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Alaskans answered: What Obama should take away from The Last Frontier

  • Author: Alaska News
  • Updated: July 8, 2016
  • Published September 1, 2015

As anyone who lives in Alaska knows, a three-day whirlwind tour isn't enough time to learn a great deal about a state as vast and diversely populated as Alaska is. But every summer, visitors from around the world prove that it's enough to satisfy a life-long dream and gain some understanding. As of this writing, President Barack Obama is giving it a shot, and given the kind of itinerary possible for a sitting president, probably will fare better than most.

Alaskans generally aren't stingy with tips or stray facts that help visitors -- commanders in chief or not -- to get a better understanding of this place and make fuller memories on their trips. So prior to Air Force One's arrival, we put a call out to Alaska Dispatch News readers with two questions to help the president gain a better understanding of this place and the people who call it home.

Response came fast and provided much to think about. Passions overcame many online commenters, who bypassed the questions entirely to express displeasure at the policies or actions of the Obama administration. And unfortunately, some responses may even have triggered private reminders from the Secret Service that First Amendment rights aside, threatening the life of a president is no joking matter. But the vast majority of responses were thoughtful and direct statements of the issues foremost on Alaskans' minds as we face the future. What follows is a collection of the most instructive responses. We've also made available online a collection of responses that came in as letters to the editor.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment. Please continue the discussion in the comments section below if the spirit moves.

To help President Obama make the most of his time here, what should he know about Alaska and Alaskans right up front? What do Alaskans hope he learns while he's here?

Pamela Laughery Orr: That Alaskans can take care of themselves if we just allowed to develop our own resources. If he wants to do anything to help lower the shipping costs. We have talented people in this state. And as far as the environment we have more wildlife and more clean air and waters than anywhere else.

Sunny Nonyas: To leave Alaska alone. We are independent and fiercely wild! It's why we live here. Your agenda's not needed nor wanted.

Rob Filipczak: In all seriousness -- the first question that directly affects Alaska. What is the specific plan to meet the need for icebreakers in the arctic and how do you plan on keeping pace with Russia, China and other countries that already exceed out polar capabilities?

Frank Heart: Dear President Obama, The Arctic needs a treaty similar to the Antarctic Treaty. The Arctic should be off limits to development. The Arctic should only be used for peaceful purposes and scientific research. You cannot be truly concerned about Climate Change on one hand and be the President that opened up drilling in the Arctic on the other. We cannot burn this oil and oil spills cannot be cleaned up in the Arctic. Please undo your administrations horrible mistake.

Coleman Younger Bray: Don't let oil men and miners ruin this state to make a buck. I'd rather they and their workers leave and take their money with them than have Alaska ruined.

Thecla Takumjenak: We live off of the land and it should be respected... Hunt, fish and gather is a way if life for many Alaskans...

Judy Carol King: The less he knows about us the better off we are!

Wayne Peace: There's a lot of angry people who feel they have no control over their federal and local governments and they all blame this on varying things

Janet Mitchell: I sure hope we do not make a fool of ourselves in front of the POTUS.

Cathy Teich: That we don't want the problems of the Lower 48. We don't want mega dams. We love our natural beauty … It also makes many people a living … Salmon is a major part of our economy … So we need to protect them.

Rob Filipczak: That there are guns everywhere! When some cabinet members came out to Hooper Bay- the secret service freaked out when they say a teenager walking down the road with a rifle- they were ready to go into takedown mode until someone reminded them where they were and that the population of the village had lot! LOT more firepower that they did. It was damn cute.

Joshua McHoes: People move to Alaska to get away from the politics of washington. Please leave us alone.

Gus Chythlook: Our price of fuel is un-American...!

Richard Phillips: How little help we are getting from our own tribes.

Zoann Murphy: Take him out to the State Fair. We've got Iowa beat with our giant veggies!

Kristopher Fager: This state is full of Military personnel who protect the nation. Why is it that you just made your trip now to see us? What took so long? I am a soldier myself and we here in Alaska have not seen much support due to our location.

Randy Brown: It's cold and s---ty. Global warming would help.

Nate Atwood: Please do something to fix the education system. We can't afford to decline much further. Read the comments on this page for specific examples of how awry things have gone.

Susan Richards: I wish he could drive down Turnagain Arm to Portage. In this short drive there are some amazing things that represent nearly the whole state: Bird Creek where you can park, walk a short distance & catch salmon, on down the road the spring that comes out of the mountain where people can fill their water bottles (for free!), the amazing scenery, and at Girdwood, the quirkey, eclectic people. When he makes it to Portage our President can get a glimpse of the glacier that was. Never in the 30 + years that I've been here did I ever think Portage Glacier would recede as much as it has. A good example of what he is here to address: climate change. I wish our President could stay so much longer. Alaska is an amazing place, the best state in the Union & filled with some of the best people in America. I'm proud to be an Alaskan & equally proud of our President for taking the time to be here if only for a short time.

