The sixth generation
McKibben Jackinsky, journalist and author from Ninilchk, is the sixth generation descended from Russians who came to Alaska.
A Kenai Peninsula journalist and author of the book 'Too Close to Home?' talks about her Russian and Native roots, how her hometown Ninilchik was founded by the Russians and what needs to be done to keep Alaska beautiful for the generations to come.
- How long have you lived in Alaska and why are you still here?
- We're sitting in my cabin on what is my family homestead in Ninilchik where I grew up. I finished this cabin in 1995. I wasn't, unfortunately, born in Alaska but on my dad's side, his mother's side of the family, we go back here forever and on his dad's side of the family we've got Russian roots. So we have a combination of the two of those. This land has been in this family now for three generations, I am the third. And then there is my kid's family and my grandkids so we've been here a while. So I've been an Alaska resident all my life. I was six weeks old when my parents brought me back here. I haven't always lived here, I lived one of my high schools years in Europe. I also lived in Los Angeles and in Arizona. I now have a winter home in Oregon. But, you know, Alaska is where my family has been from for generations. It is where my roots just go deep here. This is where I belong.
- Alaska is…
- Alaska is my home, in one word. But what that means for me, is not just where my people are, the people in my family, the people in my community where I grew up in but it is also the family of the natural world. The Cook Inlet where I live next to, you know I've heard those sounds, the waves all my life watching the tides. It is where the wild life are, they have been my neighbors: the moose, the bears and the eagles. So Alaska is all of that to me. It's the incredible mountains, it's the glaciers. Just the grandeur of this place! And it is where my heart is.

- What is the spirit of Alaska in terms of values people live?
- Climate wise, Alaska is so demanding, the temperatures can be so severe in winter times, so conditions are so harsh. It demands your best. You have to be resourceful, you have to be creative, you have to be committed. It takes all you have to live here. Or to explore that in yourself: do I have what it takes to live here?
The Cook Inlet where I live next to, I've heard those sounds, the waves, all my life watching the tides. It is where the wild life are, they have been my neighbors: the moose, the bears and the eagles. So Alaska is all of that to me. It's the incredible mountains, it's the glaciers. Just the grandeur of this place!
- 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?
- Certainly, the Native people have the first claim. And in terms of really living with the environment, how they did was incredible, how they adapted to, how they knew to live within this environment was just beyond anything we can imagine. And then the Russians came and then the US. Everybody coming with a new claim to it, one overriding the previous one. So that now the US ownership too often forgets, in my mind, what came before and the value that it had and what can be learned from it, rather than just coming and overlaying there lifestyle and their priorities and their values on what was already here. And that's unfortunate.
- The First Peoples of Alaska, including Inupiaq, Tlingit, Athabaskans, Yupik, Alutiiq and others, how large is their role in modern Alaska today?
- It is larger than it was at one time. I'm saying that because I remember as a child having someone else on the playground saying she couldn't play with me because of her parents saying I was Indian, a Native. I am part Alutiiq, from my grandma side. So her parents told her she just couldn't play with me which to me was just astounding because they moved here! Who was she going to play with?! So I would say it certainly not the Natives who has the biggest say. But the Natives have more than they did. As it should be.

- Alaska and the 'Lower 48': do people do things differently there?
- Oh yes, they do. Just from my time living Outside, you know, we have a place on the Oregon coast in the winter time… Because there are more people there are more services, because there are more services the quality of life is different and then it is easier, it is not as demanding in terms of cut your wood, carry your water, know what it's like go out and hunt your moose and all that. So they do things differently and yet, in talking with them, they have great respect for what Alaska asks of you when you live here. And, sort of, sometimes it is not very realistic interpretation of it but still they value what Alaska asks for although they do it differently there in the 'Lower 48'.
- Do reality TV shows genuinely portray Alaska or do they distort it?
- They distort it! (laughing). Well, I am sure, it is truth to some degree. There are a couple of TV reality shows I'm thinking of that have to do with families and they are grossly distorted. And when we travel to the 'Lower 48' or somewhere else that's what people see and they think that's Alaska and we have to say: oh, no, that's not Alaska! So the distortion is that it seems like those stories, the ones that had to do with families, they're really built on myths of Alaska or on what Alaska once was. At least the two shows I'm thinking of, these families don't live that remote lifestyle! One TV show is about a family in Homer: they don't live remote like they make it look on TV. You know, we see them in a Safeway, we see them downtown.
- 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 are lots of beautiful places in Alaska and I don't know of one really that isn't unless it would be downtown Anchorage (laughing). The first time I went up to the North Slope I was in awe of the vastness… You know, the word 'Alaska' comes from the Aleut that means 'The Great Land'. And you just get the full sense of it in your face like, oh my God, it is! And yet, I just went to Nome and to Teller, you know, equally beautiful but in different ways. But Southeast: those towering mountains and your toes are in the water and your back is to a glacier and it is just magnificent! But for me, you know, it's Ninilchik. We have the Inlet, I'm right on the shore of the Cook Inlet which has magnificent tides. Just on the other side of the Inlet are these incredible mountains, including the chain of five volcanoes. To the back of us are gorgeous forest and the hills and then the glacier. So we're kind of have it all right here.
My great-great-great-grandparents were among the first two families to come and settle here in Ninilchik. Russian was my dad's first language...
- What are you favorite Alaskan foods? Do you have a special recipe?
- Wild salmon! The top of the list is the first bite of king salmon in the spring, there is nothing quite like that: a first bit of the freshly-caught king salmon. There is one recipe that I love: this is 'pirog', which is a salmon pie with a layer of rice and some onions in there and a layer of salmon. Now you can find out some fancy variations of it with different vegetables added but when I was growing up it was pretty basic: just salmon and rice. That was the perfect meal.
