Alaska News

Facing Budget Cuts, Aleutians East to Close Cold Bay School

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-14 13:24

The Aleutians East Borough is closing its second school in three years. The school board voted this week to shut down the Cold Bay School, with state budget cuts looming and enrollment on the decline.

Locals are worried the closure could put the tiny community in jeopardy.

Sandy Lopez’s twin boys, Matt and Zenny, are sixth graders at the Cold Bay School. The pair grew up in town, and celebrated their twelfth birthdays at school on Friday. Cold Bay’s four students are all in the same age group.

The playground at the Cold Bay School. (Courtesy: Kerry Burkhardt)

“It’s a real personal education,” Lopez says. “They’re very attached to each other — they’ve gone to this school their whole life, and they do very well.”

Lopez says Cold Bay has been a safe, sheltering place to raise her kids. But her family — and several others — will likely have to move away when the town’s school shuts its doors at the end of this semester.

The school has had fewer than 10 students for four years now. That means it no longer receives state funding. Until now, the Aleutians East Borough School District has been paying for Cold Bay on its own.

This year, major state funding cuts could create a half-million dollar deficit for the rest of the district’s schools. And school board president Tiffany Jackson says it would cost them an additional $211,000 to keep the Cold Bay School open.

“Nobody wants to be talking numbers, because all of our children are so important,” Jackson says. “But just economically, we didn’t think that we could absorb the cost.”

The school district hasn’t finalized its budget yet, but Jackson says they haven’t asked the Aleutians East Borough for extra money to help keep Cold Bay afloat. The borough is already close to maxed out on its local contribution — they gave the schools about $1 million this year. The district decides how to dole that money out.

Some residents have questioned why the borough couldn’t spare funds for Cold Bay, when it invests millions in capital projects elsewhere in the region. Borough administrator Rick Gifford says they can’t give much more than they already do.

“We fund the schools based upon their budget and their budget request up to as much as we are able to without going over the cap,” Gifford says. “And then we fund projects in each of the communities, hopefully to bring in economic development that will then bring in families to the communities.”

Superintendent Michael Seifert says Aleutians East will reopen the Cold Bay School if enrollment rises above 10 kids again. But some parents aren’t sure that’ll be possible.

Candace Schaack has lived in Cold Bay for more than a decade, and had hoped her two-year-old daughter would go to school there. But now, her family and most others with kids will have to relocate — homeschooling isn’t an option for parents who work. And Schaack worries the community will start to dissolve.

“It’s going to leave us with really no room for growth,” she says. “Cold Bay has so much potential … but I don’t see people moving here with a family if there’s no school.”

The students at the Cold Bay School, from left to right: Matt Lopez, Wake Kremer, Tommy Mack (who attends only in first quarter), Zenny Lopez and David Young. (Courtesy: Kerry Burkhardt)

Schaack grew up in nearby Nelson Lagoon, which had its school closed three years ago. Enrollment hasn’t bounced back, and soon, the borough may have to tear the school building down.

“The whole village is just falling to pieces,” Schaack says of her hometown. “I hate to say that, but it really is — it’s a really bad thing for the community to have that happen.”

Cold Bay is more transient than most towns in the borough — it’s not a fishing community, or a native village, and most of its hundred or so residents are government employees. Many work at the airport, used for emergency stops by jets crossing the Pacific.

“They can land here. And then the place that has the most room and bathrooms and all of that is the school,” says teacher and principal Kerry Burkhardt. Her school is also the tsunami shelter, and a space for potlucks, open gym hours and free shelter for travelers.

Burkhardt wishes the school board had given her an extra year to try to boost enrollment. With that time, she says locals could have recruited more families to the open jobs in Cold Bay. That’s been tough with the school on the chopping block.

“We were sorry to hear and to see that the weather station hired two families with children, they learned that the board was thinking of closing and so they turned the jobs down,” Burkhardt says. “That was a great loss, and I feel as though we would have been alright.”

Now, the school building will be turned over to the borough, like the school in Nelson Lagoon. Burkhardt says she hopes it’ll be kept stocked with supplies in case it ever reopens. And she wants the district to remember Cold Bay’s proud history.

“One year, for Battle of the Books, Cold Bay took state,” she says. “We’ve had kids who had perfect SAT scores. We’ve had all sorts of marvelous community members and people that go off in the world. This school has been vibrant and important to many families for many years.”

She’s hoping their last semester will be a strong finish to help students find some closure. Burkhardt herself leaves a long legacy at the Cold Bay School — her own daughters went there in the 1990s, when there were about 40 students and many more jobs in town.

Now, her daughters are in graduate school, and Burkhardt is looking for work. She says she’s grateful for the district’s offer of a post at a different school — but she plans to move away, too.

