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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 41 min 17 sec ago

New Alaska Branch of Americans For Prosperity Campaigns Against Medicaid Expansion

Thu, 2015-02-19 16:01

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, recently opened an office in Anchorage. They’re working to convince elected officials to support their vision of smaller government. And one of their main priorities this legislative session is defeating Medicaid expansion.

Americans for Prosperity opened up it’s Alaska office in early August to help elect Dan Sullivan to the U.S. Senate. It’s one of 34 chapters across the country. And state director Jeremy Price says the group is here to stay:

“This is a long term effort to promote economic freedom.”

The office has four staff members right now and Price expects that number to grow soon. Stopping Medicaid expansion tops the group’s legislative agenda. Americans for Prosperity led a successful campaign to defeat a Medicaid expansion bill in Tennessee this year, even as the state’s Republican Governor supported it. Price is hoping for the same success in Alaska:

“We think this is a huge issue that will have monumental impacts on the state budget for years to come.”

Medicaid expansion would allow low income childless adults to have health coverage. It’s funded by the federal government at 100 percent through next year, and then the match rate gradually decreases to 90 percent in 2020.

So far, Americans for Prosperity’s campaign against expansion in Alaska has been relatively quiet. The group held a reception at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau last month, where Fox News contributor Guy Benson made the case against expansion. Price says about 10 lawmakers attended.

In Tennessee, the group launched an aggressive radio ad campaign that asked constituents to join the fight against “expanding Obamacare.” Price won’t say if they’re planning a similar campaign in Alaska:

“I would say all of our tools are on the table and it will be kind of a wait and see approach…. We’ll take it day by day.”

Price says Medicaid expansion may seem like a good deal for the state, but it comes at the expense of taxpayers. He says the state can’t afford the program, even at the generous federal match rate because Medicaid already eats up too much of the state budget. Price also argues the federal government will abandon its funding commitment. Republican lawmakers hit on all those themes at a legislative hearing on expansion earlier this week.

David Guttenberg, a Democrat from Fairbanks, spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion at the hearing. He says Americans for Prosperity is interfering in the rights and health of Alaskans:

“Go home, go back to where you came from. Go back to your billionaire funders. The conservative movement now relies on Outside interests, Outside think tanks to tell them what to do, tell them how to vote and clearly there’s way too much of that.”

It’s an argument Jeremy Price is defensive about. He grew up near Fairbanks. Two other workers in Americans for Prosperity’s Anchorage office are also from Alaska. Price says 5000 Alaskans have identified with the group and many are ready to help get the group’s message out. He says the mission isn’t to convince the public something they don’t already believe:

“You can’t just come into a state, dump a bunch of money in and expect to have long term, lasting change. That doesn’t work. The only way this works is by engaging citizens on a grassroots level identifying issues that they care about, educating them on the perspective they may not be hearing and making sure those opinions and voices are heard in the assembly, the state capitol and in Washington.”

Price is planning to return to Juneau when the debate over Medicaid expansion heats up.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit Masks On ‘Antiques Roadshow’ Draw Questions From Southeast Alaska

Thu, 2015-02-19 15:22

Appraiser Tim Trotta with the unidentified owner of the masks. (PBS Antiques Roadshow image.)

recent episode of the popular PBS show “Antiques Roadshow” caught the attention of some Southeast residents when a couple of 200-year-old Tlingit masks from Haines appeared on screen.

It sparked the interests of regional Natives and historians and raised questions about how the items left the area.

Fans of Antiques Roadshow wait for those moments when an item on the program is valued at tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. The TV cameras catch the owner’s stunned reaction when they hear their family heirloom is worth more than they imagined. That’s what happened recently during an episode of the show that was filmed in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“[It] would sell in the neighborhood of $175,000,” The appraiser, Ted Trotta said about one mask. The other he valued at $75,000. “This is really, really remarkable material. These are among the most rare objects in North America.”

But for some Alaska viewers the value wasn’t the surprise – it was the two items being appraised. They were wooden carved masks, in the Tlingit style, clearly old and according to the owner, originally from Haines.

PBS does not identify guests on the show. Calls to the public broadcaster were not returned. But he did give one clue to his identity when he explained where the masks came from.

“They date back into the 1890s where my great-grandfather was a missionary to what is now called Haines, Alaska.”

The Tlingit masks. (PBS Antiques Roadshow image.)

Trotta, the appraiser, described the masks as a wolf and a face mask. He said there is a carving of a raven in the wolf’s ears and abalone was used for the wolf’s eyes. He said the face mask may depict an ancestor. He pointed out the faint pigments still visible. He estimated they were from the 1700s.

But local Natives and art experts say Trotta got a few details wrong. Those aren’t raven figures in the wolf’s ears, they’re eagles. The masks are likely from Klukwan, a native village about 20 miles north of Haines.

“When I look at them I see they are Tlingit sacred clan objects,” said Rosita Worl, director of Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau. “This belongs to Kaagwaataan of Haines. You’ve got a wolf and an eagle in the ear, so it’s got to belong to the Kaagwaataan there.”

Worl does agree the pieces are likely shamanic or tied to spiritual practices.

Helen Alten, who is the director of the Sheldon Museum in Haines, watched the online video of the show and said if they are that old, they would have had to been kept inside, perhaps in a covered grave. But she says they also appear worn and used.

“My thought was is that these were used in a cultural context,” Alten said. “That’s the kind of wear that I see in stuff that has been used in a cultural context over a long period of time.”

That brings up another point – how did the masks make their way into private hands, and to North Dakota? Using the clue from the guest about his great-grandfather having been a missionary here, the museum did a little research.

“From our research and our records, if his great-grandfather was here as a missionary in the 1890s for a decade the only person that could be is Pastor William Walter Warne and his wife Viola Bigford,” Alten said.

It’s difficult to say if the pieces were given as gifts or were collected. Alten says there are instances of pieces of spiritual value being gifted to missionaries if someone converted to Christianity.

“The other thing that has happened with Christianization, the missionaries were there to Christianize,” Alten said. “What happens is that with conversion people will give gifts like this of their old beliefs. Sometimes it’s part of the conversion is giving up the old. So, many missionaries acquired things as gifts.”

