APRN Alaska News
A multimedia show on the Moravian Children’s Home near Kwethluk is on display at Bethel’s Cultural Center. The show profiles the demise of the orphanage which was home to many of the regions Native children after epidemics of the early and mid- 20th century and captures oral histories of the people who remember growing up there.
The show profiles the demise of the orphanage which was home to many of the regions Native children after epidemics of the early and mid- 20th century and captures oral histories of the people who remember growing up there. Leaving Bethel and heading up the Kuskokwim River, we turn into the Kwethluk River and go several past Kwethluk. We pull up to the muddy curving bank below the falling down buildings with peeling paint and broken windows surrounded by chartreuse tundra bursting into summer.
The abandoned Moravian Children’s Home campus has become somewhat of an attraction, with local tour boats and occasional berry pickers stopping by. Dorms, classrooms and a church, served as a home for many of the regions orphaned children between 1926 and 1973. Founded by Moravian missionaries, the home provided care and education to children, most of whom were Alaska Native. Diane Chaney Coffman is one of them. She was here in the 50s.
“I was here twice. The first time my dad was in the National Guard and he got stationed in Texas so they put us here. And then later my mom had TB so they put her in Anchorage in the TB ward. And so my brother and I were here then,” said Coffman.
It’s a story that is all to familiar in the Y-K Delta, children separated from parents because of difficult circumstances, often related to epidemics that swept through the region for years after contact, even into the 1950s.
After the 30 minute boat ride, Coffman steps into one of the old buildings where she spent those early years. She notices things have changed.
“Wow a pool table,” said Coffman.
Apparently visitors set up a makeshift game room in the abandoned building.
“So we’ve just entered … There’s a lot of broken glass on the floor,” said Eaton.
Clyde Pavel was at the home in the mid-50s when he was 11. He was born in Kongigigok and raised at Clark’s Point in Bristol Bay. His single mother drowned during fishing season he says and that’s how he ended up at Children’s home. He says he got into trouble a lot, which meant spending time at the woodpile.
“Being on the woodpile all the time. Haha. Do something wrong and you get to chop extra blocks of wood. Did you chop a lot of wood? Yeah. That’s why we were good on the baseball field, softball field. Hit a lot of homers,” Pavel.
He spent two years there. He eventually went to live with his sister in Bethel where he went to high school and became an airplane mechanic. He also remembers being quarantined with the measles in a room on second floor of the boys dorm. It was lonely and scary.
Katie Basile, a photographer who grew up in Bethel says she always wanted to know more about the mysterious place she’d grown up visiting.
“It’s kind of a remarkable place. It’s out literally in the middle of nowhere your know you’re driving down the river in your boat and all of the sudden these buildings just rise out from the Alders and it’s very mysterious. And I can remember going there as a kid – I think we camped out there a few times and there was just always something so intriguing and haunting about it,” said Basile.
And Basile’s photographs of the Home do capture that haunting feeling. Everyday things out of place, some destroyed by the elements – others remarkably in tact. A vintage vacuum
cleaner photographed in different places around the home now sits outside in a puddle … books on speaking good English and citizenship rest inside a window without mold or dust.
Before we take off Jeff ‘Buffy’ Pavel, Clyde’s son, says he thinks more people should know about the Children’s Home. Hopefully, he says, Basile’s projects brings light to a painful but important chapter of history that’s nearly losts. “I
would say, know where your heritage came from, that who lived up here – listen to what kind of stories they had to say,” said Pavel.
Photographs of the Children’s Home, portraits of former residents and recordings of their oral histories will be on display at the Bethel Cultural Center through the end of August.
Notes: The show will be on display at the Alaska Humanities Forum in Anchorage, which funded the project, in the new year.
Katie Basile’s multimedia project on the Children’s Home also exists online at www.nunapitsinghak.com. Numapitsinghak is the Yup’ik name for the land that the Moravian Children’s Home was built on, it means great little land.
