I’m lying in a wind-battered tent at 26,000 feet, taking a slow drain from an oxygen bottle—hoping a fresh supply of Os will be enough to breathe some life back to my tired legs, back, and shoulders. For the past five and a half hours we’ve been on the move—climbing and scratching our way up the Lhotse Face, across the Yellow Band, and over the Geneva Spur to a football field sized notch under the mountain’s final pyramid. While the body is resting, my mind continues to race; I know this break is short lived. In a few short hours I’ll be charging back into the tempest to attempt a goal years in the making: to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that created twelve regional Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) and encouraged numerous tribal corporations was the beginning of a journey of socioeconomic independence that is still underway today. It is quite remarkable and heartening to see the success of these Alaska corporations given the relatively short amount of time they have been in existence and the struggles they have endured. Some have benefitted from the Small Business Administration’s 8a Business Development Program (no bid government contracting).
More than three decades ago—before the Arctic became a much talked about, much analyzed, and much sought after region on this planet—Eben Hopson, an Iñupiat leader from Alaska’s North Slope, observed: “The United States has no Arctic policy, as such.”
For more than twenty years now, an obscure federal program has been generating extraordinary wealth for Western Alaska, a remote and sparsely populated region not known for economic prosperity.
With nearly 250 state-owned airports and countless private airstrips in the state, most of them providing access to villages far from any road system, it only makes sense that Alaska Natives—many of whom grow up with more exposure to airplanes than other popular modes of transportation—would make up a portion of the aviation industry that reflects this consistent exposure. However, education opportunities for people in the Bush are few and far between.