James Mason: The president apparently used to like to smoke weed. Why can't we have Charlo Greene offer him a giant fattie as he descends the stairway of his jet? And then give him an honorary PFD check.

Michael Albertson: I thank President Obama for coming to Alaska. I hope he puts on his Santa suit and everyone can go sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. Of course, you might just end up with a lump of coal if your wish is greedy and self serving. Don't forget to say thank you.

Sally Richardson Robison: Since the government has tied up so much of Alaska in the name of national parks why don't you develop them and make them accessible so those who have physical limitations can enjoy them too. Most of our parks can only be enjoyed by those who can hike long distances. This is the only state that it appears as if the government doesn't want people to use the lands set aside in the name of national parks.

Chris Nye: He should know that because we have the ringside seat on climate change we have the strongest sense of urgency. For the sake of our world we have to work harder and faster to change humankind's unsustainable way. He should also know that we know his visit isn't about Alaska and Alaskans.

Tamica Griffith: He needs to know how awful the internet is up here & help us out. It's hard to get important things done online. I know rural internet service is something he thinks is important, as well. When the military posts have 4G cable down, but the surrounding areas are still struggling with dial-up & dsl, there is a problem.

Jacki Sinclair Sunde: Thank you Mr President for your visit. I hope you see that we do not need more Federal control of Alaska but that Alaska needs more control of its own land. We as a whole are aware of the climate change going on around us. Many of us are in tune with leaving a smallfoot print on this land we love. I think it would help the deficit if we managed the land ourselves as a state and got rid of our expensive Federal "babysitters." Our Forests and Parks could be State Forests and Parks " Have a great visit and enjoy the scenery that is Alaska!

John N Monica Whiteaker: He's not welcome, leave our guns and families alone, we want to be left alone, we don't want your healthcare or aid, we owe him and the Lower 48 nothing, we don't care about yours or his or anybody elses feelings, if he wants to see real Alaska take him out bear hunting

Billyjean Stewart: Would be nice if he can see the price we have to pay for fresh fruit n veggies milk etc in rural Alaska and realize how hard it is to get.

Christopher Winfield: The whole country should expect direct pay for the natural resources -- like the Permanent Fund.

Candice Mitchell Robb: Alaskans love the Constitution, the lawful use of checks and balances in government, personal accountability and God-given freedoms.

Andrea Redeker: I want him to know just how diverse Alaskan really are. How we don't always unite, but tend to get along anyway and make things happen for the state we love in our own unique Alaskan way. That is what I would want to tell Obama.

Allison Teague: Obama should know that AK is the jewel in the crown that is the USA. That AK is NOT all about oil, NG and mining... nor should its natural and pristine flora and fauna be sacrificed for an addiction that is killing the planet. Obama should also know he can't "save the Arctic" and open it to drilling. Doh. Homer Simpson moment.

Corey Mullins: We like our military, our guns, and our freedom. Get out!

Leo Benson: The very high prices we should not have to pay for living in the great land

Judi Rounsville: Take care of the villages, many of the folks residing there don't want to have to move into an urban setting. Find $ to create working greenhouses and gardens, so produce doesn't have to be flown in to be bought at high prices. Use more renewable energy to lower the cost of utilities etc

Gypsy W. Wentworth: Where to start? Injustices to native people, how active they are in our community and theirs (villages) he should know about Anaktuvuk Pass and the prototype home built out there. There is a need for more housing in all rural villages, he needs to know how hard they work for their subsistence and why it is so important to them. He needs to see the large numbers of folks living very low income and how it impacts their families and lives and he needs to be aware of homeless, don't hide them these people matter too. He needs to see there is a commitment here with Alaskans to survive and we are different from the Lower 48 in all ways he needs to see the many nationalities working together for change and how all are contributing to a whole group of independent people wanting to see Alaska survive.

T Diane Smith: Please don't judge the people by the politicians. There is much more to the Alaskan people than interests in oil and mining, which control the politicians. Sarah Palin is an embarrassment to the majority of Alaskans

Kevon Davis: Alaskans are self-sufficient and good stewards when it comes to the land and natural resources the state has. Less and more reasonable EPA regulations to allow the people of the state to use the resources fully and wisely

Don Stiles: We need water and sewer in remote Alaska and we're being gouged by high fuel prices, fuel prices drive the price of everything else.