Only one company bid for a single exploration lease this morning at a state division of oil and gas sale. Bill Barron, division director said the exploration area is on state land on the Iniskin Peninsula area of southwest Cook Inlet near Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. He said the first exploration of the area started in 1902 near Oil Bay and continued through the 1950s.
Barron said the idea with this first ever sealed bid for competitive exploration was to encourage exploration outside of current state oil and gas lease sale areas.
“Far from existing infrastructure, with relatively low or unknown hydrocarbon potential and where there is a higher investment risk to the operator,” Barron said.
As he described the more than 168 thousand acre lease site, he opened the bid.
“Bidding company is Cook Inlet Energy LLC, minimum work commitment dollar amount, $1,501,000.”
Barron says the lease term is 4 years. The licensee will pay a one time fee of one dollar per acre.
The Alaska Department of Transportation has released a Request for Proposals to the Ketchikan shipyard for construction of the Alaska Class day boat.
Southeast Alaska’s commercial troll fishing fleet will have to stand down for a few days, starting this weekend.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today (8-5-19) that the Southeast troll fishery for all salmon will close for four days, starting at midnight on Saturday, August 9. It will reopen at 12:01 AM on Thursday, August 14.
The fishery typically shuts down for several days in August to allow coho salmon to escape back into their home streams to spawn.
Fish & Game also announced that trollers will get a second king salmon opener next week. Trolling for kings will re-open on August 14. The opening will last three days, and close at midnight on August 16.
Fish & Game estimates there are about 36,000 kings left to catch before the fleet reaches this year’s target harvest. Trollers caught nearly 200,000 fish during the first summer king opening, which ran from July 1st through the 7th.
Trollers may still target chum salmon in certain areas throughout the troll closure, including in much of Sitka Sound. Trolling for all species will also remain open in select terminal harvest areas, including Deep Inlet near Sitka, so that fishermen can target salmon returning to hatcheries.
The crew of a seiner is okay after their fishing vessel capsized in the Prince William Sound earlier this week. The Auriga was seeking at shelter from a storm at the time of the incident.
The Seldovia Village Tribe was awarded a $40,000 grant from the National Park Service for cultural preservation.
A dead sea lion that washed up on the beach near Ketchikan was dissected last Thursday in hopes of finding out what caused the death. The necropsy took several hours, and attracted many observers. But it didn’t provide any clear answers.
Monday’s tailings-dam break at a British Columbia copper and gold mine could threaten Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries. That’s according to critics, who say similar dams closer to the border could suffer the same fate, polluting Alaska waters.
The Alaska Railroad Corporation hosted a ribbon cutting Tuesday at the Tanana River Crossing bridge and levee. It’s the first phase of the Railroad’s Northern Rail Extension project.
Anchorage police have arrested an alleged serial rapist and charged him with 10 counts of sexual assault. Thirty-five year old Clifford Lee of Anchorage was apprehended on Thursday evening.
The five known victims were all women who were intoxicated and walking alone in the downtown or midtown areas. Lee allegedly offered them rides then took them to secluded areas in south Anchorage and assaulted them. Some times he used a stun gun.
Lt. Anthony Henry with the special victims unit says the victims provided a general description of an Asian male in a dark colored SUV, but it took investigators over a month to link the cases.
“What you have is a fact set that never clearly identifies itself early. So what you do is you have these crimes that are reported and there are similarities in some of the cases but they are rarely exact. So it usually takes time before that pattern is actually recognized. And in this case, there were a lot of descriptions that were vague.”
This series of reported assaults began in late June. Police think there may be other victims, and Henry urges the women to come forward. He says it will both help the women find resolution and help the case against Lee.
The police believe that Lee acted alone. Henry says serial rapists who target strangers are rare. Most rapists know their victims.
The investigation is on-going. Lee is being held on a $750,000 bail.
Now, eight of them are stepping up to defend the government’s decision in court.
The Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and Wilderness Watch are among those joining Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a federal lawsuit. According to a recent filing, the groups will focus their arguments on “protecting the exceptional wilderness and wildlife values of Izembek.”
The lawsuit was originally brought forward by local governments, tribes and residents of King Cove and Belkofski.
They’ve been fighting to construct a road through the refuge for decades. When the Interior Secretary turned it down, they argue that she violated her trust responsibility to Alaska Natives — and federal law.
The court has agreed to let the State of Alaska join the lawsuit and help King Cove make its case for road access.
This weekend, several hundred veterans turned out for the first ever ‘VA Stand Down’ in Bethel. The event, put on by the Veteran’s Administration, helps connect veterans with services and benefits.
The most visible benefit to veterans was the several container vans full of military surplus gear. But Rick Epperson, Rural Health Program Manager for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, says the gear was intended to connect veterans with bigger benefits they’ve earned.
“Our main purpose is to talk with veterans about many of the benefits that they, many of them don’t even know that they qualify for. Many of em are eligible for compensation for things that happened to them while they were on active duty,” says Epperson.
Francis Utteryuk was an Acting 1st Sargent for the 143rd airborne, serving in Kuwait and Iraq in 2006 and 2007. He says signing up for benefits is important.
“They taught me since I came back I have more visits, privileges and benefits from being disabled,” says Utteryuk.
Some of those benefits are geared towards health care for veterans, which they can now get closer to home. Susan Yeager is the director for the Alaska VA Healthcare System.
“In May 2012, we were able to sign 26 contracts sharing agreements with 26 different native organizations across Alaska. YKHC was the first organization to sign that agreement, and so what that agreement says, ‘any eligible veteran, native veteran or non-native veteran that’s seen at YKHC, is eligible, then we the VA will reimburse for that care,’” says Yeager
Yeager says over a hundred veterans from the Y-K Delta signed up for the VA healthcare plan during their visit last week.
Mike Frueh, Director of the VA Home Loan Program in Washington DC, was also in Bethel for the Stand Down. In addition, he traveled to Y-K Delta villages to work on memorandums of understanding that will help Alaska Native Veterans get direct home loans from the VA.
“I hope it helps a lot of veterans. I know that the home loan program we’ve had for 70 years, we’ve helped 21 million veterans and their families purchase homes, and raise their children and live a life, and own a part of the American Dream,” says Frueh.
The MOU’s will make low-interest home loans available to Alaska Native veterans. The loans will have better rates than the standard VA home loans and can be used for remodeling. Last week the first MOU was signed for Metlakatla in southeast Alaska, the states only official reservation. Frueh says ten Y-K Delta villages have already signed their intent to sign an MOU.
And for veterans in surrounding villages who did not make it into Bethel, more military surplus gear is currently being shipped by a local airline cargo company, Ryanair.
The Organized Village of Saxman filed a lawsuit on July 25th in federal court over the Federal Subsistence Board’s 2007 decision to designate the Native village as non-rural.
Calling the decision, and the criteria used to reach it, “arbitrary and capricious,” the complaint asks the court to reverse that 2007 Subsistence Board decision, declare it invalid and award court costs to the Village of Saxman.
According to the complaint, residents of Saxman have continually engaged in traditional subsistence gathering since the community first was settled in the late 1800s.
And until 2007, the U.S. government considered the village rural, at least for subsistence purposes. In 1990, the Federal Subsistence Board ruled that Saxman was a rural community, even though the village and its residents have close ties to non-rural Ketchikan.
The board initiated a review of rural designations in 2000, and six years later published a proposed rule that kept Saxman rural. Here is Matthew Newman, an attorney with the Anchorage Native American Rights Fund, which is representing Saxman.
“They had a public comment period on that rule. They received overwhelming public testimony in support of that rule. In fact, their own staff at the office of Federal Subsistence Management supported maintaining Saxman as a rural community,” he said. “Then, somewhat unannounced and immediately, the board decided to vote and go in the opposite direction.”
That decision became final on June 6, 2007. Newman said the board didn’t offer an explanation for voting against the proposed rule.
Within a month of that decision, Saxman officials asked for reconsideration.
“The board took the request under advisement. They reviewed it for a full year,” he said. “But then their final denial of the request for reconsideration also didn’t contain any reason or any plausible argument as to why they took the action they did.”
The lawsuit argues that the criteria used to group Saxman with the larger community of Ketchikan denies Saxman residents the ability to continue customary and traditional harvests, and fails to account for the economic, social and communal independence of Saxman.
Newman said that Saxman waited until now to file the lawsuit in hopes of an administrative solution. And the subsistence board just a couple of months ago indicated it could reverse that ruling for Saxman.
However, Newman said, this year marks the deadline for the community to legally challenge that 2007 ruling. If the Subsistence Board does reverse it, the lawsuit could be dropped. But, “given Saxman’s experiences with the administrative process so far, the board will have to take some very affirmative steps.”
David Jenkins, policy coordinator with the Federal Subsistence Management Service, also noted that the Federal Subsistence Board is in the process of recommending changes. It would then be up to the federal government whether to accept those recommendations.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason. The defendants named are Federal Subsistence Board chairman Tim Towarak, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The defendants have 60 days to file a response.
Two fishermen recently learned that commercial trolling out of season – even by a single day – can be expensive.
Sen. Mark Begich wants the National Park Service to include sites where Alaska Native peoples were forcibly relocated during World War II.
Begich introduced a bill Thursday, asking the Department of the Interior to study the cost and feasibility of adding Aleut internment-related sites as one or more units of the parks system.
The bill is called the Aleut Confinement and Relocation Sites Study Act. In a press release, Begich says it’s aimed at remembering a part of American history that has long been “swept under the rug.”
Begich is asking for a three-year study about incorporating sites in Southeast where hundreds of Unangan peoples were interned: Funter Bay, Burnett Inlet, Killisnoo, Ward Lake and the Wrangell Institute.
The relocated people spent two years at those sites, amid poor conditions and sickness. About 75 of them died.
The bill also covers the former Aleutian villages from which the people were taken: Makushin, Biorka and Kashega, all on Unalaska island, as well as the village of Attu.
The bill says those villages “were so depopulated and so significantly damaged by miliary [sic] activity and weather that the villages effectively could not be resettled after World War II.”
Begich’s office says the bill could lead to authorizing the Park Service to buy associated lands from current owners. The bill has the support of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association. It’s been referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Volunteers working at Bethel’s Alaska Territorial Guard Memorial Park are one step closer to completion. On Friday afternoon, local organizers and state military leadership dedicated the recently completed ‘Wall of Honor.’
The wall lists the names of 1-thousand, 435 members of the Territorial Guard who served from 31 Yukon Kuskokwim Delta villages. Buck Bukowski is a member of the ATG Park Committee and says the recognition is overdue.
“They were unpaid, all they got a rifle they had to turn back in when they were done, and no recognition until just a few years ago when most of them were already dead,” said Bukowski.
The Alaska Territorial Guard was formed in 1942 in response to the attack in Hawaii and occupation of some Aleutian islands. Members supplied all of their own gear and food, with no pay. Over 6,000 largely Alaska Natives members served the country until the ATG disbanded in 1947.
Major General Thomas Katkus is Commissioner of Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Adjutant General in charge of the Guard in Alaska. He says today’s military stands on the shoulders of those who came before.
“Those guys were here in a threatened environment, you look at the technology in those days before cell phones, before internet before the ability to communicate as quickly and rapidly as we do today. They stood there with an unknown threat coming and banded together, and basically were prepared to defend their communities,” said Katkus.
