Alaska News

AK: An Artist On A Quest To Bring Otter To The Runway

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:24

This spring, Sitka artist Peter Williams took a trip to New York City, to show his work during fashion week.

A designer and marine mammal hunter, Williams makes everything from hats to earrings from sea otter and sealskin. He’s been trying to break into the lucrative fashion world for years, and he’s got a larger goal in mind – bringing Alaska Native designs to luxury buyers worldwide.

Williams says that one way to save a traditional art form, is to create a market for it.

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Peter Williams with models Jerica Young, Denise Reed and Anthony Flora at TechStyle NYC, during Fashion Week in February. (Photo by Carol Green)

When people walked into the TechStyle Lounge, in an airy loft space in Manhattan during February’s fashion week, one of the first things they saw was a display of seal and sea otter earrings, headbands, and cuffs from Shaman Furs.

That’s the business name of Sitka artist Peter Williams. Anthony Flora was modeling one of Williams’ seal and otter vests.

“I don’t think anyone has walked by without touching something, I’ve been asked if I can be touched twenty times,” Flora said.

Williams was in New York as part of an effort to introduce his work – and marine mammals in general – to the upscale fashion industry, which sometimes takes a little explaining – especially in an industry with a famously ambivalent relationship with fur. Williams has his pitch down.

“Alaska Natives are exempt from the marine mammal protection act, and we’re allowed to hunt marine mammals so we’re allowed to hunt marine mammals for food clothing and to make arts and crafts for sale, like this,” Williams said.

He’s tried a couple different spiels. This one seems to get the key points across: it’s legal; it’s special; it’s Alaskan.

Fashion editor John Nubian stopped by TechStyle on a break from the runway shows uptown. He was impressed.

Nubian: “I just came from Lincoln Center today and there were, like, two fur shows. Dennis Basso, which is, like, the biggest American fur designer. And, you know, this is, like, on par with that.”

Williams: “Oh, wow, thanks.”

Williams’ signature piece is a man’s vest. The top third – or yoke, in fashion terms – is harbor seal. Below that is sea otter. The back is wool. He sews it himself.

The price tag? $1,500.

And that’s the key issue.

“Part of why I do what I do, and part of trying to bring seals and sea otters — to higher end fashion, is to get, try to get a living wage, for doing arts and crafts,” Williams said.

Peter Williams shows off one of his signature seal and otter vests during New York Fashion Week. (Photo by Carol Green)

His prices are a too high for craft fairs or Etsy, he says. He has pieces in a few shops in Sitka; he has a website, but he needs a bigger market – one where customers don’t blink at paying $1,500 for a vest.

And that means finding a way to sell outside Alaska.

“We keep cultures and traditions alive by having them be able to be relevant in the present moment,” Williams said. “And the younger generation needs to be able to make a living in order to continue arts and crafts and traditions.”

There are some major hurdles to clear. Like, for starters, being a one-man shop based on an island in Southeast Alaska, far from any fashion capital, or being pretty much the only person trying to do this. Williams estimates there are a few dozen people in Southeast working seriously with sea otter. They sell almost exclusively locally.

And then there’s the more fundamental issue of trying to explain what he’s about to a fashion world that has almost no context.

“How do I bottle and explain thousands of years of culture and customs and connection with the land?” Williams said. “And that’s something that’s very challenging to say to someone who, like, grew up in New Jersey — no offense.”

None taken

“….and who lives in the city, and may not know that Alaska Natives are still around, or that there is such a thing as Alaska Natives,” Williams said.

Williams knows what he’d like to get across. If he had to sum it up in one word, it would be “connection.” His work is all about being connected: to a specific place, to nature, to the animals he is hunting, to culture, to heritage.

So he has a product people can’t keep their hands off. He has a story that seems custom-made for this era of conscious consumerism.

What he needs is a lucky break. And that’s why he took the gamble, flew across the country, and put down the money for a slot at TechStyle.