Liane Picarella Minster: That Alaskans support responsible oil exploration while respecting the land and the wildlife that lives here.

Austin Kayotuk: He should come here to Kaktovik or even the north slope and see how hard it is for us to live up here maybe he would try and pass a law for us to hunt caribou when they are around and not when they are all over and we can't find them because we can't go on the tundra with four wheelers to look for them. Living on the north slope isn't easy. He needs to see how much native foods we eat.

Linda Vestal: How unique the state of Alaska is and the critical importance not to spoil it -- it must be protected from greed, and short-sighted politics, and carelessness (read stupidity -- remember for many years the acquisition of Alaska was thought to be Seward's Folly).

Pat Kalbaugh: He should know enough not to let Shell oil drill in the arctic!!!!

Daniel Perkins: I'd like him to know we're tired of the overreach of the federal government In Alaska and the continued abuse of powers in D.C.

NoelleJeff Kennedy Torres: Please understand that Alaska is a geographically challenging & frequently geographically isolating state. We all know someone our neighbor knows & every region is very different; look at our Alaska Native language/tribal maps for clear illustration. And help us overcome historical trauma & change the cycle to create healthy, positive families & communities. Especially by supporting our young people

Dan Holtry: I would tell Obama that beyond popular belief, he does have supporters here. I am proud to have voted for him twice.

Möbius Abra Melin Taylor: He needs to spend a day fishing without an entourage, or at least with his girls. He need to take some time and head to the pioneers home and visit with the foundations of what made Alaska. He needs to take a trip and be left alone in the solitude of Denali for an hour. He might get some perspective on who he is, who we are, why we are Alaskans and take some of that back to Washington.

Zoelea Jones Vey: While President Obama is visiting Dillingham, I'd like him to discuss federal control of fishing industries. Specifically, the uncontrolled by-catch consumption by commercial fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska which is decimating the subsistence and sport fisheries. The constant struggle between state-controlled fisheries (rivers, inland waterways) and the Federally-controlled off-shore fisheries is unsustainable and unbalanced.

Rachel M. Jones: Also, we would like to be the people most involved in dealing with climate change in Alaska. I myself am going into conservation biology. Bring in outside help for sure, but be sure to make Alaskans your number one resource in protecting the environment here since we are the most invested in it.

Gary Cook: Hand Obama a secession petition and ask him to sign it.

Tony Parsons: Alaska is a large state with many differing environments and weather patterns. He needs to see that what's good for Juneau will not work in kotzebue. It would be good if he could see the vast expanse of this beautiful state and the hardy citizens that make up this Great land!

Julie Maier: Obama needs to know that we love our state to the point of devotion. We may need help developing a new economy -- an economy based on renewable resources and innovative means of utilizing those resources. Alaska is rich in hydropower, tidal power, geothermal, and wind opportunities as we have each of those renewable energy sources in spades; and, boy, do we have rural challenges! Alaska would be the perfect testing ground for determining how to best design small-scale hydropower projects, for example. Federal funding for research so that Alaskans can innovate solutions for the U.S. and the world would be highly beneficial all around. Alaska's future depends on maintaining the beauty that millions of tourists come to explore each year. We can't afford to destroy it by poisoning salmon streams with mining effluent; destroying birthing and feeding grounds of threatened species with spilled oil, and so on, and so it is very disappointing that you gave Shell the go-ahead to drill in the arctic. We are on the front line of global climate change impacts. Unfortunately, the U.S. may have waited too long to save the rich and beautiful cultures that depend upon marine mammals for their very existence. That said, we cannot allow Russia to gain the upper hand in the Arctic! We must sign the Law of the Sea treaty because signatories of that treaty have the right to claim waters (and mineral rights) to areas beyond their traditional borders. As a country, we need to build more icebreakers and establish a Coast Guard base in the arctic and not just a "forward operating location with a single MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter". Get real! What is a single helicopter going to do when Shell causes an oil spill? Its ridiculous to think that a Coast Guard boat would have to respond from Kodiak to get to the arctic! Finally, if we do need to be concerned about potential hostilities from some of our nearest neighbors (North Korea and Russia), is this a good time to draw down troops in Alaska? Thanks so much for visiting our amazing state!

Jennifer West: Without growth and development of our resources, Alaska cannot and will not function. He needs to stop tieing hands, get rid of red tape,and give business tax breaks, so they can hire, plan, and keep expanding and hiring. Alaska needs lots of things not available as in the lower 48. The Federal Government has locked up the choicest lands for expansion, and needs to give it back to Alaska to take care of. Alaska knows their needs better than anyone else. Also give the Hunting and fishing regulation back to Alaska.

