I originally published this excerpt back in 2009, but in light of yesterday’s heated POWCAC (Prince of Wales Community Advisory Council) meeting on the topic of borough formation, I thought it was time to revisit this old post, “Tribute to the Unorganized Borough (with a capital “U”)”:
It is an excerpt of testimony Hyder resident Peter Caffall-Davis gave during a Local Boundary Commission meeting in an attempt to prevent Hyder from being annexed into the Ketchikan Borough.
What is The Last Frontier? That’s something that’s on every single one of our license plates, we hear it every single day, and I’d like us to stop for a second and think, what does that word frontier mean?
It’s a place beyond.
We know what it is; we could use a lot of words to describe it. You could say wilderness, you can say a lot of things. But what does the word frontier really mean? A place beyond.
And I have to then follow with, naturally, a place beyond what?
And I would declare to you that it is a place beyond the niceties of a highly structured and organized society; that, I think, is what The Last Frontier means.
And I would also say that the greatest embodiment of that is the unorganized borough. I really think the unorganized borough is The Last Frontier.
What would the people who choose to live in The Last Frontier — or unorganized borough — be like? And it’s not uncommon; we all know them, or we’ve been them, or we may want to do it again.
They’re self-sufficient; they’re self-reliant individuals.
They’re people who pride themselves in doing without; they have almost no goods and services coming from the state. Anyway, I would say these independent, self-reliant, hard-working folks of pioneer natures are under-appreciated.
And there’s another thought that comes to mind: They’re thought of and referred to frequently as shirkers of their responsibility to the state because they don’t pay their fair share. And I say balderdash to that, but that’s not exactly the point I’m headed at right now.
Why should the rest of us in the state care if the unorganized borough is protected and that a piece of it still remains?
And it’s going back to my first point: We’re not going to keep dividing up the unorganized borough — what I call The Last Frontier — until there is none of that spirit of freedom left.
That simple life that Walden talks about, we all know exactly what it is in our hearts. And if we go about dividing up the unorganized borough until none of it exists anymore, we will have killed its spirit, and I would say we need to not do that.
And you, as Commissioners, have got an incredible opportunity, in this petition and in others going forward, not to just organize — which is great — but to also protect and preserve that spirit. It’s really important.
And I do not believe we should divide up the unorganized borough and force it to have highly structured systems that they don’t need and don’t want in remote and rural places; we need to keep that spirit of freedom alive.
One of the ways that I continue to hear the unorganized borough referred to is with a little u, a lowercase “u”; it’s almost used like a pejorative. And I’m tired of it, because the people who live out there really are defending our spirit, and our pioneer status, it needs to be protected.
My last comment on this first half of my opening statement is, what you are hearing, I declare, when you hear people say to you in all their petitions, “Don’t make us do this, don’t make us join this borough, don’t force us to do this.”
When these people are speaking to you, what you are actually hearing is the spirit of The Last Frontier, and it is crying out to you for protection and preservation.
And every single petition that includes forcing a little town or village into — through annexation or any other formation — against their will, that’s what you’re hearing, and I would ask you to try and remember that in your heart, and take it into account in every single petition that comes before you, because you know what that Last Frontier spirit is as good as I do. And I would like to see you also try and help protect it for the future and not completely wipe it out.
These are still, small voices that you hear. Sometimes they’re loud. Sometimes they’re coordinated well, and that’s great. But many times they’re not, and many of them will never speak up at all; they just go quietly away and are never heard.
But this is the spirit of The Last Frontier that we’re talking about, at least in Meyers Chuck, and in Hyder, which I believe is being constructed and annexed today. And in my closing comments, I will talk a little more pointedly about two other issues, and that’s all I have.
The debate about borough formation is beginning to remind me a little about the conversations about statehood during the 1950s. Desire for local sovereignty and preservation for a unique Alaskan way of life is still at the top of everyone’s list – but it seems like there has been some shift in how that gets expressed.
I was disappointed at the meeting last night that the POWCAC chairman refused to hear public comment. He said it wasn’t part of the formal process (which is sortof ironic considering that many people who wanted to speak were going to rail against extra layers of government, but I digress). I was looking forward to the opportunity to hear from local residents about how they see their life on the island — and how they envision it’s future. I know there were also supporters of borough formation in the audience and it would have been great to hear the dialogue between the two perspectives — and not leave it up to the comment boxes on Facebook for conversation about a topic that could have a major impact on the lives of all the residents here.
There were over a 100 people in the audience! Many of them wanted to speak. Representative Kreiss-Tomkins was there… lots of public officials were there… and all those Prince of Wales residents were there! What a disappointment not to allow for public comment. It was clear there was a diversity of opinions there — from people who may have been pro-borough formation to ardent protestors. Unlike most people in the room, I actually don’t have an opinion about the topic.