Categories: Alaska News

Eielson AFB Will Keep F-16 Squadron

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-14 12:03

The Secretary of the Air Force told Alaska officials Tuesday that Eielson Air Force Base will keep its F-16 Aggressor squadron.

Alaska Congressman Don Young says it’s good news on its own but it also improves the chances the Eielson will get F-35 aircraft, too.

“It means we have a permanent wing in Eielson and the chances, the worry of it being moved to Fort Rich or Elmendorf are now put to rest,” Young said. “It’s a positive thing so I feel very good about it.”

The Air Force said last fall it was considering moving the 18 F-16s now based near Fairbanks to make room for two squadrons of F-35s.

Eielson remains the military’s preferred location for the new aircraft, a decision that could mean thousands of new jobs for the Fairbanks area. A final basing decision for the F-35s expected next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Opt To Keep Anchorage LIO Lease … For Now

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 23:13

In a 13-to-1 vote, the Legislative Council has decided to punt on the question of what to do with the Anchorage legislative information office.

The council, a small but powerful group of lawmakers who effectively serve as the Legislature’s officer managers, decided to pay the rent on the building for the year. Sen. Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican who chairs the group, said that would give them time to see if they can get out of the lease terms.

“We will attempt to enter into negotiations with the owners for purchase of the building and the land,” said Stevens.

As part of a sole-source contract, the state spent nearly $8 million to renovate the Anchorage LIO last year. But the state does not own the property, and has instead signed a 10-year lease to use it at an annual rate of $3.5 million. In the face of public pressure over the agreement, the Legislature considered buying the building outright, but backed down when the property owners did not want to sell the land.

But with the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, lawmakers have toyed with the breaking the lease and relocating to state-owned building at a lower price. Stevens said the extra time would also allow the Legislature think through that option and look at other Anchorage real estate for the office.

Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican who serves as the House majority leader, supported delaying action on the Anchorage LIO. She worried about the financial liability if the Legislature breaks its contract.

“If we got into a long-term lawsuit over this issue, I don’t think that would be good for the state either,” said Millett.

Rep. Sam Kito, a Juneau Democrat and the lone minority member on the council, was the only member to oppose the decision. He argued that the if the Legislature has cheaper office options available now, it should take them.

“I do have a concern that as we are telling everybody else to tighten up their belts because we don’t have a lot of money, that we as a Legislature will then be occupying the most expensive building in Anchorage,” said Kito.

The Legislature currently faces a lawsuit over the Anchorage LIO over damages allegedly caused to nearby properties during its renovations.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 13, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:47

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.


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Alaska Film Tax Credit Draws Spirited Debate As Lawmakers Tackle Subsidies

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall, lawmakers are reexamining certain subsidies to see if they should remain on the books. The film tax credit program, which was vulnerable even in times of plenty, has gotten special attention. The state Senate voted to dismantle the program, even as other tax credits are being considered.


Lawmaker Sends Questionable Email On Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A Republican lawmaker from Eagle River sent an e-mail Friday attempting to rally opposition to Medicaid expansion. In the email, obtained by KTUU, Lora  Reinbold distributes the call-in number to testify at a Saturday House Finance hearing. She writes, “We are trying not to get the number out to the pro expansion for they are much more organized.”


Dalton Highway Reopens After Flooding Closure

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The overflow affected section of the Dalton Highway between mileposts 399 and 405 south of Deadhorse reopened Sunday.


Greenpeace Activists Banned from Arctic Rigs

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Greenpeace protestors have climbed down from an Arctic-bound drill rig in the Pacific.


NPFMC Tightens Limits on Chinook Bycatch

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The Bering Sea pollock fleet is about to face tougher restrictions when it comes to salmon. This weekend, federal regulators agreed to tie the cap on Chinook bycatch to the health of Western Alaska’s runs.


Former Female Inmates Find Support And A Home In Juneau’s Haven House

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s transitional home for women who were recently paroled or released from prison is welcoming its first residents.


Tax-Related Identity Theft Increasing

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Have you filed your taxes yet? Tax day is just a few days away. And the state’s consumer protection unit is warning it’s seeing an increase in a new type of tax time scam- tax-related identity theft. That’s where thieves use your personal information to file for a tax refund with the IRS before you get a chance to submit your taxes.


How Russian Easter Bread Became An Alaska Native Tradition

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Easter was more than a week ago but some Russian Orthodox Christians observed it yesterday. That’s where Easter or what they call Pascha lands on the Julian calendar. There’s a special treat that goes along with the celebration. It’s not a chocolate bunny. It’s called kulich.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Film Tax Credit Draws Spirited Debate As Lawmakers Tackle Subsidies

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:41

With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall, lawmakers are reexamining certain subsidies to see if they should remain on the books. The film tax credit program, which was vulnerable even in times of plenty, has gotten special attention.

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The state Senate voted to dismantle the program, even as other tax credits are being considered.

