The Alaska Start II

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

We flew from Anchorage to Kotzebue Sunday morning on a 737 divided in two, half for cargo, half for passengers – a clear sign of the business value of shipping supplies to the North.

The first leg, Anchorage to Nome, was packed with passengers. On the plane were journalists and photographers who are part of the expedition, but also representatives of Alaska senators and Alaska native organizations.

I was seated next to two staff members of the school district of the Northwest Arctic Borough, a district that covers Noorvik, who are returning from a trip South. They knew all about our visit and, indeed, had been helping the Noorvik school (where we’ll stay) in its preparations for our arrival. They’ve prepared banners and posters. They seemed to know everyone we would meet in Noorvik and assured me that I was wrong to have any concerns that the hubbub of our visit was an unwelcomed intrusion in the day-to-day lives of residents of Noorvik. It appears that the whole village has turned the first enumeration into quite a festival.

As we fly from Nome to Kotzebue, on a clear day, it’s clear why the challenge of enumerating remote Alaska is huge. There are few roads, very small clusters of houses, with trails for snowmobiles (called snow machines here) and sleds between them. Building trust with villages has taken several years of work from our Alaska team. The test of those relationships will be the next few weeks, as we use village leaders to help us identify census takers from the village. Flying into the villages when possible, taking snowmobiles or sleds when not possible, will be followed by 2-3 days of training enumerators.

When we arrive in Kotzebue, there are banners at the airport urging participation in the 2010 Census, in several different local languages. We are escorted on a tour of the village of 7,000-8,000 population; we learn that the diversity I’ve seen throughout the country exists here as well. There are 12 different languages spoken in the town, with Africans, Norwegians, and Koreans among the mix.

The temperatures are higher that we expected, but the breeze brought the wind chill far below 0 F. We stay in Kotzebue tonight; I have a radio program interview in the village tomorrow, Monday – on a station whose signal reaches Siberia!

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