Engineers Gather At AFN To Work On Rural Challenges

A group of engineers and technically talented volunteers from San Francisco will be at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention this week to help work on rural Alaska challenges. The organization ReAllocate is looking for partners in Alaska for a program called StartUP Country.

The organizers want to facilitate creation of culturally relevant innovations to spur economic development for villages.

One of the Alaskans working with ReAllocate is David Karabelnikoff, an Aleut engineer who studied energy systems at the school of renewable energy sciences. A project he’d like to see launched with ReAllocate’s help is a plan to digitize building a traditional badarka or kayak. He says traditionally, survival for Aleuts and other sea going Alaska Native people was dependent on the kayak.

“How did we survive up here in these conditions? It was all built around the kayak and that technological development. Why aren’t we embracing that? Why is it on the wall? You see kayaks hanging places, but where are they floating at?,” Karabelnikoff said.

He says being able to customize Kayaks on a larger scale could become a thriving business for Alaska.

Karabelnikoff says Alaskans need to reconnect with the idea of being self sufficient, frugal and working to solve their own problems.

“And I think that those things are ultimately empowering to the community when you have local stakeholder input into the decision making process, rather than having big capital projects that are funded from far-away places. These challenges ultimately, I kind of wrap it up in terms of saving ourselves,” Karabelnikoff said.

And that, Karabelnikoff says, is where the team from ReAllocate comes in – helping remote and often impoverished communities across the planet in finding their own answers to local problems, whether that is high energy costs, access to clean water, or building local economies.

“The idea is that people have talents and a gift and their ability to give that in meaningful ways is really the core of what makes us able to partner and makes the work that I’m doing and a non-profit that’s based in San Francisco, where there’s possibility for collaboration. And they’ve figured out a way of really simply having somebody contribute three hours a week as a volunteer to give their skills and make a positive impact on the world,” Karabelnikoff said.

Karabelnikoff says he’d like to see a time when kayak paddlers can be professional competitors and paddling races could be large annual events like the Iditarod is today. The ReAllocate team will be listening to idea pitches at their first StartUP Country Alaska gathering during the Elders and Youth conference that began today.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori