A controversial proposal to build Alaska’s second drag racing strip near North Pole is closer to becoming a reality. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Planning Commission approved an application last night by the Fairbanks Racing Lions for the half-mile track.
Holiday light displays are a common site this time of year, including on the internet, where you can view highly orchestrated light shows. It wouldn’t seem that a few strings of bulbs on a small Alaska cabin could compete, but a Fairbanks area couple has gained international following for putting control of their lights in the hands of internet visitors.
The state’s legislative affairs agency released an opinion on Tuesday saying state grant money shouldn’t be used to build a recreation center with indoor tennis courts.
The controversial proposal to build a new rec center is on the agenda again at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday night.
Anchorage Senator Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat, says he asked for the legal opinion along with Democratic Senator Berta Gardener after his constituents brought the tennis court issue to his attention.
“I had a local community meeting regarding some drainage issues, peoples’ houses getting flooded and it’s going to cost 3 or 4 million dollars. And they say well you’ve got enough money to pay for new tennis courts but you don’t have enough money to pay for our drainage,” Wielechowski said. “And I got meet with parents and teachers and they say well you’ve got enough money to pay for tennis courts but you don’t have enough money for kids education.”
The issue has divided the Assembly for the past few months. The Alaska Tennis Association lobbied Juneau directly for the money to build a rec center. Then millions in funding for the project, which the Assembly did not request, was rolled into a $37 million allocation for city infrastructure maintenance.
The legislative opinion cites several sources, including the state constitution, and essentially says appropriation bills must be very specific. Some Lawmakers say they were unaware they had given money for the project, including Wielechowski.
“We were providing funds for critical and deferred maintenance. There was never any inclination that we were funding new tennis courts,” Wielechowski said. “In fact, if that were the case there very likely would have been attempts to strip that out, because we’re going into a period of deficits and states shouldn’t be funding things like that.”
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan backed the project and has said there was nothing wrong with the process.
The Alaska Tennis Association was contacted for this story but did not return phone calls by deadline.
The Assembly meets this evening at Loussac Library.
The state may be taking possession of eight new airplanes. They’re 1980s era cargo planes that the Army doesn’t want anymore. A provision in the Defense Bill now before the U.S. Senate offers them to the governor of Alaska. The catch is, the state has to figure out what to do with them – and how to pay for their upkeep.
Environment and health officials in the U.S. say they are puzzled by China’s decision to ban shellfish harvested from Northern California to Alaska. State officials say their records don’t show the same unsafe toxin levels that were detected by a lab in China.
Officials say an estimated 5,500 gallons of unleaded gasoline spilled into the water Saturday in the small Southeast community of Kake.
Kake Tribal Fuel reported the spill around 11 o’clock Saturday morning. “Kake Tribal Fuel noticed on Saturday when they went to open up their facility that there was a strong smell of gasoline and it led them to discover there had been a ruptured fuel line underneath their floating dock,” said Sarah Moore, the state’s on-scene coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in Juneau.
Moore said the initial amount reported spilled was 7,000 gallons, however, the corporation estimates its probably closer to 5,500 gallons. “Saturday morning when they first called it in they were saying there was a rainbow sheen of 100 yards and along the protected areas right around the fuel dock you could see free product,” Moore said.
The Coast Guard reported all vessels were removed from the harbor and police secured the area. Coast Guard petty officer Jeffry Crews said first responders in Kake initially put out containment booms around the spilled gas. “But unfortunately that’s not very safe to do with gasoline,” Crews said. “It’s a very volatile oil and very dangerous to try and contain. So the state and the US Coast Guard advised them to remove the boom and keep any vehicles or anything that could potentially ignite a spark away from the gasoline. And then we had them lay down fire suppressant fog with fire hoses on the big clumps of gasoline to try and break it up and keep the fumes down.”
Crews said it’s possible the flexible fuel line broke because of high wind and wave in the area but the cause of the leak is under investigation. He said the bad weather also disbursed the spilled fuel. “The tide and the wind and the currents all conspired to carry pretty much everything out to sea. So we didn’t have much to collect anyway. Because the weather conditions which were pretty bad on Saturday did a really good job of evaporating the product or taking it out to open water where it was gonna evaporate faster.”
The Coast Guard plans to respond to Kake to investigate.
A phone call to an official with Kake Tribal’s fuel operation was not returned. DEC is recommending that no one in Kake collect shellfish from the area immediately around the fuel dock.