If the debate over repeal of the film tax credit happened on Alaska reality television, it might play out a little like this.

On one side, you have the Republican majority, who thinks killing the subsidy program is a no-brainer.

“You ready?” “Pull!” *gunshot*”

And then you have the Democratic minority fighting for the credit’s survival.

”What the *bleep*, Freddie! Don’t do this to me.”

Because the debate played out on the Alaska Senate floor instead of Sarah Palin’s Alaska or Deadliest Catch, the hour spent discussing the fate of the program was not as colorful.

The program was created in 2008, and has paid out nearly $50 million to documentaries, feature films, homegrown Alaska productions, and — yes — reality television. Sen. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican, sponsored the bill. While Stoltze has long been an opponent of the program, he presented his bill without glee and said he felt like an “undertaker.”

“It’s really just a bland fiscal issue,” Stoltze said.

Stoltze went on to say that because Alaska lacks a sales tax or a significant corporate income tax, describing the film payout as a “tax credit” is really a misnomer.

“This is not an industry that provides anything to our general fund of any substance,” he said.

Anchorage Democrat Johnny Ellis, an architect of the film credit, rose in its defense. He dismissed the fiscal argument, pointing out that the program is already in hiatus.

“The governor has suspended this program. The bill saves no state dollars,” Ellis said. “All it does is send a very negative message that Alaska is permanently closed to business, and damages the hopes, dreams, and businesses of thousands of our fellow Alaskans. That’s an unnecessary action to take.”

Ellis said the program helped diversify Alaska’s economy and created jobs in the state. He said without it, films and TV shows that could be shot in Alaska would instead go to Vancouver, Canada or soundstages in Louisiana, where tax credits remain in place.

“It’s not a stretch to remember Washington State — [Roslyn], Washington, — replacing Alaska on television in Northern Exposure,” Ellis said. “And a million dollars a week going into another economy, and Alaskans making fun over the water cooler of all the mistakes in that production.”

As Republicans fought against the film subsidy, Democrats also used the debate to make a point about tax credits they oppose.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski unsuccessfully introduced a series of amendments repealing tax credits for oil companies and one refinery.

“I heard some people bemoan the fact that I’ve done this before,” Wielechowski said. “They’re right. I have done this before. I’ve run an amendment that’s very similar to this before. I’m trying to raise attention to the fact that we’re paying out $431 million more in tax credits than we’re taking in.”

In an interview, Wielechowski also noted it’s ironic that the Senate was voting to dismantle the film credit program on the same day the Alaska House of Representatives was poised to create a tax credit that would benefit a defunct fertilizer plant in Nikiski.

“I think there’s something poetic about it,” he said. “Everyone has their favorite tax credits I guess.”

The bill passed 14-6. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat who caucuses with the majority, joined the minority in opposition. The bill will now be considered by the house.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmaker Sends Questionable Email On Medicaid Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:27

A Republican lawmaker from Eagle River sent an e-mail Friday attempting to rally opposition to Medicaid expansion. In the email, obtained by KTUU, Lora Reinbold distributes the call-in number to testify at a Saturday House Finance hearing. She writes, “We are trying not to get the number out to the pro expansion for they are much more organized.”

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Kevin McGee was surprised to see the e-mail in his inbox. McGee is a vice president of the NAACP Anchorage and a vocal supporter of Medicaid expansion:

“And I’m thinking I know doggone well she didn’t want me to get this. The NAACP is totally in agreement with expanding Medicaid,” McGee said.

According to the Alaska Democratic Party, 75 percent of the people who testified Saturday supported Medicaid expansion.

Reinbold says the email was intended to encourage people who want to “preserve the fiscal future of Alaska” to have their voices heard.

She says she wasn’t trying to stifle debate by asking the people who received her email to withhold the call-in number from supporters of expansion.

“Anybody can get that number, if you call the LIO, it is a readily available number, but we just wanted to make sure we were rallying the troops and getting the voices, the we believed were being drowned out, heard down here in Juneau,” Reinbold said.

Reinbold was kicked out of the House Majority caucus in March after she voted against the operating budget.

A poll released earlier this month by Ivan Moore research shows 65 percent of Alaskans support Medicaid expansion.

Categories: Alaska News

Dalton Highway Reopens After Flooding Closure

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:26

The overflow affected section of the Dalton Highway between mileposts 399 and 405 south of Deadhorse reopened Sunday.

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A release from the Department of Transportation says they are allowing groups of 30 tractor trailers north on the single-lane through the overflow area, then closing the road for inspection and maintenance before reopening the stretch for another convoy in the southbound direction.

Priority is being given to critical cargo and supplies, which backed up along the highway and in Fairbanks during a nearly week long closure. A state disaster declaration last week bolstered efforts to channel overflow from the Sag River off of the highway.

