December 16, 2004

21. Before Winter Break.

I took these last few around 3pm. Below is the edge of the river near school. All fall it has been cracking and refreezing with the ebb and flow of the tides. It's pretty much solid now. Thoughts about these sorts of things- like the interplay of tidal and seasonal forces- have been consuming me less lately as I've been thinking more about visiting home. I leave for Philadelphia tomorrow.

MOVIE CLIP 1, Blizzard on Election Day: [.mov for Mac] or [.avi for PC]
MOVIE CLIP 2, Blizzard from House: [.mov for Mac] or [.avi for PC]

December 13, 2004

20. Tundra Technology.

Here's an Elder giving a talk to the middle and high school. His words are being understood in three different languages simultaneously.
Most of the students are hearing him speak in Yupik. Sophie translates in to English so that the American Sign Language interpreter (via satellite in Seattle),

can translate it back to the village in sign. It's unusual that the teachers get to hear English translations when an Elder speaks, so we were trying to take advantage of the opportunity by huddling around Sophie as she softly repeated his words in English into the microphone. Video conferencing is used for a lot of things in the school.

In one class, there is a math class occurring on one satellite unit (see LA Times story), while another unit is used for translating what is being taught in the first. A few weeks ago, we were supposed to have another staff development day in Bethel. All the new teachers in the district were again supposed to be flown in from their villages, but as nature frequently has it here, flights were grounded due to fog. Instead of canceling or rescheduling it, we were delivered the staff development via videoconference.

There is currently a night school pilot's license class being offered every Wednesday night. I'm sitting in on it and hoping to pass the ground school test in May. The satellite communication company (gci) that handles the videoconferencing also handles internet communications. All the lap tops are connected wirelessly.

Another multi-million contract was signed for the next three years with GCI last week. We looked at a number of bid proposals, including AT&T. Cost and dependability were some of the biggest factors. I volunteered to be a teacher rep. for the tech committee, so I got to be part of that decision. Wireless communication is essential. A number of rural school districts in Alaska still don't have videoconferencing, but it's becoming a staple.

December 08, 2004

19. Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving at the Moravian Church. Everyone was invited.
Ryan Kuehlthar is my partner in crime who teaches on the other side of the room divider from me. He's also my guest photographer for this entry.

I realized I forgot my camera after I had already run back once to get my plate, fork and cup... so Ryan said I could use his pics. I was getting a little tired of putting the camera to my face as much as I had been anyway, which partially explains why it's been a while since I've posted. The community Thanksgiving feast was held at the Moravian Church just across the lake from my house. A good population of the village was there; almost everyone is starting to look familiar. The food was great... it was a giant potluck of Eskimo delight. Food was placed on tables set up the entire length of the center isle. Other than the macaroni and Jell-O, almost all of it was different from what I'd typically see at a potluck back home.

I honestly liked everything I tried. Here, Tom is using a sled to tow food he and Cynthia brought to the gathering. In the middle is Katie, Ryan's wife. Notice the old truck in the brush... Sunken about a third of the way in the mud, it's the only "road" vehicle in the village. In Alaska, the bigger rivers that connect villages become state highways when they freeze. Someone must have left it there a little too long into the spring a few decades back. It looks like a classic, if not antique.

November 14, 2004

17. Accumulation.

Each was taken in the midafternoon from my livingroom. Top, right was durring the blizzard on Election Day. Now that the lake is frozen, it's a much shorter walk to the store.

November 07, 2004

16. Fun draising.

This is the third 8th Grade Pizza fundraiser for the Jr. Alaska Close Up trip to Juneau in January. It's a state program designed to give students a look at state government from the inside. It costs a lot to travel by plane, so we need to fundraise.

Pizza is fun to make. In the photograph on the right, Nicole, standing to the left, organized it. Lots of people chip in to help... Katie, (with the rolling pin) organized the Halloween party on Saturday the 30th. The Halloween party was a GRAND success... We decided earlier to hold school on the Saturday before Halloween just for the (ehhem...educational) party. Ryan and I were in charge of the scary room. For the most part, I was the head on the platter.

We had black lights, a strobe and a fog machine. There were all kinds of carnival games, face painting, etc., and at the end we went back to our rooms for pizza and a piƱata. Everyone really came together and the kids had a great time. Last year, a teacher in Tunt took his class to Seattle through fundraising. His name is Josh Gill, and he plans to do it again this year.

Today, as Nicole and I were making pizza with our class in the kitchen, Josh was in the multipurpose room with his class

managing a community bazaar. There was soft ice cream with real Carmel melted from Carmel squares, pizza from the best (well, only) pizza shop in town, a book fair, and tables, rented by members of the community to sell all kinds of things... all in the name of fundraising. I bought a hat at the bazaar... it's made from seal skin by a woman who lives in Tunt and it is extremely warm and soft. The craftsmanship on these items is spectacular- and to wear them is to have the purest comfort experience possible. The coat was amazing... so warm, and it felt tough and sturdy. If you are interested, some of these

things are for sale. The woman who made the coat is asking $2500.00. From what I've heard, this is fairly reasonable. Sealskin products are illegal for non-natives to produce. If you are interested in having a sale arranged, I ask that you make a donation to our trip fund on top of what the artist is asking. My email address is at the bottom of the page. I've been wanting to do the Disco Tunt post for a while. It's also a fundraiser. More on Disco Tunt another time...