Riversdale Alaska is mothballing its plan to mine coal in the Chickaloon area. The Australian-owned mining company is turning its sights on coal prospects in Alberta, Canada, instead.
The University of Alaska, Fairbanks Museum of the North recently acquired as many as 150,000 fish and marine specimens from the National Marine Fisheries Service. The acquisition means the museum’s fish collection has doubled in size.
Juneau’s soup kitchen and shelter recently received a donation of salmon with an estimated retail value of more than $100,000.
Nine tons of individually wrapped frozen salmon steaks sit in a container at Juneau’s Alaska Marine Lines. The fish has been donated to The Glory Hole, Juneau’s soup kitchen and shelter.
The donation was made by SeaShare, a non-profit based in Seattle that works with the seafood industry to help get food to people who are served by food banks and soup kitchens.
“Our role is we try to make it easier for fishermen and processers to donate and we’re able to bring in other companies who can help with freight or packaging or storage so the donating entity doesn’t have to bear the whole brunt of bringing them up there,” says SeaShare executive director Jim Harmon.
The salmon donated to Glory Hole is chum bycatch from the pollock trawl fishery in the Bering Sea.
“Fishermen have the opportunity to retain those fish and bring them into shore and donate them to SeaShare. We’re the only agency authorized to receive prohibited species catch. If they don’t retain them for us, they have to throw them overboard so there’s no economic incentive to them for retaining high value salmon while they’re fishing for pollock,” Harmon explains.
SeaShare will donate about 1.5 million pounds of fish this year – ten percent of that comes from the bycatch program; the rest is from seafood companies.
Harmon says the goal is to utilize fish that would otherwise be thrown overboard. SeaShare works with more than 120 boats, which Harmon says accounts for every boat in the Bering Sea pollock fishery and more than half in the Gulf of Alaska fishery.
“We make it clear that nobody is asking for bycatch, the people who work with us are some of the best fishermen who work the hardest to avoid it but when they do catch it, they want to see something good done with it,” says Harmon. “They want to utilize everything that’s in the net, so they donate it to us.”
SeaShare has also donated fish to Anchorage, Kodiak, Fairbanks, Kotzebue, Galena, Dutch Harbor, and St. Paul.
In February Juneau’s Glory Hole received 8,000 pounds of sockeye fillets shared among a few other organizations. Executive director Mariya Lovischuk says she was initially overwhelmed with the current donation of 18,000 pounds, “but then I figured that definitely if I called around our partner agencies we would be able to utilize the fish for sure, and I was right, so now all the fish is going to the right places.”
The fish is being divided based on need and freezer space. Glory Hole clients will help distribute the salmon to more than ten other organizations, including Southeast Alaska Food Bank. Manager Darren Adams says the food bank will get 5,000 pounds.
“That’s a very generous donation,” he says. “We can always use an influx of protein. We tend to get a lot of empty calories but it’s always nice to get stuff like salmon and other meats that allow us to offer something healthy to our clients.”
Adams says the food bank will distribute the fish to several organizations in Juneau as well as to individuals and families that pick up food on Saturdays. Last Saturday, that was 60 people but Adams says the number changes week to week.
According to Lovischuk, Glory Hole will keep 3,000 pounds of salmon. She says that’ll help feed the 60 to 100 people that go there for lunch every day. “I think it’ll probably be enough protein for us to do our lunch program for two months.”
Lovischuk says Glory Hole is almost finished with the coho salmon donated in September by Juneau hatchery Douglas Island Pink and Chum, so the SeaShare donation is coming at just the right time.
The bankruptcy of a Fairbanks primary mental health care provider earlier this fall, and the more recent closure of an assisted living facility, has resulted in a major void in support services in the area. A community forum held last week in Fairbanks brought people together to discuss solutions.
Two dead, oil – covered seagulls have been found off the coast of St. Lawrence Island. In a release issued today [Friday], the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says that the two freshly dead birds were discovered by off shore hunters on December 10. No oil slick has been reported in the vicinity of the oiled birds, and no responsible party has been identified. The source of the oil remains unknown.
A U.S. Coast Guard plane was dispatched from Kodiak to survey the area around the island, but found no signs of an oil slick. Results are pending from a necropsy on one of the birds. ADEC continues to monitor the situation.
In November last year, about a dozen oiled animals washed up on St. Lawrence Island. Officials weren’t able to pinpoint a cause.
Governor Parnell’s state budget totals $12.4 billion, and includes drawing $1.1 billion from reserves. Many capital projects saw significant cuts in the proposed budget, including the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.