Worl says if that’s the case, the masks illustrate the ironic and difficult history of missionaries in the Chilkat Valley.

“What I find interesting is the contradictions,” she said. “The great-grandfather was a missionary and a teacher and at that time they were teaching Tlingit people our spiritual beliefs and practices were wrong. But at the same time he’s appropriating Tlingit objects. I like to quote Joe Hotch of Klukwan who said, ‘They collected our sins.’”

During an interview with PBS after the appraisal, the owner said he was shocked at the value, but didn’t plan on selling the items. He said they were important to his family.

Worl says Sealaska will try to contact the man if they can find out his identity.  Since the items are now privately owned, she says they can’t be repatriated. That avenue is only available when items are held by federally funded institutions. But Worl still thinks the items should be returned.

“In this case if we could identify the individual we definitely would write to him and suggest he return them to the Tligint Kaagwaataan in Haines,” she said.

Alten says the Sheldon Museum is also interested in reaching out to the owner. She says the museum would work with the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center in Klukwan to suggest the masks be donated back to the community or perhaps loaned so they could at least be displayed here.

It’s also possible Sealaska could work with other organizations to purchase the masks, if they ever come up for auction. But with the recent appraisal of a quarter-million dollars, that would be difficult.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward Highway Reopened After Rock Slide

Thu, 2015-02-19 08:07

A rockslide closed the Seward Highway in both directions for about two hours Thursday morning.

The slide pushed debris and at least one huge boulder onto the highway just before seven o’clock this morning.

State Department of Transportation spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says an SUV hit the boulder, which alerted officials to the incident. McCarthy says local weather conditions could have triggered the slide.

“Anything that causes a freeze – thaw cycle can loosen material,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy says slides are not unusual in the area, just south of Anchorage.

“This area, from Potter weigh station down to Indian, we do monitor throughout the year, but particularly in springtime, and other times, such as like after a seismic event or after high winds, for any material that may have become loose and may have fallen on to the roadway,” McCarthy said.

Highway crews cleared the rocks away, and the highway opened up by nine a.m. According to Anchorage Police Department there were no injuries reported in the incident.

 

Categories: Alaska News

International Experts on Arctic Warfare Gather For First Time At Remote Alaska Training Site

Wed, 2015-02-18 19:31

Soldiers from 12 countries and units all over the United States convened to discuss tactics, programs, and pedagogy on training military forces for operating in extreme cold environments. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA).

 

Just as the Defense Department is putting the country’s military focus on the Arctic and Pacific, the U.S. Army in Alaska held its first ever international summit on cold weather combat. Elite specialists in mountaineering, skiing, and Arctic survival came to the Northern Warfare Training Center near Fairbanks to learn new techniques for fighting in terrain that can itself be a weapon against troops.

http://media.aprn.org/2015/ann-20150218-04.mp3

 

It was -10 to -20 degrees at the Black Rapid Training Site–depending on who you asked–as Chief Warrant Officer Rommel Hurtado struck a magnesium bar against his knife, casting sparks at a pile twigs and tinder.

“It’s a very tedious process,” Hurtado said, but, “nature provides.”

Hurtado was at Black Rapids for an Army course in Arctic survival. The site is an hour south of Delta Junction, and usually used for training troops stationed in Alaska on how to operate in cold terrain. But for one week in February specialists from 12 countries and a handful of domestic units paid their way from as far away as Nepal for a summit on Arctic and mountain warfare.

For for to five months of the year, specialists with the Northern Warfare Training Center teach soldiers techniques for cold weather survival and combat, sometimes spending days at a time in sub-zero temperatures during training exercises. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

As international attention drifts further North, the Defense Department is leaning more on its military assets in Alaska.

“We recognize that cold regions are pretty significant right now, and becoming more significant,” explained Lieutenant Colonel Alan Brown, a USARAK spokesman. “The Arctic is only going to become more relevant, so military forces across the world are going to have to be able to adapt and react to these colder regions.”

Snow-shoeing up a hill in a thin white tunic, Lieutenant Colonel Francois Dufault of Canada’s Advanced Warfare Center watched soldiers and specialists ski by on the site’s groomed trails.

“I think the most important thing that we’re looking when we go outside like this is how you get dressed, because in the Arctic you know the big point is the layer system, and either you will freeze or you’re overheating,” Dufault explained. Part of his work at the summit was seeing how colleagues from other parts of the world do many of the same things, but differently, whether it be keeping rifles at an even temperature to prevent jamming, or slipping a plastic bag between layers of socks to trap moisture.

Not everything was so hands-on, though. Delegates spent a lot of time explaining to on another the finer points about their country’s cold weather military capabilities. Denmark became interested in its Arctic areas just three years ago, and is trying to integrate the unique abilities of its Home Guard in Greenland, some of whom spend months patrolling the remote coasts by dog-team. The Germans boast a mountain facility where specialists can take courses in high altitude sniper-shooting.

Lieutenant Colonel Dorjnyam Shinebayor is head of the Mongolian army’s Special Task Battalion, which is drawing on nomadic traditions for carrying artillery and supplies.

“We [use] the horse, and yaks,” Shinebeyor said. “And camel,” he added.

Sustained Unit Support Vehicles are small, durable pieces of equipment for quickly moving troops over snowy terrain. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Some of the specialists came from countries without an obvious connection to the cold. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Rogerson oversees Australia’s rescue operations for Antarctica, as well as the rarely mentioned “Australian Alps” in the island’s interior, which get more snow annually than Switzerland.  Rogerson believes Arctic readiness is essential for the kinds of international conflicts drawing warm weather troops to cooler climates.

“The Australian Army continues to have a global mission promoting peace. And so, in particular with our U.S. partners that’s taken us to some pretty cold places, be that Korea or more recently Afghanistan,” Rogerson said. “So who knows where that next location might be, but we want to be well prepared.”