Categories: Alaska News

Greenpeace Activists Banned from Arctic Rigs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:25

Greenpeace protesters have climbed down from an Arctic-bound drill rig in the Pacific. The activists said rough waters drove them off their high-seas bivouac on Shell’s Polar Pioneer this Saturday — nearly a week after they climbed aboard.

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On Saturday, a federal judge in Anchorage also granted Shell’s request for a temporary restraining order against Greenpeace.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ordered Greenpeace to stay more than half a mile from the Polar Pioneer and Shell’s second rig, the Noble Discoverer. But she declined Shell’s request to have the order apply to all of the support vessels they hope to deploy in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

Shell could try again as part of a longer-lasting injunction. For now, their temporary restraining order will expire on April 28.

Categories: Alaska News

NPFMC Tightens Limits on Chinook Bycatch

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:24

The Bering Sea pollock fleet is about to face tougher restrictions when it comes to salmon. This weekend, federal regulators agreed to tie the cap on Chinook bycatch to the health of Western Alaska’s runs.

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When the North Pacific Fishery Management Council first set up a hard limit on Chinook salmon, they set it in stone.

Now, they’ll check each year to make sure at least a quarter-million salmon got out of the Bering Sea and back up the river system. Otherwise, the pollock fleet will lose a quarter of their Chinook limit.

Council member Sam Cotten represents the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He introduced the measure.

“At this point, any additional fish returning to those rivers improves the ability to meet escapement goals, which is necessary for the long-term sustainability of the stock — and the people reliant on that fishery,” Cotten said.

After a string of subsistence fishing closures and historically bad returns, the council was under pressure to act.

The final vote was unanimous, but there was still some disagreement. Member Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the initial cut was too steep. He carried an amendment to bump it up to 45,000 Chinook. Any more than that, and vessels will be forced to stop fishing.

The pollock industry was almost universally opposed.

Captains and fleet managers said they’ve started to see more salmon up on the fishing grounds. Until they make it back to the Unalakleet, Upper Yukon, and Kuskokwim rivers, the runs will still look bad — and the bycatch limit will drop down with them.

Under those conditions, Donna Parker of the Arctic Storm Management Group said she believes the pollock harvest is likely to get shut down.

“And you’re going to shut it down without a benefit to rebuilding those rivers,” Parker said. “It has been demonstrated [that] this will not impact the reproductive productivity of the rivers.”

A clear estimate wasn’t available from the North Pacific Council’s scientists — in part, because it’s hard to say what happens to a salmon on its way upstream. The ecosystem’s still being researched.

The financial impacts were an immediate concern. About 100 boats fish for pollock in the Bering Sea. It’s the largest, most valuable harvest in the country, and almost all of it is landed in the eastern Aleutian Islands.

Frank Kelty is a resource analyst for the city of Unalaska, where pollock makes up well over half the local tax base.

“Every king salmon in that area in Western Alaska is important,” Kelty said. “But we could have a major impact to a fishery and communities in my area that I don’t think is justified to change what we have in place now.”

Over the last few years, trawlers have been getting fewer Chinook on accident — down to around 13,000 fish or 2 percent of the total population. Using excluder nets and rolling closures to seal off the areas where there’s the most salmon has made a difference.

The North Pacific Council voted to expand both of those measures. They also increased the amount of pollock that’s up for harvest in the winter, when bycatch rates are lowest for Chinook and chum salmon.

They’re a new priority. They may not be as threatened as Chinook, but chums are still an important source of food and income in Western Alaska.

Tribal leaders from the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Association of Village Council Presidents spoke on behalf of the region at the council meeting.

But Joe Garnie was one of the few residents who managed to make the trip to Anchorage from his village just outside of Nome. Garnie said things have changed in Teller.

“For the last 12 years, I’ve not caught one king, so I’ve had a forced closure on my king fishing,” Garnie said. “And I made the adjustment. I’m still here. I’m still healthy.”

In time, Garnie said the pollock industry — and the people who rely on it — will learn to make their own adjustments.

The new restrictions on bycatch won’t go into effect immediately. They still have to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Commerce. And the North Pacific Council also wants a look to make sure the regulations match up with their intent.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Female Inmates Find Support And A Home In Juneau’s Haven House

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:23

Haven House’s first resident, Delia Williams (left), sits with Haven House staff Jennifer Brown and Kara Nelson. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau’s first transitional home for women recently paroled or released from prison is welcoming its first residents.

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“This is the resident manager’s room here and we have a bathroom. Of course we need three bathrooms because we have up to nine women, so women and bathrooms are a must,” says Haven House Director Kara Nelson as she walks through the two-floor, six-bedroom house.

“They’re pretty standard rooms, but not too small and everything is really nice and we really want it to be homelike because it is their home,” Nelson says.

