A few weeks ago during a power outage that lasted (for some) several days, meat and fish made round trips from powerless freezers to powered and back again. Pleas from melting vacuum-sealed salmon, halibut, moose and caribou could almost be heard across the Anchorage Bowl, "We're melting. We need a live freezer -- STAT!"
This is the time of year when many Alaskans count their bags of berries, jars of salmon and packs of moose sausage. If you're a subsistence user, there's a feeling of accomplishment knowing you hunted or gathered to take care of your family. Going to Costco and loading up on Eggo's doesn't quite feel the same.
I realize I'm lucky. I live within a few miles of a Costco. If I wasn't lucky enough to get a moose or caribou or my "fishing" trip didn't turn out to be a "catching" trip, I'd be just fine. Living in an urban area creates a pretty "Anchorage-centric" view of subsistence.
The Washington Post wrote an article in August about the threat to subsistence users in Point Hope. Their permafrost ice cellars have melted. The underground cellars now flood and ruin the food. The lives of our brothers and sisters from Nuiqsut, Barrow, Kotzebue and Point Barrow were highlighted in an article that explained the exorbitant cost of living and the essential supplement of harvested meat. Complications from climate change are challenging their way of life.
It's a complicated issue and one we seem to be waiting and watching, dragging our collective feet while a few more coastal towns fall into the sea.
Rural families save thousands of dollars in food costs each year by harvesting caribou, moose, sea mammals and fish. Their economy depends upon the harvest.
Our lawmakers' response to their worsening situation is pathetic. Up the chain, they don't want to talk about rural realities because they need the oil companies to stuff their coffers at election time. Down the chain it can be pretty ugly. A choice between heat and food feeds the anxiety of many rural Alaskans.
Sen. Cathy "doesn't-play-well-with-anyone-not-just-like-her" Giessel said on a local TV show, "I wish it were true that folks in Point Hope, Barrow, Nuiqsut, etc. were dependent on subsistence foods. Then the epidemic obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, dental cavities would not exist."
She doubled down on Facebook with the same theme of "oh those whiny Natives don't really eat subsistence because they have obesity and rotten teeth," and then she summed it up with, "There is no offshore development ... blaming "offshore development" is simply not true and is part of an agenda to shut down Alaska's economy."
To deal with real issues facing real Alaskans, you have to talk about offshore development along with the risks to our coastal communities and subsistence way of life. Ultimately, the multinational resource extraction corporations are the real "constituents" the senator feels called to protect. And for the record, more than 30 wells were drilled in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the 1980s and '90s. This is just the latest round, driven by higher prices and the prospect of increased profit margins.
Shell Oil is once again drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi. They don't have spill response capabilities, so they're just drilling a little bit. They were late starting the short drills because they waited for local whalers to harvest. Even Shell acknowledges local cultural dependence on subsistence food . . . but not Sen. Giessel.
She is willing to "go there" to cheerlead for offshore development that does a little for Alaska while putting our coasts and the subsistence way of life at risk of a catastrophic oil spill. Shell didn't drill into oil-bearing rock not because there was too much ice, but because it couldn't get its spill response equipment in place. It isn't surprising that Sen. Giessel is also pushing for Gov. Sean Parnell's $10 billion giveaway -- the one with absolutely no guarantees for future exploration or development, his unwavering stance despite of years of consecutive quarters of record Alaska earnings and profits under the current oil tax law, ACES.
Maybe I shouldn't pick on Sen Giessel for cultural insensitivity and racially charged remarks. She's not the only legislator who sees the world that way. Perhaps she felt free to express herself out loud because she's an incumbent and we allow it. "If it's too rough out there, just move to town," is the attitude of so many living in towns with stop lights. Is it going to take another major power outage in Anchorage and more spoiled meat for city dwellers to better understand the plight of rural coastal Alaskans?
In another month, we'll have the opportunity to change stubborn attitudes with our votes.