Williams’ big hope for the trip was to connect with buyers – ideally, buyers for small New York boutiques.

Instead, he says, he got a lot of good feedback and spoke to a lot of reporters. His dream remains frustratingly elusive.

He was, however, being profiled for the British paper, The Guardian, by a writer he met a few years ago in Sitka.

Guardian photographer, Tim Knox, decided to take Williams and the models out onto the High Line, the downtown park, for a snowy photo shoot.

“Might just, like, run down there, you put the coats on, take the coats off, put the coats back on…so we get something really cool looking and really interesting,” he said.

Knox, for one, is on board with fur.

“First trade, innit? One of the oldest trades? That and prostitution,” he said, laughing.

Ignore the British humor, but he’s right. And Williams is hoping this old trade can become a modern vocation.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Wayne Constantine

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:23

This week, we’re hearing from Wayne Constantine, who is Athabascan and lives on a homestead on the Stony River.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 17, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 17:22

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Key Issues Linger As Legislative Session’s End Closes In

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State Legislature is scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, before the stroke of midnight. But many of the issues lawmakers have delved into – the budget, Medicaid, marijuana – are still unsettled. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what the end game for the legislative session looks like.

Arctic Priorities Questioned on Eve of U.S. Chairmanship

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council next week, kicking off a two-year window to assert American priorities in the region. The U.S. and other member nations have committed to making the Arctic a “zone of peace.” But now, some Arctic watchers wonder if the U.S. needs to add an item to its Arctic priority list:  get tough with Russia.

Refined Fuel Tax Measure Heads To Governor’s Desk

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Though discussion of new revenues hasn’t gone far in the Legislature this session, today the Senate passed a measure taxing refined fuels.

Anchorage Church Officials Lead Rally For Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Hundreds of Anchorage residents gathered in Cuddy Park Thursday night to rally for Medicaid expansion.  The event was organized by AFACT, Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together- a coalition of local churches. Organizers hope the rally will make a difference as lawmakers enter the final days of the legislative session.

UAF To Cut Several Low-Enrollment Programs

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The repercussions of reduced state funding are hitting home at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Some academic programs are going away.

AK: Fur Fashion

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

This spring, Sitka artist Peter Williams took a trip to New York City, to show his work during fashion week.  A designer and marine mammal hunter, Williams makes everything from hats to earrings from sea otter and sealskin. He’s been trying to break into the lucrative fashion world for years. And he’s got a larger goal in mind: bringing Alaska Native designs to luxury buyers worldwide. Williams says that one way to save a traditional art form, is to create a market for it.

49 Voices: Wayne Constantine

This week, we’re hearing from Wayne Constantine, who is Athabascan and lives on a homestead on the Stony River.

Categories: Alaska News

Refined Fuel Tax Measure Heads To Governor’s Desk

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 16:14

Though discussion of new revenues hasn’t gone far in the Legislature this session, the Senate on Friday passed a measure taxing refined fuels.

Sen. Peter Micciche speaks on the floor of the Alaska Senate, Feb. 10, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The bill updates how the state saves money designated for oil spill prevention and response. In the past, taxes were collected by the barrel and placed into a fund. Under House Bill 158, though, about one cent per gallon of gasoline is charged at the point of sale.

Soldotna Republican Peter Micciche says that while the 1989 Exxon-Valdez disaster casts a long shadow, most of the spills the state pays to clean up are small, involving refine gasoline products.

“I hope you can support this environmental surcharge, it’s less than a penny per gallon, less than a penny per day per Alaskan, and the effort is about keeping Alaska clean and spill free,” Micciche said.

The measure received opposition from some senators over unfairly collecting a tax from customers who may never spill fuel. Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze says the measure plays favorites by levying a new tax burden on consumers, but not the aviation or commercial fishing industries.

“I am going to try to exercise a discipline of not creating new revenues and protecting bureaucracies at a time when we’re still nowhere near finished,” Stoltze said. “I’m not trying to make a hard-fast line in the sand, but it’s a line in the sand that I certainly just don’t want to rub off when it’s convenient.”

