking about a new state. We could get all of what we need in western and northern Alaska if we had our own state of Northwest Alaska.

• Nels Anderson Jr. lives in Dillingham.

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