I have been doing this blog for about three and a half years now. In that time I have received many emails from people who want to, are considering, or who are moving to Kotzebue. I have been asked a variety of questions but most of the questions are similar. I started collection some of the most common questions and my answers into digest of sorts that I can email to people when they have questions. I thought I would post it here.
Please note that these answers are purely my own opinion and that there are other people who, I am sure, have a different opinion than me.
Over the past year or so I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and viewing your pictures describing life in Alaska. One thing concerns me though and that is what opportunities exist in Kotzebue and the surrounding villages for the young folks when they finish school. Other than going off to college it seems like the opportunities to get a job and make a decent living are few and far between. You hear so much about the problem of alcoholism and other dependencies that it seems the young folks don't have much of a chance for successful careers unless they leave the area entirely and migrate to large cities both in and outside of Alaska. I would be interested in hearing more about this. Thanks and keep up the good work.
And there you have hit the nail on the head...one of the major problems that we have in this region. It concerns many people. It is not as much an issue in Kotzebue as there are several careers that one could have here.....but for youth in the villages it is a different story. If an individual wants to live in the village there are not that many jobs to choose from and certainly not enough good paying jobs to go around.
I love Alaska, especially bush Alaska....but while there are many cultural reasons for the existence of rural Alaskan villages, there are almost no economic reasons for the existence of most bush Alaskan villages. If you made it a requirement for there to be an economic viability for a community in this state there would almost no villages in rural Alaska. Kotzebue (economically speaking) exists solely to support itself and it's satellite villages. There really is not reason (economically speaking) for places like Selawik, Kivalina, Kobuk, Shungnak or Deering (to name a few) to exist. So Kotzebue exists to support these villages that exist basically only for cultural reasons.
In the "old days" each community was relatively self sufficient and traded with other nearby villages for things that they needed that they couldn’t produce themselves. Now they exist almost entirely by federal and state subsidies. Doesn't create a lot of hope does it? I think it creates a sort of cognitive dissonance that contributes to our high rates of alcoholism and suicide. It's a very sad situation to which there are no easy answers.
How open are people in Alaska to newbies, in the more rural areas?
Sometimes it depends on the person and sometimes it depends on the area. There are always going to be some people who have a problem with new people. That is how it is anywhere you go in life. Here in Kotzebue people are pretty good about it but it often depends on the attitude of the new person. If people move here and they are actively a part of the community people notice. If someone comes here just to make their money and run, griping all the while, people notice. If you don't was to be treated like an outsider don't act like one. It has worked for me.
Are people open to just roam about or are there "no trespassing" areas? Because from what I've been hearing it sounds like its all pretty much open, but I could be wrong.
Yes, for the most part you are free to roam. Most of the land in this region is either owned by the Native Corporations or the US Government. The rest is privately owned. If you take care with your use most people do not mind where you go. On native corporation land you must be a shareholder to hunt on that land. I pretty much roam (respectfully) wherever and have never had a problem.
Now this is going to sound really stupid, but how is the internet connections in some of the more rural areas? Is it really slow? Or decent?
Not a stupid question. The internet is MUCH faster in the lower 48. It has improved up here but the local internet provider is still sub par. It is low grade DSL. There is large disparity between what we pay for and what we actually get. If you are a big fan of complicated online games such as World of Warcraft the quality of our internet will put you at a disadvantage…or so I am told.
I know school there starts in August. Do you have to pay for book rental or anything?
All the books and everything at school are free. Really. You don't have to buy crayons or pencils or notebooks or anything.....but you can of course if that is what you and your children would like to do. They usually provide a folder or a binder of some sort depending on the teacher. Uyaana often likes to use one of his own that he likes better instead.
How much are school lunches?
School lunches are $2. Lunch is not ala cart. You just get whatever they are serving that day. Same with breakfast. I'm not sure how much breakfast is, but I am pretty sure it is less than lunch.
I couldn't find this info on the website. Do they have band at school? My son plays the saxophone.
I am not sure if there is band in the middle school. I think that in the past there has been a band. I think it depends on whether or not there is a teacher capable of teaching band. There is no band in the elementary school....except the fifth graders always learn to play the recorder for some reason.
Do they have any after school activities/clubs? He will be going into the eighth grade.
Yes, there are activities and clubs. For middle school I am not sure what they are. I know that for Uyaana the clubs available to him after school are homework, science, drama, reading. There is also wrestling and basketball for the elementary school. There are sports for middle school like cross country, basketball, wrestling, volleyball.
I see from your blog they have community baseball, do they have this for older boys as well?
It is actually community softball. There is adult and youth minor and majors. It is during the summer and not thru school. School sports are wrestling, volleyball, basketball and cross country.