Toby Anungazuk Jr: He need to understand that urban Alaska is non-sustainable, the jobs with retirement benefits in the State are mostly for urban and the main hub towns, projects not necessary for basic human needs still go to mainly urban area's and natural resource extractions need to be done with the strongest environmental regulations because regular rural residents will still need to gather safe traditional foods long after the last bit natural resources are over and done with – or we will be really poor.

Steven Helgason: That Alaska is a complex state. True that we are large and sparsely populated, but there are many different geographical regions, topography, climates, cultures and diversity of industry abd people - both urban and rural. Livelihoods and way of life matter and all are important.

Desa Erica Leslie Jacobsson: Mr. President, please do not confuse climate change with all the hot air coming from the Alaska State Legislature.

John Gamash: That we don't tolerate liberals and their stupidity. We much prefer a more Republican, home-grown stupidity.

Heather Jackson: That we hate traffic jams and if you help create another one it certainly won't make you any friends

Matt Knepper: Alaska has a incredibly culturally diverse population. You may as well join us ... temporarily. But don't take any more of our land and turn into national parks, don't take our guns away, don't get used to the state's bankroll, don't even bother to talk oil, don't cut the military, don't kill the fishing industry ... Aaaaaaand Don't expect my vote!!

Matt Burkholder: I hope the president thinks that we're nice people that may have differing points of view just like anywhere else. I also hope that he listens to all voices and acts within the best interest of the Country, not just Alaska. Thank you.

Matt Knepper: Oh, hey Obama. Could you please help do something about shipping items to Alaska from the lower 48. They seem to think we are not part of North America or the continental United States. Shipping usually costs more than the items being purchased.

Tammy Hoem Neher: Alaska is a state highly dependent on it's natural resources and long term management of them. However, the state really lacks the resources to do so with vast spaces and sparse populations.

Scott Brian: One thing I have always marveled @, People come from the lower 48 and say wow how lovely and beautiful it is here..Then move to Alaska complaining about how crazy it was in the rat race they left behind. Political corruption, racism, long lines, rude disrepectful people, price gouging traffic ... ect... But the minute the set up shop they do everything they can to make it just like where they came from.

Travis Atwood: We're one of the leading producers of hydrocarbons in the country. This requires high tech labor with a quality education. The state has to import a lot of its workforce for these jobs. It would be a lot more efficient if the state had an increased ability to create it's own high tech labor. That labor could also be exported to the rest of the country. Experience drilling and producing in the arctic creates a far more versatile workforce that can benefit this nationally growing industry elsewhere. Slope workers are the best in the country due to their experience. Increased federal funding for higher STEM education might pay dividends here and elsewhere. Alaska is a potential hot bed for creating the best technicians, engineers and scientists in the nation.

Leon Hood: Boat tours of the glaciers are nice while you're in Seward. Watch for road construction south of Moose Pass, been seeing that off an on lately. If you aren't big on outdoor activities or drinking then you won't have much to do in Seward recreationally. The Sealife center is pretty neat to check out at least once. Welcome to Alaska, hope the weather works out for you.

Rachel Schmidt: Alaska is the forefront of the balance between climate change and responsible resource development. Climate change effects are being seen by Alaska villages, but without responsible resource development, we won't have jobs and business or be able to afford utilities. We need to find a healthy balance. We need to stop punishing Alaskans because of what China is doing to our atmosphere (Alaska development and production impacts come nowhere near the impact that China is having). We will develop responsibly. The State of Alaska is very competent and understands environmental risks and needs associated with resource extraction. Give them the power to make decisions, regulate, and manage projects. No Alaskan wants an oil spill in the Arctic. And no Alaskan wants the economy where it is right now. There is a balance, and we can find it, if you let us.

John Hatch: He should know we don't want liberals taking over our great state and preventing Alaska from developing its resources.

Caan Tupilluk: That the GOP runs Alaska and that is why the economy is in such a bad way.

Angie Clark Sulzer: I think it is important that he understands the diversity of Alaska -- which is why Alaska was set up as boroughs initially. Diversity -- in many ways, geographically, socially, economically. I think it is also important for him to know how valuable the land is to most Alaskans. Not just the their homes, but all the land of Alaska.

Zoelea Jones Vey: While attending the conference in ANC I'd like President Obama to discuss alternative distribution methods for Alaska's oil and natural gas, desperately needed in the lower 48. If the Federal government could work with the Canadian government (much like the Alaska Hwy), we might be able to build a railway to transport oil and natural gas to the lower 48, as well as other goods, service items, and potentially passengers. Imagine an "Orient Express," Yukon style!