- What do you know about the Russian America or Russian heritage in Alaska?
- Well, my town, Ninilchik, was started as a pensionary settlement for the employees of the Russian-American company who had come over here. They had agreed to go back to Russia when the retirement comes but they chose to stay for whatever reasons. You know, some of them had families, got married, had children… So the Russian-American company didn't know what to do with these people so the plan came to develop pensionary settlements. And Ninilchik was one of those settlements. So my great-great-great-grandparents were among the first two families to come and settle here. So there is a lot of Russian influence in Ninilchik. That was my dad's first language. All the way to my dad's generation the Russian was their first language here in Ninilchik. The Russian church sits on the hill of the village certainly had a big role in the community and the way it was shaped and formed. And then from my grandfather, who was a newcomer here, he came from the East Coast and came here and got married. So my dad kind of had it coming out from both directions and tried to strengthen the ties with Russia by travelling there and I got to go with him on one of his trips which was fabulous. So… very strong ties between Ninilchik and Russia. It is like a crossroad that connects Russia and my Russian heritage.
- This year is the 150th anniversary of Alaska purchase by the United States: are you aware of this event?
- Oh yes, I am aware if it! There was a conference earlier these year, in April, it was all dedicated to looking at the 150 years since the purchase, and the 150 years since then and then to the 150 years from that, kind of projecting, like where we are going to be in 150 years. So yes, I am aware of it.
- How do you feel towards Russia as a country?
- I've always felt a connection because of my heritage, you know, my dad was always referring to it as his mother land and I grew up with this too, feeling some connection to it.
- America and Russia: are we enemies? Or are we not?
- Well, who knows what our leaders would say? But I know from having traveled there that I don't think we're enemies. I mean, maybe on one level we are… But, we are not, I am really saying it because I've been there. I've been away from the touristic spots and just met people who are pretty much like me. I don't sense them as enemies. And they didn't come to me as enemies. Instead, there was a connection there, you know, person to person. And I shared a background with them. Certainly, I've never met them but I don't see us as enemies…
- If you had an opportunity to meet and talk to an ordinary Russian, what would you say?
- Oh, gosh! I would welcome them here and try to find out what they were going to see while they're here and hope they would see this part Alaska, the Kenai peninsula, because we're so tied to Russia. I would be proud to show them it.
- What is your version of the American dream?
- That's a big and good question… Ok, as an American and as a writer, you know, one of the things in this country that's most important to me is having the freedom to say what I wanna say or share it with somebody else. You know, to make sure that if I wanted them to be heard there is a way to have your voice be heard. I have been able and continue to be able to write what I want to write without a feeling that I have to be careful if I don't want to be careful.
One of the things in this country that's most important to me is having the freedom to say what I wanna say or share it with somebody else.
- What a great single Alaskan person of past or present would you like to talk to?
- I've just been working with my husband on his memoirs. And the time he lived in Nome, in the 1940s, was a time when Alaska Natives were really starting to stand up and speaking against being discriminated. And there was a young woman who lived in Nome, Alberta Schenck Adams. She was 15 years old at the time. She was Native and she was a cashier at the Dream Theater. Her job was to show Natives coming to the movie to their seats in the Native section. And for whatever reason, whatever in her background, made her as strong and as insightful as she was. She said: I can't do this anymore, I won't do this! And it sparked a big turnaround in Nome. She was quite vocal and got the support, it took a while but it turned things around. And I'd like to have met her and to hear, where did she get the strength to do what she did?
- What will Alaska be like in 2034, 17 years from now?
- Alaska is really the canary in the coal mine when it come to the climate change. This state's temperatures are increasing twice as faster than any other state in the country. And we have over a hundred communities on our west coast that are facing relocation because of the land erosion, like Shishmareff, for example. So that's going to be a change that happens whether those communities relocated or not. We're experiencing ocean acidification faster than we ever have. That's going to affect our fishing. And yet we continue a drill for oil and gas – burning of fossil fuels is one of the causes of climate change – and we've got temperatures, because of the temperature change we have insects, like spruce beetle, living through the winter that are destroying our forests. We've lost millions of spruce trees on the Kenai Peninsula alone. The temperature is warmer which allows the spruce bark beetle to survive the winter and because of that climate change stressing the trees they are more susceptible. So we either have to be more aware of it and make some changes or we're going to see our environment change dramatically judging by the rate it is already changing. And one of the changes is to be aware that our state is very dependent on oil and gas and we seem to continue blindly down that course without looking at the consequences for that. So we either continue on that course and pay the consequences or wise up and cut back on our dependence on oil and gas. And start making some changes.
And a very small piece of the big puzzle that is affecting my family in Ninilchik right now is that we're neighbor to a 24-acre parcel of property just bought by Hilcorp which is based in Texas and it is a national gas and oil company. They are the largest producer in Cook Inlet right now offshore and onshore. They are very active in Alaska so what they're good at is that they come in and buy older facilities, older sites and then reworking them with the new technology. So they've bought this property right next to us and even though we and our neighbors have spoken out against it, this company has still been given a permit for test drilling. So they planned to drill for natural gas this winter, right here, right next to us. We already have 8 natural gas pads within a 12-mile section north of us, closest one being a mile away, it has 4 wells on it. This one has just one well planned but the purpose of it is that they can continue to extend their operations south. So that's our little piece of the puzzle. So the last three weeks, every Sunday, we're out at the end of our driveway with our signs asking for the project to stop. And just trying to let other people know this is what's going on because you don't see this happening driving on the highway, it is fairly well out of sight. Will we stop the project? I am not an idiot: no, we're not going to stop the project. But can we make other people being more aware? Hopefully. Can we open up discussion? Hopefully, we can.
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