History of Alaska
Before the coming of the Europeans, Alaska was inhabited by a number of different tribes of indigenous people. One of them were the Tlingit tribe who lived in a matriarchal society that inhabited the southeastern parts of today’s Alaska. Other noteworthy tribes were Haida, whose art is now rather popular and highly appreciated, as well as Tsimshian tribe that suffered though terrible and devastating smallpox epidemic in 1860s. Aleut people can still be found in rather large numbers in the Aeutian Islands. South-central Alaska was populated by Alutiiq people, while their cousin tribe Yup’ik inhabited the regions to the west and southwest of them. Northern parts of the Alaska and Little Diomede Island are still home to the Inuits.
It is believed that Russians established their first settlement in Alaska in the 17th century. Apparently, parts of Semyon Dezhnuov’s expedition got stranded in the Alaska in 1648, where they proceeded to establish the first settlement in these regions. The first ship to have reached these shores seems to be St. Gabriel in 1732 which was currently on the expedition meant to research the Siberian coast. The next expedition to reach this region was lead by Vitus Bering, the man after whom the Bering Strait was named after, in 1741. His crew brought sea otter pelts to Russia, and great interest in their extremely fine fur prompted increased interest of fur merchants in this region. This caused a significant increase in traffic to this region, as well as the founding of the first permanent settlement in 1784. Even 10 years before that point and 16 years after, Spain was sending various expeditions to try and claim the Alaska, this is how there are still places in Alaska named Cordova and Valdez. Russians have never really fully colonized this land, and they didn’t see too much profit from it.
William H. Seward, who was the US Secretary of State at the time, organized the purchase of Alaska in 1867. This was not a universally accepted decision, in fact the Republican Party called this move ‘Seward’s Folly’. Alaska was purchased for $7.2 million. At first this region was held under loose military control. As of 1884 Alaska was considered a district of the United States of America. After a while a provisional government was organized in the only inhabited Alaskan city Sitka that was also the capital at the time.
This region that has previously held little to no interest to most people, became an incredibly popular destination in the early 20th century when the gold rush brought thousands of people to it. In 1912, Alaska became an organized territory of the US. In 1906, six years after that decision was made, the capitol was transferred from Sitka to the state’s current capital, Juneau. The very same year the construction of the Alaska Governor’s Mansion began.
Territorial referendum of 1946, gave momentum to the movement fighting for Alaska statehood. This process was full of hardships and forces opposing it, both in the Alaska and in the US congress, but Alaska finally became one of the states in 1959. Five years later, Alaska suffered the third strongest earthquake ever recorded that took 133 lives. In 1968 oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay which prompted the building of Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which was finally completed in 1977. This was, as is to be expected, an incredible boon for the state’s economy, and enabled the Alaskan government to repeal the state income tax in 1980.
Economy of Alaska
The GPS (gross state product) of Alaska in 2007 was $44.9 billion, which places it in the 45th position in the nation. The per capita income in the same year was $40,042, which makes Alaska the 15th state with the largest per capita income in the United States. More than 80% of that income was gained from petroleum. Other important exported products of this state are oil, natural gas, and seafood such as Pollock, salmon, crabs and cod. Agricultural products are rarely exported and mainly serve for sustenance of the Alaskan people. These include dairy products, livestock and vegetables. The largest employers are the government and industries such as transportation and resources extraction. Likewise, different military installations also generate an important profit influx. The state is able to keep the taxes quite low, thanks to the different federal subsidies. Tourism is an important branch of the industry along with the export of coal, precious metals, gold, zinc, natural gas and petroleum. Three largest private sector employees in 2010 were Providence Health and Services with 400 employees, Walmart and Sam’s Club with more than 3000 employees and Carrs Safeway Alaska Division with around 3000 employees.
The most important aspect of Alaskan economy are its vast natural energy resources. Alaska North Slope holds great reserves of oil and natural gas that are placing Alaska in the second place in the nation when it comes to crude oil production. Prudhoe Bay can produce somewhere around 400,000 barrels per day of oil, which makes it the oil field with the highest yield in the US. Trans –Alaska Pipeline that is connected to it can pump and transport up to 2.1 million barrels of oil daily, which is more than any other pipeline in the US. Apart from oil, Alaska is very rich in coal and it is estimated that there are around 85 trillion cubic feet of gas in the North Slope. Hydroelectric potential of this state is equally impressive thanks to a great number of fast rivers. Alaska alone is producing a fifth of the US domestically produced oil.