Going forward, military leaders want a better sense of who knows the most when it comes to cold weather. Sergeant Adam McQuiston has been stationed in Alaska for around a year-and-a-half, and spent part of January training with the Finnish Army’s elite Jaeger Brigade, who practically wrote the book on Arctic warfare. McQuiston is helping bring what he learned there back to the U.S. Army’s own training, lessons like how to build a fire on top of a hill after submerging in ice water–part of his coursework. As well as some training that is really only available in Finland.

“They did a reindeer slaughter,” McQuiston recalled. “One of the gentlemen brought live reindeer in, and we ended up field-dressing them, and…cooking them that night.”

But the Defense Department is sending mixed signals. The national troop draw-down could hit Alaska’s two Army bases hard, with as many as 11,100 positions potentially cut. Officials are visiting Forts Richardson and Wainwright for themselves on February 23rd and 24th (respectively), and will hear from community members during listening sessions.

Staff Sargent Manuel Bezo with USARAK at the Black Rapids Training Site. Many of the soldiers who come to the site are new to Alaska and have never seen snow. Trainers show them practical survival techniques like digging re-inforced shelters into snow mounds, as well as the effects of extreme cold on equipment and cognitive faculties. (Photo: Zachariah

Yet during the week’s meeting, General Ray Odierno, head of the entire U.S. Army, flew in aboard a Blackhawk helicopter for a quick lunch with troops before giving a brief address.

“As I look at the new environment that we’re operating in around the world, in order to solve these many problems that are popping up it’s going to require a joint, inter-agency, multinational solution,” Odierno told the worldly room of specialists, elaborating on where collaborative efforts like this one fit within the Army’s overall strategy.

One auspicious absence at the event was Russia, who the U.S. military is barred from working with because of sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine. However, specialists say their interest in preparing for cold weather combat has less to do with any one particular geopolitical hot-spot than building a long-term ability to operate effectively in an area garnering more and more attention from travelers, companies, and countries.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 18, 2015

Wed, 2015-02-18 17:36

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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Murkowski Concludes Obama Aims to Kill Alaska’s Pipeline

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Barack Obama has stopped in Alaska to refuel, but he plans to make his first real trip to the state in August. Or so says U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She let it slip during her annual address to the Alaska Legislature today. The speech was aimed primarily at fighting the administration’s moves to shield parts of the Arctic from oil development.

Crowd Rallies Attention Toward Climate Change

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Sen. Lisa Murkowski barely talked about climate change in her annual speech to the Alaska Legislature Wednesday. And outside the Capitol, a small group rallied to bring attention to climate change and to demand more action on the issue from Murkowski.

Port Officials Call For “Tweaks” to Shell Moorage Plan

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

As Shell tries to chart a course back to the Arctic this summer, the company is looking for space to store its drill rigs in Unalaska.

Army Using Alaska To Prep For Cold Weather Combat

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Army in Alaska held its first ever international conference last week on cold weather combat. Elite specialists in mountaineering, skiing, and Arctic survival came to the Northern Warfare Training Center near Fairbanks to learn new techniques for fighting in terrain that can itself be a weapon against troops. The conference comes as the Army is putting its focus on the Pacific and the Arctic.

Alaska’s Healthcare.gov Enrollment Jumps To Nearly 21K

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Almost 21,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period that closed February 15th.

With Budget Changes, Walker Boosts Ferry, Community Jails Funding

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has sent his final amendments to the capital and operating budget to the Legislature.

Gov. Walker’s New Adviser To Focus On Rural Economy, Local Governments

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker named his new rural affairs advisor today at the Alaska Federation of Natives winter retreat in Kotzebue. Gerad Godfrey’s full title is Senior Advisor on Rural Business and Intergovernmental Affairs — a title that Godfrey says is meant to communicate that his work will focus on economic development in villages and consulting with tribes.

Anchorage YWCA Works for Gender Pay Equity

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Anchorage YWCA has taken on the topic of pay inequity for women. Nationally women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, but in Alaska, the rate is 67 cents, placing Alaska at 48th for women’s pay in the nation.

Fairbanks Mountaineer Nearing Seven Summit Feat

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks man is nearing completion of a mountaineering feat. Bill Cole has climbed the highest peaks on 6 of the world’s 7 continents.

Categories: Alaska News

Crowd Rallies Attention Toward Climate Change

Wed, 2015-02-18 16:54

Sen. Lisa Murkowski barely talked about climate change in her annual speech to the Alaska Legislature Wednesday. And outside the Capitol, a small group rallied to bring attention to climate change and to demand more action on the issue from Murkowski.

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Categories: Alaska News

Port Officials Call For “Tweaks” to Shell Moorage Plan

Wed, 2015-02-18 16:53

As Shell tries to chart a course back to the Arctic this summer, the company is looking for new space to store its drill rigs in Unalaska.

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Shell has asked the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to sign off onthree moorage sites for the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer — all on on state-owned tidelands. If they’re approved, the rigs could cycle through Wide Bay, Nateekin Bay, and the edge of Summer Bay until 2019.

Shell declined to comment through a spokesperson. But port personnel in Unalaska say some of those spots are less than ideal.

Shell wants to use its Noble Discoverer drill rig to explore the Chukchi Sea this summer. (KUCB)

Summer Bay sees heavy traffic from cargo ships. And marine pilot Rick Entenmann says the 500-meter safety zone that Shell is requesting around its rigs may not leave much space for tugboats and barges to get past the entrance to Nateekin Bay.

“So we’d like to maybe move that position — maybe tweak that a little bit more towards the Broad Bay area and Wide Bay,” Entenmann says. “Get him out of the way. Because it’s going to be a visual [thing] too. You know? ‘What the heck is that. How long is that going to be there?’”

It’s not clear how long the vessels would stay in Unalaska. Shell didn’t intend to keep either of its Arctic rigs in port back in 2012. But heavy sea ice and permitting delays kept the fleet tied up in Unalaska for more than a month.

During that time, the Noble Discoverer broke free from its moorage in Unalaska Bay, grabbing national headlines in the process.

Shell isn’t looking to use that spot again. But after the issues the company faced on its last Arctic expedition, Shell sent several employees to Unalaska to hammer out new anchorages.

Ports director Peggy McLaughlin says that meeting took place just over a year ago.

