Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc.

RurAL CAP in the 1980s

Child Development, Rural Energy Enterprises, Wellness, & Subsistence & Natural Resources

By the beginning of the 1980s the organizational structure and programs of RurAL CAP had coalesced into a core agency with four departments representing the major areas of issues and concerns for rural Alaska: Child Development, Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention, Energy and Weatherization, and Subsistence and Natural Resources Protection.

RurAL CAP identified energy as the most critical economic problem in 1980. The Emergency Fuel Loan Program expanded that year with a $1.5 million state appropriation, and the Energy Department worked with the Alaska Public Utilities Commission on the Power Production Cost Assistance Program. The department also started the Crisis Intervention Training Program and the Village Energy Reconnaissance & Conservation Program in the early 1980s.

The Energy Department’s goals by the mid-1980s were to help rural Alaskans find the best possible energy resources and the best way to use energy resources, to work toward low energy use, and to increase energy self-sufficiency. RurAL CAP advocated for rural energy needs by working closely with government energy programs and agencies, often sending proposals supporting new rural energy programs to these agencies and the legislature. The Energy Department also sponsored village Do-It-Yourself Energy Fairs and statewide Rural Energy Conferences in 1988 and 1989, and continued its energy research and data-gathering activities.

In the late 1980s, the agency emerged as a strong supporter of high-efficiency heaters which cut fuel oil use by one third or more, depending upon the condition of the home.

Rural Energy Enterprises
The energy crisis, and therefore the need for high-efficiency heaters, led to RurAL CAP’s first leap into economic development strategies. During the 1980s, the federal government encouraged non-profits to seek and develop for-profit strategies to promote energy efficiency and conservation. Energy costs represent a major expense for rural Alaskans. In 1987, RurAL CAP established Rural Energy Enterprises (REE) as a profit-making entity within the agency’s Energy Department.

Toyostove space heaters are one of the most fuel-efficient heating systems in the world. REE secured the market franchise in Alaska, providing rural communities with cost-effective heating. REE spun off of RurAL CAP as a wholly-owned, profit-making subsidiary in 1989. Today, REE boasts over six million in gross sales annually and markets their products in Alaska, western Canada, and the northwest United States.

RurAL CAP’s Wellness Program

In 1978, RurAL CAP’s Alcohol Program was primarily a counseling program with regional alcohol counselors. By 1979, the program’s activities included youth recreational programs and teen peer counselor training workshops, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) information and education, domestic violence workshops, and village screenings. The department reorganized in 1980 to include two basic programs: the Counseling Program, which spun off to the regional corporations in 1981, and the Community Action Education Project.

The Community Action Education Project sponsored statewide workshops for village alcohol and drug abuse counselors.

In 1981, with funding from the State Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse (SOADA), the project created the Alaska Village Alcohol Information League (AVAIL), which maintained a statewide network of mutual support for villagers concerned with alcohol and other drug abuse. AVAIL spun off from RurAL CAP in 1984, but continued to work closely with RurAL CAP’s Alcohol Program.

The first Rural Providers’ Conference (RPC) was held in 1984, sponsored and planned by AVAIL, supported by SOADA, and coordinated by RurAL CAP. RPC continues today as an annual tradition. This gathering of rural Alaskan providers of counseling and prevention services provides a forum to share information, gain skills, and participate in training to address substance abuse in specific, culturally significant ways. The conference is planned by village participants and co-sponsored and coordinated by RurAL CAP. Including youth, elders, and families, RPC is conducted in a comfortable and relevant style for Alaska Natives.

By 1985, the agency’s Alcohol Program sponsored statewide, monthly audio conferences. People in rural communities that worked on substance abuse prevention were able to develop a network and share information.

A leadership role was taken by the RurAL CAP Board of Directors when they passed a resolution in 1986 to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. They declared that no RurAL CAP events would serve alcohol or have alcohol available. Other Native organizations followed suit and sober meetings began to be the norm.

RurAL CAP sponsored many village gatherings and get-togethers where people began to talk openly about the problem. Seeing the value of cultural identity and traditional practices, Alaska Natives began to use cultural traditions as a means of overcoming the onslaught of alcohol and other drugs, domestic violence, and suicide. Activities included Personal Development and Native Family Systems trainings.

In Ft. Yukon, a five-year prevention strategy, which began as a trapping project in 1989, grew into a program achieving national attention, “the Youth Survivors.” The prevention project for high-risk youth, known as the Fort Yukon Youth Survivors Project, was developed to reduce risk factors and increase pride in Native heritage. Providing support from sober role models, the project immersed at-risk youth in Native cultural activities to demonstrate and teach traditional skills and values, and to develop leadership and organizational skills.

Subsistence and Natural Resources Protection

When the Subsistence Advocacy Program began operations in 1978, D-2 lands legislation, pursuant to provisions of subsection 17(d)(2) of ANCSA, was RurAL CAP’s number-one priority. The agency maintained a full-time liaison in Washington, D.C. and coordinated communication between national conservation groups and the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), the Alaska Natives Foundation (ANF), and regional Native corporations.

Rather than try to lead the Native subsistence priority effort, RurAL CAP’s role, continually, has been to advocate, to inform, and to provide technical, staff, and organizational assistance to relevant Native subsistence organizations, so that people most affected have the opportunity to participate themselves.

The agency worked on issues including the Migratory Birds Treaty, the Marine Mammals Protection Act, and the Porcupine Caribou Herd treaty negotiations between the U.S. and Canada. RurAL CAP began organizing and supporting subsistence groups such as the Rural Alaska Resources Association (RARA) in 1979. The Subsistence Department’s focus has been to monitor laws and regulations in regard to the Native subsistence priority.

RARA was formed to serve as a statewide informational network, to enable rural Alaskans to participate in decision-making, and to provide a framework for education, legislation, administrative and regulatory actions for the benefit of rural subsistence users. Since its earliest days, RARA was involved in rural concerns over provisions of the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty Act which restrict traditional seasonal taking of migratory birds, and which, in effect, forced Alaska Natives to become “criminals” when they harvest species for subsistence purposes. RARA formed the Alaska Native Migratory Bird Working Group in 1991 in response to interest in amending the Migratory Bird Treaty to legalize spring and summer hunting of migrating birds. RARA’s work on marine mammal issues helped to create the Alaska Sea Otter Commission and the Polar Bear (Nanook) Commission. RARA has helped to educate Congress and federal administrations on Alaska Native natural resources concerns.

The Subsistence Department helped to create Indigenous Survival International (ISI) in 1984 – a grass-roots alliance of indigenous Alaskan, Canadian, and Greenlandic peoples responding to the threat to their subsistence way of life from animal rights groups.

A RARA-sponsored marine mammal conference in 1991 resulted in the formation of the Indigenous People’s Council on Marine Mammals (IPCoMM). Through a cooperative agreement with Alaska Department of Fish & Game, IPCoMM assisted with sea lion and harbor seal research. Working with members of Congress, environmental groups, and other interested parties, IPCoMM helped secure the 1994 reauthorization and amendment of the Marine Mammals Protection Act to include changes important to Alaska Natives.