Due to the difficulties with the transportation of goods, the cost of living in Alaska is very high. The conditions has been getting somewhat better in Fairbanks and Anchorage, but the differences are not too significant. This is why the federal government has been paying a Cost of Living Allowance to its employees and the active –duty soldiers stationed there. This was somewhat alleviated by the opening of big-box stores in several cities, and this is where most of the state’s inhabitants have been purchasing their consumable goods, some of them travelling many miles to the nearest store of this type in order to stock up on provisions. Online shopping is also a popular option, as the offer of goods is much better, as are the prices. Agriculture in the state is not really all that well developed due to the short growing period of only around 100 days a year.
Geography and Climate In Alaska
Alaska’s coastline is longer than the combined coastline of the rest of the states combined. The state is separated from the Washington state, which makes Alaska the only non-contiguous US state in the continental North America. To the south it borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska, to the east it has British Columbia and Yukon Territory, Arctic Ocean on the north, and Bering Strait, Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea on the west. Its territorial waters meet with Russian waters in the Bering Strait. An interesting fact about Alaska is that when you take into account the Aleutian Islands this state is at the same time northernmost, easternmost and westernmost state of the US.
It is the largest state in the US, covering 586,412 square miles, which makes it twice as large as Texas, which is the second largest state in the US. If you count its territorial waters it is larger than the next three largest states (Texas, California and Minnesota) combined.
There are no official borders between its six regions: South Central, Southeast, Interior, Southwest, North Slope and Aleutian Islands. South Central is the most densely populated region. This is where Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula are. Southeast is the closest region to the US, so it was the first one to be populated by the settlers. It is also known as Panhandle. It contains both the old and the new capital, Sitka and Juneau as well as the largest national forest in the US, Tongass National Forest. Interior is the largest of Alaska’s regions, and most of it is uninhabited. Fairbanks is the only larger city in this region. Southwest is a region in which most of the rather few inhabitants live along the coast. One of the largest river deltas in the world, Yukon-Kuskokwin Delta is located in this region. North Slope consists mainly of tundra with small villages scattered about. This is where most of the Alaska’s oil is found and is also the region in which the US northernmost city, Barrow is located. Finally, Aleutian Islands region contains over 300 volcanic islands that stretch over 1,200 miles into the Pacific Ocean.
Northern sections of the state have subarctic oceanic climate, while the rest of the state has mid-latitude oceanic climate. The Panhandle is the wettest region in Alaska with over 50 inches of annual rainfall. It is also the warmest region, and the only one in Alaska in which the average daytime temperature is above the freezing point during the winter months. Anchorage’s proximity to the coast gives it a mild climate with 16 inches of rainfall. Interior Alaska has a subarctic climate with drastic differences in summer and winter temperatures. While the highest temperatures reach 90 F, the lowest go as far as -60 F. this region has thus had both the highest and the lowest recorded temperature in Alaska. The highest was recorded in 1915 and it was 100 F, while the lowest temperature of -80 F was recorded in 1971.
Population of Alaska
The census from 2011 has determined that population of Alaska has increased by 1.76% since the previous year and that it now counts 722,718 people. In 2008, Alaska had 686,293 inhabitants which was an increase of 9.5%, or 59,361 people since the year 2000. This figure is a combination of the natural increase of 60,994 people gained by subtracting 25,068 deaths from 86,062 births, and the decrease caused by net migrations that have led 5,460 more people out of the state than they have brought in. Alaska is the state with the smallest population density, as well as one of the least populated areas in the world with its 1 person per square mile. Despite its size, this has made it the 48th least populated state.
There are different ethnicities in the state, Non-Hispanic whites constitute 64.7% of the populace, Hispanic whites make up for 3%, 14.8% are of American Indian or Alaska Native origin, 5.4% are Asian, 3.3% African American, 1% Hawaiian, and 8.9% belong to other races or two or more races. English is the most widespread spoken language, with 84.7% of speakers, followed by 3.5% of people who speak Spanish at home, 2.2% who speak some European language, 4.3% of Asian language speakers and 5.3% people who speak some other language. There are 22 indigenous languages in the state, spoken by 5.2% of the population.
