Anchorage sees 30 percent jump in Native population

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Maggie Irrigoo made the move from Nome to Anchorage seven years ago, following her children who came to the state's largest city for work.

Though Irrigoo, 62, misses friends in Nome and believes Anchorage has too many people, the high cost of living in rural Alaska would make it difficult to return to her home of 30 years.

''It's cheaper to live here, so expensive in Nome,'' said Irrigoo, a Yupik Native. ''Groceries, heating oil -- too expensive.''

Irrigoo was part of a wave of Alaska Natives who moved from rural towns and villages to Anchorage in the 1990s. They came in search of jobs, educational opportunities, a lower cost of living and to be closer to family members who made the move before them.

The number of Alaska Natives living in Anchorage and its suburbs surged during the past decade, according to census figures.

In the Anchorage Borough, the Native population jumped 30 percent to 18,941, while Anchorage's population overall rose 15 percent.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough population grew by 49 percent overall, while the number of Natives living in the borough jumped 68 percent to 3,264. The Kenai Peninsula, which saw its overall population grow 22 percent, saw a 26 percent increase in its Native population.

Overall, the number of Alaskans identifying themselves as Alaska Native or American Indian increased 14 percent to 98,043.

Native groups in Anchorage say the Census Bureau's estimate may be too low. Cook Inlet Tribal Council, a nonprofit organization serving Alaska Natives in the Anchorage area, estimates the number at between 20,000 and 24,000.

''We have really noticed the increase in Alaska Natives who are moving from rural Alaska to Anchorage,'' said Gloria O'Neill, president and chief executive officer of the tribal council. ''There's a lack of work in rural Alaska. That's a driving factor in in-migration.''

O'Neill said those making the move to urban Alaska come from various parts of the state.

''When the fishing industry started going sour a couple of years ago, we saw an increase from the Southwest. I think it depends on what's happening in the state at the time,'' O'Neill said.

The tribal council has seen a big increase in demand for its services, which include child care assistance, adult training and help for those making the transition from welfare to work. The organization has grown to meet those needs, with a budget of $23 million today from $6.5 million just five years ago.

Other urban areas in Alaska saw smaller increases in the Native population. Ketchikan saw an 11 percent increase to 1,898; Fairbanks had a 3 percent rise to 5,714 and Juneau had a 1 percent rise to 3,496. Kodiak saw a 4 percent drop in the number of Natives living there to 2,028.

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