The bill passed the senate with a vote of 13-7 and now heads to the governor’s desk for signature.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Priorities Questioned on Eve of U.S. Chairmanship

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 16:01

The United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council next week, kicking off a two-year window to assert American priorities in the region. The U.S. and other member nations have committed to making the Arctic a “zone of peace.” But now, some Arctic watchers wonder if the U.S. needs to add an item to its Arctic priority list:  get tough with Russia.

Russia has been flexing its military might in northern skies and waters, and Swedish authorities last year reported a near miss with a Russian spy plane. Nordic ministers this week described Russia as the greatest threat to northern Europe’s security. Yet the U.S. says it still wants Russia to be its partner in the Arctic. Heather Conley, an Arctic expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says she’s unsure what to make of it.

“I am struggling with the concept of ‘partner,’ yet I’m seeing extraordinary aggressive actions, missing civilian airliners, a lot of military exercises in the Arctic,” Conley said.

Speaking at a forum in Washington, Conley says she’s increasingly concerned the U.S. government isn’t focusing enough attention on Russia’s behavior.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, at the same forum, said she’s committed to the Arctic “zone of peace” concept, but it requires that countries respect each other and Russia hasn’t been living up to that standard.

“And it causes me to wonder if they are not taking advantage of the fact that we have said, we want to be your friend. We want to be your partner in all of this. Well, if you want to be a partner, then you behave like one,” she said.

The senator says the U.S. government needs to send an equally strong message to Russia to let it know its actions are unacceptable.

“And as much as we want to be working together, we want to collaborate on scientific opportunities, we want to collaborate in areas of the environment, let’s not say one thing on the one hand and then our actions take us in a different direction,” she said. “We need to call Russia out when Russia needs to be called out.”

Murkowski was the keynote speaker at the Arctic forum, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Her main message was that the Obama Administration should place a higher priority on the well-being of Arctic people, rather than giving climate change top billing.  Murkowski, though, says she agrees climate change, and how to adapt to it, is a valid Arctic issue.

“But it cannot be our sole and singular focus. And it cannot be held over or held against the people of the Arctic,” she said. “It should not be used as an excuse to prevent those who live in the Arctic from developing the resources available to them in order to create a better standard of living.”

Murkowski also addressed what other senators have called the irony of the Arctic: that rapid Arctic warming gives access to more petroleum, which, when burned, will bring on more warming. At a hearing last month on Arctic issues, a Democratic senator and a liberal independent asked why Arctic Slope witnesses favored oil development when their communities are the most vulnerable to climate change. Murkowski says the question ignores what resource development has brought to the North Slope, from medicine to search-and-rescue, and home heating.

“There is no irony in the people in the Arctic benefiting from the economic opportunities that are available in their region,” she said. “But there is an irony in deliberately limiting their economic future while claiming that somehow it is for their own good and somehow in their best interest.”

The Arctic Council meeting is next week in Canada. Russia’s foreign minister has declined to attend.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Church Officials Lead Rally For Medicaid Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 13:35

photo credit: Jonathan Casurella

Hundreds of Anchorage residents gathered in Cuddy park Thursday night to rally for Medicaid expansion. The event was organized by AFACT, Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together- a coalition of local churches. Organizers hope the rally will make a difference as lawmakers enter the final days of the legislative session. 

The crowd squeezed together on the amphitheater bleachers, holding up signs that read, “Expand Medicaid: Save Money, Save Lives” And “We Are Our Brother’s Keepers.” Pastor Julia Seymour from Lutheran Church of Hope started things off with an new version of an old song.

“For Medicaid expansion I’m gonna let it shine, For Medicaid expansion, I’m gonna let it shine….”