November 02, 2004

15. Blizzard Ballot

I'm registered in Pennsylvania, and I signed up for an absentee ballot in September. It didn't come until yesterday, so I filled it out and sent it back as soon as I received it.

After a little deliberation, I decided that since my ballot wouldn't get to PA in time to be counted, I should see if I could vote here. So I went to the community center; and as it turned out, I was able to vote (at least provisionally). The people running the voting booths at the center were very helpful and knew exactly how to handle my situation almost instantly.
Today was a hard day to be a voter in Tunt.

We had our first blizzard of the season. I realized we were having a blizzard when the school began shaking. Around 2:30, I first noticed the wind howling louder than usual outside.

I didn't think much of it until the floor started moving... I looked to the window and it was all white.

This is me in front of the school, pointing in the direction of the community center. The last picture was taken from the same exact location and at about the same time of day as the one from Center Tunt, From Livingroom. The blizzard got even worse later in the day.

October 30, 2004

14. Interview With Mr. Lupie.

Henry Lupie, 56, has been a resident of Tuntutuliak for almost his entire life. In 8th grade he decided to do something different from most of his classmates. He decided to graduate from high school. Since most of his peers weren’t graduating from high school (there was no high school in the village at that time), he knew his only option for a decent education would be to leave everything familiar to him and head far away to a vocational school in an altogether different land. After graduating from Chemawa Boarding School in Oregon, he headed back to Tuntutuliak an educated man.

He remembers parts of what school was like in Tunt when he was a student here. There were none of the luxuries that we have today- like no heated stoves or electricity. Parents were told that their children needed to be educated, but they were busy with the subsistence lifestyle that people here had been busy with for thousands of years before. Every fall and spring, kids were sent with the adults to “Fall Camp” and “Spring Camp” in order to gather food other necessities from the water and land. This was fundamental to survival then, so it is understandable why that was more of a priority for most people than being in a classroom. Even with all of this, Henry could still appreciate the potential value of a good education.

In 2000, Tuntutuliak had an unemployment rate of15%, although 45% were not in the work force. There are very few opportunities for work here; the school or one of the three stores in town employs most people. In the 80’s, the government attempted to phase out a welfare system that had been in place for thirty years. The program was intended to get people off welfare and working within five years. Mr. Lupie wonders how the government could expect to undo thirty years worth of

welfare dependency in such a relatively short five years. It seems pretty clear that it would be impractical to expect a community with virtually no economic base to be able to create enough jobs in that timeframe. Mr. Lupie asks: “Why not plan for a thirty year transition for the community to come off welfare?” Clearly, the five year plan did not work- although government assistance is now officially called “Temporary Assistance for Native Families” instead of welfare. Almost twenty years has elapsed since the five-year plan went into effect.

The first thing I though about when Mr. Lupie mentioned the thirty-year plan was how much more it would have cost than the five-year plan. When it sunk in, I realized that the five-year plan would have defiantly been a more costly endeavor. In ten years from now, the thirty-year plan would have been finished- and had it been carefully implemented, it probably would have worked.

There is much more to this story, and I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what Mr. Lupie has to say. One of the biggest challenges seems to be finding a way to establish an economic base in a community that has been starved of one for so many years. There is great economic hardship in cities like Philadelphia, but the challenge of establishing an economic base from square one is unique to the people of extremely isolated communities.

October 26, 2004

13. Bethel.

Our flight to Bethel gives us perspective. This land is crowded with lakes... if there were any more lakes, I'd be hard pressed calling it land.

Every trip to Bethel begins with catching a plane. Ryan (right) teaches on the other side of a room divider from me in a big hallway/room.

This is the cultural center in Bethel where the new teacher classes are held.

This weekend, we each learned a traditional village story and presented it to the group from memory. Here's a

picture of us holding

masks we made to go with the stories. One of the first things I noticed when I first got to Bethel was the dumpster art. A lot of the dumpsters in town are painted on all four sides, sometimes with public safety messages.

Other interesting things I found in Bethel include this military vehicle storage facility (notice the tractor wheels) and the cemetery.

The trip home is always interesting. Despite its relatively small size, Bethel is Alaska's third busiest airport- even busier than Juneau. At the bottom is the airplane that brought us home. It's bigger than we're used to. I also took a few shots from the sky. That's a lot of water down there. My next entry will be the interview of Mr. Lupie.

I wanted to give him a chance to look at it before I posted it, so it's taking a little longer than I anticipated. Also, we're planning class trip to Juneau soon and we need some sponsors. More on that soon.


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