“You know, I think that Shell made the effort to come out and communicate and to work with local government and work with local industry to come up with the best possible solutions,” McLaughlin says. “Somehow — in the mix-up and the time lapse between then and now — some of those priorities have been lost in translation.”

There’s also been turnover in Shell’s ranks. McLaughlin says she’s asked for another meeting with the oil company later in the week to discuss their moorage proposal.

Alaska’s DNR will be taking public comments on the plan through February 24. They can be submitted in writing to the Division of Mining, Land and Water at 550 West 7th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501. Questions should be directed to natural resource specialist Candice Snow at candice.snow@alaska.gov or (907) 269-5032.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage YWCA Works for Gender Pay Equity

Wed, 2015-02-18 16:48

The Anchorage YWCA has taken on the topic of pay inequity for women. Nationally women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, but in Alaska, the rate is 67 cents, placing Alaska at 48th for women’s pay in the nation. Hilary Morgan is the CEO of Anchorage YWCA, she says when she researched the pay disparity, she thought it may be skewed due to jobs in the resource development industry that required more physical strength, so she examined industries that didn’t require brawn.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Mountaineer Nearing Seven Summit Feat

Wed, 2015-02-18 16:47

A Fairbanks man is nearing completion of a mountaineering feat. Bill Cole has climbed the highest peaks on 6 of the world’s 7 continents.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Healthcare.gov Enrollment Jumps To Nearly 21K

Wed, 2015-02-18 15:58

HHS region 10 director Susan Johnson. (Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

Almost 21,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period that closed Feb. 15.

Susan Johnson announced the numbers at a press conference in Anchorage Wednesday. She’s the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services director for region 10, which also includes Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Johnson says Alaska’s increase of 62 percent over last year leads the region.

“The Alaska numbers are incredibly strong they’re over about 162% of last years numbers in half the time,” Johnson said. “We just had three months this year, we had six months last year, so that’s huge.”

Nationally, enrollment increased 41%. Nearly 90% of Alaskans who enrolled qualified for a subsidy to help pay for it. The average subsidy was more than $500 per month.

Johnson says she is hopeful state lawmakers will decide to expand Medicaid- which would offer health coverage to thousands more Alaskans. The federal government funds the program at 100 percent until the end of next year, then the state’s share gradually increases to 10 percent in 2020. Republican lawmakers in Alaska have said the state shouldn’t expand Medicaid because the federal government will abandon that generous funding commitment. Johnson calls that argument a “false asteroid.”

“You know I’m used to politicians thinking federal dollars have 3rd grade cooties attached to them and I got over that in 6th grade,” Johnson said. “And I think we can get over that to see that it’s really about those people who are suffering and could die and could need our help now. It’s a trust in that need, not a trust in in the federal government.”

It would take an act of Congress to amend the Affordable Care Act to reduce the federal match rate for Medicaid expansion.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Concludes Obama Aims to Kill Alaska’s Pipeline

Wed, 2015-02-18 15:53

President Barack Obama has stopped in Alaska to refuel, but he plans to make his first real trip to the state in August, in the company of Secretary of State John Kerry. Or so says U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She let it slip during her annual address to the Alaska Legislature today, a speech aimed primarily at fighting the administration’s moves to shield parts of the Arctic from oil development.

Murkowski says she’s not normally an alarmist, but she says President Obama’s actions in the Arctic show he’s trying to starve the trans-Alaska Pipeline of new oil.

“I just can’t come to a different conclusion: It looks like the goal is to shut down the pipeline,” she said. “Now, they’re not saying that. But when you’re working against those initiatives that would allow us to fill it up, how can you conclude otherwise?”

 

And, Murkowski says, if the pipeline is done and dismantled, the effect on the state would be huge.

 

“Really, the Alaska that we know, I don’t think it exists anymore,” she said. “That’s not a future that I’m prepared for, and I don’t think that’s a future that any of us want.”

 

Murkowski gave her annual address to the Alaska Legislature as a rallying cry — to the extent that her deliberative personal style allows. She urged Alaska leaders to storm ramparts – politically, anyway. She’s asking them to reach out to their contacts Outside to make Alaska’s case, and to make their views known to the federal government through the public process.

She recited the issues that have inflamed Alaska’s leaders for weeks: Obama’s request for wilderness designation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a decision to withdraw offshore areas from Arctic leasing, and restrictions in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Legislators applauded an idea she floated to put part of ANWR under state control, either by buying it, or through a land trade.  Congress has been unable to pass a bill to open it to drilling. Murkowski didn’t explain why a land trade or sale would be any more popular, but she vowed to fight at every legislative opportunity.

“Truly folks, every must-pass bill, every open amendment process, every chance that we have to leverage something for Alaska, know that I’m going to be keying in on every one of them,” she said.

This year, Murkowski became chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel that controls the Interior Department’s spending. She stopped short of saying she’d seek fiscal revenge on the Administration, though she says she has new tools to use and some are pretty sharp.

Afterward Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, called Murkowski’s speech “half good.” Gara says more drilling doesn’t necessarily mean good revenue flow for Alaska.

“Oil production involves two things. One the drilling, and our delegation is pounding their fist on that, and that’s fine,” Gara said. “And one is whether we get any money for it. Right now, unless they change the law, we get none of the federal royalty for outer continental shelf oil. We get no state tax for OCS oil. We get nothing. Other side benefits but no revenue.”

Gara says under the state’s tax system, developing ANWR wouldn’t solve Alaska’s revenue crunch either.

Categories: Alaska News

With Budget Changes, Walker Boosts Ferry, Community Jails Funding

Wed, 2015-02-18 15:11

With Wednesday’s deadline for changes, Gov. Bill Walker has sent his final amendments to the capital and operating budget to the Legislature.

The governor partially restored funding for community jails. While Walker had initially cut the program entirely, the amended budget includes $7 million for their operation. The budget also shuffles $6 million in highway funding to the ferry system to cover already scheduled services. Walker also added a $9 million capital appropriation for homelessness programs, and he cut $20 million from Medicaid based on anticipated savings through expansion of the program.

The changes also include a contingency provision that would allow the governor the discretion to transfer some funds between departments “to mitigate the unexpected consequence of budget cutting.”