According to Emily Ford, spokeswoman for the Alaska Energy Authority, $110 million dollars is needed for AEA to complete the necessary prep work for a license to build the dam. Governor Parnell’s budget gives them $10 million. The FERC application is currently scheduled to take place in September of 2015, two months after the proposed budget ends. In an email statement, Emily Ford says that AEA will be prioritizing field activities and adjusting the licensing schedule as needed, but will continue moving forward.
At a press conference following the budget announcement, Governor Parnell gave his reason for cutting so deeply into Susitna-Watana’s budget.
“Their timeline for appropriations included having reached land access agreements with the landowners in the area. Those have not been reached, and I told AEA I wanted to see more significant progress on land access agreements before we committed a significant amount of money…”
Attending the press conference by telephone, I asked Governor Parnell what sort of communication he had received from AEA regarding both the impact of budget cuts and the progress of land access.
“I’ve been briefed on it throughout the fall, with respect to those issues. I understand negotiations are ongoing. I’ve also let them know that, again, before I can ask legislators for a significant amount of funding, I need to see significant progress on land access. There’s no sense in moving forward without that.”
It’s uncertain exactly what kind of impact the budget cuts will have on the schedule for research for the Susitna-Watana Project. Land access delayed a number of studies that were supposed to take place this year, and now the inability to access land owned by Alaska Native Corporations is hitting the project in the pocket book.
Requests for further comment from AEA following the Governor’s remarks did not receive a response in time for air.
Governor Parnell’s entire budget proposal can be found here.
- See more at: http://ktna.org/2013/12/12/governors-2015-budget-slashes-susitna-dam-funding/#sthash.vKy6YKIJ.dpuf
Nelson Mandela’s funeral is Sunday. The well-known African leader passed away at 95. He fought Apartheid or racial segregation, which kept him in prison for decades by the country’s government, run by the white minority. One Bethel resident was deeply moved by his passing.
Wouter Redelinghuys grew up in South Africa and moved to Bethel about a year ago after his wife got a job here. He was born in 1977 and by then Mandela had already been in prison for over a decade.
“It’s very difficult to talk about South Africa and not talk about race, which is always a very sensitive issue,” Redelinghuys says.
He says he saw segregation as a white person.
“Growing up in South Africa, I thought that South Africa was mostly a white country which is a ridiculous thought because only ten percent or even less than ten percent of South Africa’s population is white but segregation was so effective and so strictly enforced that everywhere we went all we saw was white people,” Redelinghuys says. “I remember the signs very clearly, “Europeans Only”. Really the only interaction you had with someone who wasn’t white was someone working in your house or someone working in your garden. Schools, shops, malls, everything was completely segregated. It’s difficult to imagine but you lived in this bubble that was completely outside of reality of what was going on.”
Redelinghuys later learned what was going on. He didn’t hear about Mandela while he was in prison because political prisoners were not allowed to communicate with the outside world. There was also a lot of fear among the people.
“There was a genuine fear of the secret police and the way the government operated,” Redelinghuys says. “Cape Town where I grew up has always been the liberal city in South Africa. It had big student protests and there was a big Anti-Apartheid Movement but even amongst them, it was certainly never openly discussed with us, and I know from speaking to people who were older, you were always extremely careful about who you spoke to if you had Anti-Apartheid views because you never knew if the person you were talking to was a paid government informer or not, which they had a lot of within the Anti-Apartheid Movement as well.”
Mandela was eventually released from prison in 1990 after 27 years. It took continued international pressure and the country’s new government leadership, which saw Apartheid as unsustainable. Redelinghuys says leading up to his release you could see “Free Nelson Mandela” spray painted on walls all over South Africa.
“I was young at the time, I think I was 14, maybe 13, but I remember it as it was yesterday,” Redelinghuys says. “It was a big event, everyone came together and watched it when he was freed from prison as he walked out of the gates out of the prison and that was the first time I can consciously remember seeing him on television. And then the speech he gave afterwards in Union Square in Cape Town.”
Another big event Mandela spurred bringing the country together was the day South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Redelinghuys says he’ll never forget it. Rugby was largely considered a white sport but was publicly supported by Mandela.
“It was the first time I can remember being proud to be a South African, it’s a moment that I will always treasure,” Redelinghuys says. “I don’t think there’s a drug in the world that can make you feel as good as we all felt that day.”
The event was documented in the movie, “Invictus”.
