By now, most people have heard about Nenana’s financial troubles. Nenana is where I’ve lived since 2004. I’ve raised 3 daughters here and throughout the years our town has endured fires, floods, the recession, and all the other triumphs and trials of life. Like many Alaskans, when the bad times hit, we put our little personal differences aside to help each other. When people come together like we have, they become very strong and can withstand almost anything. It’s really amazing to see it in action and this gives me a feeling of pride and encouragement. Through the years when I hear of a bad rumor or a potential threat about Nenana, I want to guard this town from all of that.
Recently Nenana’s financial issues have made the news. I also wrote an article about the other side of the story, because all stories have 2 sides you know, sometimes they have several. What I really want people to understand is why this effects all Alaskans, (not just Nenana), as rural life in general is slowly dissolving and when it goes, so does money and culture.
First, why is it dissolving?
I’m not an expert on all reasons why, but I know a couple. One is that several young people are leaving their remote communities. Not all young people, but many are and eventually this alone drops the population too much. There has to be basic baby math; no babies, no future. Young people are needed to have the babies. Now keep in mind that the state is working double time to find every single way possible to prevent rural babies from ever being born. Year after year, some legislator produces a rural birth control study or bill to cut back the population growth in the villages. Oh, I know, it’s all for “this great reason or that great excuse” but what it’s REALLY about is killing off rural people.
Another reason why these towns are suffering is financial. Our mayor and city council had to scrape pennies for projects in our city. I was amazed at how long the mayor kept things going. It isn’t all just state money, it’s local money too like businesses and taxes. When people can’t bring in money, then they can’t contribute money. It becomes a vicious cycle. I really wanted to start a booming tourist adventure here in Nenana because we have some intense history and super cool stories like that of Togo and Balto. Some ideas that have come up from meetings are building boardwalks, Balto Town, riverside campgrounds and nature trails with boat launches, and lots of fabulous things like that! Honestly and truthfully, with our airport, highway, railroad and river accesses, there’s countless ways for tourism here if one only has the money to get it started.
But why does this matter to other people who don’t live here what happens to us and other rural cities?
It matters because we have resources and culture. In order to dig around for fuel or minerals, it helps to have a town that already has some roads, a place to stay and eat and maybe a clinic and gas station. Resources are what help fuel Alaska’s economy. But for me what’s way more important than this is culture. When a lower 48 person thinks of Alaska, they think of igloos and penguins. Haha, we all know it’s true. But that misconception is actually kind of cool because this means they see us as this type of people that endure the wild and darkness with freezing cold temperatures. Alaska, the last frontier! There’s nowhere like Alaska and that’s not because of booming cities, it’s because of rural towns. Just stop and imagine Alaska with no more small towns scattered throughout the state, just a couple big cities and Juneau. You know, it’s hard to explain how different it is here, a person just has to experience it. They have to have that life of seclusion with acres or miles in between neighbors, and the idea of knowing that there’s no veterinarian around the corner so you better have some sort of animal medical know how. When shopping, don’t forget anything because it might be at least 2 weeks before you get to go back again, but, that’s ok because you’ve learned how to manipulate recipes with whatever’s in the kitchen. And everybody knows each other, the good and the bad no matter how pretty we pretend to be. Life moves slower and friendlier and so driving in Portland is kind of scary on those vacations because we’re not used to it anymore.
History in Spades
Then there’s the forgotten native aspect that people don’t talk about much. What about them? Thousands of years of culture and it was no joke, the native people are tough and skilled in this crazy harsh environment. Are we willing to just let this fade away? The concept of this is devastating. The native people are Alaska and their heritage should be protected at all costs.
As Alaskans, I hope we can agree to give the rural communities a little focus and some attention. Just because we are far away and living our unique lives doesn’t mean we aren’t still connected to everyone else. Can we work together to promote preserving rural and native culture and keep Alaska the very special state that it’s always been. When rural communities suffer, all of Alaska suffers with them, but when we thrive, everyone wins.