The net change from the last version of his budget is an increase of $350,000. The current budget spends $5.5 billion from the state’s unrestricted general fund.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker’s New Adviser To Focus On Rural Economy, Local Governments

Wed, 2015-02-18 10:58

Gov. Bill Walker named his new rural affairs adviser Tuesday at the Alaska Federation of Natives winter retreat in Kotzebue. Gerad Godfrey’s full title is “Senior Advisor on Rural Business and Intergovernmental Affairs” — a title that Godfrey says is meant to communicate that much of his work will focus on economic development in villages and bringing tribes to the table when the state consults local governments.

Godfrey is an enrolled member of the Native Village of Port Lions tribe and has worked as a director of corporate affairs for Kodiak-based Afognak Native Corporation. He also serves as chair of Alaska’s Violent Crimes Compensation Board and on the Native American Contractors Association board of directors. Godfrey says he excited to be part of a change in how the State of Alaska, tribes and corporations interact.

Gov. Bill Walker has named Gerad Godfrey as his senior advisor on rural business and intergovernmental affairs. (Photo courtesy Native American Contractors Association)

“I’d say one of the first things I was intrigued by is the opportunity to be involved in a reset between tribal interests and Alaska Native interests and the State of Alaska and the government. That obviously is something that animates me, and I think animates a lot of people, if there’s potential to create a more fruitful relationship and a relationship that reciprocally beneficial to both the state and the Alaska Native community and tribes,” Godfrey says.

Willie Hensley, a former state representative and senator who’s been active in the Alaska Federation of Natives since its inception, says he is pleased with the governor’s choice. Hensley says Godfrey needs to focus on maintaining services and jobs in rural Alaska and working with coastal villages impacted by climate change. Godfrey is coming into the role at an important but difficult time, Hensley says.

“I think it’s wonderful that he’s willing to take on the challenge, because it’s not going to be easy,” Hensley says. “Things have been hard in Alaska, it’s just the way of life up here, but we’ve had 35 good years in which people have enjoyed a much improved life, many conveniences, many services, programs, facilities that could hardly even be dreamed of in my youth. Now, of course, all of that’s under jeopardy because of the nature of our economy and our dependence on oil, so he’s going to have his hands full.”

Godfrey’s access to the governor will be limited for now as the legislature is in session and lawmakers are tackling a major budget deficit. Meanwhile, he says, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is very accessible.

“The lieutenant governor, who is an extraordinary authority and resource on Alaska Native issues, will be highly, highly available in the absence of the availability of the governor. So, there will be more access without a doubt and nobody has the governor’s ear any more than the lieutenant governor does as an Alaska Native leader for decades himself,” Godfrey says. “One way or another there will be a good deal of access to the administration between the governor and the lieutenant governor.”

Godfrey will be based in Anchorage and is spending his first month on the job taking meetings and making contacts. He says he may convene a summit of Alaska Native stakeholders in the near future.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 17, 2015

Tue, 2015-02-17 17:53

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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Alaska Lawmakers Frustrated After Meeting With Interior Secretary Jewell

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After President Barack Obama announced a plan to designate most of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, Alaska lawmakers seized a chance to meet his Interior Secretary on their own turf. A team of nine legislators took a break from session work in Juneau to travel to Kotzebue this week to confront Sally Jewell about those actions. But while the meeting was hyped, neither the delegation nor the Secretary described it as a showdown.

Sen. Murkowski Says Protecting Lands Is Top Priority

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Beyond filing lawsuits and requesting meetings with administration officials, there’s little Alaska’s legislative or executive branches can do to influence President Barack Obama’s approach to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Lawsuit Challenges Alaska’s Regulation Restricting Abortions For Low Income Women

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A trial got underway today in Anchorage in a lawsuit challenging the state regulation that restricts abortions for low income women.

Brent Sass Outduels Allen Moore For Yukon Quest Win

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Eureka musher Brent Sass cruised across the finish line in Fairbanks last night to win this year’s Yukon Quest. Sass has been trying to win the Quest for years.  This year, he gave up a ten hour lead to two-time defending champion Allen Moore, who refused to give up easily.

Alaska Budget Cuts Threaten Local Jails

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Gov. Bill Walker plans to submit a budget amendment that would restore some funding to the community jails program. Corrections commissioner Ronald Taylor made comments during a joint subcommittee hearing Monday evening

Sitka is one of several local departments who say the proposed cuts were so deep, it could force their jail to close.

Rescued Hiker: “We Definitely Got More Than We Bargained For”

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

One of four Juneau hikers rescued off a wind-scoured mountain earlier this month says the group was looking for a bit of an adventure, but may have gotten more than they bargained for.

“Emotional Creature” Teaches Young Women To Speak

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

A new play opened this weekend at Cyrano’s Playhouse in Anchorage from the author of the Vagina Monologues. On stage, the songs and monologues tell the true stories of traumas faced by young women around the world. But behind the scenes, it’s the tale of Anchorage’s young women learning what it means to be an “Emotional Creature.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Lawmakers Frustrated After Meeting With Interior Secretary Jewell

Tue, 2015-02-17 17:40

After President Barack Obama announced a plan to designate most of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, Alaska lawmakers seized a chance to meet his Interior Secretary on their own turf.

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A team of nine legislators took a break from session work in Juneau to travel to Kotzebue this week to confront Sally Jewell about those actions. But while the meeting was hyped, neither the delegation nor the Secretary described it as a showdown.

The meeting location was kept secret from the public, so secret that Sally Jewell herself reportedly was delayed half an hour. Once the Interior Secretary arrived, a team made of nine legislators and North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower proceeded to air their grievances over how the Obama Administration is managing Alaska. But despite the delegation’s fury leading up to the event.

“There were no fireworks,” Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Mat-Su Republican who previously lived in Kotzebue, said. He says he left the meeting unsatisfied.

At a Monday night press conference at the Nullagvik Hotel, Dunleavy described the conversation as polite, but said nothing was really accomplished and that Alaska lawmakers might have better luck dealing with the state’s congressional delegation if they want to see more land opened to drilling.