Redelinghuys still has family in South Africa he visits about once a year. He says it’s still segregated, not by law anymore but by social status and financial means. He says there’s still tension between racial groups but the country continues to move forward, in part, due to the life of Nelson Mandela.
For low income Alaskans who want to buy health insurance on the federal marketplace, there’s a magic number to keep in mind: $14,350. That’s the amount of yearly income they have to earn to qualify for a subsidy to purchase coverage. With the subsidy, they have to pay very little for health insurance. But below that mark, it’s full price.
Musokay Lukwago has been uninsured for a decade. And when she went to the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center recently to meet with an Affordable Care Act outreach worker, she expected that was about to change.
Instead, she walked out of the office with nothing.
“I couldn’t understand it. It’s not like I don’t work, I do! But I don’t make enough money to take care of me. I need insurance because anybody can get sick.”
Musokay is 59. She works a part time service job and earns less than 100% of the federal poverty level in Alaska, or $14,350 dollars. Under the Affordable Care Act, she was supposed to qualify for Medicaid. But a Supreme Court decision allowed states to opt out. Last month, Governor Parnell decided against expanding the program, even though the federal government would pay most of the bill. That means the poorest Alaskans are left without any benefit from the new health law. Musokay says Parnell’s decision is difficult to accept:
“He’s not elected to be in that office just to- I don’t know they’re just showing off in those offices. They can go and show off in their homes. They should not be in those offices if they’re not capable of delivering.”
Without a subsidy, a mid-range health insurance plan on HealthCare.gov would cost Musokay nearly $800 a month, far out of her reach. She can apply for a hardship exemption so she won’t have to pay the tax penalty for remaining uninsured.
Keith Ferrari was worried he was going to be in the same situation as Musokay.
“I really was.”
The Anchorage resident is 61 and works seasonally for his brother’s landscaping business. His yearly income puts him right near the federal poverty line. He decided to sit down with his employer in hopes of earning enough in 2014 to qualify for a subsidy:
“I really spent time with my brother to see if the $14 to $15 thousand dollars was workable.”
It was. And Ferrari’s projected income qualified him for a generous subsidy. He purchased a mid level plan that will cost him just $38 a month.
“It was such a burden off of my shoulders.”
Ferrari is thrilled with his new insurance plan. But he’s frustrated Parnell’s decision has left others in similar situations with no reasonable insurance options:
“I’m happy for myself, but I can’t really fully understand the reasoning that Republican governors have in not accepting Medicaid expansion, just looking at the thousands of people within this state that you have a program and they’re not going to be able to utilize it.”
Governor Parnell understands his Medicaid decision leaves more than 10 thousand low income Alaskans with no access to insurance subsidies.
“They’re real people, their health matters.”
In a press conference announcing the decision last month, Parnell said he would work to address the problem. He directed the Health and Social Services Department to write a report on the issue:
“Clearly we need to know more about the people in this category and their health care needs. What current services available to them are being utilized and if different services need to be accessed.”
Musokay says she would love to sit down and tell Governor Parnell her story. She says having insurance would allow her to visit a doctor regularly and address health problems early on, before they require an expensive trip to the emergency room that she can’t afford. But she says she has no plans to move to a state that is expanding Medicaid:
“We should not be scared, we have to tell these guys that we’re here and… it’s not like we’re begging them. These guys are paid, and you know how they’re paid? I pay taxes. These guys are paid from my money. They work for me.”
Musokay says being able to go to a doctor is a necessity, not a luxury. She hopes Governor Parnell will reconsider his decision.
Many Alaskans make a point of listening to the radio on that very special Tuesday before Christmas when they can have the unique and uplifting experience of hearing holiday greetings from friends and relatives across the state on “Talk of Alaska.” It’s your chance to reach out to people near and far with your good wishes for the holiday and the new year.
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
Most of us like to know something about our family history. And we might want to get some idea of who was here before us.
In Southeast Alaska, scientists and university students are looking for new evidence of early human habitation — and they’re finding it. They first have to figure out where the shoreline used to be.
“It’s like a sandy loam that’s got a lot of organic in it,” David D’Amore says, digging into a hole on the University of Alaska Southeast’s Juneau campus.
He’s looking for evidence that this spot –about 75 feet above sea level – was once an ocean shore.
“Digging sound, I can kind of see it now. This looks like it’s organic, over that beach, and then you hit organic again. Oh you do? How interesting,” D’Amore said.
