A first impressions of Kotlik

by wonderfullyrich on November 18, 2007

I’ve arrived in Kotlik, the asshole of the world as some joke. Kotlik in Yupik means pants, because two rivers fork in a way that looks like pants and the town is right where the asshole would be.

Unfortunately they are also getting the asshole end of the bargin for many reasons. The Yupik may not be the most adaptable of people and that might be part of the problem, but more likely is that the variety of social, economic, geographical, and political reason that has overwhelmed people into the disastrous community they have.

Elise outisde the Kotlik post office Kotlik is the permanent town of some 700 of the Yupik Eskimo people as well as assorted transients outsiders, generally teachers and tradesmen. They live in a place 460 miles from Anchorage that spends a little less then half the year as a swamp and in floods and the other half being frozen and snowed under. Based on what Elise tells me, they originally lived used this spot only as a winter camp and when the government said you can’t be nomadic anymore,”Where do you want your village?” the village elders said not at the winter camp as it’s a sick place. They did anyway and the asthma rate is extremely high.

There is little employment in town, the school, the clinic, the post office, the two stores, the city utilities, the fuel tanks, the city headstart, the three tribal councils, and the odd jobs are all the employment available in town. A majority of people here aKotlik Boardwalkre involved in the fishing industry during the summer here. Trapping also provides a minor industry, but for many of the rest, welfare and subsistence living (berry picking, seal & moose hunting, etc) are how they people survive. There are no roads to town only the river and airplanes connect to Kotlik. There are no roads in town, a boardwalk down the center of town (I think of it like a zipper) allows for pedestrian traffic, snowmobiles, and 4-wheelers. The median age of people in town is 18.5, average household size is 5, so you have a lot of young people in a some fairly large families. I can’t find statistics on crime, birth, mental health issues, and addictions but I can guess they are high. This is a dry town, no achohol is served nor sold and it’s “illegal” to possess it or brew it.

It’s a town run by the elders of the tribe although it does have a mayor and a city building. They have a new school that was recently built (and still has kinks, like inadequate heating and adequate fire suppression system) , I’m witnessing a new clinc be being built, a new airstrip/airport has been recently built (2000 I think), and a new boardwalk was built last year.

When I think of Mcmurdo, Antarctica and it’s 1000 people that are there right now which seem similar on their face are in my mind a stark contrast, as you have a company town funded by the government with an entirely transient population who are primarily in their 20s-40s where the big problems are how to entertain yourself after work in a cold, remote, island of volcanic rock. This as compared to here in Kotlik with a mostly permanet population of underemployed people with teen pregnancy and mental health disorders epidemic where education is low, drop out rates are high, and virtually no one new is learning the native Yupik Language in a cold, remote, swamp area of land.

All of this is initial research and discussion that has happened over a less then a day, so I could have a biased informant, have found biased statistics, or generally just be wrong, but we’ll see what happens over the next week to correct these impressions.

From the air: Kotlik Runway Kotlik From the Air

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