“What’s the definition of insanity?” Dunleavy said. “Doing the same thing over and over again.”

“So, we have to have a discussion with them and come up with a game plan that is a little different from what we’ve been doing in the past.”

Over the course of the press conference, legislators used variations of the word “frustrated” about a dozen times. They stressed the importance of developing more oil in the state, because most of Alaska’s tax revenue comes from its production.

While some, like Senate President and Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer described it as a “good dialogue,” Majority Leader Charisse Millett noted the meeting got “heated” at points. When Jewell gave a justification for the administration’s wilderness plan, the Anchorage Republican confronted her about so-called “legacy wells” that were drilled by the federal government but never cleaned up. Millett was not placated by the response.

“I understand she wants to hit the reset button. She said it several times. Hitting the reset button with Alaskans would mean that she would have to and the federal government would have to sit down and listen to us,” Millett said. “Not just come up and give us platitudes, and pat us on the head.”

At a press conference held outside, with snowmachiners racing in the background, Jewell pushed back when asked if the meeting was a “showdown.”

“A showdown?” responded Jewell. “I think there is a lot of pain being felt in Alaska because of oil prices. I may be an easy target, but the reality is oil prices have fallen dramatically and that’s impacted the state’s budget.”

Jewell said she understood the state’s economic position, but that low oil prices could be a “shorter term phenomenon.”

And in the long term she said, “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not going to solve dependence of a state on a commodity price.”

The proposal to designate 12 million acres of Arctic refuge land as wilderness would have to be approved by Congress, unless the president takes an executive action and treats the land as a monument under the Antiquities Act. While Jewell said there were no plans to use that authority, she was firm on the Administration’s position on the refuge.

“We believe the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is – I mean it is – one of the most intact ecosystems in the world, and we think keeping it that way is very important,” Jewell said. “We do know that oil and gas development has impacts. It has impacts on wildlife, it has impacts on water quality and air quality. And we believe the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is too special to develop.”

Jewell added that she hopes to see better cooperation between the state and federal governments in the future, and that in her meeting with legislators she suggested creating a task force to improve communication.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Murkowski Says Protecting Lands Is Top Priority

Tue, 2015-02-17 17:39

Beyond filing lawsuits and requesting meetings with administration officials, there’s little Alaska’s legislative or executive branches can do to influence President Barack Obama’s approach to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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But as chair of the Energy Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski has some level of oversight over the Department of the Interior. Murkowski says Secretary Sally Jewell will appear before her twice in the coming weeks.

“She will be before my energy committee on the Tuesday next, as she presents the budget,” Murkowski said. “And then I will have her in front of my Interior appropriations subcommittee on March 4, so I’m going to have plenty of opportunity to engage with her.”

Murkowski notes she is in a position to affect the Department of Interior’s budget.

“If budgets are reduced and people lose their jobs, that is an outcome. Right now, what people in this region seem to be concerned about is losing their land. A job is transitory,” Murkowski said. “This Secretary is going to have this job for just two more years, this President is going to have this job for less than two years, but the land – the land – that’s what I’m here to protect. This is what we need to be fighting for. I’m not going to be fighting for some short-term job for a bureaucrat.”

In response, Jewell says she is “hopeful” that there will not be retaliatory cuts, and notes the Department provides aerial mapping of Alaska and monitors earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawsuit Challenges Alaska’s Regulation Restricting Abortions For Low Income Women

Tue, 2015-02-17 17:38

A trial got underway today in Anchorage in a lawsuit challenging the state regulation that restricts abortions for low income women.

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State Superior Court judge John Suddock will decide on Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s complaint against the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Brigett Amiri delivered opening statements for the plaintiffs. Amiri said the state’s law puts a burden on the fundamental human right of reproduction, and that it violates equal protection and privacy clauses of the Alaska Constitution.

“Women living in poverty overall have poorer physical and mental health, and if those women are denied access to a medically necessary abortion, because they cannot afford to pay for it, the consequences would be devastating,” Amiri said. ”The state Medicaid program was designed specifically to prevent this type of suffering by ensuring access to medical care for those who can’t afford to pay out of pocket.”

State attorney Dario Borghesan told the court that a prior state supreme court case has helped the state determine where to draw the line on paying for procedures.

“Medicaid does not cover every procedure that optimizes a person’s well being. Medicaid does not cover every procedure that might improve your vision, or every surgery that helps you lose weight. A woman might be genuinely distraught because she can’t have a child, but Medicaid does not cover fertility treatments at all,” Borghesan said. ”So the line that this legislation draws…that Medicaid will cover an abortion if pregnancy poses a serious risk to your health, but not an abortion solely to protect your emotional well being, is consistent with the line that it draws in other areas.”

Borghesan said the court needs to consider how its ruling applies to Medicaid administration, health care services and the need to keep costs down.

Plaintiffs attorneys plan to prove that funding restrictions are contrary to how doctors practice medicine. Under state statute, Medicaid coverage for abortion is only available in cases of extreme illness, in which the woman faces death or failure of a major bodily function. The plaintiffs called to the stand Dr. Aaron Caughey, a specialist in maternal fetal medicine. Under questioning, Dr. Caughey commented on the 23 medical conditions that are defined, by state statute, as the only reasons for a Medicaid abortion.

“Only limiting the idea of medically necessary to the things that are severely impinging on someone’s risk of either major bodily function or death seems really limiting,” Caughey said. “So the idea of waiting until someone is about to die or be injured to intervene doesn’t make any sense.”

State attorneys also examined Rebecca Poedy, chief operating officer with Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, on financial procedures related to cost reimbursement for the abortions the organization provides. Poedy testified that Planned Parenthood has difficulty in collecting payment from many of the women who receive abortions through Planned Parenthood services.

The trail is expected to continue into next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Budget Cuts Threaten Local Jails

Tue, 2015-02-17 17:36

Sitka Police Officer Noah Shepard serves coffee to inmates in Sitka’s jail, while supervisor Dave Nelson looks on. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Police departments across the state have been taken aback by a state Department of Corrections proposal to end funding for local jails. Sitka is one of several local departments who say the cuts are so deep, it could force their jail to close.

