Alaska News

Inuit Circumpolar Council Discussing Food Security

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:42

The Inuit Circumpolar Council is holding a meeting in Nome next week. The topic is food security, and the goal is to create a framework to understand the issue from an Inuit perspective.

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Carolina Behe is the ICC Alaska Traditional Knowledge and Science Advisor and is organizing the event.

“Overall, it’s to teach how to take a food security lens to the entire environment,” Behe said. “Food security is synonymous with environmental health.”

Communities and organizations across the Bering Strait Region elected traditional knowledge experts to serve as representatives at the session. Behe says the meeting evolved after the ICC identified food security as a top priority for Alaska Natives but did not have a community understanding of that term.

“And so we started doing the research, and we found that there’s over 800 definitions to food security,” Behe said. “Only one of those that I have found so far is from an indigenous community and none of them are from the Arctic.”

These alternative definitions, Behe says, are based on purchasing power—how much money an individual has to buy food—and the nutritional and caloric value of that food.

Those things are really very, very important, but within the Inupiat and Yupik culture, food means a lot more than how many calories you’re getting,” Behe said. “It includes spirituality; it includes the clothes that you’re getting; it includes transfer of knowledge; it includes language; it includes you’re relationship within the environment or how you’re taught to be within that environment.”

“So all of these things have to be considered if you’re to consider food security.”

Two previous meetings were held in Barrow and Kotzebue and another meeting is scheduled for Bethel later this year. The collected information will be peer reviewed by a traditional knowledge advisory committee and then dispersed to tribal councils, industries, agencies, and the Arctic Council.

Behe says ConocoPhillips has already expressed interest in the project, and Inuit communities want to share the information with developers.

Categories: Alaska News

Delta Western Workers Approve Union Membership

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:41

After two months of protests, Delta Western fuel workers in Unalaska have voted to unionize. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific got the support of a slim majority in an election on Thursday night.

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Categories: Alaska News

The Alaska Innocence Project Challenging 1987 Murder Conviction

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:40

Evidence used to get a conviction for a 1987 Fairbanks murder trial is in question. The Alaska Innocence Project is pursuing post conviction relief for Michael Alexander, who was imprisoned for the March 23, 1987 kidnapping and killing of Fairbanks teenager Kathy Stockholm. The Innocence Project request challenges biological evidence that helped convict Alexander, and the group’s Director Bill Oberly says the FBI has concurred it could be suspect.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fire Season Likely To Start Early In Southcentral Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:39

Wildland firefighters are gearing up for the upcoming 2014 fire season. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, fire season could come fast to parts of the Tanana Valley and Southcentral Alaska.

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The BLM Alaska Fire Service will work with U.S. Army Garrison Alaska through early June to conduct routine prescribed burns over nearly 60-thousand acres.

Mel Slater is the Public Affairs officer for the Fire Service. He says the plan is to reduce fire danger as summer weather heats up.

Smoke from the Stuart Creek 2 Fire. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

“Well, these are areas over the years that have had debris, fallen trees and over the years, those things have built up,” Slater said.

The BLM and the Army have worked together in years past to conduct prescribed burns to prevent fires that could be associated with military training. Slater says the two agencies are reevaluating their practices prior to the upcoming fire season and in response to the nearly 90,000-acre Stuart Creek 2 Fire that was ignited during an Army training mission northeast of Fairbanks last summer.

“There are agreements in place between the army and BLM Alaska Fire Service that says who provides what kind of services and those negotiations are just taking a look at those agreements and making modifications when they’re necessary,” Slater said.

Forecasters expect the fire season to come on strong in parts of Alaska’s South-Central and Western regions due to low snow pack and above normal early spring temperatures.  Parts of the Tanana Valley prone to warm winds, also known as Chinooks, may also see heightened fire danger in May, but Slater says fire prediction is complicated.

“Trying to predetermine what kind of fire season we’re going to have is a pretty difficult guess at best. Right now it’ kind of hard to say, I mean we still have snow on the ground, so we’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to do our prescribed fires right now,” Slater said.

Prescribed burns are planned for the Donnelly Training area, Yukon Training Area, Fort Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, but recent snowfall has pushed back the burning.

Slater says it was supposed to start this week, but the Fire Service and the Army are reworking that schedule.