I have learned that Kotzebue is a "damp" city. If you want get alcohol how do you go about doing that? I see that you can't send it through the post office, and you can't order it through like Sam's club so what option does that leave? I don't want mass quantities or anything but every once in a while it would be nice to have a wine cooler or beer
You can do it in a few ways. You can belong to a "wine club" and have wine sent to you thru UPS. You can bring specific allowed quantities back to Kotzebue with you. If you have over a certain amount it must be marked "alcoholic beverages" on the outside of the container in four inch letters. OR you can order it from one of several liquor stores in anchorage who will package it up and drop it off at the airport to be sent by cargo plane. **FYI Kotzebue is now "wet" and we have a liquor store.
Also I have been told numerous times that you do not need a vehicle there but I see that lots of people have them.
Technically no, you do not NEED a car.
How limited would someone be by not having a vehicle?
As far as I am concerned, you are not that limited without a car. However, I would consider a person to be VERY limited without a snowmachine, 4 wheeler and boat.
Can you actually drive out of town? If you can how far can you go?
With a car you can drive out of town about 7 miles to the beach. Then you run out of road. But it is nice to be able to drive down there. There is also a back road that loops about 8 miles round trip. With a four wheeler/atv you can drive much further down the beach.
What about if you want to go camping?
If you don't have a vehicle I guess you would be walking a LONG WAY.
Where can you go and do that?
If you don't have a vehicle I guess you could find a place to camp close to town but that wouldn't be very fun.
I see you recently went camping, how far away from Kotzebue did you go?
We go camping a lot...but we also have a boat and snomachines. We also have a camp on the Noatak River that is about 15 miles from town.
What kind of winter clothing do you suggest? I know it can get to around -50 before the wind chill but how often is it really that cold? Would you suggest jackets rated to -40, or would jackets rated to -25 be just fine. I grew up with winter days that frequently went to -15 - -20 before the wind chill, every once in a while it could get to be -27 or so, but nothing in the -40 range.
Well first, you all need skipants. And you need good boots. I suggest Baffin boots or Sorel boots rated to at least -100.. Don't get anything that says -25 or -40. It's just not warm enough. I have a pair of transalaska boots from cabelas that I LOVE....but that may be too much boot for you. I usually have two sets of everything, but I travel a lot in the country...so I usually have a warm jacket and a REALLY warm jacket. Same with skipants, hats, mits boots. I suggest cabalas or LLBean. If llbean rates it to -30 they are probably telling the truth. My advice, although everyone has their own taste......don't buy anything that fits perfectly. Jackets nowadays are often snug for women because that is what is in style. But if it is snug you cannot fit another layer under it and what good is that. same this with boots. If you are a size 8 get a size 9. Tight boots are cold feet for sure. Same with gloves or mitts. I prefer mist but that’s me. If you do not have a vehicle you will need all this anyway because there will be times when you will be walking to work in blowing snow with a windchill of - 30 and that is no picnic without a facemask and goggles.
This is my response to someone who wrote to me saying that they had a list of “must have’s” in regards to moving to Kotzebue....
A list of "Must Haves" and bush Alaska almost never go hand in hand. Bush Alaska consists of a lot of "Will Settle Fors", "Can Work Withs", and "It Would Be Nice Ifs".
There are very few 4 bedroom apartments here. Most places with that many bedrooms are privately owned. The rentals here tend to be two and three bedrooms. If you were lucky enough to find a four bedroom it would be very expensive, you’re looking at over $2000 a month.
Kotzebue has no movie theatre, no bowling alley, no indoor pool. There's no walmart, no costco, no roads in or out. We have a public library, several churches of various denominations, and a Boys and Girl Club. One of the things I tell people is that Kotzebue is a place where you need to make your own fun. If a person is dependent upon certain types of entertainment they are not going to make it here. Most of us do a lot of outdoor kind of stuff...boating, riding snowmachines, hunting, swimming, fishing, riding bicycles, camping, berry picking, having cookouts/campfires on the beach, stuff like that. We rent movies, play city league basketball, take our kids to kindergym twice a week, read, have hobbies.
As for medical care we do have a clinic here. It can do simple medical procedures such as simple broken bones, uncomplicated child birth, prescribing antibiotics both oral and IV, check ups, things like that. No surgical procedures such as appendectomies or things like that. Serious illnesses and injuries are medivaced to Anchorage. We have a specialty clinic of sorts here. Each specialty comes, I think, twice a year...such as neurology, nephrology, OBGYN, Pediatrics, etc.
This is not Middle America and you cannot bring Middle America expectations here and expect them to be fulfilled. A person really needs to come here with an open mind and leave there expectations behind. The weather is different, the people are different. The land is different. You either go with the flow or you wash out.