By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer
About 8,000 people live in the 13 mostly Yup’ik villages in Alaska’s Kusilvak census area, from Hooper Bay on the coast to Emmonak at the mouth of the Yukon River to Russian Mission upriver.
The region’s isolation adds 40 percent or more to the cost of goods for shipping, said Jason Smith of the Association of Village Council Presidents. There are few roads, though one connects Mountain Village to St. Marys and Pitkas Point.
But these communities and others nearby in western Alaska have formed the Kusilvak Economic Development & Advocacy Alliance that local leaders say, can improve the lives of its rural residents. The group recently held a summit where they discussed internet access, energy conservation, economic challenges and opportunities.
According to Emil Notti, an Alaska Native leader and one of the founders of the Alaska Federation of Natives, rural Alaska helped spur the state’s development of oil on the North Slope and gold in Nome, timber in the southeast and salmon in Bristol Bay.
“They say there is no reason for villages to exist,” Notti told the Alaska Dispatch News. “They say the state cannot afford to continue to support the villages.” The question, he said, is whether rural Alaska can continue to support the growth of cities.
Efforts continue to unify the villages to address the need for jobs, housing, infrastructure and community services.