All the women get a twin bed, closet space and half a dresser. On the bottom floor, there’s a washer and dryer, and a den with computers, a TV and a big bookshelf. Upstairs, there’s a living room, dining room, kitchen “and then we have our amazing back porch where I envision amazing barbeques,” Nelson says.

Once a week, the women share a group meal – spaghetti and meatballs on this day – and Nelson says that’s when it hit her. After years of working on the project, Haven House has finally become a home.

“Just having everyone sit there, especially those women. They’re very unique and I feel like they were meant to be here. I broke in tears right before dinner,” she says.

Haven House provides women who’ve left prison a place to call home for up to 2 years. It’s a structured living situation where they have to come up with an individual action plan and get the support to follow it through.  The women are expected to find a job, pay $550 in rent and help with household chores.

“It’s a place that you get to be vulnerable for the first time and, of course, when you’re vulnerable, it’s part of your freedom. It’s a place where you get to dream again and there are people that are going to do whatever it takes to make sure what you need is going to happen. And so, all they have to do is want it and follow the rules,” Nelson says.

The residents have to meet with Nelson once week to go over their plan and they must attend some sort of women’s support, recovery or Bible group.

Haven House will be able to accept up to nine women. Right now, three women live there – a live-in manager and two residents.

In the den, Kara Nelson holds up a blanket given to Haven House by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Twenty-six year old Samantha Garton is one of them. She just moved in after spending a month at Lemon Creek Correctional Center for using meth.

“Being here is probably the biggest blessing that’s ever happened to me. I love being here,” Garton says.

She’s working at Silverbow Bakery. She wants to take online business courses and has hopes of being the catering manager. Her primary goal, though, is getting her 8-year-old son back in her life.

“That was my biggest struggle in life was giving my rights up because of my addiction, and I need to get better before I can have him,” Garton says. “It’s not going to happen overnight, so I’m taking it one day at a time.”

Delia Williams, 34, is working toward a similar goal. Her 12-year-old daughter lives in Haines with Williams’ mother. Williams was the first former inmate to move into Haven House on March 17. She works at the Juneau Empire and goes to support groups and recovery meetings.

From left to right: Haven House residents Samantha Garton and Delia Williams, Director Kara Nelson and Administrative Assistant Jennifer Brown. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For Williams, living at Haven House means accepting support from others.

“For me, it was really hard to ask for help or to accept anything from anybody just because, I don’t know, it made me feel bad. But just opening my eyes and feeling that support and lifting me up is really amazing,” Williams says.

Jennifer Brown says that’s the beauty of Haven House. Brown is the administrative assistant and also a former inmate.

“You know that you’re not alone in addiction and you know that there are people going to be supporting you and showing you how to be sober and how to work and how to live and how to get things back, just to give you the foundation that you need,” she says.

Brown says she’s happy to work for people who want help and are ready for it.

Categories: Alaska News

Tax-Related Identity Theft Increasing

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:22

Have you filed your taxes yet? Tax day is just a few days away. And the state’s consumer protection unit is warning it’s seeing an increase in a new type of tax time scam – tax-related identity theft. That’s where thieves use your personal information to file for a tax refund with the IRS before you get a chance to submit your taxes.

Ed Sniffen is an Senior Assistant Attorney General with the state’s consumer protection unit. He says the unit first started hearing reports of tax related identity theft in 2012.

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Categories: Alaska News

How Russian Easter Bread Became An Alaska Native Tradition

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:21

The finished product: a decorative loaf of kulich (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Easter was last weekend but some Russian Orthodox Christians will observe it this Sunday. That’s where Easter, or what they call Pascha, lands on the Julian calendar. There’s a special treat that goes along with the celebration. It’s not a chocolate bunny. It’s called kulich.

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Siouxbee Lindoff has been making Easter bread for over 40 years. It’s what she’s known for.

“I’m in such high demand. I posted on Facebook, ‘I’m only making two batches of bread. I’m only making two batches and no more,’” she says.

In the kitchen of the Juneau Tlingit Haida Community Council Building, she sifts flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Adding a dab of salt.

“I will add nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, cranberries, raisins, pecans,” Lindoff says.

After mixing in the yeast and cracking eggs, she stirs the dough with a spoon.

“My dream is to invest in a big commercial mixer but everything is still done by hand,” she says.

Siouxbee Lindoff heating up yeast to make Easter bread (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Lindoff measures all of the ingredients by sight. The whole process, she says, is intuitive. If you want to learn how to make kulich from her, she says it’s a hands-on process.

“People will look and say, ‘Well how can you make something and not measure?’ And I thought, ‘By the feel.’ And I don’t mind sharing, I don’t mind teaching. Cause to me, it’s like, saving our traditions,” she says.

Lindoff grew up in the Russian Orthodox church. Her family split their time between Sitka and Hoonah. Her dad was the only Tlingit priest ordained from St. Herman Theological Seminary in Kodiak. She says being a pastor’s kid could sometimes be a burden.