Categories: Alaska News

HAARP Research Facility To Shut Down

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:38

It’s been both praised and maligned. Praised by scientists as a tool to gain knowledge about Earth’s ionosphere; maligned as a secret means to develop an ultimate weapon. The HAARP resembles a giant radio antennae. It’s 180  towers are 78 feet tall and  have been beaming radio waves into the atmosphere since 1997. The facility covers about thirty acres of Department of Defense land just off the Tok Cutoff, not far from Gakona Junction. The news of its imminent shut-down has alarmed the scientific community. Bob McCoy directs the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

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“We’re up here in the subarctic, and we can see how the sun connects to the Earth along the magnetic lines at high latitudes. It would be a shame if this facility went away. “

McCoy says there are only three facilites like it in the world.

“One in Norway and one in Russia. But HAARP is much more flexible. It’s got a wider frequency range, it can go something like less than three up to ten megahertz, and has quite a bit more power.”

HAARP and UAF research projects have been linked for years. And major universities throughout the US remotely access the HAARP facility and it’s information – Cornell and Rice among them. That’s why recent news that the Department of Defense plans to abandon HAARP galvanized McCoy and fellow scientists to make their case to save HAARP to the secretary of defense earlier this year.

“So a lot of us realize how important it is, how powerful, how significant the facility is. So we’re trying to figure out ways to keep it alive as an active scientific tool. Last March the National Academy did a workshop and invited in forty- something scientists to testify about the value of the science that has been done and could be done in the future from HAARP.”

 It is a question of money. In these federal budget – cutting times, the roughly four million dollars a year needed to maintain the facility is getting scrutinized.

HAARP is owned by the Air Force Research Laboratory, but was until recently operated by an Anchorage contractor, Marsh Creek.

Steve Floyd is the principal systems engineer for Marsh Creek. He says HAARP’s money woes started with last year’s sequestration cuts.

“Our contract through Marsh Creek to run the facility, came to an end in the middle of June of 2013. And I guess it’s the sequestration cuts that really squeezed the budget and the Air Force Research Lab decided to save some money and take it dark for a while. “

 

He says the cost cutting measures are ill-advised, because the research done there is valuable.  Floyd says the ionosphere has a strong impact on satellite communications, but not enough is known about how that works.

 

“So we’ re transmitting out with a focused beam, doing a very, very, very minute but detectable stimulation of the plasma of the ionosphere with these what are really very standard short wave radio transmissions, but it is just enough to do a cause and effect study of the ionosphere.”

 

Floyd says the research conducted in Gakona has far reaching implications for both military and commercial communications systems.

“HAARP is in Alaska because we wanted to be underneath a region of concentrated ionosphere called the auroral oval. And we all have marvelled at the Northern Lights, and what that is doing is painting out this hollow ring of concentrated ionosphere, that’s caused by the Earth’s magnetic field. And we wanted to be underneath that auroral oval a good percentage of the time. “

He says there’s no better site than Gakona for the research facility. Bob McCoy agrees.  McCoy and his fellow researchers argue there’s a lot more science to be done in Gakona. McCoy says there’s a possibility that the defense department could find an entity willing to share the costs of HAARP’s upkeep.

 The Air Force is paying for HAARP ionospheric research now going on through this month and in May of this year.  During that time, HAARP will be inventoried to determine if some of its equipment can be used to support other scientific activities elsewhere.    Meredith Mingledorff, a public information officer with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirkland AFB in New Mexico, says in an email,

“The Air Force favors the transition of the HAARP facility to a basic research organization.”

But that depends on funding.  If no other organization can be found to pay expenses,

 ”The Air Force plans to decommission the research site…and initiate divestiture in June 2014.”

 The cost of the deconstruction has not been established yet.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Puppet Town

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:37

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

Haines seems like a quintessential Southeast Alaska town. There are eagles, bears, salmon, big mountains and rough water. It’s a picture-book no stoplight, no movie theater, low crime type of community. But there’s a seedier and eclectic side of Haines that emerged late this winter: the underground puppet scene.

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We aren’t talking about Muppets. Those fuzzy, funny and googly-eyed characters are not the same as puppets. Not in Haines, Alaska.

Here, there are at least three puppet troupes, dozens of self-taught puppeteers and puppet makers and one artist who has traveled to Europe to explore the history of puppetry, Byrne Power.

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

“What I saw was a puppet troupe who was doing a show – it looked like stuff from their backyards, stuff you’d find at the Salvation Army, rusting metal, old toys – and I said ‘We could do that,’” Power said, at the Sheldon Museum in Haines where he helped curate the puppet exhibit Strung Up and Reconfigured.

Power is sort of the father of puppetry in Haines. Almost 10 years ago he gathered a group of artists and formed a puppet troupe. Here’s artist Debi Knight-Kennedy explaining how she fell into the puppet scene.

