Bethel Economic Summit Looks At Energy Needs

Energy and the challenges of providing it in remote Western Alaska was the main topic of a summit in Bethel on Monday.

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Tribal leaders from dozens of villages throughout the Yukon-Kuskowim Delta attended the gathering put on by the Association of Village Council Presidents.

It’s fall now in the Y-K Delta with temperatures bouncing around the freezing mark. But winter is coming. And the elders say it could be a cold one.

Toksook Bay elder Paul John told the audience that traditional Yup’ik teachings include information on how to survive in the harsh environment.

John McIntyre with AVCP has heard elders say that the Earth is busy insulating itself and preparing for the cold weather that’s ahead.

“In some of those villages I’ve heard of grass growing up to five feet tall,” McIntyre said. “And the leaves, you know this summer when I look at the trees, the leaves were even bigger.”

“With those kind of indications, we need to start now to look at our energy needs.”

McIntyre works with the TANF program – or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. He says this past spring, cold weather lasted through May and families were running out of heating fuel. One family had 11 people sharing a single small home.

“And they didn’t have fuel oil for two months,” he said.

AVCP only learned of the family’s struggles after visiting the village and running into one of the elders who was staying at the house. In this particular case, one of the children in the home qualified for services and the whole household benefited from the heating assistance.

McIntyre implored the tribal leaders to share that kind of information with AVCP.

“You know who needs help,” he said. “Once you know who needs help, let us know, because we can provide these kinds of services to our people that are not making it.”

AVCP’s Energy Summit precedes the Association’s Annual Convention which happens this week in Bethel.

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Angela Denning is a reporter at KFSK in Petersburg.