The proposal is only the beginning of budget negotiations between the governor and legislature. But the Department of Corrections says it doesn’t have many options.

(You can find breakdown of funding for the community jails program here.)

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Nelson: We’re going to give her a tour of the jail. She’s going to basically see it all. We’re going to give her full access, lock down the inmates, let her walk down the hallway, and see it all…

Jail Supervisor Dave Nelson interrupts a card game and shoos the inmates back into their cells, in preparation for a quick tour. In general, those held at the Sitka jail are allowed to use the hallway between cells, for calisthenics or board games or just to jog back and forth. Otherwise, there isn’t much space.

Once the cell doors slide shut, Nelson leads the way in. “Essentially the cell block is just one big long hallway,” he says. “The males are on this side, and the females are on that side.”

There are four cells on the men’s side, plus a holding tank and segregation cell, all lining the one narrow hallway. There are no windows. A TV mounted at the end of the hall is playing one of the Ice Age movies. Since we’re in here, Nelson and Jail Officer Noah Shepard are taking the opportunity to serve coffee.

The Sitka jail has a total of 17 beds, though Nelson says it could accommodate about 23 people if needed.

“Right now we’ve got four in here,” he says. “[But] up until last week we were running at 13, 14, for about a month straight.”

Alaska doesn’t have the county jail system common in the lower 48. But when the nearest state prison is often at least a flight away – in Sitka’s case, it’s the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau — community jails like this one serve as temporary holding facilities.

This is where people are held when they’ve been arrested, while waiting to be arraigned; or after arraignment, while bail is set. The jail also houses prisoners in town for court appearances.

Nelson estimates that in 2014 Sitka saw about 500 unique bookings, averaging four to six inmates at any given moment.

The funding for all of this comes from the state. But Governor Bill Walker’s proposed budget, released earlier this month, would end that contract, and zero out state funding for all 15 community jails in Alaska.

Sitka Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said that proposal came as a shock.

“I don’t think people understood exactly what the ramifications would be,” he said in an interview Monday (2-9-15).

In FY2014, Sitka received $711,262 to fund its jail. That pays for the jail supervisor and four jail officers, plus contracts for inmates’ meals and laundry. Without the state money, Schmitt said, the city simply couldn’t run a jail for anything other than overnight stays.

“There’s a lot of costs that are kind of hidden,” he said, noting that if the state does cut funding for local jails, the responsibility for those prisoners would shift to the Department of Public Safety, and the State Troopers. “What are you going to do with these prisoners? Who’s going to take care of them?…And if you’re going to transport everybody, who’s going to do all that, and, what’s it going to cost?”

“I just think it was not fully considered,” Schmitt said.

But at the Department of Corrections, the question is: what would you rather we cut?

“Let’s start with, how did we arrive at the community jails, because we certainly didn’t start there,” said DOC Commissioner Ron Taylor.

The Department is facing a 5.3% cut this coming year, and, like all state agencies, has been told to prepare for a 25% cut over four years. Much of the DOC’s budget is tied up in its 12 prisons, which together house about 6,000 prisoners.

A 5% cut would be the equivalent of shutting down two of those prisons, Taylor said, but “there’s absolutely no way that we can close two facilities within a six-month or three-month or four-month period of time.”

Those cuts are coming, Taylor said, but not in time for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Taylor ticked off the other main areas of the Department’s budget: there’s the cost of healthcare for prisoners, which he says the DOC has little control over.

Then there’s probation and parole; and reentry programs, which help prisoners readjust to life on the outside. Taylor said he is loath to touch those programs because they reduce recidivism, and bring down costs over all.

That leaves the community jails program. The Department is spending about $10.5-million this year on contracts with jails in fifteen communities, covering more than 150 beds. Taylor said that at any given time, about half those beds are empty.

“[We're not saying] that we want to close jails, because that is obviously not what we want to do,” he said. “I think what we’re talking about is, we need to have the conversation. To say, how can we make those community jails become more effective, and fit more in line with the reentry management system that we are managing?”

Taylor admitted that the Department didn’t consult with local communities before proposing the cut — there simply wasn’t time, he said. The DOC is now reaching out to see what the impact might be.

The answer so far seems to be: quite a big one. Police departments from Sitka to Dillingham to Unalaska to Wrangell have told reporters that the cuts represent nearly all their local jail funding. In Haines, the funding represents 40% of the police department’s entire budget.

Sitka’s Chief Schmitt said the cuts would have major ripple effects.

“I definitely think it’s a big deal for the community of Sitka, to lose the jobs,” Schmitt said. “But also…I think [it's a big deal] from a public safety point of view as well, that we’re going to be moving all these prisoners back and forth on an almost daily basis on airplanes, and housing them God knows where.”

On that last point, one of the inmates in the Sitka jail had a suggestion: maybe a Super 8, he said.

Categories: Alaska News

Rescued Hiker: “We Definitely Got More Than We Bargained For”

Tue, 2015-02-17 17:35

Matt Callahan says he and three friends “were looking for a little bit of harsher conditions” during a recent camping trip that ended with them being rescued from a Juneau mountain. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

One of four Juneau hikers rescued off a wind-scoured mountain earlier this month says the group was looking for a bit of an adventure, but may have gotten more than they bargained for.

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It’s a little more than a week since Matt Callahan and three friends were rescued from a mountain ridge above Thane Road, and he’s laid up at his parents’ house in West Juneau.

He sits up in bed, wearing glasses and an Alaskan Brewing Co. sweatshirt. A plastic frame keeps the sheet from touching his feet, which are swollen and purple, covered in blisters from frostbite.

Callahan says the group started their adventure up West Peak on Saturday, Jan. 31, the first day in probably three weeks without rain in Juneau. Temperatures at sea level were in the 20s and 30s.

“It was a beautiful day, but it was really windy,” Callahan says. “And when we got to the top of the mountain it was calm there, and we decided to just camp there.”

The 27-year-old – born and raised in the capital city – says he’s been winter camping maybe a dozen times or more. He says the group met as members of Juneau Mountain Rescue, and was prepared for the elements with warm coats, boots and sleeping bags.