The crowd was diverse: Samoan, Hispanic, Alaska Native, young and old. Some had health insurance. Others did not, like Tara Devlin, who spoke at the rally. Devlin graduated from college and then started a preschool last year. When she went to sign up for insurance on healthcare.gov, she found out she earned too little to buy subsidized insurance. In most other states, she would have been able to enroll in Medicaid.

photo credit: Jonathan Casurella

Some Republican lawmakers say the state can’t afford to add Alaskans to the Medicaid system, even with the federal government paying most of the bill. Devlin thinks they’re wrong:

“It’s an investment in healthy Alaskans and it’s an investment in young people like me who want to start businesses and be here for the rest of my life and put my kids through the schools here. By not investing in me it makes people like me want to leave.”

Medicaid expansion would give federal health insurance to up to 40,000 low income, mostly childless adults in Alaska.

The local chapter of Americans For Prosperity has been making the argument against expansion this session. State Director Jeremy Price is considering organizing his own rally. He questions a recent poll showing even in the most conservative areas of the state, more Alaskans support expansion than oppose it. Price thinks many Alaskans don’t understand what expansion means and because of that, the state should wait:

“Let’s focus on something that Alaskans agree on. We see reform as something that Alaskans agree on. Supporters of expansion and opponents of expansion both agree on reform. So let’s focus on that. Let’s pass reform first.”

Price says it’s clear the Medicaid system is broken.

Towards the end of the rally at Cuddy park, Pastor Julia Seymour led the crowd in a prayer for every elected official in Juneau.

“After each name we will respond, may light and truth guide them…”

Seymour went to Juneau last month and met with several lawmakers to make the case for Medicaid expansion. She says she learned a lot from the trip. She thinks some lawmakers are paying attention to misinformation instead of the truth about Medicaid expansion. But she is willing to be patient:

“The bible tells us that faith, hope and love go on and do not end. And I’m keeping the faith and I’m hopeful, but my love for some of the leaders is waning now and then.”

Seymour thinks her trip to Juneau did make a difference though. And she hopes the rally can too:

“If it doesn’t make a difference, we really have to question whether our leaders our representing the people of Alaska. We vote them in not to hold to their own agendas but to pay attention to what we lift up as the issues of our community.”

If Medicaid expansion doesn’t pass this legislative session, Seymour says there will be a lot of grieving by people like her who expect to see it happen. But she won’t abandon the fight. She says she can’t give up until all Alaskans have some kind of health safety net.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers To Retire This Summer

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 12:24

University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers plans to step down this summer.

Rogers, who was a top candidate to replace retiring UA system President Pat Gamble, announced his intention to leave the university Thursday, citing health issues he attributes to stress including that brought on by the process of cutting UAF’s budget.

Rogers, a UAF graduate, has been chancellor for 7 years, and affiliated with the university system for decades, including 8 years as a regent. He plans to officially end his tenure in August.

Meanwhile President Gamble, who had planned to retire this spring, has agreed to stay on a little longer as regents consider candidates to replace him. A message from Regents chair Jo Heckman says Gamble agreed to remain on the job for a few extra months to allow more time to vet candidates to replace him. She also cites the importance of Gamble’s knowledge as the university undergoes downsizing.

Categories: Alaska News

Land Into Trust And The Future Of Tribal Sovereignty In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-17 12:00

Alaska tribes can now ask the Interior Secretary to take land into trust, a legal designation called Indian Country. What would this mean for the future of tribal sovereignty? How would Indian Country status affect Alaska Native Corporations and the relationship between tribes and the state?

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Mark Trahant, Atwood Chair for Journalism, University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

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Categories: Alaska News

State’s New Child Adoption Rules Signal Thaw With Native Groups

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 19:12

Since 2008, the state has been in litigation with the Native Village of Tununak over the fate of a young girl in a case where parental rights were terminated. The state has held that because the girl’s grandmother did not file formal adoption paperwork in time, she lost the preference she would have been granted under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Now, Gov. Bill Walker has rolled out emergency regulations that seek to prevent situations like this in the future. As APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports, Native groups have long fought for the change.

