Post 8

Modern skyscrapers reflect the Alaskan wilderness
and socioeconomic progress.  Photo by Robert Olsen 

Alaska is a place where traditional and modern worlds coexist.  Alaskan cultures are rich and diverse.  The modernization of Alaska really begins in the 1940’s at the onset of World War II, the Cold War, and later the construction of the pipeline.  The construction of Military bases and communication installments, the building of the Alaskan and Dalton Highways, and the thousands of military and construction personnel who came to serve in the war and later build the pipeline.  These events and people helped usher Alaska into the modern world.  Many indigenous populations were faced with assimilating the reality that war and industry had brought to their land, such as increased infrastructure and influx of thousands of people into the population.  Writers Fred Bigjim, Richard Dauenhauer, and Ed McGrath each capture the some of the negative aspects which the impact of modernization has brought to Alaska.   

The Arctic Magic Flute, performed in Kotzebue
and Nome by Opera to Go.  Photo by .anderson.

Ballet in Bethel, by Fred Bigjim, is a poem that serves as a stark reminder of how Alaskan indigenous cultures can be seen as being hindered by the modernization of society.  As Alaskan communities grew throughout the 1940s and air travel became increasingly popular, more people came to be stationed and visit remote Alaskan locations.  Seeking the thrill and adventure of traveling to foreign lands for artistic endeavors, many artists have brought their medium to remote locations of Alaska to share their culture and experience new cultures for themselves.  Bigjim writes, “Ballet in Bethel…Opera in Shishmaref…Mime in Elim…Repertory Theater in Barrow..Symphony in Wales…Upheaval replacing the entertainment of the ceremonial dances, the blanket tosses, folklore, and games of strength.  No more cultural gatherings, only a ballet in Bethel.’(1)  The contrast between these European based forms of cultural entertainment and Alaskan villages renowned for their own artistic and cultural contributions is a powerful example of how the modernization of society through travel has allowed peoples from all various cultures to explore and exploit cultures.  These exploitations provide evidence that cultural strength in these communities have been compromised in post-European contact.

Large scale tourism in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Photographer unknown.

Winter Ferry: Haines to Juneau by Richard Dauenhauer is a powerful poem which reflects on the impact which State and Federal management had on Alaskan’s accessibility to Glacier Bay.  The Alaskan wilderness is a primary part of many people’s cultures and lifestyles here in Alaska.  Dauenhauer’s poem follows a historic timeline exhibiting the modernization of Alaska through the industries of natural resources and tourism.   Beginning with the declaration of the monument in 1925, the F. Roosevelt’s administrations opening of the monument to mining in 1936, the release of 19,000 acres of homesteading land to Gustavus in 1955, and then in more recent decades the introduction of tourism in Glacier Bay and prohibition of land use.  Dauenhauer uses alliteration to drive in the fact that tourism has overrun the rights of the local inhabitants, “Glacier Bay was like an ice box full of food for Hoonah.  They closed it off.  They bring up thirty thousand tourists, jets coming, jets going, but we can’t land…Fish and Wildlife closed it down.  We can’t set foot on shore, we can’t get off the skiff.  Thirty thousand tourists every year.’(2)  Dauenhauer’s poem provides just enough information to allow the reader to see the conflict and struggle that has developed with the modernization and development of Alaska.

Logistical structures reflect the modernization of Alaska.
Photographer unknown.

Ed McGrath’s excerpt from The Men and the Work and the Northern Mystique provides the reader with a view of the rugged individuals battling the vast land and elements, and sometimes each other, who came up to Alaska to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  McGrath elaborates on the intensity of the landscape on the North Slope that “It is utterly alien, much more so than an expanse of desert or prairie.’(3)  Embarking on a massive modern logistical undertaking in the rugged Alaskan wilderness are people alien yet rugged enough to endure work in the unforgiving elements.  McGrath explores the diversity of labor groups and laborers who help usher in another phase of modernization to Alaska.  McGrath wrties, “The way that the various groups relate to each other cannot be described as outright war, although it has sometimes come to that, nor as friendly and peaceful, though strong friendships are often made and sometimes continued.  There is a certain amount of clannishness…’(4)  The examples of common conflict between the groups of laborers which MaGrath describes, portrays many of these people as not being very empathetic towards each other.  These examples can be used as a reflection on how modernism of industry has created hostility in the workplace, and helped bring discrimination into Alaska. 

Alaska is amazingly variegated and has become much more progressive over recent generations.  Modernization has brought a level of cultural deterioration to Alaska, but it has also brought in a tremendous amount of money into local statewide economies.  Alaskans cannot simply revert to the earlier simplistic ways of life, we can only hold onto our traditions while dealing with the challenges and developments of an evolving modernizing world.     
(1) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 674.
(2) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 701.
(3) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 712.
(4) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 714.

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