Friday, November 12, 2010

Kotzebue FAQ

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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.


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17 comments:

Arvay said...

Did someone honestly mention a 4-bedroom apartment in their "must-haves"? What kind of person needs a giant house, but also sees appeal in living in a bush village?

I grew up in a largish, 2-bedroom townhome, but my mom, sister, and I shared the master bedroom and rented out the other room for extra income. Now I live in a 16x20 foot cabin with a full loft that, as a single person, seems a gracious plenty!

I am always shocked and disgusted when people hereabouts complain about the cost of heating and then proceed to inform us that they live in a 4000-square-foot home, because each kid NEEEEEDS his own bedroom, and each adult NEEEEEEDs his own office!

God bless you, Cathy. No-one has ever been so presumptuous as to email me a list of questions expecting me to educate them on things they can perfectly well find out themselves with a little time and effort. Sheesh.

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

"A person really needs to come here with an open mind and leave there expectations behind."
And, can I add, that if you do that, you will leave Kotzebue with a full heart? Yep, my expectations were totally off, but with that open mind, it is a truly unique, wonderful place. I feel totally lucky and blessed to have been able to experience that, and you, firsthand. And I can't wait to return, as soon as I am able.

Missy said...

Very well answered, in my opinion! We came up here to Alaska with no expectation other than beauty, which we found to the utmost. We (2 adults, 1 teen and 1 10 year old) are in a dry 20x26 cabin with a sleeping loft...most folks think we are nuts...but who cares! If you have that open-mindness and the ability to accept all the things you really DON'T need, life is good. Granted, I haven't been in below zero yet, but did get the pleasure of my undies freezing to the outhouse toilet seat already though LOL

Arvay said...

Missy! Please tell me you do NOT have a toilet seat in your outhouse! You need to get rid of that and replace it with a blue foam seat! ;)

Cathy said...

Definately NO toilets seats. You muct go with blue foam as arvay says. You can thank us later.

Tracy said...

That was probably me asking about the 4 bedrooms. ;-) I actually have 4 kids, ranging in ages from 15 yrs-2, with only 1 girl in the middle. It makes for interesting bedroom placements. We could get by with a 3 bedroom, but 4 would've been a preference due to the 15 and 2 yr old being on totally different sleep schedules. Actually at the time i asked, the 2 yr old was a baby I think, still napping alot. Also, some rental places have rules about how many people per room as well and I wasn't sure if that would be an issue like down here in the lower 48.

And at the moment my husband is working from home full time and really could use a home office so he doesn't have a toddler making a ton of noise in the back ground during phone meetings. This isn't by choice, all his co-workers in the office are doing the same. (His "office" is currently in the dining room and he goes IN to work for about a half a day once a week.)

Depending on the situation, it's not always about wanting a big, fancy house but wanting something that fits our current situation. Up there, we'd obviously have a very different situation and would adjust accordingly. And at the time we were actually looking in several parts of AK for jobs, none of which panned out. Maybe in the future, who knows.

judysquiltsandthings said...

Please explain, 'no toilet seat; blue foam seat' for us folks from the lower 48. Thanks.

Cathy said...

Tracy, that probably was your email in reference to apartment size but yours was by no means the most demanding requirements people have voiced. I've heard it all :)

There are all kinds of people in this world who have all kinds of preferences. That's fine. Everyone has their standards. I am certainly not saying that people don't have the right to be choosy. My point is that people who have a list of must haves will usually not be happy here....unless their must have is a flush toilet and running water...that at least can be found in Kotzebue.

If you need that kind of space you will only find it in the cities such as Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage and the like.

In Kotzebue, and even more so in the smaller villages, it is not uncommon to have 12-14 people living in a three bedroom house.

Tracy said...

That's what I was thinking...up there they probably don't care. lol Even down here we are going to have a hard time finding a place to buy because we DON'T want a huge 3000+ sq ft. house but we want the bedrooms and office for hubby. And those only seem to come extra large, top of the line everything, and expensive. We have found some older, normal sized ones with either an addition or something but you have to really hunt for them.

And my guess is we'd end up in one of the bigger cities anyway if we ever did get to AK...partly due to his line of work and partly because I'm thinking we'd be better off closer to specialed services, medical and stuff that we'd use frequently.

Trish said...

