Engineers Gather At AFN To Work On Rural Challenges

A group of engineers and technically talented volunteers from San Francisco will be at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention this week to help work on rural Alaska challenges. The organization ReAllocate is looking for partners in Alaska for a program called StartUP Country.

The organizers want to facilitate creation of culturally relevant innovations to spur economic development for villages.

One of the Alaskans working with ReAllocate is David Karabelnikoff, an Aleut engineer who studied energy systems at the school of renewable energy sciences. A project he’d like to see launched with ReAllocate’s help is a plan to digitize building a traditional badarka or kayak. He says traditionally, survival for Aleuts and other sea going Alaska Native people was dependent on the kayak.

“How did we survive up here in these conditions? It was all built around the kayak and that technological development. Why aren’t we embracing that? Why is it on the wall? You see kayaks hanging places, but where are they floating at?,” Karabelnikoff said.

He says being able to customize Kayaks on a larger scale could become a thriving business for Alaska.

Karabelnikoff says Alaskans need to reconnect with the idea of being self sufficient, frugal and working to solve their own problems.

“And I think that those things are ultimately empowering to the community when you have local stakeholder input into the decision making process, rather than having big capital projects that are funded from far-away places. These challenges ultimately, I kind of wrap it up in terms of saving ourselves,” Karabelnikoff said.

And that, Karabelnikoff says, is where the team from ReAllocate comes in – helping remote and often impoverished communities across the planet in finding their own answers to local problems, whether that is high energy costs, access to clean water, or building local economies.

“The idea is that people have talents and a gift and their ability to give that in meaningful ways is really the core of what makes us able to partner and makes the work that I’m doing and a non-profit that’s based in San Francisco, where there’s possibility for collaboration. And they’ve figured out a way of really simply having somebody contribute three hours a week as a volunteer to give their skills and make a positive impact on the world,” Karabelnikoff said.

Karabelnikoff says he’d like to see a time when kayak paddlers can be professional competitors and paddling races could be large annual events like the Iditarod is today. The ReAllocate team will be listening to idea pitches at their first StartUP Country Alaska gathering during the Elders and Youth conference that began today.

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Lori Townsend is the news director and senior host for Alaska Public Media. You can send her program ideas for Talk of Alaska and Alaska Insight at or call 907-350-2058.

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