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September 28, 2021


Governor Sean Parnell and House Forfeit Alaska Sovereignty

By Shannyn Moore

I was 8 years old and Frank McMichael was the most curmudgeonly man I’d ever met. He was the first person I’d heard cuss. Oscar the Grouch had Frank McMichael eyebrows. Frank carried a .44 revolver. Instead of a mattress, he slept on stacks of cardboard.

At the time, my family was new to setnet fishing. The best memories of my life were on the west side of Cook Inlet — living in a bunkhouse built of cannery crates, with Visqueen windows, an outhouse and a creek.

Frank had moved to the west side after World War II. I never heard his war stories. I just figured they were rough enough that he preferred grizzly bears to people. Bears, he said, were more predictable.

He ran a fish trap for the federal government and was relieved when statehood freed us from federal control, which had allowed a single trap to catch a staggering and unsustainable 1,500 king salmon.

He talked about how the ’64 earthquake changed the creeks. Some banked up, some sank. My Pop and Mr. Bailey, both teachers at Nikolaevsk, would listen like students. Frank once advised them to let the razor clams rest, “They’re skinny now, but they’ll be fat in three weeks.” He was right. By watching the belugas feed, he figured out where to set his nets.

In front of the cabin he shared with his wife was a rock taller than anyone living on the beach. Every year he’d chisel the date and how many fish he’d caught. According to Frank’s system, the year I was born was a very good year. He told me when he died he’d be buried inside that rock. I didn’t like that. Not him buried in the rock, but him dying.

When Lake Clark National Park was new, some park rangers showed up and ran a skiff up Harriet Creek. Frank chased them off. A bold young fisherman thought he could set a net on Frank’s turf. Frank informed him that he didn’t have a retirement but he’d heard about a place with electricity, plumbing, TV, three meals a day and a mattress. Frank dared the intruder to set the net so he could live out a comfortable retirement at the correctional center. The fisherman skedaddled.

When I met Frank, he’d been living in the same place for decades. Imagine if he’d grown up there. What if, like Alaska Natives, he had listened to stories his whole life from elders who had heard them from elders who had been there for thousands of years?

There are so many lessons and observations, so much nuanced knowledge that are learned and passed on from living encyclopedias like Frank. No scientists could have landed on our beach and known what Frank knew. Maybe they could have told us about microbes, but they wouldn’t have had the same reaction Frank did when a beluga swam up Harriet Creek. He knew it was the first time in 50 years.

In the closing days of the legislative session, Gov. Sean Parnell and the House Republicans failed to pass a coastal management bill. The bill would have improved and extended the current program, but it failed by one vote. Instead of compromising and fixing the bill, the House gaveled out without discussion. Their lack of consideration for the voices of coastal Alaskans effectively handed development decisions back to the federal government.

The Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program was how we ensured that historic knowledge of our shores and beaches had a place at the table. We weren’t the only voice; state agencies, scientists and developers had their say as well. But the balance was invaluable.

The governor’s proposal would have science trump and exclude local knowledge. Don’t get me wrong: I believe in science, but I don’t want a biology graduate student spending a week looking at pictures of the beach I grew up on, testing some water and having his field report trump Frank’s decades of observations.

As many as 40 jobs and several million federal dollars are now gone. Alaska has more coastline than the entire Lower 48, yet those jobs and funds will now go to other states with just a tiny fraction of our coast.

Parnell has sued the federal government over polar bears, belugas and sea lions, but don’t mistake those lawsuits and his rhetoric about an over-reaching federal government for loyalty to Alaskans. His real purpose is to protect the prerogatives of the oil industry.

To that end, Parnell and the House Republicans were willing to surrender sovereignty over our shorelines. They would rather the feds take control than elevate the wisdom of ordinary Alaskans like Frank McMichael when it comes to coastal management. They are all about local control — so long as the oil companies control the locals.

Instead of choosing respect, they turned their backs on Alaskans and burned the book of local knowledge.

They are hypocrites.

