Alaska News Nightly: July 26, 2011

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36 Alaska Post Offices In Danger of Posting

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Postal Service is again looking at closing post offices in Alaska to save money. Locations in the state survived a round of cuts a few months ago, but now the Postmaster General has announced a list of more than 3,600 offices throughout the country being examined for closure or relocation. Three-dozen of them are in Alaska. They’re scattered throughout the state, from Minto and Manley Hot Springs in the Interior, to Wales and Kobuk in the northwest, to Anvik and Red Devil in the southwest  and Douglas and Point Baker in the southeast. A couple are on military installations like Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage and Fort Wainwright Army Post in Fairbanks.

The closures are not a done-deal – the 36 Alaska locations will be evaluated by the Postal Service. But they ended up on the short list for reasons including having few visitors, minimal hours, and small volume.

Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson in Seattle expects the Alaska offices to be given different consideration than those in communities with numerous locations.

“The decision on what post offices ended up on the list was largely made at postal service headquarters. It’s kind of a numbers game back there and Alaska is unique in terms of the remoteness of offices, the distances between offices, the lack of transportation, even roads between offices. So I think Alaska will have to be looked at differently than post offices in the other 49 states.”

Alaska’s Senators are already fighting to keep the Alaska offices open. Senator Lisa Murkowski put out a statement today calling community post offices a “necessity, not a convenience” and Senator Mark Begich has reached out to the Postmaster General. They’ve successfully fought back plans to downsize Alaska postal service in the past.

A few months ago Alaska offices were removed from a list of places targeted for closure, and Ernie Swanson with the Postal Service says Alaska also ducked a round of cuts a few years ago.

“Alaska to this point has been spared from those lists. But the postal service continues to lose money at a critical pace. We’re losing about $23 million every day, and we just can’t continue to do business that way, obviously.”

If post offices do close, the USPS is proposing a plan to move mail service in some communities to other local retailers, such as grocery stores. They’d be able to sell stamps and basic flat rate packages, or what was once a post office might be downgraded to an automated kiosk.

All told the Postal Service is considering shutting more than 10 percent of its offices nationwide, it hopes to save $200 million annually. USPS is deeply in a financial hole and expects to lose $8 billion this year.

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Rural Alaska Program’s Success Attract Outside Dentists

Angela Denning Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

When it comes to dental care in Rural Alaska, the need far outweighs available care. To help solve the problem, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium began training mid-level providers or dental health aide therapists.

Six years later, a large group of dentists from the Lower 48 came to visit the Alaska-based program to see if they could mirror the efforts back home.

Men in Juneau Earn Significantly More than Women

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Men in Juneau earn significantly more money than women, according to an economic indicator in a recent JEDC newsletter.

The Juneau Economic Development Council analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey that shows men in the Capital City make 42 percent more than their female counterparts.

Of course the problem isn’t unique to Juneau. Nationwide, the same survey indicates men earn 29 percent more than women. Statewide it’s 37 percent.

And as always, numbers only tell part of the story.

Bethel Residents React to Newspaper Shutdown

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

The Parent company that owned Alaska News Incorporated, Calista, is the regional Alaska Native corporation for the YK Delta. When Calista bought Alaska Newspapers almost 20 years ago, they bought with it the Tundra Drums Newspaper. The paper reached their core audience, Yup’ik shareholders in the remote, southwest part of the State. KYUK Reporter Shane Iverson talked with people in Bethel to get a feel for what it means now that that the paper is closing down.

Native Elder and Leader Caleb Pungowiyi Passes Away

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A former leader of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and a prominent Alaska Native traditional science advocate has died. Caleb Pungowiyi was born in the Saint Lawrence Island community of Savoonga in 1941.

Pungowiyi’s list of accomplishments is lengthy. He was a past President and CEO of ICC as well as for Nome-based Native non-profit Kawerak, Inc.

He served on many boards and committees that had direct involvement in the oversight of marine mammals and Arctic Ocean eco-systems. At the time of his death he was a senior advisor for the conservation group Oceana.

Pungowiyi’s brother in law, Mike Scott says because Pungowiyi grew up living off the land and water, he was instrumental in helping bridge the sometimes contentious relationship between environmentalists, western science and Alaska Native people.

“…to insure that future generations would be able to continue subsistence hunting and fishing and working with the scientific community about what some of the native community understands about mammals and wildlife that they may not know and understand using western science techniques. So he was a real bridge to that community from the Arctic ocean to Antarctica so his contribution will be lasting for sure.”

Pungowiyi had been on the Nome city council and was at one time the city manager for Kotzebue. He worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Park Service documenting resources to help insure proper management, especially from a Native perspective. Scott says he believes Pungowiyi would want to be remembered for his hard work in this area.

“His role in helping his people be able to continue a subsistence way of life as well as culture and heritage to remain strong and not lose that identity. I think that was top on his list, he practiced what he preached and he was a great ambassador to the Native community. He will be missed.”

Pungowyi had lymphoma. He died Monday at his home in Wasilla. He was 69 years old. He is survived by his wife Gladys, 9 children, 24 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at the First Baptist Church of Anchorage on Saturday at 3 pm.

Language Tool Teaches Tlingit Alphabet

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Tlingit language includes 50 letters, including some sounds that are not found in other languages.

A new online tool, plus a note-card-and-audio system, is aimed at helping children learn the language. But it can help students of any age. CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld has more

The Sealaska Heritage Institute has created the online, audiovisual teaching program. It’s also being distributed as a note card and CD-audio system teaching the written language’s 50 letters.

“One of my first teachers said before you can say a sound or word you have to be able to hear that sound,” says Linda Belarde, who creates Tlingit language curriculum for the institute. “

And because they’re new to English speakers, we figured the more ways that they can have to learn and hear those sounds, it’s going to make it a little bit easier when they get into the books and try to say something,” she says.

The institute is sending alphabet-card-and-CD packages to 15 Southeast Alaska language teachers. Others can use the online version or request copies. They’re also on sale to the general public.

“We asked our artist to draw pictures that would appeal to young children. But it’s actually for any age. The sounds are new, so any tool we have for learning language is applicable for any age,” she says.

Tlingit was an oral language. The written version, developed after western contact, is made up of letters used by English speakers. The less familiar ones are depicted by combinations of those letters, plus apostrophes, called “pinches,” and underscores.

Belarde says some of those are unique.

“They look like X, so we want to say, like, Xray. But they’re not the same in Tlingit. And those are the four X sounds that are not found in any other language.”

Belardi says they may be unfamiliar to the uninitiated. But they’re easier to memorize because they never change. That’s not the case in English where, for example, a “G” can be hard – as in “goat” – or soft – as in “giant.”

The new release, titled “Let’s Learn Tlingit,” joins other Native language publications and online tools created by the heritage institute. They include Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian dictionaries, plus phrase and spelling books.

UAF Language Expert Urges Use of Traditional Names

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

An Alaska Native-language expert at UAF hopes that the term Dene (“DEN-nay”) will catch on among Athabascans here in Alaska, because he says it will help preserve their culture and language.