Alaska is one of the least religious states in the USA with only 39% of the inhabitants declared as members of a congregation. The church with the most believers is Evangelical Protestant Church, followed by Roman Catholic Church and mainline Protestants. There is even a large population of Eastern Orthodox Church followers, due to the Russian missionary work and colonization of the region.
Alaska Government and Legislature
Alaska is a republic with three government branches, executive, legislative and judicial. Executive branch has the Governor of Alaska at the helm and a number of elected officials. Legislative branch consists of the Alaska Senate and the House of Representatives with 20 and 40 members respectively, serving 4 and 2 years terms. Finally, the judicial system has four levels, with the highest one being the Supreme Court. Since 1941 the official law enforcement organization in Alaska are Alaska State Troopers. One of the interesting facts about Alaska law is that this is the only state in which it is perfectly legal for citizens to poses an ounce of marijuana in their home.
Another thing that sets Alaska apart from most of the states is the fact that it has the lowest tax burden in the US, and that it is one of just 5 states that don’t have state sales tax. Unlike most of the other states, Alaska is not divided into counties, but instead into boroughs. There are 16 of them, and they basically follow the same principles as counties in other states. One of the differences being that not all of the territory of Alaska must necessarily belong to a borough. These unclaimed areas are called Unorganized Boroughs, and they have no government.
When it entered the union Alaska was a Democratic state, but since the early 70s it started to be known as more of a Republican oriented state. Problems concerning fishing, people’s rights and tourism are often being handled by local political communities. There is even an active independence movement in the state that is trying to promote secession agenda. A presence of Native corporations is also felt in the state. They are usually run by Alaska Natives who also take active part in their local communities as well as in these types of corporations.
Education in Alaska
Most of the Alaskan school districts are under the jurisdiction of The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. The state is also financing and supervising the operation of several boarding schools such as Mt. Edgecumbe High School that is located in the city of Sitka. Alaska has almost fifteen universities and colleges, none of which, however, belong to the NCAA Division I program. Some of these universities are University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Southeast and University of Alaska Fairbanks. One the greatest problems with the education in Alaska is that a lot of younger people, including those who have managed to excel in the field of study, often leave the country after they have graduated from high school, without any intention of ever returning. One of the ways that the state is trying to combat this situation is with the help of the Alaska Scholars Program that is trying to keep the best students in the state by offering them partial 4 year scholarships in the University of Alaska.
Transportation in Alaska
Alaska doesn’t have as well developed road system as the other states, which becomes an even larger problem when one considers its impressive size. Only a small part of its territory is covered by the road system, and even its capital Juneau cannot be accessed by road, but only with the help of a car ferry. Western part of the state is completely cut off from the rest of it. The only impressive feature of Alaska’s road system is the road and railway Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel that spans 2.5 miles, and connects an otherwise isolated Whittier to the Seward Highway.
Alaska railway was built somewhere around 1915 and was crucial for the development of the state. It connects all the important points and larger cities that have come to be known as ‘The Railbelt’. As new highways are constantly being built its significance is slowly decreasing, but it is still quite vital for transportation in Alaska, as it is still the only way to access some of the more isolated regions.
As a number of communities are still not reachable by land, marine transportation plays an important role in Alaska. This is a reason for a well developed Alaska Marine Highway ferry system, that has, as of recently become a tourist attraction as well. These difficulties in reaching certain parts of the state are also a reason for a well developed air traffic. Because reaching some of the more remote villages wouldn’t really be feasible for air companies, the federal government is offering subsidization through their Essential Air Service program, meant to facilitate the operation of such lines. This is also why most of the inhabited areas offer their air taxi services.
One of the types of transport specific to this state are the dog sleds, although riding them has for a while now been more of a sport than a way of transportation. A lot of dog sled races are being held, but the most famous one is definitely the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. It is an 1150 mile long track that starts at Anchorage and ends at Nome. This distance may vary though. The race is held as a commemoration to the brave men and dogs that crossed that track in 1925 in order to deliver the serum for diphtheria to the afflicted people of Nome. It was an incredibly fast paced race, which left many men exhausted and that cost many dogs their lives, but which was an obvious victory of human spirit and endurance over incredibly harsh conditions.