Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc.

RurAL CAP in the 1960s

The Alaska State Community Action Program (ASCAP) developed as a result of the federal Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which stated in part: “It is therefore the policy of the United States to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this nation by opening, to everyone, the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.”Among its other provisions, the Act established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer funding of local Community Action Programs throughout the nation. Alaska’s major urban centers, Anchorage and Fairbanks, formed their own Community Action Programs. But due to the sparse distribution of the remainder of the state’s population over an immense geographic area, ASCAP was created to coordinate and oversee funding for Community Action activities in the rest of the state.ASCAP initially operated under the auspices of the state Office of Economic Opportunity. In order to remove itself from the influence and pressures of partisan politics, ASCAP separated from the Alaska OEO in 1966, and incorporated as a private, non-profit organization. In 1968, ASCAP changed its name to the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP), the name that rural people would come to correlate with Head Start, weatherization, and dozens of other programs that would make a positive difference in people’s lives.

RurAL CAP channeled state and federal OEO funds to delegate local Community Action Agencies, Native economic cooperatives, and regional non-profit corporations, which it helped to organize. It administered direct service programs such as Head Start, the Emergency Food and Medical Program, and the Surplus Acquisitions Program. It sponsored federal programs in Alaska, such as VISTA, Neighborhood Youth Corps, and Operation Mainstream. It also kept rural Alaskans informed of other opportunities and programs available to them, and educated and involved them in the governmental process – in essence, providing access to the necessary knowledge, skills, and tools with which people could take control of and improve their own lives.

Alaska Legal Services

The 1964 Equal Opportunities Act included a provision that provided legal services for people who could not afford to hire their own attorneys. RurAL CAP established Alaska Legal Services as a delegate agency in 1967. Finding themselves unable to recruit attorneys from within the state, Alaska Legal Services brought in 12 VISTA volunteer lawyers who worked out of regional and village offices.

Alaska Legal Services, Inc. continues to serve legal needs of Alaska’s economically disadvantaged.

Operation Mainstream

Operation Mainstream, a three-year partnership between RurAL CAP and the U.S. Department of Labor, was designed to provide jobs at decent wages for adults with histories of chronic unemployment. It provided job training and wages to village workers for locally-initiated projects.

By the time the program ended in 1970, it trained approximately 400 people and completed projects that included: an access road in Akhiok, a telecommunications system in Copper Center, a community hall in Alakanuk, a tribal house in Klukwan, bridges at Goodnews Bay, a Parent-Child Center and a power plant in Hoonah, a fish smokehouse in Karluk, a playground in Hydaburg, a memorial park in Craig, a water pollution control program in Kotzebue, housing and lodge construction in Arctic Village, an “Indian Village” cultural preservation project in Mentasta, and construction of a library in Willow.

Alaska Village Electric Cooperative

In 1967, members of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) approached the ASCAP board and asked for support and assistance in coordinating their program. A working partnership between ASCAP and AVEC began. In order to bring electricity to village at affordable rates, AVEC set up power plants across rural Alaska. RurAL CAP provided 26 generators to AVEC through the Surplus Acquisitions Program. No longer associated with RurAL CAP, the cooperative still continues to serve today’s village electric needs.

Community Service Corps

By 1969, CSC included nine development corporations and operated 10 action centers in regional villages. CSC corporations included:

  • Bristol Bay Development Corporation
  • Southwest Regional Development Corporation under the Association of Village Council Presidents
  • Inupiak Development Corporation
  • Kikiktugruk Development Corporation
  • Koyukon Development Corporation
  • Kodiak Area Community Development Corporation
  • Upper Yukon Development Corporation
  • Prince William Sound-Copper Valley Development Corporation
  • Southeastern Alaska Community Action Program (SEACAP)

Other delegate non-profits, such as the Upper Tanana Development Corporation, joined RurAL CAP. By the late 1970s these organizations began “spinning off” of RurAL CAP. Many formed the basis of today’s non-profit Native associations which provide valuable services to Alaskan Natives.

Surplus Acquisitions Program & VEMP

The Surplus Acquisitions Program, which RurAL CAP developed with U.S. Senator Ernest Gruening, acquired and transported surplus military heavy equipment (trucks, jeeps, graders, caterpillars, generators, refrigeration units, tractors, cranes, snow removers, a dump truck, and five 65-foot army T-boats) from the Lower-48 and the orient for use in rural Alaskan projects.