With Julie Kitka, the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives by his side, Walker announced at a press conference that the state would make it easier for Alaska Native children to remain with extended family or with tribal members in adoption cases.

“We are going as far as we can with the emergency regulations, up to the statutory limitations now.”

With the way the Indian Child Welfare Act works, those groups get preference in adoption cases. But as it stands now, they have to exercise that right through prescribed application notices and legal proceedings.

That’s not always easy in villages where there are often no attorneys. Health Commissioner Val Davidson tried to convey just how challenging the whole process is by asking reporters questions in Yup’ik.

“I asked you in Yup’ik, ‘If you’re a person who wants to step forward, come now. Now is the time. Now is the only time you can do that,'” Davidson said after two seconds of silence. “That’s what families face in Alaska every day.”

Under the new regulations, which are effective immediately, individuals who get custody preference would be able to express their intent to adopt a child in need of aid in less formal ways. They could do it in person, over the phone, by post, or even just by e-mail. The administration has also drafted a bill that would put those rules into statute. If the legislation passes next year, it would make the policy more likely to hold in future administrations.

Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka thanked the governor for the change, and said it signified a shift in relations between the state and tribes. She said the new rules would have a noticeable impact on families.

“It’s real. It impacts children in our state today,” said Kitka.

But it won’t affect one child — the now seven-year-old Baby Dawn in the Tununak case. At the same time the administration is changing its stance on adoption cases, it is staying firm in its position in that litigation — which was one of the reasons for the regulatory change in the first place. In that case, a non-Native foster family adopted Dawn before her grandmother asserted her position under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The state argued that the Office of Children’s Services behaved appropriately

On Wednesday, the same day that the regulations were signed, Attorney General Designee Craig Richards filed in a brief in the Tununak case that went against the village’s desires. While the brief acknowledged that the state was moving toward more flexible policies for child placement, it still held its position that a child’s grandmother lost her adoption preference when she did not give a formal notice that she wanted to take the girl in.

Walker does not think that’s inconsistent, saying that the regulations cannot be applied retroactively.

“We can’t change, we can’t rewrite what was in place at that time,” said Walker. “We can rewrite the future.”

Walker added that Richards was involved in the drafting of the new regulations, despite his position in the Tununak case.

The plaintiffs in the case remain committed to a rehearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 16, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:42

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

 

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Battle Over Medicaid Spills Onto Capital Steps

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Governor Bill Walker spoke at a rally today in favor of Medicaid expansion outside the capital in Juneau. The event is another strategy from the administration to get lawmakers to bring the issue to a vote in the Legislature.

 

As Deadline Looms, Gov. Walker Says Legislature Could Gavel Out On Time

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With the legislature scheduled to gavel out by midnight on Sunday, Governor Bill Walker has seen very few pieces of legislation make it to his desk. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez sat down with Walker yesterday afternoon to get his take on how the session is progressing. Walker said he thinks it’s still possible for lawmakers to get their work done on time.

 

Emergency Regulations Strengthen Indian Child Welfare Act

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since 2008, the state has been in litigation with the Native Village of Tununak over the fate of a young girl whose parental rights were terminated. The state has held that because the girl’s grandmother did not file formal adoption paperwork, she lost the preference she would have been granted under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Now, Governor Walker has rolled out emergency regulations that seek to prevent situations like this in the future. The action is a win for Native groups in the state.

 

Petitioners ask Governor to Stop Supporting Same-Sex Marriage Bans

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchoraeg

More than 1,200 Alaskans have signed a petition asking Governor Walker to withdraw Alaska’s support for an amicus brief defending same-sex marriage bans.

 

Coast Guard Says Remains Of Missing Alaska Pilot Found

The Associated Press

Searchers have found the remains of the pilot of a plane that went missing in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

 

FBI Looks Into Bethel Incident

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

FBI staff were in Bethel recently on a fact finding mission related to an incident in which a former Bethel police officer arrested a man in a parking lot of an AC store.