Organizers say there is work to be done on a 2-thousand foot walking trail on the tundra, plus more landscaping and potentially a gazebo to cover a picnic area. A tall bronze statue of a guard remember in a parka watches over the wall and veterans cemetery. The park includes large garden boxes and flags for each community.
Committee Co-chair Dave Trantham says the group is trying to get an old artillery gun for the site. He told a story about how the guard tricked Japanese spy planes.
“They cut driftwood and stuck it in the mud to represent an artillery pieces. I want to ask one question if may. Did the Japanese invade this part of the county? Uh uh,” said Trantham.
The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs contributed 140-thosuand dollars for the project, while local companies and organizations donated many thousands more in materials and work. General Katkus says Bethel’s park stands out in the state.
“They capitalize with the good ideas, they get the community behind a very small amount of resourcing and together come up with a project that that is greater as a whole than the sum of the resources sent out here. It’s just incredible what they’ve been able to do with it,” said Katkus.
The Alaska Territorial Guard Park is located on Tower Road near the airport. Organizers say it’s scheduled to be done in time for Pearl Harbor Day.
Just days after exchange student Haytham Mohanna made the long journey from Southeast Alaska to his home in the Gaza Strip, the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated into war.
Haytham lived and studied in Haines through a U.S. Department of State program that brings students from Muslim countries to America.
Two months ago, 17-year-old Haytham Mohanna was kayaking in Sunshine Cove and hiking to the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves in Juneau.
Now, Haytham is home in Gaza City spending his summer break in a war zone.
“Every minute we are expecting a bomb. When we hear a near bomb, we are saying that our house is going to be the next one,” Haytham says.
His family has an emergency bag packed with their identification and other important documents. If they get a call that their house will be bombed, they’re ready to evacuate.
“My family is lucky ‘til now that nobody died and they didn’t see anyone dying,” Haytham says.
At the moment, he is living with 14 people – his parents, grandmother, three siblings and his aunt’s family.
“Her house kind of is near the tanks and the bombs, so she’s scared and ran away from there and she came to our house,” Haytham says.
His parents and siblings sleep on the floor, while his aunt’s family shares the six beds in the house. It’s crowded, but up to 50 people have stayed in the house during other wars. This is Haytham’s third.
Haytham says they haven’t had electricity for more than a week. His family has their own gas-run generator, which they turn on to charge flashlights, laptops and phones. They also use it to pump water to the house.
Without a refrigerator, Haytham’s father takes the risk of going to the market a few times a week.
“In the U.S. we had fulltime electricity, we have water all the time, we have freedom to go anywhere. But here, I can be scared to go out to get the trash out of the house and I’ll be scared if I’m going to go to our neighbors’ to drink some tea or something. It’s really hard to get out, even from the house,” Haytham says.
The last time Haytham went outside was more than 10 days ago during a ceasefire. It lasted six hours.
“I went to hang out with my friends. We tried to go and get a haircut but the places were very crowded so we didn’t have a haircut,” he says.
Everyone was in the streets.
“People were happy, you know, just going out from their houses. Not really happy, just relief, you know,” he says.
Haytham says days pass inside the house doing nothing and he loses track of the date. He only sleeps between 5 and 10 a.m. when bombs are less frequent. He says there are more bombs at night.
Inside, Haytham says his family still occasionally laughs.
“But it’s not the laugh that comes from the heart. We just laugh to let my 6-year-old brother to laugh and feel that he’s safe and we’re not in danger,” he says.
Haytham has mixed feelings toward the U.S. due to its relationship with Israel. The U.S. provides Israel with $3 billion in foreign military financing annually, according to the Department of State.
Haytham misses living in Haines, but he says, “I can’t really wish to be there right now. My country now needs me. If everyone wishes to be outside, nobody is going to be in Gaza. There should be people staying in Gaza so they can protect it and after the war, they can build it.”
Haytham is supposed to start his senior year of high school at the end of the month. But, he says, schools have delayed opening. Even if the war ends soon, it’ll still take time to repair.