“My mom used to say, when they look at you they say, ‘There’s that father Michael’s daughter.’ Especially when I was doing bad.”

She says her parents were strict but fair. They tried to protect her from the same discrimination they’d endured growing up. But it came at a cost. They refused to teach the Tlingit language.

“My dad said, ‘You will speak the English language. You will use the correct pronunciation. You will enunciate your words correctly. I don’t want to hear no slang.’ He was adamant about that. He didn’t want us to suffer like they had, ” she says.

Siouxbee Lindoff mixes the kulich dough by hand (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Lindoff’s father paid for his high school education. Her mother went to Wrangell Institute, which was a boarding school.

“And of course Tlingit was the first language that was spoken at home and she used to have to sit at the head of the class and have a dunce hat on her head. She died never wearing a hat,” she says.

Although her mom didn’t teach her how to speak Tlingit, she did show her the traditional way to make kulich.

“My mom tasted my first bread dough and she said yours taste better than mine. She never baked Easter bread again,” Lindoff says.

Russian Orthodox missionaries landed in Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands around 1780. The religion spread to Southeast almost 100 years later.

Sergei Kan, a professor of anthropology and Native American Studies at Dartmouth College, says the Russian Orthodox offered Christianity that was somewhat more tolerant of Native customs and also open to the use of Native languages. He says the Russian Orthodox Church translated the gospel into Native languages, like Tlingit.

“And I think the fact that the orthodox has survived in Alaska means that it was becoming a true Native church,” Sergei says.

After Siouxbee Lindoff incorporates the ingredients for the kulich, she sets the dough aside to let it rise for the next few hours.

“You can get frozen bread dough and you can go to the store but I don’t think you’ll be able to find kulich in the store,” she says.

Lindoff compares making the bread to other Native customs, like gathering herring roe. It’s a skill she’s passed down to her children.

“When I do things like this, it makes me feel like it’s part of the healing, like not being able to speak Tlingit because of that era where my mom and dad spoke it fluently and we didn’t and they didn’t want us to. But I feel like this is part of that healing now. This is part of us going forward with the traditional ways and saving what we can,” she says.

She’s excited to teach her great-granddaughter how to make kulich. She’s 5 years old and learning to speak Tlingit in an immersion class.

Categories: Alaska News

Education Tops List Of Contentious Cuts

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:35

As the Legislature enters its final days, the budget is the main concern. Alaska faces a multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall, and even expenditures that have been considered sacrosanct are now seeing reductions. The cuts to education are among the most controversial. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to discuss them.

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Categories: Alaska News

Gov Focused On Working With Legislators On Medicaid

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

With time winding down in the scheduled 90-day session, questions remain about whether or not legislators can agree on Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to expand and reform Medicaid.

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House Finance Committee co-chair Steve Thompson said he’s concerned with whether thousands of people can be added to a system he calls broken.

Senate Health and Social Services Committee chair Bert Stedman says he thinks that financially it works in the state’s best interests to go ahead with expansion and reform.

If expansion doesn’t pass, some believe Walker, by law, could seek authority from the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to accept and spend federal money tied to expansion and that even if the committee disapproves, he could move forward.

A Walker spokeswoman says the administration is focused on working with lawmakers.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Seeks Restraining Order Against Greenpeace

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

Meanwhile, Shell’s attorneys appeared in federal court this afternoon to argue for a restraining order against Greenpeace.

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The environmental group sent a half-dozen activists to camp on one of Shell’s Arctic rigs as it’s towed across the Pacific Ocean. If Shell gets its way, the group would have to surrender to the master of the Blue Marlin effective immediately.

Shell is also seeking a preliminary injunction, which would keep Greenpeace away from the rest of its Arctic fleet. The oil company got a similar buffer zone during its last drilling season in 2012.

Judge Sharon Gleason did not issue a ruling on either of Shell’s requests this afternoon. A decision is expected in the coming days.

Categories: Alaska News

Public Comment Period Opens Up For Shell’s Chukchi Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

If you want to comment on Shell’s plan to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, now is your chance. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced Friday that it considers Shell’s latest exploration plan and supporting documents sufficient enough to begin an official review. The determination kicks off a public comment period that lasts through the end of April.

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Shell’s multi-year plan calls for returning to the Chukchi Sea with two rigs to drill up to six wells, all into its Burger Prospect. That’s in shallow water about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright. The company can only operate during the summer and has to pull its equipment out before fall ice returns.

Shell drilled one partial well in the area in 2012 but was not allowed to penetrate the petroleum layer because its containment dome was inoperable. It was one of a series of mishaps that marred the season.

The earlier plan called for a dozen support vessels. This time, Shell says it expects to have about 30, including tugs, anchor handlers and ice-management vessels. Although Shell expects to again use Dutch Harbor as a resupply base, it proposes to keep its well containment barges and tugs moored in Kotzebue Sound.