D’Amore is a soils expert with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station. He’s one of the scientists working with university students to map Juneau‘s ancient shorelines.
They’re hard to find, because of the region’s ever-changing geography.
The weight of huge glaciers depresses the Earth’s crust. Their forward movement creates bulges of land. Their melting allows the surface to rise. And then, there’s plate tectonics.
Early residents – Tlingit Indians or their predecessors – lived along those shorelines. So finding their location, sometimes hundreds of feet above today’s sea level, can lead to new discoveries.
“We need one of those three-gallon buckets,” Dan Monteith, an anthropology professor at the university, said. He’s scooping water out of another hole, where he hopes to find something interesting. “Just emptying.”
“We’re going around, following up old river drainages or cut banks looking for evidence of old, ancient, raised marine beaches.”
They’ve already found some. Monteith walks up a small creek to an eroded bank. There, sticking out of the soil, are small, dirty-white seashells.
“By collecting shells and other things from those areas, then we can radio carbon-date those and get kind of a fixed point of when that was a beach at different points of time,” Monteith said.
The technique was developed on Prince of Wales Island.
Forest Service Geologist Jim Baichtal says you can make an educated guess at where early residents used to live.
“Just as you and I today would camp within 2-3 feet of high tide, so would folks in the past,” Baichtal said. “And if you had food and you had good moorage, that’s the kind of places we would camp.”
Baichtal and other scientists began their effort about four years ago. They headed up an estuary and into the forest to where waves lapped the shore thousands of years earlier.
“And we dug down about 50 centimeters and dug into the top of over a meter of charcoal and tools and other things that were left there by the inhabitants of that place,” he said.
Radiocarbon-dating showed the items to be around 10,000 calendar years old.
Baichtal says he and other scientists tried the technique on more than 75 Prince of Wales Island sites. About a dozen dated to around that time, showing Southeast’s first residents were well-established by then.
“It had been thought in the past that maybe there weren’t large populations here that early,” Baichtal said. “But it was because we never knew where to look. And this is giving us a whole different way of where to look and what to look for.”
Back at the university, Monteith and his students record GPS coordinates for each hole they’ve dug.
“Did you guys get lat and longitude on any other test bits we got? The Auke Bay school?” Monteith said.
The group has dug in other areas of Juneau. It’s also inventoried known tribal sites in a bay north of town.
Student Bernadine DeAsis says that helped her learn some of her own history.
“That was really important for me to know the history and the background to get a perspective of where the Tlingits were in this area, because I’m Tlingit myself,” DeAsis said.
Schoenfeld: “Are you hoping with the shellbed search to find some evidence of where people use to live?”
DeAsis: “Yes we are. We know for sure that they’ve been in this area, so it’s kind of like a treasure hunt for me.”
The effort will continue for many years, expanding to other parts of the region in hopes of creating a shoreline map that will lead to more discoveries.
This week we travel to the native village of Shaktoolik, a coastal village about 125 miles east of Nome on Norton Sound. Shaktoolik mayor Eugene Asicksik tells us more.
“My name is Eugene Asicksik and I live in Shaktoolik, Alaska and I’m currently the mayor and I’m a commercial fisherman all my life. We’re about 260 to 270 [people].
We moved to this present location in 1975 and we had moved because of flooding and erosion that started back in 1963 up to today.
The village is laid out in blocks with four houses per block and it is a very straight village with one street down the middle. It made it very easy for electrical and water and sewer lines to be brought in at a later date – which we currently enjoy today.
We do participate in commercial herring fishing, commercial crab – there’s roughly six crabbers. Most of it – most of the fishermen – we do have 31 active fishing permits in the community so it’s commercial salmon fishing.
We’re a community of probably 60 – 50, 60 percent for subsistence and timing of food that was traditionally gathered has changed slightly because of either early spring or wetter or drier summers depending on the season and also later falls. I guess what’s most impacting is the late falls and the no ice in the Norton Sound – which used to buffer the storms that occur.
You know there is some concerns that the next storm we will have some over-topping and water into the community from the oceanside because of the continued erosion.
Well, I like living in Shaktoolik because it’s home, and we can do our subsistence in the summer. And we’ll also do subsistence in the winter. We’re not that much into trapping today but that was something I enjoyed doing in the old days; and we also have winter ice crabbing through the ice and that — you could make a little bit of a living there.”