The equipment, was used in the Village Equipment Mobilization Program (VEMP) of the early 1970s. The isolation and often dangerous weather conditions make it difficult and costly to transport heavy equipment to rural Alaska. The sheer expense of getting equipment to rural villages can halt construction. VEMP supplied the heavy equipment for village construction projects on a rotating, priority basis, making it possible for much needed projects to be completed. The projects included surfacing and leveling runways, road construction, erosion prevention, land clearing, and hauling materials. VEMP equipment was also used for rural Bureau of Indian Affairs and Alaska State Housing Authority projects.

Head Start Program Development

RurAL CAP contributed to a wide variety of early rural education programs. RurAL CAP brought Head Start Programs to rural Alaska. Staff were hired from the villages to be served, and Head Start teachers were trained in child development and early childhood education at the University of Alaska and Alaska Methodist University. By the 1967 school year, the agency operated 52 Head Start centers. In 1968, RurAL CAP took over the training of its Head Start teachers.

In addition to the Head Start centers, RurAL CAP developed village day care and Parent-Child Centers. The agency sponsored rural hot breakfast, school lunch, and tutorial programs, worked with pre-delinquent children in Skagway schools, pushed for integrated facilities for rural students in the Fairbanks district high schools, and sponsored the Seward Summer Youth Program and the Mt. Edgecumbe Youth Program.

RurAL CAP’s adult education programs included: basic education in Dillingham, Hooper Bay, Savoonga, and the Nelson Island villages of Toksook Bay, Tununak, Newtok, Chefornak and Nightmute; arts & crafts training in Point Hope; skin sewing, sawmill operation, and other skills training in Noorvik; and the Village Magistrate, Legal Technicians, and Law Enforcement Training programs.

Since 1966, Head Start has been synonymous with RurAL CAP. Head Start and Early Head Start are comprehensive child development programs serving young children and their families. The Head Start program focuses on three- and four-year-old children and their families. Early Head Start serves prenatal to three-year-old children and their families. The programs work to ensure children are healthy, thriving in all aspects of development, and that parents understand the needs of their children and how to assist them in their health and development.

Head Start programs are designed to meet each child’s individual needs and to reflect the language and cultural heritage of participating families. Two primary goals of RurAL CAP’s child development program are to enhance children’s social competence and to ensure their readiness for kindergarten.

Head Start parents are involved in local decision making and serve on the statewide Child Development Policy Council.

RurAL CAP administers quality programs based on performance standards set by the national Head Start administration. The agency has operated as many as 27 Head Start centers, including five in Anchorage. The agency also ran two Parent-Child Programs in 10 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim and Upper Tanana regions. As RurAL CAP’s longest-running program, the Child Development Division continues its dedication to meeting the needs of Alaska’s most precious and promising resource, our young children.

As with all of its programs, RurAL CAP trains local people to serve as Head Start teachers. In 1981, the agency still had one of the only early childhood education training programs in the state, and that year added the Child Development Associate (CDA) program. Collaborating with the University of Alaska, RurAL CAP worked to provide an opportunity for villagers working in the Head Start centers to obtain certifications that included college level courses, and training which enabled them to receive nationally-recognized certification in early childhood education. Under the leadership of then director Myrna Orme, a great number of teachers in rural communities around the state received their CDAs.

Land Claims

The right to access and use their traditional lands became the catalyst which unified Alaska Natives for the first time. They spoke with one voice – a voice that would force developers and government officials to listen.

In the middle and late 1960s, with the discovery of oil, the state of Alaska began selecting lands under the provisions of the Statehood Act.

As a non-profit agency receiving federal funding, RurAL CAP was precluded from engaging in political lobbying activities. However, part of RurAL CAP’s mandate was to organize people in rural areas and facilitate their participation in issues that could impact their lives.

RurAL CAP paid the travel expenses for representatives of the regional Native non-profit corporations to attend regular RurAL CAP business meetings. Many of these representatives were able to meet independently after RurAL CAP business was concluded and work on their own priorities and agenda. This led not only to the organization of many of the regional Native associations, but also resulted in the settling of land claims.

Working closely with the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), which held a RurAL CAP board seat from 1967 to 1987, these groups were able to pressure Congress to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971.

