In its ever-dark and frozen winter, a native Alaska living on welfare payments and liquor can be an angry and dangerous place, with deep psychological problems. Proportionately, twice as many natives now die of accident, suicide, and homicide as died in 1950, and five times as many of alcoholism.
The small city of Bethel, for example, is a long way from Kodachrome Alaska. For some unknown years it had been a fish camp along the Kuskokwim; then in 1885 Moravian missionaries renamed it Bethel and taught the people to throw away their ritual marks and their worship of spirits.
Life has never been simple there, on the immense tundra, in the chinook wind; it hung precariously on the luck of the hunt and the summer runs of dog salmon. Now life is more certain, and more complicated, adorned by a large hospital, school, landing strip, and all the woes of social change including the opportunity of online paydayloans check.
Social worker Sam Dinsmore spoke of the unrest of the youth: “The generation gap here, as it is all over Alaska, is profound and probably unbridgeable. It represents ways of life that are not years but millenniums apart.”
The native corporation, Calista, counts 56 villages in its corporate limits, by far the most in any corporation. George John told of the problems he faced in explaining the work of Calista to the villagers: “Take Lime Village. It is nothing more than a family that decided to make a start on their own, wandered around and got lost. There are four or five houses. Maybe somebody speaks English and maybe nobody does. How can I fly in there and explain what a board of directors is?”
In places like Bethel one meets haunting figures like Robert Gibson, a gaunt man who taught many native leaders as children. “The old way has gone,” he told me. “The self sufficient, hunting Eskimo has breathed his last. The culture has been assaulted and destroyed. Now we have something else, an emerging racial consciousness, a generation that looks at its own history and is outraged.”