 

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Defends Federal Land Management

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today defended the federal government’s land management and brushed off calls from legislators in Alaska, and other states, to seize federal lands.

 

Oil Price Likely To Dip Again After Brief Surge

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The price of Brent Crude hit above $63 a barrel today, the highest it’s been this year. That gives Alaskans something to cheer about. But the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration told a Senate panel Thursday two political events on the horizon would likely bring the global price down.

 

Ninth Circuit Denies Big Thorne Injunction

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an emergency motion for an injunction that would have delayed the Big Thorne Timber Sale pending an appeal of a lower-court ruling.

 

Anchorage Students Rally Against Education Funding Cut

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than 150 high school students walked out of class this afternoon to attend an impromptu rally in downtown Anchorage. They are protesting the legislature’s proposed $47.5 million cut to education.

 

Juneau School District Seeking Special Election For School Bonds

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau School District wants a special June election asking voters to approve a bond for school renovations before a law stopping state reimbursements for school construction takes effect. The governor still hasn’t signed the bill, but if he does, the school district has 90 days before it becomes a law to hold an election. Even if all goes smoothly and the district beats the countdown, it’s still unclear if it will get reimbursed.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Students Rally Against Education Funding Cuts

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:27

Student protesters asking the legislature to increase education funding. Hillman/KSKA

More than 150 high school students walked out of class Thursday afternoon to attend an impromptu rally at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. They are protesting the legislature’s proposed $47.5 million cut to education.

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West High Junior Charlie Lowell led the crowd, sending a message to Alaska’s state legislature.

“They’ve been encouraged to even cut education further,” he shouted into his bullhorn.

“Boo!!” responded the sign-toting crowd.

“So we’re here today to let them know they can’t cut away our future! They can’t take our education away from us! Save our schools!”

Lowell helped organize the protest through word of mouth and didn’t let parents or teachers know until the last minute.

Students at the protest say their teachers had mixed reactions — many supported the idea but others were skeptical that any students would actually show up.

Tenth graders Sonja Barnard, Salem Collins, and Tessa Meeno protest education budget cuts. Hillman/KSKA

“I think in general teenagers get a bad rap for being rebellious and like idiots,” said West High sophomore Tessa Meeno. “And we truly do know what’s going on, and we’re not oblivious to what’s happening.”

West High tenth grader Joseph Mazeck said they need to speak up to protect what they love. “I love going to school, and I love participating in school events. You know, I play baseball for West and I don’t want to see that go away because of money.”

The legislature needs to send their final budget to the governor by the end of session on Sunday.

Categories: Alaska News

Battle Over Medicaid Spills Onto Capital Steps

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:26

Gov. Bill Walker, I-Alaska, during a Medicaid expansion rally at the State Capitol, April 16, 2015. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Governor Bill Walker spoke at a rally today in favor of Medicaid expansion outside the Capital Building in Juneau. The event is another strategy from the administration to get lawmakers to bring the issue to a vote in the Legislature.

Standing on the capital steps in sporadic drizzle, Anica Ord of Juneau said that as a recent college graduate she falls into the coverage “donut hole” for health insurance.

“Medicaid expansion would help young people like myself who want to getting their financial feet on the ground, and want to live and work here in Alaska,” Ord said, before issuing a very modern political call to arms: “Snap a picture, text it, tweet it, Facebook it—do the social media thing. And let’s get this bill to the floor for a vote.”

That prompted many of the hundred or so rally attendees, along with a handful of democratic lawmakers, to begin snapping selfies with their phones.

Governor Bill Walker told the crowd expanded healthcare coverage is both an economic and moral necessity for the state.

“Multiple polls show overwhelming support for expanded Medicaid. Healthcare is not a partisan issue, it’s an Alaskan issue, and we’re going to accept it,” Walker said over growing applause.