“We were kind of looking for a little bit of harsher conditions,” says Callahan. “And we definitely got more than we bargained for in that respect.”

He says they knew the forecast called for high winds, but didn’t consider they’d be stronger on Sunday than on Saturday.

West Peak Ridge near where Matt Callahan and friends were stranded earlier this month. A Juneau Mountain Rescue team rescued the group on Feb. 2. (Photo courtesy Matt Callahan)

“We’d built a snow wall that was probably about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, and the wind ate through it in about an hour,” Callahan says.

About 4:30 Sunday morning, Callahan says the wind ripped up their tent and blew away a bunch of gear, including three sleeping bags and one coat.

At that point they decided to get off the mountain as soon as possible. But the wind was blowing 50 to 60 mph, and they only made it as far as a rock outcropping near their camp, where they took shelter until daylight.

When they tried to move again, Callahan says the wind was blowing probably 80 mph, so they figured it would be better to wait for help.

They huddled behind the rock formation, which he says was about 3 feet tall and 10 feet long.

“We hacked out about a foot of ice, down to the moss below it. But it was still windy in there,” he says. “The wind would whip around the bottom and blow up into it. But it was out of the full strength of the wind.”

Callahan sent their GPS coordinates to Juneau Mountain Rescue by text message, and JMR contacted Alaska State Troopers, the agency in charge of search and rescue.

A U.S. Coast Guard H-60 helicopter crew tried to airlift the hikers Sunday evening, but the wind was so gusty the helicopter was unable to land or get close enough to do a hoist.

A JMR ground team didn’t reach the stranded hikers until Monday morning.

“The high winds definitely was a challenge for us in figuring out a way to get a team there safely,” says Pat Dryer, JMR’s board president, who organized the search.

Dryer says the hikers actually were well prepared and did everything right in planning their trip.

“They left a travel plan with a third party, they were able to communicate to somebody when they did need help, they left with the proper gear, and they knew when to call for help,” Dryer says.

Callahan says he felt relief when JMR arrived, bringing extra clothes and ice tools to make crawling on the ridge more secure.

But he says the most important thing the rescuers brought was food and water, which the group had been without for almost 24 hours. Callahan says the extra nourishment gave them the energy to get off the trail safely.

“I was in a great mood coming down the trail,” says Callahan. “I basically ran down and got to the bottom and hopped in the ambulance to check out my feet and then realized that they were frozen.”

In the rush to gather his gear after the wind blew through their tent, Callahan says he failed to put on his gaiters – waterproof leggings that cover the calf and ankle. His feet got wet after snow got into his boots.

He and fellow hiker Amy Helm were medevaced to Anchorage with frostbite. He says doctors tell him it could be several weeks before he’ll know if he gets to keep all his toes.

“Eventually the tissue will turn into either nice, healthy toe again. Or it will shrivel up and kind of mummify, and that will have to be removed,” he says.

Callahan says Helm is in similar shape, recovering in Colorado with family. Her husband, Craig, also was on the trip, along with Schuyler Metcalf, neither of whom needed to be medevaced.

If he does lose toes, Callahan says so be it.

“I’m told you don’t really need toes,” he says. “There’s a lot of great mountaineers who don’t have toes. The doctor says they’re just cosmetic, but I’d still like to keep them if I could.”

And even though he got frostbite, Callahan says he’s happy no one in the group suffered hypothermia. He says he kept a positive attitude during the ordeal, and is trying to keep the same spirit through recovery.

If they had it to do over again, Callahan says they probably would’ve camped lower on the mountain. He says he would’ve made sure to put on gaiters. And he says, yes, they could have done a better job checking the forecast. But he adds people need to be prepared for the worst, no matter what the weatherman says.

“We knew it was going to be windy,” he says. “But just having a healthier respect for the wind.”

Categories: Alaska News

“Emotional Creature” teaches young women to speak

Tue, 2015-02-17 17:34

The cast of “Emotional Creature” listens to Rashid tell a story. Photo courtesy of Frank Flavin.

A new play opened this weekend at Cyrano’s Playhouse in Anchorage from the author of the Vagina Monologues. On stage, the songs and monologues tell the true stories of traumas faced by young women around the world. But behind the scenes, it’s the tale of Anchorage’s young women learning what it means to be an “Emotional Creature.” 

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Emotional Creature directly discusses some hard topics – sexual abuse, female genital cutting, child labor. And the cast of seven young women doesn’t shy away from discussing the issues.

Mary Rose Rashid plays a Congolese girl who is kidnapped, kept as a sex slave for two years, and escapes. Rashid says playing the role helped her process her own past.

“It really helped me to cope with my trauma to talk about some of the things my character went through because it was like, ‘God those words are true!’ I can’t let anyone take anything away from me unless I give it to them. I’m stronger than that, you know what I mean? It helped me a lot to realize that it is okay. I love being a girl. I am okay with being an emotional creature.”

Many of the cast members say that learning about what happens to women in other countries opened their eyes. But they also thought more about the social forces that impact girls here in the United States.

Hazel De Los Santos plays a middle schooler who is ostracized for talking to an unpopular girl and not looking perfect. De Los Santos says it’s an experience many girls and women can still relate to.

“I know for a fact that everyone still goes through it. They wish they could be this, they wish they could be that. They wish they had a big butt, they wish they had big boobs. They wish they weren’t fat. To be honest, I still go through that,” De Los Santos reflects. “I look in the mirror, and like, and sometimes I say I don’t like what I see. But after playing this part, eventually, [I realized] we’re own beautiful in our own different ways and people need to realize that. I still need to realize that.”

The cast of “Emotional Creature” take a selfie. Photo courtesy of Frank Flavin.

So she and others, like Molly Dieni, have started talking to the people around them about the issues in the play.

“My dad was skeptical, initially, about the play. He sees it very much as a very girly thing, and I kinda shut that down.”

Dieni says it’s not just a girl thing – it’s about treating people equally and teaching everyone about the issues that impact young women. And reminding girls that it’s okay to be a girl.

“Emotional Creature” by Eve Ensler is playing at Cyrano’s until March 8.

Categories: Alaska News

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