Jamie Ginn: I'm extremely appreciative that he's taken the time to visit Alaska, and reach out about what global warming has been doing to our state. while I know a lot of people are upset about being grounded during hunting season, they have to think about what action can mean in the long run. If we don't do something now, the ramifications of global warming on our eco systems could be really bad. We won't have animals and land to hunt in if nothing is done. I also hope that while he is here he takes the time to immerse himself in some of Alaska's culture, and learns a little about what real Alaskans are like.

Deb Gibson Patrick: I hope he gets an inkling of the fact that Alaska is totally different than anywhere else in this country. The "laws of the land" can't always be applied here. This is practically another country.

Roger Anderson: That Alaska needs to control its own resources and does not need the Federal Government stealing more land.

Margaret Chaney: I would like the president and other visitors to know that Alaska has twelve separate and distinct Native cultures, each with their own language, history, culture and traditions.

Scott Willis: The most important thing for the POTUS to know about Alaska is to NOT show up during fishing and hunting season as to crash the local economy during his invasion

Harry Hagelund: Most Alaskans refer to it as "Denali" and not "Mt. McKinley." We vote for civil liberties and social justice and then for some weird reason keep electing people who are against those things. When you visit a town or village off of the road system, it's like visiting a third world country. We generally measure distance in hours, not miles. And, judging from this comment thread, there is an ample supply of conspiracy theorist/bigot nut jobs in this state that have way too much free time.

Gerald Oxereok: 95% of Alaska is pretty much in a 3rd world paradox in terms of cost of living and utilities.

Kevon Davis: Cutting troops from military base stationed in Alaska could have a crippling affect on the local economy as well as hinder the national defense with Russia beefing up it's military forces. as well as possible unpredictable attacks from China and North Korea.

Ami Demmert: That Alaskan's don't like to be grounded during hunting season!

Travis Atwood: Having lived in different parts of the country I've found an interesting mix of ideologies in Alaska. In many other places you see the polarization of politics ruling ideologies. Alaskans have to live in the real world. I see conservatives on the slope roll their eyes at Fox news and liberals roll their eyes at MSNBC. More so than anywhere else. Alaskans are realists because they're faced with reality. We depend upon the environment as much as we depend upon human progress. With regard to the future, I think Alaskans on average have a much better grasp of what would make the future a better place. Despite being detached from the rest of the country, I think Alaskans make above average American citizens. And I see this through all the rhetoric that infects many public venues of communication.

Michele Yatchmeneff: About Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) because ANSEP is working to develop over 1,200 Alaskan students to be engineers and scientists from middle school all the way to the PhD. These students are those that can manage Alaska's natural resources and be mindful of global warming.

John N Monica Whiteaker: Just leave us and our guns alone

Vicki Merchlewitz: Obama, if he really cares about Alaska, should visit Fairbanks in the middle of winter, 40 below and ice fog.

John Robert Dart: The biggest thing he needs to know is that as the State matures it is important that BLM and other Federal Policy should not stand in the way of Alaska's right to run it's own show here. While we receive plenty from the federal government, the State needs to transition to a more diverse economy. In time this place we call home may begin to play a greater role in the Pacific Rim. We need to add value to our resources. Not just extract and send elsewhere. Welcome Mr. President!

Leon A. Richard: Welcome to Alaska, President Obama. Please act as a guest. There are things here you will not understand. By all means, ask questions. Suggestions might be met with some "resistance". Please don't go away mad. But do go away.

Nancy Ferko: Alaskans have minds of their own! and takes care of their own in the best way they can! I am an Independent and vote for the Man/Woman not the Party!!

John Burger: Land management comes to mind. This great state has done a superb job in managing how our lands are treated from oil, gas, mining industries to overall development. But because of the federal government, specifically the Department of the Interior and the EPA, we have encountered more roadblocks than not. The federal government thinks it knows better than us Alaskans on how to manage our land. We are not called the Last Frontier for nothing. We have more wilderness than all other states combined because we like to keep it that way. But when we need to build a VITAL road to a village community in order to provide proper life saving services such as medical transport, we have to get approval from someone who has never been to Alaska. And then we are told no. We are told that the necessary needs of a community, needs that the federal government is designed to help us get, are less important than a few miles of tundra. Essentially, we Alaskans are told that a few miles of dirt is more precious, more valuable than our lives and our safety. That is one thing I would like President Obama to know.

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter for consideration, email letters@alaskadispatch.com, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to commentary@alaskadispatch.com.

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