But Republicans lawmakers say the state isn’t ready, and that there is no use expanding Medicaid when the state’s current version of the healthcare system is not working.

“To throw another 20,000-plus people into a system that is already not functioning properly could really hurt the state a lot,” said Representative Steven Thompson, a Republican from Fairbanks, during a majority press briefing earlier in the day. “We need to be careful that we have things that are going to work before we start adding 20,000 to 40,000 people to a system that’s already broken.”

Thompson doesn’t believe the issue will not come to a vote this session. But Governor Walker says he will call back the Legislature if the expansion plan doesn’t come to pass.

Juneau resident Pat Sidmore attended the rally, and thinks the politics are obscuring the very real need to give health coverage to more low income Alaskans.

“My sign said that ‘when elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers,’” Sidmore said. “We have a unified government: a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, that’s the elephant symbol, and they’re fighting over this thing, and people are getting hurt.”

After his rally speech, the crowd of supporters started singing Walker “Happy Birthday.” He turned 64.

Alexandra Gutierrez contributed reporting to this article.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

As Deadline Looms, Gov. Walker Says Legislature Could Gavel Out On Time

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:25

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker speaks to reporters during a press conference Jan. 27, 2015. He was discussing a draft plan released earlier in the day by the U.S. Department of Interior that would block oil development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

With the legislature scheduled to gavel out by midnight on Sunday, Governor Bill Walker has seen very few pieces of legislation make it to his desk. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez sat down with Walker yesterday afternoon to get his take on how the session is progressing.

Walker said he thinks it’s still possible for lawmakers to get their work done on time.

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Categories: Alaska News

Petitioners ask Governor to Stop Supporting Same-Sex Marriage Bans

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:24

More than 1,200 Alaskans have signed a petition asking Governor Walker to withdraw Alaska’s support for an amicus brief defending same-sex marriage bans.

The attorney general signed the brief two weeks ago. The NAACP, Christians for Equality, and Alaskans Together for Equality all signed the petition.

Comments support equality for all citizens. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of such bans on April 28. They’ll issue a final decision by this summer.

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Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Says Remains Of Missing Alaska Pilot Found

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:22

Searchers have found the remains of the pilot of a plane that went missing in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

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The Coast Guard says the man’s remains were recovered after being found Wednesday evening.

Responders say the wreckage of the man’s Cessna 180 were partially submerged off the coast of Culross Island.

Anchorage station KTUU reports the pilot’s family identified him as 53-year-old Dale Carlson of Wasilla.

The search was launched after the pilot reported engine trouble Tuesday afternoon near Perry Island, 60 miles southwest of Valdez. The Coast Guard says the pilot stated he might have to set the plane down.

The Coast Guard says searchers included Alaska State Troopers and the National Guard. The Coast Guard says responders searched for 27 hours in rough weather.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Defends Federal Land Management

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:20

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today defended the federal government’s land management and brushed off calls from legislators in Alaska, and other states, to seize federal lands.

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Categories: Alaska News

Oil Price Likely To Dip Again After Brief Surge

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:19

The price of Brent Crude hit above $63 a barrel today, the highest it’s been this year. That gives Alaskans something to cheer about, but the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration told a Senate panel Thursday two political events on the horizon would likely bring the global price down.

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Adam Sieminski says if Iranian sanctions are removed, a lot of oil would come onto the market, and no one knows if that would be gradual or all at once. Sieminski says Iran has about 30 million barrels of oil in storage, and it would likely increase its production rate if it’s not facing sanctions.

“So the total amount would be about a million barrels a day of production coming onto the market, and it’s really hard to see right now senator, how that could be absorbed without causing other production to go down, or the price to go down,” Sieminski said.

Sieminski was answering a question posed by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Senators from non-producing states tend to focus on gasoline prices. Sieminski refuted the claim that allowing crude oil exports would raise the price at the American pump.

