Projecting Alaska's future
Co-founder of the Alaska Institute of Justice, civil rights lawyer and First Lady of Anchorage, Mara Kimmel speaks of today's Alaska and looks over the horizon.
Mara Kimmel shares her vision of the 49th state's future and sees Alaska's global leadership challenges such as building a multicultural society and an economy that is based on renewable energy.
- How long have you lived in Alaska and why are you still here?
- I live in Alaska since 1984 and I am still here because there is so much to do, there are so many great things to be working on and contributing to the communities that I live in. It is endless and beautiful, I love it. And it is December now so I am a little bit less excited about all of that.
- Alaska is…
- home.
- What is the spirit of Alaska in terms of values people live?
- I think the spirit of Alaska is changing back to what I imagine it used to be – a place we can dream of a good future for all of us, where we are resilient and work together. I think there is more enthusiasm, energy and awareness for the ways that the world is changing. I hope that Alaska and the North offer an opportunity to figure out how we can address climate change, the growing refugee crisis, and a changing global economy and we can be a model for the rest of the world in how to face these challenges.
Anchorage is the state's most beautiful city!
- Since time immemorial the Native peoples of Alaska have lived here. Then the Russians came. Then Alaska became a part of the United States. In the end, who has the most claim?
- That's a great question (laughing)! The fact that Alaska still feels wild and pristine speaks to the values of stewardship within the indigenous community and how those values can sustain through the periods of history you mention. I hope that the people who live here now take that history of stewardship seriously and continue it. So I don't think that there is a question of claim to the land because the land is something that withstands time, history and people. I think it is about place and identity. And understanding where you live and the values that spring from the land.
- The First Peoples of Alaska, including Inupiaq, Tlingit, Athabaskans, Yupik, Alutiiq and others, how large is their role in modern Alaska today?
- It is incredibly large. The contemporary values of resilience and welcoming, two defining characteristics of our city, are rooted in Alaska Native traditions. The idea that people can live on these lands for 10,000 years really speaks to the remarkable way that indigenous people take care of where they live in ways that allow communities to survive harsh conditions and to thrive. Also, Anchorage recently celebrated its 100-year birthday and the Dena'ina Athabaskan have been welcoming newcomers for that time. This is a testament to that sentiment of welcoming and inclusion that are really, I think, the fundamental values of Alaska these days.
- Alaska and the 'Lower 48': do people do things differently there?
- Yes. They dress differently. Up here in Alaska we dress for comfort and practicality. I think Alaska increasingly is becoming more mainstream but the world is getting smaller because of globalization. I think one thing is very unique up here is presence of Alaskan Native cultures and the impact of cultures and traditions. That's one of the big differences. I don't see it in the 'Lower 48' when I travel there.
- Do reality TV shows genuinely portray Alaska or they distort it?
- You know, honestly, I've never seen any so I can't really speak to that but I would imagine that they distort it just because it is a drama. I also know that these TV reality shows on the Discovery or National Geographic channels are really popular in Europe and that where the Europeans get information about Alaska from.
- Where, in your opinion, is the most beautiful place in Alaska? Why did you pick that place and why is it so special to you?
- There's so many… I think I prefer Interior Alaska because it feels like, parts of it, you're at the end of the road. You're where you see top of the world, literally. There's just something wild and incredibly overpowering about the Interior Alaska… It is very special for me. And the colors in the fall are amazing: I've never seen anything like this. And in the spring watching and hearing the northern lights is the best sensory experience I've ever had! But, of course, Anchorage is the state's most beautiful city!
I think the spirit of Alaska is changing back to what I imagine it used to be – a place we can dream of a good future for all of us, where we are resilient and work together.
- What are you favorite Alaskan foods? Do you have a special recipe?
- That's really changing. As mostly a vegetarian I would have to say I am not a huge fan of a lot of meat options available in Alaska. But I've certainly eaten my share of moose and caribou and even sea otter – don't eat it (laughing)! I really like what we're growing nowadays. There is Arctic Cilantro which is amazing. I think our food is beginning to more and more represent the fusion of cultures that's happening at the top of the world. To be able to go to a German restaurant owned by a South Pacific man in Mountain View is an incredible experience..
- What do you know about the Russian America or Russian heritage in Alaska?
- Mostly what I know comes from when I was working with Alaska Native villages on the southern coast on the Kenai Peninsula and the Prince William sound. The rich heritage, the religion that they maintain to this day. What I loved about it as somebody who is Jewish: we share the fact that we don't celebrate with the mainstream culture on Christmas day (laughing). So the Russian Orthodox Christmas and Easter are really big dates here. This integration of religion and culture into the Alaskan culture is been something interesting to watch. It is still a pretty powerful force, I think..
- This year is the 150th anniversary of Alaska purchase by the United States: are you aware of this event?
- Yes, 1867! And it isn't just math. So I am a little bit aware.
- How do you feel towards Russia as a country?
- I feel a kinship and a pull for many reasons. Proximity to where I live and the fact that I have Russian ancestry and my family was forced to flee because of our religion. It is a complicated relationship both for me personally and for us now politically. I love Russian history, literature and the language.
- America and Russia: are we enemies? Or are we not?
- An interesting question… The Russian Far East and Alaska are tied as Arctic communities to one another. And these ties overpower some of the discrepancies and disagrees that may occur with our capitals. So no, I don't think we're enemies.
- If you had an opportunity to meet and talk to an ordinary Russian, what would you say?
- I would talk about how much we have in common. And, I think, up on top of the world we can do things differently and show people how to cooperate.
- What is your version of the American dream?
- My version of the American dream is where people can be anything they want to be. And they can dream.
Alaska would be a better place in 17 years from now.
- What a great single Alaskan person of past or present would you like to talk to?
- Elizabeth Peratrovich, the civil rights leader. I think she really lead the way to bringing civil rights to our state. She worked on these issues in the 1940s even before the civil rights movement really took hold in the rest of the country.
- What will Alaska be like in 2034, 17 years from now?
- Hopefully and realistically, we will have developed an economy that is based on renewable energy opportunities. We will be surprised how cultures can come together and work together and being inclusive and provide opportunities for living out the American dream. And we will have developed good and positive inclusive responses to the global climate change. We're on a good path: Alaska would be a better place in 17 years from now.
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