In rural Alaska, everyone relies on each other to survive. There are no local malls, supermarkets or banks. You will usually find locally owned stores, a gas station, and maybe a place to rent movies. As a result, people have to be the Jacks of all trades (or Janes) and people who do it themselves.
My sister, Tanya, is a Jane of all trades. She sews, designs, repairs four-wheelers, troubleshooter for internet/cable and knows how to handle a drill and other tools. That’s all in addition to her day job and raising a child.
You won’t find a hair salon in most villages, but people still have stylish hair. There is usually someone in town who knows how to give a great haircut, hair dye job or a perm.
You will usually find a great array of traditional arts and crafts. There are often people who are master artists. There are some artists who sew, bead and knit full-time to survive. You will often find them selling their arts and crafts at events, like the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention or the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
You won’t find a local bakery, but there are usually some people who are known for baking and sell baked goods. You usually know who makes the best cinnamon rolls and fry bread. There is probably even someone who is known for making specialty cakes.
My late grandmother, Lydia, taught herself how to make sturdy furniture, like benches and chairs. We still have a few pieces of her furniture. Making furniture was only one of many other skills she was known for.
My parents needed a new smokehouse, so my family banded together to build it. Maybe a couple had formal carpentry training. We didn’t have all of the materials, but we made do with the tools and materials we had. We improvised. My dad is an excellent problem solver and led us to successfully build it.
Most people from rural Alaska subsist off the land through hunting, fishing and gathering. Learning how to dry meat and fish is an important part of living in rural Alaska. Canning berries, fish and other foods is also key to adding to your pantry. With the increasing price of food, subsisting is often a necessity for rural Alaskans.
Most people have more have more than one job or skill they are known for. Some people understand the sewer system and know how to fix power plants and machinery. Some people, like my dad, are know for working on electronics and furnaces. I remember when people would bring their boom boxes to my dad to repair them when we were growing up.
There are still a lot of things you cannot get living in the village. People still have to travel to the city or hubs for medical purposes, shopping or to attend meetings. I think it is the Alaskan spirit for people to survive and ‘make do’. People have to think innovatively, improvise and be great problem solvers.
What are some of the innovative and unique things you’ve seen in rural Alaska?