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.


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