Arctic Sounder: Murkowski comes for a visit

About 100 people, including students, teachers, aides, parents and administrators, came to listen, meet and ask questions of Sen. Lisa Murkowski at a community meeting Nov. 12 at the Kotzebue Middle/High School cafeteria.

Community members and Dr. Norm Eck, Northwest Arctic Borough School District superintendent, introduced Murkowski; and she presented the book "Recess at Twenty Below" and a United States flag to June Nelson Elementary School student council president, Margie Baker, along with several other student council members in attendance.

Murkowski fielded questions about retaining doctors and teachers in villages, torte reform, funding for village alcoholism and suicide prevention programs, strategies for energy use and how to use natural resources to help offset the costs of energy. She discussed how to help people who want to stay in the villages so that they won't have to relocate to bigger villages or Anchorage because of the high cost of living.

Murkowski acknowledged that there are many problems in many other states, specifically addressing a question from a woman in the audience who moved to Alaska from New York City a few years ago. But she said problems in Alaska are more severe. Murkowski asked the student council members to come up with ways to write stories or make videos that highlight problems in their villages so she can portray the severity and complexity of problems and the lifestyle of Alaskans to the people in Washington, D.C., so that politicians could understand what village residents live with each day.

Murkowski noted children playing on the darkened playground at 8:45 a.m. before school opened at June Nelson Elementary School as a good example of how living in Alaska is unique.

One of the children in the audience asked if she had a magic wand, what she would use it for. Her answer was to wave it over the villages to help them live better lives. Another child asked if she had met President Barack Obama. She said she had not only met him, but she also works with him. She told a story about Obama growing up in Hawaii and how he doesn't enjoy winter sports like skiing, skating, sledding or playing in the snow, but he does like basketball, which is a very popular sport in the villages.

Murkowski noted that a few children in Kotzebue had spoken to her to ask for more help with alcoholism and the problems related to drinking in the villages.

In addition to the community meeting, Murkowski visited Maniilaq, NANA and Northwest Arctic Borough headquarters before continuing on to Nome.

While in town Murkowski also had lunch with students at the Alaska Technical Center, toured a housing project and got a briefing from NANA on alternative energy projects. She returned to Washington, D.C., last Saturday.

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Source: By Diana Destafeno and Bailey Schildbach