Alaska... Music... Russia...
Zlata Lund, a Russian Alaskan, head of the 'Russian-American Colony Singers' choir, a public activist and, last but not least, an Alaskan guide.
Zlata speaks about Alaska's unique natural beauty. About the state's bright future. And, finally, her dream of American and Russian friendship.

- How long have you lived in Alaska and why are you still here?
- I've been living in Alaska since 1994. I am here because I like the place very much. I believe that Alaska is America's best state and I am saying that having traveled a lot across the United States.
- Alaska is…
- …beauty! It is purity. It is nature. Alaska is about romanticism. Alaska is about its people. It is about mountains and glaciers. It is also a place that's still got a scent of Russia...
- What is the spirit of Alaska in terms of values people live?
- The spirit of Alaska is a mixture of its magnificent nature, such as oceans, volcanos, deep forests, national parks, and its people. People of Alaska are different from people from the 'Lower 48' the way Russia's Far East or Siberia differ from the European Russia. Alaska is a unique place geographically, geopolitically and culturally. It is a rich mix of Native culture with American culture and with traces of the Russian heritage. It is a very deep inside, very interesting place. It is the most unique state in America.
Alaska is a rich mix of Native culture with American culture and with traces of the Russian heritage. It is a very deep inside, very interesting place. It is the most unique state in America.
- 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?
- Historically the Native peoples of Alaska should have the most claim. They have their natural claim. But I strongly believe that the Native people must be grateful to America for being a part of it. They could have had a very different history. Speaking to the Alaskan Natives, I always say: count your blessings, you should thank God for living in the United States and not in some other country. Speaking my mind, they must have the most claim here.
- The First Peoples of Alaska, including Inupiaq, Tlingit, Athabaskans, Yupik, Alutiiq and others, how large is their role in modern Alaska today?
- From a contemporary Alaskan's point of view, no matter what his or her color of the skin is, there is no much influence. On the other hand, compared to Chukotka's Native people, the Native people of Alaska are much more a part of society. What most of the white men don't know is how much the Native people are closer to the nature. And, based on the state's official data, there are about 90 various Native peoples in Alaska! So the Native people of Alaska have something that the white man culture has already lost long time ago such a respect to relatives, respect to the elders, respect to nature. They still have these values but, I must admit, the degree of it varies a lot from tribe to tribe. If to compare Western Alaska and the Southeast, I'd say that their cultures differ a lot from each other. The Southeast has lost its Native culture in many ways because they've been mostly colonized by the Americans. Now its Native peoples, such as Haida, Tlinkit or Tsimshian have to go a longer way when it comes to getting back to its roots comparing to, say, Eskimo Yupik in the West. The Southeast people have, practically, lost their native languages. On the other hand, the Native cultures of the West, such as Yupik, Inupiaq, Aleuts, Alutiiq managed to keep their native languages to a much bigger degree compared to the Southeast. So to make a long story short, for a contemporary white Alaskan resident all these Native cultures do not really matter just because we've lost all these values that the Native people managed to keep.
- Alaska and the 'Lower 48': do people do things differently there?
- Yes, it is very different. First, it is the life in Alaska is expensive. Everything here is expensive: the land, the foods because almost all is imported from outside. Even gas, though the oil prices went down, is still expensive. Second, there are differences in lifestyle. The Alaskan life goes at quite slow pace, there is no stress, no rush. Also, we're the northernmost state, it's cold here. This is why it is not the best place for agriculture compared to the 'Lower 48'. Alaska is also the biggest state in America. We've got just a few highways so we fly a lot instead of driving. Alaska has a very well developed system of private aviation. No other state has a road sign 'Yield to aircraft'! Small planes are the second most popular kind of transportation after cars in Alaska. There are no reservations, too. We have a different system for Native people's to organize their living. We've got Native corporations here instead of reservations. These were established in 1971 by the Land Settlement Claims act. Finally, Alaska, historically, is the only state that has Russian heritage. We're just like a crossroads, we're bordering Russia. Sarah Palin, Alaska's former governor, once said metaphorically: 'I can see Russia from my window'. They say that from Nome, a town located on the Bering Sea coast, if weather permits you can see Russia. So this is what is different from the other states. Alaska is not just 'The Last Frontier'. We are a bridge between America and Russia. Alaska could have had a strong potential for developing citizen's diplomacy if people would have looked at politics in a more positive way...
- Do reality TV shows genuinely portray Alaska or do they distort it?
- I've only seen 'The Deadliest Catch' and not the entire thing. Still, I recall that terrifying ocean... I can't really judge, I've never done crabbing in the Bering Sea. But the working conditions there are frightening me. I've heard that other TV reality shows about life in Alaska are exaggerated and many people don't like it. On the other hand, such TV reality shows attract tourists to Alaska. People get interested in Alaska. I think it is just like in the movies, there is always a place for drama. But I'm OK with that. Let's hook people up and let them come here.
- 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?
- My most beautiful place in Alaska are mountains, I mean the mountain tops. For example, Denali national park. I don't even talk about the mount Denali itself. I am talking about other mountains, other summits, you can get their only by a helicopter. And I want it to be the fall season. Up there you feel like you're on top of the world! These places are absolutely off-beaten path. You're surrounded by the mountains, you can feel its might, its power!
No other state has a road sign 'Yield to aircraft'! Small planes are the second most popular kind of transportation after cars in Alaska.