Cross-posted at the Anchorage Daily News



17 Responses to “Governor Sean Parnell and House Forfeit Alaska Sovereignty”
  1. Man_from_Unk says:

    Shannyn keeps it real alright. It’s a good thing she lives amongst intelligent people. If she were out here in Bush Alaska, her character would be torn apart and thrown to the wolves. People out here don’t like controversy – it’s all about losing face – so petty and personal. The weaknesses of our so called leaders in Rural Alaska is probably bringing tears to our founding fathers. They function at the level of a High School Student Council and their primary focus is keeping everybody else out of their circle of authority and typo’s in the minutes. Yup, typo’s in the minutes takes a lot of our leaders focus away from the real issues that are too scarey to deal with because they might lose face if they can’t fix the problems. So we’re leaderless out here and our problems are huge.

    Thanks Shannyn for sticking your neck out and keeping the important issues to all Alaskans on the front burner.

  2. Really? says:

    Thank you Shannyn and AKM for the information. The Mudflats has been a tremendous help for me in being able to understand Alaskan issues. Before I cast my vote on issues or people I try to find out as much information on it I can. I convinced myself several years ago that my one vote does count. Some times at our local school and regional school board elections the person wins by one vote. , it’s fun thinking my one vote help determine the final outcome ,( when it’s the candidate I voted for.),!! I realize it takes the joint effort.The special session starts Tuesday. I plan on following as much as I can. , with your help, of course. Keep up the informative writing.

  3. NickWI says:

    My question is, why isn’t the entire coastline of Alaska preserved like California’s is? just declare it a huge national monument and divide into sections (arctic, northwest, Aleutians Central panhandle etc). its protected forever by the feds but managed and run by the local communities. i mean how hard is that really? I know that the Martitime rfuge covers much of the coast but not the Arctic. To Be blunt, Alaskas coastline deserves the strongest protections possible.

  4. sarafina says:

    Why do you people keep electing these morons?

    • Man_from_Unk says:

      Alaska lacks real leaders for sure. Everybody is out for themselves. Civics isn’t taught in Rural Alaska so we have a population of people who don’t understand our system of government nor do they know their personal responsibilities as citizens. They have no idea how to hold their elected officials accountable to the people.

  5. It is disheartening that we live in a world that has so many petty-minded politicians, from our local to our state government. So sad.

  6. Thank you, Shannyn…. That is heartbreaking….I’m so very sorry….I’d trust local knowledge and experience over any greedy entity.

  7. leenie17 says:

    I know that Palin did tremendous harm to Alaska, but she always gloried in the spotlight which helped keep the public informed about what she was up to. Parnell is too quiet and too well hidden behind the scenes. I fear that he, in his unobtrusive way, may end up doing even more damage to Alaska than Palin.

    And too many Alaskans may not find out about it until it’s too late.

    • AKPetMom says:

      Thanks WC for this update. Seems like the sky might not be falling, but may actually have a chance to be held up by sane minds. Only time will tell. I certainly hope that this is the case.

  8. mike from iowa says:

    Get a petition going to ask the Potus to give local control to the Mudflats. I think he should be that grateful Alaska helped him win the White House. Circulate the petition online and we can all sign it. It is about time Alaskans got rewarded for not putting Quittybritches anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then the Mudflats can be called the Mudflats Protectorate and get official status and a zipcode,too.

  9. Wallflower says:

    Shannyn, a sad outcome but a beautiful posting.

  10. Laurie says:

    I hope you can get this information out there for all Alaskans to see the consequences of hiring these idiots.

  11. huntforfood says:

    Parnell needs to be replaced. I surely hope he is defeated in the next election. He is typically short-sighted, and his agenda is unfriendly to Alaskans who live here because they love it. That said, I don’t really agree that he is letting science trump anything. How could he, when listening to scientists tell him loss of arctic ice is threatening polar animals is simply evidence of Federal overreach?

  12. ManxMamma says:

    Shannyn that is incredibly sad. What were those people thinking?

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