“What that does suggest if more crude oil enters the global markets, whether it’s from U.S. Exports, or from Iran, or from production anywhere, it would tend to lower the global oil price, which would tend to lower the gasoline price in the U.S,” Sieminski said.

Lifting the oil export ban is one of Murkowski’s major initiatives as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Categories: Alaska News

Ninth Circuit Denies Big Thorne Injunction

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:18

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an emergency motion for an injunction that would have delayed the Big Thorne Timber Sale pending an appeal of a lower-court ruling.

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Big Thorne Map

Thursday’s denial was the latest action related to the Big Thorne Timber Sale on Prince of Wales Island. The U.S. Forest Service last summer made a final decision to move forward with the project, which includes about 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest.

Environmentalists, arguing that it’s critical habitat for deer and wolves, quickly sued to stop the timber sale. Lawsuits were filed in federal court by two separate coalitions of conservation groups.

This spring, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline rejected all the arguments brought forward by the environmental groups, and ruled in favor of the Forest Service.

That court had consolidated the two lawsuits, but each set appealed separately to the Ninth Circuit.

In its Thursday ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also agreed to consolidate the appeals into one case, and to expedite the appeals process.

Categories: Alaska News

FBI Looks Into Bethel Incident

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-16 11:41

FBI staff were in Bethel recently on a fact finding mission related to an incident in which a former Bethel police officer arrested a man in a parking lot.

An FBI spokesperson says they are looking at a possible civil rights violation. It’s not an official investigation in the terms used by the FBI, but the spokesperson says they are looking into the incident after surveillance video surfaced earlier this month. The U.S. Attorney’s office can use information from the FBI to decide whether or not to press charges.

The Bethel police officer, Andrew Reid, was fired this spring. Following the release of the video, the attorney for Wassillie Gregory, the man who was arrested, has filed for post conviction relief on his guilty plea to a harassment charge.

City Manager Ann Capela referred questions Tuesday afternoon to an attorney working for the city, Bill Ingaldson. He declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation and a desire to not interfere in the due process of individuals.

The city council, Tuesday night, however, briefly heard from Ingaldson about the video tape in question.

There have been many questions about the events surrounding the hard drive. An account from an email from an attorney for the parent company indicated that the video was on a hard drive that went to the police department but was deleted when it was returned to the grocery store. When asked by council member Zach Fansler about the video, Ingaldson insisted there was no nefarious activity and that there were several copies made of the video.

“There is absolutely no evidence at all, it’s just not true that anything was destroyed. Copies were made of that, and in fact the attorney for the other person involved, not the attorney for the officer, but the attorney for the other person, that attorney looked at the video in my office and nothing was hidden from anyone,” said Ingaldson.

There appeared to be confusion about who actually owned the hard drive. Ingaldson says the police returned the hard drive to AC in the condition they received it, he says that’s without the video.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Commands Lawmakers To Act On Appointments

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-15 20:33

Gov. Bill Walker has issued a proclamation that would force legislators to act on his appointments.

The executive proclamation comes days after legislative leadership cancelled their confirmation session — and days after the governor sent a six-page letter reiterating that he would veto a contentious gasline bill and urging lawmakers not to override him. All of the governor’s cabinet members and board appointments require legislative approval before the end of the session, or else the appointments are voided. In February, legislative leadership requested a legal memo explaining the consequences of disregarding the confirmation vote.

In a press release, Walker stated he was “concerned” by the memo and the cancellation, adding that “the risk that these hardworking Alaskans will not have the opportunity of a confirmation vote is unacceptable.”

Members of Legislature have expressed reservations about some of Walker’s nominations, including his pick for attorney general and his appointments to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.

The joint session is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. While the legislators are obligated to convene at that time, they are not required to take an up-down vote on the individual appointments.

The last time a governor forced lawmakers into joint session over confirmations was in 1983, when then-Gov. Bill Sheffield sent state troopers after legislators to force them to appear on the floor.

Categories: Alaska News

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