School districts currently manage their own health insurance plans. They pick their own providers, they decide how much of the premium they want to cover, and their employees can bargain for better benefits. But now, a senator from the Mat-Su Borough is pushing for the state to take over management of school health plans, and a report commissioned by the Legislature backs that proposal up as a way of saving money.
Alaska’s school districts spend a quarter billion dollars just on employee health care. It’s a big number that’s only expected to rise, and there isn’t one obvious solution to keeping costs down. But a consulting group hired by the Alaska Legislature thinks it has a few ideas, and all of them involve putting every one of the state’s school employees into the same insurance pool.
Malinda Riley with the Hay Group presented to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
“You’re saying that all of employees will go to this network, and as a result achieve better discounts because of the volume of employees that would be utilizing those providers,” Riley told legislators.
The Legislature contracted with the Hay Group to find out what might happen if they passed a bill putting the state in charge of managing health plans for Alaska’s 16,000 school employees — and their dependents. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican senator from the Valley, introduced the legislation this past spring.
The Hay Group surveyed all the state’s school districts, and they interviewed the trust and the insurance companies that currently handle school health plans. Their conclusion is that districts could save up to $34 million every year if the state acted like a broker for schools, without putting them in the state’s existing AlaskaCare employee health program.
“It maximizes the savings through a centrally managed program, so you’re getting that low-hanging fruit of leveraging your size to get the best contracting,” said Riley. “But what it also does is it helps to minimize some employee disruption when it comes to plan design.”
The Hay Group does see some downsides to that arrangement, though. Districts lose the ability to pick and administer their health plans. A change like this would also affect contract negotiations for teachers.
Ron Fuhrer is the president of the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate, and he thinks the bill would take power away from unionized employees.
“The way it’s written, it’s going to strip the right of education employees to negotiate their health plan benefits and costs,” said Fuhrer in a phone interview. “Under current Alaska statutes, health benefits is a mandatory item of bargaining.”
The NEA manages plans for about a third of the state’s school employees through the Public Education Health Trust. Chief Financial Officer Rhonda Kitter says that on top of their concerns about the bill, they also have questions about the Hay Group report. She’s skeptical that districts would be able to achieve the savings projected in the report, and she says the study doesn’t factor in the $100 million in startup costs the state would need for a takeover.
“We too are concerned with the medical inflation in Alaska, but strongly feel private enterprise is more efficient and more cost effective than government interference with health insurance, and is more nimble in responding to cost savings opportunities,” says Kitter.
Lawmakers will continue their review of the bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January. The Finance Committee has a continuing $350,000 contract with the Hay Group, and about $200,000 has been spent on their study so far.
One of President Obama’s closest advisers is leaving. Pete Rouse has been at Obama’s side since his first days in the Senate and at the White House, serving at times as chief of staff. But Rouse shuns the spotlight, so few people know of his Alaska roots, or the pull he’s had on the 49th state.
Savoonga, a community on St. Lawrence Island, harvested two bowhead whales last week, both of them female.
While the island is praising the immense intake of muktuk and meat amid an economic disaster, Theodore Kingeekuk, a drummer on the island, is celebrating another part of the anatomy — the uterus.
Theodore Kingeekuk is a 21-years-old singer, drummer, and dancer with the Savoonga dancing and singing troupe. He’s also co-captain of his dad’s whaling crew. And last week, after helping distribute meat and muktuk to the community from the two female bowheads, Kingeekuk returned to the beach where he collected the whale’s wombs. His plan:
“Cut them up, clean them out, hang them,” Kingeekuk said. “And that’s when I’ll be putting them on my drum.”
Traditionally, St. Lawrence Island drums are covered with walrus stomachs. But with this years’ bleak walrus harvest—in which the island gathered only one-third of its annual walrus intake—walrus stomachs are in short supply. So Kingeekuk decided to go a different route: whale uteruses.
“I just thought about it. And it actually worked pretty good. And the other drummers were amazed,” Kingeekuk said.
Kingeekuk used this method for the first time last year. He says he had never seen it done before but wanted to give it a try. And the result? Well, Kingeekuk says in addition to producing a lot more drums than walrus stomachs—six times more— whale uteruses are an all-around better drumming material.
“It’s [whale womb] a lot stretchier, and it’s much louder and you don’t have to spray, get it wet as much like stomach walrus,” he said.
Usually the whale wombs are pushed back into the ocean with the rest of the carcass where it becomes food for seagulls and other scavengers.
Not these uteruses, Kingeekuk says he will be making instruments for Savoonga’s drumming group. And if permitted, he will even try to sell a few.