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.

October 17, 2004

12. Burning Trash Smells Good.

I bet most people would be surprised by the way burning trash can smell if it's done the right way. When properly burned, it's smell reminds me of Pennsylvania in the fall.That big rusty barrel was the first thing I saw when I got to the school site in late August. Every afternoon during my first week,

I noticed it belching out thick sweet-smelling smoke. Every time I thought to ask someone about it, something else would come up. It took me until the end of the week to figure out

that the smell I'd been enjoying so much that whole time was our refuse. After a brief moment of disgust, I realized why I liked it so much- it smells just like fall in Pennsylvania: sort of a mixture of burning leaves, pipe tobacco and retired pumpkins in the days after Halloween. It only smells bad when items intended for the dump (such as plastic) find their way in. Burning trash only really smells good when it's carefully separated. Below is one of the ten or so garbage wagons positioned throughout the village. When full, they're hauled to the dump for incineration.I have some very different ideas brewing for this website in the coming months... Meanwhile, I have interviewed Henry Lupie, a resident of Tuntutuliak. He made me begin to understand the village better... especially in that there are so many more things to understand. Mr. Lupie will be the honored subject of an entry very soon. Should you have specific questions, just ask!

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October 07, 2004

11. No Mail This Week.

(From now on, click the icons for a bigger picture.)

~~On Saturday, I decided to stake out the airport to take pictures of planes as they landed. It was a cold day, and I was determined to get some good shots in.

At about 1:30PM, I bundled up, loaded my thermos, and headed to the S.E. corner of the runway. I didn't realize it at the time, but on my way there, I saw the last plane take off. Flights have been grounded out of Bethel all week- I guess due to fog. I waited for about four hours, and I probably would have waited longer, but the people waiting for their plane were leaving, so I figured it was time to go.

~~Since there haven't been any flights, there also hasn't been any mail. I ordered a bunch of live materials from a biological supply company earlier this month. If they've been sitting in some airport warehouse all week, I've got this feeling I won't be getting exactly what I ordered. "Nor rain, nor snow, nor..." Do they mention fog in that saying? Apparently, it's
not an uncommon problem, so it seems to me they could deliver parcels via boat when it gets this bad. The river isn't even frozen up yet…

~~Yesterday, David Enoch, President of the Native Village of Tuntutuliak (the local governing body),
came to talk to the students for a second time about a few topics- including the pressing issue of litter. I think his talks are helping the situation; he’s doing a good job of getting the kids to see just how important it is. The intrinsic value of not being a litterbug seems to get a little distorted by adolescence, so we are coming up with ideas to goad their interest. One thing that is being done is a contest for whoever gathers the most bags of trash each month. I’m going to have an anti-litter poster contest. If you’re reading this and you have any suggestions, I’d like to hear them.

~~After Mr. Enoch’s presentation, Frank Cook, our principal, spoke about a special meeting he is going to hold about the school rules. He told the students that they were invited to participate in the meeting, and that if they didn’t show up, he would just assume that whatever rules he decided would be OK with them.
You could tell that the kids really liked that. In teacher training, it’s often purported that the children will be more likely to respect the classroom rules if they have a part in making them. Frank is taking that to another level by applying it to the entire school. This is one thing that I know for certain would be absolutely impossible at a public school in Philadelphia. It’s also probably the best illustration of the difference I see between here and back home.

~~Today I took my class outside to search for bugs for a science project.
Another difference between here and Philly: you can take your class out of the building without worrying about permission slips, and more importantly, without worrying about anyone getting lost (or going AWOL).

October 02, 2004

10. The Post Office.

Here's the front door to our post office. The first time I went to pick up the mail, I was greeted with: "So you're David Miller." Yesterday I received a package with only my name, town, state and zip code for the address. Below is a picture of the old post office. I had to squat to fit inside. I don't really understand how it functioned as a post office since it is only a little bigger than two large boxes. I was with a couple of kids who were taking me on a tour of the village the first time I saw it. At the time, I thought they were pulling my leg. But when they took me inside, I saw a little counter that connects to the wall with chicken wire mesh separating the "employee only” area from the customer area.


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