Federal regulators now have 30 days to consider Shell’s exploration plan.

Environmental groups issued a volley of critical statements today, calling Arctic drilling unsafe and the regulatory process rushed.

Categories: Alaska News

Tanaina Announces Move To St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

It has been just over two months since Tanaina Early Childhood Development Center was informed it would need to vacate its space at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Now, the center has reached an agreement to stay temporarily at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

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Tanaina was already planning on leaving their space at UAA for the summer while renovations are made to the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. So, the center was reaching out to St. Mary’s, but, Tanaina director Stephanie O’Brien says once the center found out it had to find a new home, the discussions changed course.

“Those conversations became a, ‘well how long could we stay here,’ and St. Mary’s is extremely kind and has been very generous to offer their space to us for as long as we need,” she said.

Students at St. Mary’s preschool prepare to go outside. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Reverend Michael Burke – the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church – compares Tanaina’s situation to that of a neighbor who lost their home.

“Tanaina has lost their home, and that’s just tragic,” he said. “And we’re just a neighbor; we’re just a neighbor that says, ‘OK, we’ll double up as best we can and we’ll help and support you through this period while you figure out your next steps.'”

The church already serves 29 community organizations and non-profits each month. Despite all the activity, though, Burke says there’s plenty of room for Tanaina.

“We believe the people of St. Mary’s are up to the task; we believe Tanaina us up to the task,” Burke said. “We’ll all have to be patient with one another and we’ll have to be acutely aware of other people’s needs, but, I think this is something we can do.”

Burke says hosting Tanaina will not impact St. Mary’s Creative Preschool, but it will require some extra work over the weekends to accommodate the church’s Sunday school programs.

Discussions between UAA and Tanaina have been ongoing since early February. And Stephanie O’Brien says they will continue to explore future partnerships with the university.

“But right now their answer is ‘no,'” she said. “So we’re just kind of focusing on ok, great, we’re moving to St. Mary’s, they’re an amazing place to be, an amazing group of people and I think we’ll be a good fit.”

St. Mary’s playground. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The University was providing Tanaina it’s current space free of charge. Tanaina will be paying rent in their new location, but O’Brien says St. Mary’s gave the childcare center a generous offer.

“It’s definitely affordable for us, and we’re able to be able to make the payments and take on those bills – totally fine,” O’Brien said. “Our enrollment will need to be at 100 percent at all times. So, we’re actively enrolling for our summer program for school-aged kids; we’ll have some spaces come up in preschool.”

Tanaina will keep it’s entire staff, and O’Brien says they will still be able to handle the same number of children.

Tanaina’s last full day at UAA is May 8 and reopen at St. Mary’s on May 12.

Categories: Alaska News

NPFMC Addresses Chinook Bycatch

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

This week, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been looking at ways to cut back on the number of Chinook salmon that get scooped up by commercial trawl boats in the Bering Sea.

The goal is to send more salmon back to subsistence users around the state.

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It hardly needed to be said — but as state biologist Katie Howard pointed out in a presentation to the North Pacific council:

“These recent declines in run abundance for Chinook salmon [are] really a statewide phenomenon, but it has been very notable in Western Alaska stocks,” Howard said.

That’s led to commercial closures and subsistence restrictions around the region. At the same time, Western Alaska salmon made up about half of all the Chinook that were pulled up commercial trawl boats, out looking for pollock in the Bering Sea.

Researchers have spent the past few days trying to explain how the North Pacific Council could change that.

One option is make trawl vessels fish earlier in the year — when there are fewer salmon feeding in the Bering Sea. Another is to increase the penalties for the boats with the worst track records.

Alan Haynie is with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

“There’s a speed limit. And if you go over the speed limit, there’s something that you’re going to pay,” Haynie said.

Signing up for fines and voluntary closures is part of the reason why the pollock fleet has avoided heavy restrictions on bycatch until now.

Working together to avoid salmon has been pretty successful. The pollock fleet has never come close to catching their absolute limit of 60,000 Chinook — or having their harvest immediately shut down.

Lowering that cap is technically an option. But the North Pacific council’s advisory board voted against it this week.

As Haynie, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center scientist pointed out:

“One thing that’s really become clear in terms of assessing the impacts on the fleet is that the impacts aren’t just a little more fuel,” Haynie said. “They’re big changes in product value. When people move off of fish that are the optimal size and move somewhere else, there’s a real loss in that sense.”

Haynie says it won’t be possible to account for those losses before the North Pacific council takes a final vote this weekend.

When they do, they’ll be down one member. Simon Kinneen has been asked to recuse himself from voting on salmon bycatch.

Kinneen is a vice president for the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, or NSEDC. They’re a community development quota group for Nome and surrounding villages — with their own piece of pollock quota and ownership shares in other seafood businesses.

