Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc.

RurAL CAP in the 1970s

During the 1970s, RurAL CAP would develop innovative programs to address the rising concern over the alcohol problem and the national energy crisis. With the influx of money in the state, RurAL CAP would also go to bat for Alaska’s Native people as they continued to fight for their right to subsistence.

RurAL CAP knew of and was addressing the alcohol problem before others would admit there was a problem. As early as 1966, the agency was training and educating rural Alaskans on the harmful effects of alcohol through counseling and training workshops and Alcoholics Anonymous activities. By 1969, RurAL CAP had alcohol information centers in Fort Yukon, Kotzebue, Nome, Juneau, Bethel, Kodiak, and at the Anchorage Native Welcome Center.

In 1971, the agency’s Alcohol Prevention Program was formally established to provide technical assistance, training, and intervention strategies to help rural communities define and address alcohol problems in ways that worked for them.

RurAL CAP coordinated a counselor trainee program; potential trainees were selected by the regional non-profit corporations and brought in to Anchorage for intensive training under direction of the State Office of Alcoholism, the state Department of Labor, and Anchorage Community College. Most of these counselors were bilingual, and some previously had drinking problems which they had since resolved. The trained counselors returned to their communities to do personal and family counseling, to make referrals to appropriate agencies when needed, and to serve as community resources and leaders.

When the Alaska Native Commission on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (ANCADA) formed in 1972, RurAL CAP housed the organization until it established its own headquarters in 1974. Ralph Amouak, former RurAL CAP Alcohol Director, became ANCADA’s director in 1973.

Poverty of Access

RurAL CAP advocated for and helped write an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act which for the first time recognized “poverty of access” as a legitimate criteria for admission into poverty programs such as Head Start.

The 1978 amendment allowed children from families with incomes higher than the established poverty level to attend Head Start when no other access to preschool programs was available in their communities.

In 1977, the RurAL CAP board identified subsistence as its number-one priority. At a board meeting in Copper Center, the Board of Directors adopted a resolution that contained the elements of what would become Title VIII of ANILCA. The agency’s Subsistence Advocacy Program formally began in 1978.

That same year, RurAL CAP’s Energy Program Director, Mary Stachelrodt, was appointed to Governor Jay Hammond’s Rural Energy Task Force, and RurAL CAP entered into a joint fuel data gathering project with the Alaska Energy Office in order to promote future energy legislation.

Subsistence

Closely tied to land claims and other economic and poverty issues RurAL CAP was involved with, Native subsistence rights emerged as one of the agency’s top priorities during the 1970s.

As more people moved to the state, with the production of oil, there occurred a simultaneous increase in competition for resources. The Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972 included a provision to protect the right of Native people to continue harvesting marine mammals.

RurAL CAP began to advocate for Alaska Native subsistence rights. The agency sponsored statewide government hearings, policy planning meetings, and subsistence conferences, and kept people informed of issues and developments through newspaper and newsletter articles and through testimony before government bodies.

The Energy Crisis

In the mid-1970s skyrocketing fuel costs caused by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) oil embargo proved to be a severe hardship on cash poor people in rural communities. Phil Smith, then Executive Director, took action and the agency’s Energy Program was created. RurAL CAP was able to secure federal energy funds to develop a revolving fuel loan program and made grants into loans so that rural recipients were able to pay their energy bills. During the severe winter of 1980, RurAL CAP convinced the state Legislature to appropriate $1.5 million to establish no-interest, revolving loans to villages for purchase of heating oil. This program, the Emergency Fuel Loan Program proved highly successful, with a remarkably-low four percent default rate.

That same year, RurAL CAP’s Energy Program Director, Mary Stachelrodt, was appointed to Governor Jay Hammond’s Rural Energy Task Force, and RurAL CAP entered into a joint fuel data gathering project with the Alaska Energy Office in order to promote future energy legislation.

RurAL CAP was also involved in later programs to develop bulk fuel storage facilities in villages to reduce overall transportation costs of fuel shipments.

During 1979, the agency conducted Energy Advocacy Workshops, resulting in the creation of the Alaska Regional Energy Association (AREA), with delegate and alternate members representing the 12 Alaskan regions. AREA was formed to address energy problem issues such as fuel transportation, alternative energy resource development, appropriate technology, weatherization needs, and home heating.

Weatherization

Weatherization remains one of RurAL CAP’s most cost-effective and appreciated programs. It provides weatherization improvements free of charge to qualifying, low-income people. RurAL CAP identifies eligible homes, hires and supervises local labor, and provides insulation, new doors and windows, high-efficiency heaters, other energy-saving features, and smoke detectors.

With adequately insulated homes, people can save as much as $300 to $500 per year on heating fuel costs, which is a considerable savings in communities where unemployment is as high as 65% to 75%. In addition to the obvious health, safety and comfort benefits derived from the program, Weatherization also contributes to improved family and village economies, not only through fuel cost savings, but through wages earned by local workers.

Since the mid-1970s RurAL CAP has weatherized more than 8,300 homes in rural communities, providing warmer and safer homes to low-income people, and saving millions of dollars in fuel costs.

CPC, VPC and Otitis Media

As a new state, Alaska had few income resources and there was no infrastructure to provide services to citizens, especially in rural Alaska.

Beginning in the early 1970s, RurAL CAP co-sponsored statewide citizen participation legislative conferences to inform and involve people both in the legislative process and current issues affecting them in the distant capital of Juneau. These became known as the Citizens Participation Conferences (CPC). When urban Alaskans began their own CPC, the RurAL CAP-sponsored gathering became the Village Participation Conference (VPC), which was a productive, popular and anticipated annual tradition for participants statewide. As the needs in rural Alaska began to change, RurAL CAP sponsored other gatherings such as the Alaska Conference of Tribes, Alaska Native Fish, Wildlife, Habitat and Environment Summit, and most recently the Rural Action Forum.

Otitis Media
Head Start requires that parents be involved in the health and well-being of their child by accessing early dental, physical and mental screenings. Making sure that parents have access to these services in rural communities has always been a challenge for Alaska Head Start. RurAL CAP consistently advocates for parent and families services in rural communities.

RurAL CAP’s 1976 Otitis Media Program examined more than 350 children in 11 villages and referred 53 of them for corrective minor surgery in a special clinic set up at the Bethel Hospital. The children were diagnosed with the ear disease Otitis Media, which involves hearing loss that could lead to permanent deficiencies. Forty-nine of the children referred to the Bethel clinic underwent surgery.