I left my heart in Kotzebue.
I miss you!

Cathy said...

I miss you too Trish :(

I'll be in ANC Nov 29th through December 2nd and Dec 11th through December 13th. Come see me :) We can eat McDonalds fries and sing 80's songs.

Arvay said...

Tracy: Thanks for coming on to explain and enlighten me. I probably didn't come off too friendly in my first post, but you still stuck your neck out to explain, and I appreciate that. I wish you luck with your move, wherever it takes you! But do keep in mind, the bigger the house, the higher the heat costs, so work that into your household budget.

Judy: Just think, if it's, say -40 degrees outside, and you are going to peel off your pants and sit on something, would you prefer that it be ceramic, or foam? ;)

Tracy said...

So...how would our summer A/C electric bill compare to heating there in the winter? Here in TX we can get some doozies in the height of summer--and half the fall and spring. :-P I've also read we have the highest elec. rates in the country here in the Dallas area (although that may not include parts of AK lol) I've heard of $500-$700 in the summer, but I've never gone over $450 myself.

Arvay said...

I don't have AC, but to give you a ball park figure on heating costs, last year I went through 100 gallons of heating oil and 2 cords of wood. The wood was from my land, but had I paid for it, it would have been about $200 a cord. Heating oil prices fluctuate, like gas prices, but the last time I filled the tank, it was about 3.50 a gallon. So $750 would be the cost to heat my place for the year. And it's a 16x20 foot log cabin. Last winter was unusually mild, so I expect to go through more wood and oil this year. I'm also quite miserly, and let the house drop to mid 40s at night and while I'm out, so your mileage will definitely vary. :)

Arvay said...

OH, I should also mention that I'm in Fairbanks, where the weather is quite different from Kotzebue. :) It's hotter, colder, drier, and windless. I'd imagine with wind chill, Kotzebue's gotta be harsher in winter.

Perry said...

I've enjoyed reading the comments. Cathy has given some great advice about Kotz. I lived there in the early '80's and it was a shock to my way of living when I arrived there. I was happy to have a couch to sleep on in the three bedroom apartment I shared with three other guys. Later I moved into a three bedroom trailer with two other people. I think we paid $1000.00 a month rent for the trailer in the '80's. I can't remember the cost monthly for electric and heating oil. Food cost was the biggest challenge. At the time I liked to drink beer and often it was a toss up whether to buy beer or hamburger helper. I ate cheap most of the time.

Walking wasn't something I was fond of. The cold wind will inspire you to buy a means of transportation fast. I can remember too many times helping people drag their vehicles to the fire department to thaw the engine out so it would crank. During the wet season walking on the roads meant you were a target for a driver to splash mud on you. I've been the target and the splasher, it was all good!

My advice to someone from the lower 48 who is considering moving to Kotz, if you are spoiled in the lower 48 then stay there. Kotz isn't for wimps. It can be a fun town if you know how to have fun. Making friends is important and not hard to do. I still have a couple of friends in and around Kotz and I would really like to visit them someday.

Kotz is a seclude town and due to its location we were often behind the lower 48 when it came to change, but change isn't necessary if you're content. I remember CB radio base stations being a great means of communication back then. When I moved back home my sister asked me if I wanted to go see Def Lepard. My response was, why would I want to go see a deaf lepard and how do you know the lepard is deaf? As I said we were way behind the lower 48. TV and music weren't that important. My favorite college football coach, Bear Bryant, had died while I was in AK and I didn't know it until I moved back home, but football wasn't important to me after arriving in Kotz.

I'll never forget living Kotzebue. I may never have an opportunity to travel there again but I don't regret the time I spent there. I've lived in many different places and I have to say Alaska and Hawaii were the two most unique.


I liked riding snow machines on the Tundra , walking the beach, hanging out with friends, shooting guns, etc. To decide to move to Kotz is a serious choice that needs research, and to do it with young kids is even more serious.

I did enjoy the food, lots of meat to eat in AK. for example: Frozen raw reindeer meat, caribou, and that uh whatever that was I just ate*** sometimes it was best not to ask, just eat it. Eskimos knew how to eat well. I didn't have any skinny Eskimo friends, they had a passion for food just as I did, and it was good!

Thanks for your photos Cathy. I always like to see new pics of Kotzebue.

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