So how did a story about a far-flung village in rural Alaska about starving and freezing natives ever gain the attention of traditional media? Partly due to the Palin factor, a governor seemingly more concerned with peddling her book deal (for a measly asking price of $11mil) than her citizens. More than just her involvement (or lack thereof) though it's been a testament to the perseverance of a few people in Alaska who have really lit the fire.
It began with a story in an Alaskan newspaper (The Bristol Bay Times), spread to various Alaska progressive blogs (The Mudflats, Progressive Alaska, Immoral Minority, Diva's Blue Oasis), who in turn alerted the large progressive blogs on the net (Huffiington Post, Firedoglake, and The Daily Kos).
Recounted here from Huffington Post (1.14.09):
Four days ago, a cry for help went out from rural Alaska via the Bristol Bay Times. Many of us have known that residents of Alaska's rural villages are having a hard winter. The weather has been unusually cold this year, and prices of heating oil and gasoline have been astronomical. Add to that a disastrous collapsing salmon fishery in Bristol Bay that left residents in that area heading in to winter with less than usual, and you have the makings for a humanitarian crisis.
So in desperation, Nicholas Tucker, from the Village of Emmonak (eh-MON-eck) sent out a cry for help. With 21 days left in the month, Mr. Tucker had only $440 left to feed and keep his family of nine warm, with heating oil at $7.83/gallon. As Emmonak runs out of fuel, it will have to be flown in, potentially raising the price to $9/gallon or more.
The blogs involvement lead to direct donations of food and money, as well as sending videographer Dennis Zaki to Emmonak to record a firsthand account when other media would not send anyone.
And just today the LA Times published a piece on the problems facing the Yupik Eskimo villages ("In rural Alaska, villagers suffer in near silence").
All this attention seems to have created a backlash as well, both among the rightwing/talk radio crowd in Alaska who've called the villagers plight a "scam", and among urban Alaskans who think they already pay too much to help their remote neighbors.
There is also an international component to this story:
At the moment, villagers in Tuluksak say their greatest hope is that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will come through again on his pledge to deliver free fuel to Native Americans -- a promise that could mean 100 gallons for many families.
"What most people do not realize is that what our country as a whole has been seeing for the past year or so is nothing compared to the economic conditions that have been prevailing in many of our Native communities for over 100 years," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Jan. 15.
"It is truly tragic," she said, "that Alaska Native villages must depend on Venezuela for their safety net."
The video above is from KTUU in Anchorage from earlier this last week.