“Byrne came up to me one day before I knew him very well and he said ‘So, you’re a doll maker.’ And I said, ‘No, I make figurative sculpture.’ And he said ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. So you can make your dolls talk. I’m starting a puppet troupe.’ And that was it. It was all over for me,” Knight-Kennedy said.

After a few years, Power stayed with traditional puppetry, while some in the group wandered in a different direction. Now the group is called Geppetto’s Junkyard and consists of more than a dozen people including a plumber, a yogi, a boat builder, retired teacher, jujitsu instructor and others.

This winter, they created a show called “Space Lust.” It was described on posters as a cross between steam punk, space cowboy and puppet space opera. It was wild scene of live music, special effects, acting and of course, puppets.

The puppets are all hand-made and usually assembled from found objects, like bicycle parts, kitchen gadgets, vacuum hoses and carved wood.

Knight-Kennedy’s husband, Gene Kennedy is also in the troupe. He’s a handyman and plumber, but is drawn to creating puppets, like the carved wooden horse he made, with multiple moving parts.

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

“It’s all wooden cut out plywood,” Kennedy said. “Basically there are four parts to the body and two levers that work in tandem. And the head swings on its own and it’s counterweighted with lead weights so it always comes back to the same place.”

Geppetto’s Junkyard has their fans. They pack in the sporadic shows. But no one – especially the puppeteers and actors, pretend they are traditionalists. Power is more so. Back at the museum he says he doesn’t think anyone in Haines is true to traditional puppetry.

“There are some puppet styles for instance that take real skill to manipulate. It’s not as simple as you stick your hand up and wiggle it around,” Power said. “You learn very definite things about how to move your hand and it takes months and months of training, years, to be good.”

Of the more than 100 puppets in the exhibit, about two-thirds were made locally. There was even one that might be local from several generations ago. It’s a bone, shell and sinew Tlingit puppet on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Puppets, Power said, cross all cultures.

In Haines this winter, puppets were everywhere. Besides the museum exhibit and Geppetto’s Junkyard show, Power also put on a show. Students at the Haines School created their own puppets. There was even a visit from Carlton Smith of Juneau who performs Tlinigt ventriloquism with his puppet, Charlie.

Power says he’s drawn to puppets because they still surprise people. He says when he goes on the road with a show, he’s not pigeon-holed because puppets are still edgy and intriguing enough to cross all ages and interests.

“Because if you have a music group, you say to someone, ‘Oh what kind of music do you have?’ and they say whatever style of music it is and you say ‘Oh, then you play here.’ But if you have a puppet troupe, the first question is ‘Is it for children?’ and I say, ‘Well, not really.’ And they look kind of blank and say ‘OK’ and you can play for anybody.”

And maybe that’s why puppets and Haines go together. For puppeteers like Melina Shields with Geppetos Junkyard, it makes perfect sense.

“I think that there’s just something inherently creative that happens by taking these found objects and letting the puppets be born into whoever they are,” Shields said. “And it’s just magic.”

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Kasaan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:36

This week, we’re heading to Kasaan, located in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales island. The coastal Native village is home to the oldest Haida building in the world. Frederick Otilius Olsen Junior is from Kasaan.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 11, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:00

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

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Sullivan Maintains Fundraising Momentum

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Republican senate candidate Dan Sullivan has kept up his fundraising momentum. Sullivan’s campaign reports he raised $1.3 million in the first quarter of the year. That’s a bit more than Sullivan, the former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner, raised during the prior quarter.  Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich also reports raising more than a million dollars during the first quarter.  Other challengers in the race haven’t yet announced their totals, which aren’t due until next week.

Little Progress Made In Dealing With Looming Retirement Problem

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The legislature has made little progress on Governor Sean Parnell’s goal of addressing the state’s looming retirement problem. Parnell hopes to change that by filing a bill that reintroduces his plan to deal with Alaska’s $12 billion unfunded liability.

Inuit Circumpolar Council Discussing Food Security

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

The Inuit Circumpolar Council is holding a meeting in Nome next week. The topic is food security, and the goal is to create a framework to understand the issue from an Inuit perspective.

Delta Western Workers Approve Union Membership

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

After two months of protests, Delta Western fuel workers in Unalaska have voted to unionize. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific got the support of a slim majority in an election on Thursday night.

