Communities up and down Southeast Alaska are feeling the impacts of loss of ferry service. Southeast Alaska is made up of thousands of islands that are home to more than 21 communities. Living in rural Southeast Alaska depends on a reliable ferry service that delivers people and goods and supplies. The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) provides ferry service in Southeast Alaska and connects people and communities like Interstate 5 (I-5) does for the Pacific Northwest.
At the end of February 2020, food supplies in the smaller Southeast communities is nearing critical food security levels. Over the last week, people rallied in their communities to “Save the Ferries” and began sending food out to the smaller communities.
A town hall meeting was held on February 20 at the Sitka ANB Hall. The local Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANB/ANS) organized the meeting to discuss ferry system status, as well as to collect food and dry good donations. After the meeting, volunteers organized the donations for shipment to communities who are in crisis caused by the sudden cuts to their ferry service. Generous donations of food and dry goods were received from the Alaska Commercial Company (AC Lakeside) grocery store, individuals and from a Sitka High School food drive. The collected items in Sitka were shipped to Angoon, Kake and Hoonah. Delivering the food to the communities was made possible by Alaska Seaplanes and its staff who volunteered time for the event and donated discounted air freight service to Angoon and Kake.
Sealaska Director David Goade helped at the Sitka ANB Hall where the community was preparing food to send out. “It was heart-warming to see people come together to support others who are in need of basic items like food because of hardships created by the sudden end of ferry service to their communities,” said Goade. “It’s a temporary response to the ongoing crisis in small Alaskan communities that have depended on the ferry system for so many decades. Extraordinary events like this will need to continue until the ferries are running on a regular basis again.”
It’s fitting that leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood are driving solutions during a critical time for our region and people. The ANB/ANS has a 100-year history of advocacy for Native people and the region.
It’s great to see the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood in action, promoting grassroots efforts that benefit Native people and communities. We applaud the heartfelt giving that can help address emergency needs, but the State of Alaska needs to create a sustainable solution for the essential public services the ferry system has always provided. Adequate funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) is Sealaska’s number one state policy priority. The AMHS is critical to shareholders and communities within the region. The AMHS provides Southeast communities with access to healthcare, cultural events, affordable travel for school activities, as well as access to our regional hubs to purchase basic needs.