- What are you favorite Alaskan foods? Do you have a special recipe?
- Grilled king salmon or tschawytscha as they call it in Russia. The recipe is the simplest one, just my favorite spices, not overcooked, juicy and shiny.
- What do you know about the Russian America or Russian heritage in Alaska?
- Alaska's Russian heritage is the spirituality. It is the Russian Orthodox church. Today's Russian Alaska lives in its Orthodox Native people. They still keep Russian spirituality. Also, it is much of the local toponymy.
- This year is the 150th anniversary of Alaska purchase by the United States: are you aware of this event?
- I know about it basically everything that a person can do (laughing). Alas, Americans here in Alaska are basically not aware about it at all. Though local historians are aware about the anniversary. What anniversary is being celebrated this year? This means that Alaska is already 150 years under the Stars and Stripes, no matter whether it is good or bad... We've had different times here. I think that for the Alaskan Natives it has been a harder times compared to the Russian period. Personally, this 150th anniversary is a reminder of the times when Americans and Russians were allies. I really treasure it. The sesquicentenary to me is something that happens when three core cultures of today's Alaska meet at the same time and place. I mean the Native cultures, the Russian culture and the American culture. They all met at Sitka, at the Castle Hill during the jubilee ceremony. This land was transferred peacefully. I always say: the history is being written right now. The people who lived back then did it their own ways: there were making mistakes and they were achieving their goals. So it is a big question: what heritage are we going to leave? This is something that I've been trying to tell people during this jubilee year. In 50 years from now we're going to have a 200th anniversary of Alaska purchase. So those people from the future would be looking back, just like we're looking back at the people who lived 150 years ago. And they would be judging us: what have we done, what have we learned? What heritage have we left for the generations to come?
- How do you feel towards Russia as a country?
- My homeland. My home that I miss. I do miss some things in Russia... Russia is my native culture. I am a part of it, it is a part of my personality.
- America and Russia: are we enemies? Or are we not?
- Now, politically speaking, we're enemies. To my greatest regrets. It is a huge, inacceptable political mistake! Both Russian and American politicians are guilty in creating such a situation. I would also mention those who stand behind the politicians. They just speculate on that feud, it is a business for them. I think the whole thing is regretful. Our cooperation has a great potential, the whole world would have been a better place! I do support those people who try to rectify things between America and Russia. I appreciate their efforts, including efforts done by the politicians involved. Americans and Russians, as people, are not enemies. I make this statement based on my personal experience of interacting with various people from both sides. But I must admit that in Russia there are more people who take an anti-American stand. It is such a criminal mistake done by the politicians: when politics comes to people's homes.
- If you had an opportunity to meet and talk to an ordinary Russian, what would you say?
- What would I say as an American citizen, born in Russia and an Alaskan resident? I would tell him or her: you must be happy to live at your homeland! I do say that to my tourists coming from Russia: do not be afraid to be incentive. Don't forget that the grass is always greener at your neighbor's place. So to make all things great at home just mind your own business. And be good at doing that.
- What is your version of the American dream?
- The American dream to me is that in America you're not restricted to be incentive. They probably wouldn't help you but they won't try to stop you. If you are an incentive person, if you're a brave, educated, creative person then you can succeed in whatever you want to succeed! To live life to the fullest is much easier in this country. America opened me up as a person. I've found out that I have skills that I never expected to have. I've become a public figure here, I am a head of the 'Russian-American Colony Singers' choir (RACS). We have 34 members altogether now and only 7 of them are Russian native speakers. The rest are Americans who love to sing Russian songs. So step by step I've learned my communications skills. I can even say that I love to talk to people and I've found it out here in America, in Alaska. It was a great part of our success as a choir. So I can say I am a happy person. I would call it my own American dream coming true.
Alaska is not just 'The Last Frontier'. We are a bridge between America and Russia.
- What a great single Alaskan person of past or present would you like to talk to?
- I'd really like to meet Ted Stevens. He was our senator in Congress representing Alaska for many years. He's done a lot of good things for Alaska. Still, he ended up his political career with a scandal. So many people would probably like to ask him: Ted, please tell us what it was? I don't believe in those accusations. I would ask him many things. He is a Second World War veteran. He even died as a true Alaskan: he was fly-fishing and their plane crashed in to the hill. He is a great guy! The Ted Stevens international airport in Anchorage proudly bears his name. Shame on those who initiated that scandal, whatever it was! Even if he is guilty in doing something wrong it is nothing compared to his great input into Alaska's development!
- What will Alaska be like in 2034, 17 years from now?
- Unfortunately, it depends on big politics. I've spent 25 years here and I've noticed some things changed for worse. Roads have become worse. Client service has worsened. Probably it is not just relating Alaska but the whole United States. American mentality has changed, too, and not to the good... Yes, we do have some very advanced young people. Or even genious people. Still all these things relate to the 'Lower 48', not Alaska. Will we have it here in 17 years? I am not sure. I want to see more incentive, bold people. Just look at what is happening to oil and we're an oil-dependent economy. On the other hand, culturally, when it comes to the Native people, I see things getting better. They're getting back their native culture at a very fast pace. They're restoring their native languages. We're going to have more leaders amongst the Native people. I've traveled a lot in the Native villages: they are actively learning things. I've seen incentive, interesting, active young people. So I think that the Native way of life is definitely going to change for better.
Made on