The Alaska Innocence Project Challenging 1987 Murder Conviction

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Evidence used to get a conviction for a 1987 Fairbanks murder trial is in question.  The Alaska Innocence Project is pursuing post conviction relief for Michael Alexander, who was imprisoned for the March 23, 1987 kidnapping and killing of Fairbanks teenager Kathy Stockholm. The Innocence Project request challenges biological evidence that helped convict Alexander, and the group’s Director Bill Oberly says the FBI has concurred it could be suspect.

Fire Season Likely To Start Early In Southcentral Alaska

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Wildland firefighters are gearing up for the upcoming 2014 fire season. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, fire season could come fast to parts of the Tanana Valley and Southcentral Alaska.

HAARP Research Facility To Shut Down

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Gakona’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, better known as HAARP, is slated for the junk pile.  But a group of University of Alaska researchers are trying to stave off a Department of Defense move to scuttle the often-misunderstood scientific facility.

AK: Puppet Town

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Haines seems like a quintessential Southeast Alaska town. There are eagles, bears, salmon, big mountains and rough water. It’s a picture-book no stoplight, no movie theater, low crime type of community. But there’s a seedier and eclectic side of Haines that emerged late this winter: the underground puppet scene.

300 Villages: Kasaan

This week, we’re heading to Kasaan, located in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales island. The coastal Native village is home to the oldest Haida building in the world. Frederick Otilius Olsen Junior is from Kasaan.

Categories: Alaska News

Final Vote On Abortion Bill Delayed After Divisive Amendment Process

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 21:15

The Alaska State House opened debate on a bill putting limits on state Medicaid payments for abortions on Thursday, only to shelve it and delay a final vote to Sunday.

The bill requires abortion providers to sign a statement that a procedure is “medically necessary,” and it defines that term to include only physical conditions – not mental ones. Advocates of the bill believe the state is paying for elective abortions under the current law, while critics argue that the bill restricts abortion access for poor women.

The version that the Senate passed last year also included a provision establishing a women’s health program, which made the bill more palatable to moderate Republicans. That program would have allowed low-income single women to access birth control and family planning services, with those services largely paid for by the federal government.
A House committee stripped that language in March with support from an influential conservative advocacy group, but the issue of family planning became a major focus of debate during the amendment process.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, the Anchorage Republican carrying the bill, signed on to an amendment signaling the Legislature’s intent “to continue” funding women’s health services in the state. The amendment, which passed 35-5, does not commit the Legislature to expanding services in any way. A handful of Democrats opposed the measure because they did not believe it to be substantive, and they instead tried to reintroduce the original family planning language that would have compelled the state to establish a new program immediately.

LeDoux spoke against the Democrats’ amendment, arguing that the state already provides women’s health services through public health clinics.

“Other than putting contraceptives in the drinking water, I mean we’ve done just about everything we can do as far as family planning services.” LeDoux said on the floor.

The Democrats’ amendment failed on a 22-18 vote, with four Republicans – Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage, Cathy Muñoz of Juneau, Alan Austerman of Kodiak, and Paul Seaton of Homer — breaking ranks with their party.

Sen. Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat who offered the original family planning language last year, thinks the amendment to simply continue funding women’s health services is not a compromise measure, but a fig leaf.

“It means nothing,” said Gardner in an interview. “It’s just like a little ‘P.S.’ but without the force of law.”

While the family planning amendments prompted the most discussion on the floor, the amendments that showed the greatest strife on the bill dealt with the lack of mental health exception.

One amendment added that exception back in, which would have allowed women receiving medication for psychiatric disorders to qualify for abortion coverage because of the pregnancy risk that creates. That failed 21-19, with Mike Hawker of Anchorage joining the bloc of Republicans seeking to alter the bill. The other amendment would have allowed for a mental health exception only in cases where suicide is likely. That failed 20-20, picking up support from Republicans Charisse Millett of Anchorage and Eric Feige of Chickaloon.

Once the amendment process wrapped up, the bill pulled from consideration and tabled until Sunday. House Speaker Mike Chenault acknowledged that the outcome would be close.

“You can see it’s kind of a divided issue,” said Chenault after the floor session. “It always is, it always has been.”

Chenault added that final consideration was not being delayed because of any uncertainty over the bill’s ability to pass. The bill was moved so that legislators with scheduled absences could be present for a vote.

Last year, the Department of Health and Social Services introduced regulations that are nearly identical to the bill language, but include the mental health exception. Those regulations are now the subject of a lawsuit, and a judge has put a stay on them until the courts determine if they comply with the equal protection clause of the Alaska Constitution.

If the bill passes, it will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature, and then, most likely, to the courts.

Categories: Alaska News
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