Lauren Smoker is an attorney with the NOAA Office of General Counsel.

“If a council member has financial interests that exceed 10 percent of the harvests or processing, that is a threshold that has been exceeded and a recusal determination follows,” Smoker said.

Kinneen appealed the ruling, but it still stands.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Exploring Identity

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

More than 90 languages are spoken in Anchorage. And one resident is trying to learn – and teach – about every single one as part of a new podcast. KSKA’s Anne Hillman found out the project comes from his desire to discover the diversity of his own background.

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Corey Benefrayim sits on the couch in his one-room Fairview apartment, his wavy hair slicked back and tidy mustache styled with upturned points. A couple of years ago he tried an experiment. He walked around the Dimond Center with an audio recorder asking people to guess his ethnicity.

“’Native with Mexican.’ ‘I think you’re black or mixed.’ ‘Black and white, but I don’t know. I know, this is terrible. This one is awkward!

It’s a question Benefrayim has been asking himself for years – what is his background? His identity? He’s been mapping it out on his body.

Hillman: “Walk me through your tattoos.”
Benefrayim: “We could spend all day on this.”
Hillman: “Let’s start with your arms.”

Music notes loop up one forearm, an outline of France adorns the other.

“My cousin does tattoos in Michigan, and so a lot of the times it’s like ‘hey lets order pizza and do tattoos’ and before you know it you’re getting a tattoo that you don’t regret, so much, as ‘I wish I had put more thought into that,'” Benefrayim said.

The map of France is one of those. Benefrayim says he was trying to honor his mother’s family, but they’ve actually been in Canada for more than 200 years.

“So on the backside, I got the maple leaf,” he said. “The coordinates there are for the city they immigrated to from France.”

Benefrayim says he knows a lot about his mother’s side of the family but much less about his father’s. His dad wasn’t around when he was a kid growing up in Michigan. He says he knew the basics – his father is a mixture of Moroccan, Ethiopian, and African-American. And he’s Jewish. But Benefrayim says his mother never taught him about his father’s cultural or religious heritage. So as an adult, he picked up a book on Judaism.

“I just couldn’t put the book down,” Benefrayim said. “Everything spoke to me and it all made sense and the Old Testament, it clicked and this and that.”

He bought himself a yarmulke on Ebay, went to a synagogue, and eventually converted. His father’s past is now reflected in the tattoo on Benefrayim’s leg.

“I have the hamza, the Star of David, inside the star of David is the green star from the Moroccan flag,” Benefrayim said. “In Arabic it says ‘Morrocco is in my blood’ and here in Hebrew it says ‘My heart beats for Israel.'”

Benefrayim says his quest to find out about his own heritage made him curious about other people’s. So he started a podcast called “90+”. He’s trying to track down people who speak each of the more than 90 languages represented in the Anchorage School District.

Benefrayim walks into a cozy townhouse adorned with plush furniture and a friendly dog. He sits down with a high school student from Brazil and pulls out his mic.

“Okay, my full name is……”

He asks Vulgara about moving to the U.S. as a small child, learning English, speaking Portuguese at home. Eventually he gets to the heart of the matter.

“If someone asked you, how would you describe yourself, would you consider yourself a Brazilian, an American, an Alaskan?” Benefrayim said. “How would you describe yourself?”

“Ohh. A mutt, I guess, in that regard,” Vulgara said.

He says he’s influenced by his mother’s strong Brazilian culture, even though he doesn’t really speak Portugese. But he’s also shaped by growing up in Alaska and by living in Germany for a year. He says all of those things contribute to his identity.

And for Benefrayim, conversations about language are in many ways just a vehicle for talking about culture and identity – and for understanding those around you.

“You start looking at languages and cultures and stuff and you start to realize why people do a certain thing in a certain way,” Benefrayim said. “It’s beautiful.”

Back in his apartment, he shows me his mezuzah. It’s a small metal ornament that holds a Jewish prayer and is affixed to the doorframe of a home. His has symbols from both Judaism and Christianity. We talk about what it means to both of us. We’ve led very different lives, but both come from mixed religion families, both love radio. It’s a conversation we wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t started on the podcast.

“Do I really think at the end of the day my little podcast is going to create world peace?” Benefrayim said. “No. But it might make someone who normally otherwise would think badly about someone else, you know, once listening maybe to my podcast would think ‘Oh, okay, that’s a similar upbringing to what I had even though they grew up in some totally different part of the world.”

Right now, he’s only produced a few episodes. He says he’s stocking them up and they will begin airing on an Anchorage station soon.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Lupe Marroquin of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

This week, we’re hearing from Lupe Marroquin, who has lived in Anchorage for nearly 40 years. She moved to Alaska from Michigan and fell in love with it almost immediately.

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Categories: Alaska News