RurAL CAP worked to keep people informed of land claims developments and provisions of ANCSA through newsletters and statewide conferences. The agency helped market an AFN poster, “Take Our Land… Take Our Life,” and co-produced the 1970 land claims film, “That’s the Way Life Is Now,” with AFN and CEDC. It also educated people in the land selection process following passage of ANCSA with regional land selection trainings, and in 1973 published “Land Selection -A Guide to Land Selection Activities.”

During this period, RurAL CAP undertook a major campaign to secure Native Allotment lands. The Allotment Act of 1906 allocated 160-acre land allotments to individual Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts that could prove they occupied the land and used it for subsistence purposes – seasonal hunting, trapping, fishing, berry picking. With the passage of ANCSA enrollment for the Allotment Act would close. Few Alaska Natives were familiar with the intricacies of the Act and many had not taken advantage of the Act.

RurAL CAP helped file approximately 10,000 applications in 1970 and 1971 before the program deadline expired. When up to 9,500 of these allotments were jeopardized in 1973, due to the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management claim that use and occupancy had not been proven, RurAL CAP, AFN, and Alaska Legal Services mounted another campaign to file affidavits witnessing proof of use and occupancy.

Seward Skills Center

In 1969, RurAL CAP and Senator Gruening secured funding from the United States Department of Education to create the Seward Skills Center, later renamed the Alaska Vocational Technical Center (AVTEC). The Center trained rural Alaskans in the operation, maintenance, and repair of heavy equipment acquired through the Surplus Acquisitions Program. No longer associated with RurAL CAP, today, AVTEC is one of the leading vocational and technical training centers in Alaska.

Grass Roots Program

In order to bring electricity to village at affordable rates, AVEC set up power plants across rural Alaska. RurAL CAP provided 26 generators to AVEC through the Surplus Acquisitions Program.

During the 1960s many Alaskan leaders were debating if Alaska Natives should be relocated to urban areas so they could more readily enjoy the social and economic benefits of American culture. RurAL CAP, operating on the belief that local people should choose their own destiny, developed the Grass Roots Program. Through the Grass Roots Program RurAL CAP distributed questionnaires to villages to ask rural Alaskans what they wanted. The overwhelming response from the people was that they wanted to stay on their traditional lands and continue to practice their distinct cultural ways of life.

With needs and priorities determined by local villages, the Grass Roots Program began to organize, educate, and train rural Alaskans in leadership and the intricacies of government and legislation so they would be aware of and could participate in the governmental process. Rural people could sit at the table and tell others that they did not want to be relocated.

RurAL CAP’s adult education programs included: basic education in Dillingham, Hooper Bay, Savoonga, and the Nelson Island villages of Toksook Bay, Tununak, Newtok, Chefornak and Nightmute; arts & crafts training in Point Hope; skin sewing, sawmill operation, and other skills training in Noorvik; and the Village Magistrate, Legal Technicians, and Law Enforcement Training programs.

Community Enterprise Development Corporation

RurAL CAP started the Community Enterprise Development Corporation (CEDC) in 1968 from RurAL CAP’s earlier Cooperative Enterprise Development Program. CEDC established local Native fishery, consumer, and arts and crafts cooperatives around the state. The five 65-foot army T-boats acquired through the Surplus Acquisitions Program were used as tenders for CEDC fishery cooperatives.

CEDC was so successful that within a year it was self-sustaining and became independent of RurAL CAP. A close working relationship continued between the two organizations for many years.

By 1970, CEDC co-ops included:
•  Akiachak Cooperative
•  Bering Sea Reindeer Products
•  Goodnews Bay Cooperative
•  Hoonah Wild Products
•  Kaltag Cooperative Industries
•  Karluk Cooperative
•  Kasigluk Cooperative Store
•  Kotzebue Sound Area Fishery Cooperative
•  Kuskokwim Fishermen Cooperative
•  Larsen Bay Village Cooperative
•  Manokotak Village Residents Cooperative
•  Mentasta Athabascan Gift Shop & Store
•  Mountain Village Cooperative
•  Northwest Skin Sewers
•  Nushagak Fishermen Cooperative
•  Shishmaref Ki-Kit-Ta-Meut Arts & Crafts
•  Sunarit Association
•  Yukon Delta Fish Marketing Cooperative

CEDC continues to serve rural Alaska today as Alaska Village Initiatives.