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Submitted to the
Alaska Natives Commission
in connection with a hearing at

Nome, Alaska
September 21, 1992

4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503


Witness List | Exhibit List | PDF Version

SEPTEMBER 21, 1992

Robert Fagerstrom

(On record.)

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: We're back. It's 11:30 at the Alaska Natives Commission hearing in Nome. Next to testify will be R -- I better get your name right. Robert Fagerstrom. I know him as Robbie. (Laughing.)

MR. FAGERSTROM: Well, good morning, and my name is Robbie Fagerstrom, and I would like to -- first to thank you for this opportunity to address the Alaska Natives Commission at this hearing in Nome. I represent the Citnesok Native Corporation, and we've got 2,200-plus shareholders, of which 60 percent live in Nome, and 40 percent live elsewhere.

I enjoyed leading up to this, where we had two working meetings with our elders, and -- at Citnesok; and, first of all, I -- they were worried about their testimony being in written form; and I said:

"Well, the best thing to do is just speak from your heart."

And to go along with speaking from your heart, I thought maybe one of them would speak in the Eskimo language that would have to be translated, so (laughing)-- and I think they can speak better that way coming from their heart, because I think so often English is a hard language for anybody to master. I went to school for 12 years, and I still have a difficult time with it.

But I think there's three or four major points that I'd like to talk about this morning, and if -- you've heard some of them from our elders that did testify. Well, I think number one is our family values, and that's categorized into many different sub-titles or issues. It's respect for the elders; it's the language; it’s our tradition and culture that is best taught by ourselves at home. And for an example, subsistence fishing. That's where you learn how to hold the net; how to chase the fish into the net; and there's a lot of -- it's pretty technical, and it gets us a (indiscernible) for survival.

And I think it's best learned at home, our language and our culture, like Margaret stated that you can go to school and it can -- have bicultural programs, and I think it's best learned at home, where it's fluent and it’s in your own environment; whereas, in school I think so much the Western ways is structured.

With our problems in rural Alaska and Nome here, I think one of the main thing is economics. And I think if we had better coordination by the state and federal governments on projects. And I think this ties in with the alcohol and sex abuse, where what would you expect of somebody who didn't have a job and you were living on AFDC, food-stamps? I mean, how would you feel yourselves? And then, most of all, you'd -- from the Western way, you'd take the easiest thing to get rid of those problems, and that's programs about drug and alcohol abuse.

And maybe what I'm leading up to is I know one year over at White Mountain -- and I could probably be corrected, but I believe that there's three or four different projects going on at the same time. The reason why you have these projects all the same time is everything is budgeted; they gotta use the money, or else they lose it. Maybe what we need to do is take a look at those type of regulations, both state and federal, to where they could spread out the projects in three or four years, and you could keep everybody locally hired; you could have forced accounting. It's these type of concepts that we need to look at in order to help with the economic development within our region.

I know subsistence is a cash economy, but you still got to have money to buy gas; you got to have money to buy bullets, rifle, and chose other things; but I think to help solve these problems that we face, number one is the economic picture has to be satisfied first, before we can carry out anything else.

And to go along with that, about, three or four years ago, Citnesok in Nome here and other state and federal agencies and other organizations, both tribal and nonprofit, we were all appointed to a technical committee. And this committee's mission was to expand the 3-to-12-mile gold mining out in the Bering Sea. And I thought that was a good process, where the governments, both state and federal, got into industry; got into profits and nonprofits and tribal governments, and those other social nonprofit-type of organizations to work together to solve mutual problems. And I think this is a way to be more effective, where there's economic development or etcetera, or looking at the issues. And I think Jake Ahwinona had a great point where we're always under study; we're always doing this plan, that plan; but there's no end result; there's no follow through. And that was one of my comments the other day is you come here to Nome; you go to other cities and villages; you hear this testimony, but whatever comes out of that?

And really I think, basically, you know, what's expected of the Native people. We've been into the Western culture the last 200 years. We're going through kind of a cultural shock. And I think what Margaret said is, you know, what's best for us might be -- in the eyes of the government, might be what's broadest to this problem, but we're ultimately here and now.

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: I like your third point down, involving all agencies where economic development is prevalent, setting up a plan and doing something. I was just going to mention, when we deal with economics and providing a job, the Red Dog Mine when it was set up up north, the City of Kotzebue didn't plan for increased income by the workforce, and then the need for land and property, the need for a home. And they found themselves with half of their shareholders, half of the workforce living in Anchorage, because the market didn't provide -- or something like that. I think that when you involve all of the agencies, some of that might not go.

On the issue of force account, I wonder if the State has decreased their acceptance of such a thing and that is acceptable?

MR. FAGERSTROM: I don't know, but I think what we need to be is creative in our vision to work across all these regulations, where you keep -- look at the total picture from the legislature all the way down. There must be a way where we could work these out that would give more opportunities and keep more money in the villages for that economic development then. I guess what ultimately ties into these whole issues is that we as a Native people have to work together. I know there's issues where we feel more comfortable here in Nome about development, because we've been -- part of our growing up has been with the dredges, where we're more workable, or we understand working with development. But I think, in general within rural Alaska, I think there's always been a doubt about how industry can work within the environment and working with the subsistence way of life; and if nothing's going to be done where we're shutting everything down, there won't be any work for anybody; and they look at the existence of Nome where it's a service and a transportation -- and just in thinking if it wasn't Nome, maybe it would have been Golovin or Council; but we were fortunate to still have some gold left in the area, so -- but I think that's -- we've got to cut across all the indifferences that we as a Native people have to start-working together for common goals, instead of us having our own little bureaucracy the way Native politics is run. That's throughout the whole state.

(Tape Changed to Tape #4.)


MR. FAGERSTROM: And just in closing, I guess I'd like to stress that, through this process, I hope that there would be follow-up, and we as a Native people just have to start working together to choose some comm -- we all have common goals --


MR. FAGERSTROM: -- so. . .

COMMISSIONER TOWARAK: Okay, I'll work with our Executive Director on follow-up. As soon as I found him, his eye lit up and so he -- we -- I think that's a challenge that the Commission -- Mike is trying to get our Commission so that it's not one of those throw-in-the-dust Commissions. And we're trying to make an impact. We've had quite a challenge, and we've been working on it, trying not to be a Commission that is from the top down, but acts from the grassroots up. I'm hoping that’s the Commission that comes out of this whole things.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Yes, and what effect, if any, would you say perhaps the Davis-Bacon Act has had on the economics of this area, as far as employment you see?

MR. FAGERSTROM: Well. I think that it can run both ways. You know, usually when you look at a project, you bid it at a certain cost; and if you're forced into paying higher wages, I'm not saying that's good or bad; but I think, in general, this is where there's so many big issues out there. It's just so compounded and complex, how they're inter-tied together; but when you normally look at a business decision, it's based on what you know and what you have to pay; and there's got to be a profit in there for everybody. It's got to have a trickle-down effect. I'm not a union person, but I think the unions are good; and I think it does have -- it -- I mean, it brings in a salary to the employees; but as long as employees are Natives, I'd say that would be good then. But, there again, you've got to have qualified people to work the jobs; and how do you get that when you don't have the experience? So, you know, your hands is forced into getting into an apprenticeship with one of the unions, or going into the military or relocating outside of the region where you're living to get -- gain the experience. So those are all multi-issues and problems that we could probably meet a week about and not get anything. I'm just trying to point out the highlights and concerns.




This document was ocr scanned. We have made every attempt to keep the online document the same as the original, including the recorder's original misspellings or typos.


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Last modified May 16, 2011