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Diana Riedel

Alberta & LaRita's Full Interview

LaRita and Alberta Laktonen

Laktonen Home

Anchorage, Alaska

December 10, 2011

My name is Alberta Laktonen and was born in Kodiak, Alaska, and I grew up for the most part in Larsen Bay, Alaska and now I live in Anchorage. I was born in 1975.

My name is LaRita Laktonen, and I was born in Kodiak. I lived in Larsen Bay until junior high, and I also went to junior high and high school in Kodiak. And I now live in Anchorage, Alaska.  I was born in 1977.

When it happened, I remember it was the first year that we lived in Kodiak actually, we had just moved from Larsen Bay. And so we were in Kodiak. I think, when we first found out about it I was in science class. And I kind of remember hearing the news stories about how the oil was coming closer and closer to Kodiak. And we’re just wondering what’s going to happen, if the oil is going to get to Kodiak or not, and what it meant for our family, if we were going to fish or not.  In later years we did beach seining [fishing] for the most part. In the earlier years we had purse seined, we also did in earlier years king crabbing, we did tanner crabbing, Dungeness crabbing, we fished for herring. We did a lot of different --

Long-line for halibut, and cod.

But yeah, when the oil spill happened we were just doing beach seining. We grew up commercial fishing and subsistence hunting and fishing as well, so we were kind of in limbo a lot listening to the news and things like that as the oil got closer and closer to Kodiak Island. And then, as the oil did hit Kodiak Island and we realized there wasn’t going to be a fishing season that year, my two youngest sisters who would usually go out with us commercial fishing, were sent down to Washington state to spend the summer with our grandparents. And LaRita and I, who are the oldest sisters, spent the summer with our parents as the worked on cleaning up the oil.   It was a couple hours by skiff from Larsen Bay. Oh, what was it called?

Chief Cove.

A couple hours by skiff from where we grew up. And we stayed on a, a covered skiff. Was the Anna a 22 or 24-foot skiff? Pretty small.

Yeah, it was small.

Small skiff with a little cabin that we built on it. And so we would generally stay on it overnight and then often in the morning my parents would go out without us and LaRita and I would stay on the skiff together. And then my parents would come back for lunch and then we’d usually go out in the afternoon. And, LaRita and I couldn’t get paid to clean up the oil because they wouldn’t hire anybody under eighteen, but we’d often help our parents with carrying things up and down the beach and rolling out the garbage bags and things like that for them. Then helping with cooking and cleaning on the boat and things like that.

Yeah, we actually worked a lot. We did, we worked a lot. My most vivid memories, I remember going to the training that was put on for all of the folks that were working to clean the beaches. And they went over different methods, and they went over how to protect yourself from bears, and how to play dead. It was pretty interesting because we’re in junior high, we grew up around the bears all of that for so many years, but there were a lot of people from out of town and out of state working. And I remember the helicopters circle, you knowing circling around quite a bit, checking on progress. And sometimes you could see a real sheen on the water. I remember picking up, actually by Brown’s Lagoon, picking up quite a few dead seagulls and birds.

We always had to keep the dead birds separate from the rest of the oiled beach sand and beach wood and kelp and things like that, because the birds had to be counted separately, identified by species. All the animals had to be separated. So it was always sad to see that.

I was really just like delivering fish, every day.

Yeah, every day we’d bring the garbage bags full of oil, oily debris and dead animals, to the same boat that would be the tender for the fish when we were usually having fishing season. It wasn’t much different. One thing that was different was I think at the end of the day, every day or every few days, our parents had to call in the hours that they worked. That wasn’t usual for fishing, because you don’t have to keep track of your hours. So you were paid hourly, so that was a little bit different.  Since LaRita and I weren’t getting paid we kind of created some games and things to keep ourselves entertained sometimes and we’d write letters to our sisters in Washington, to entertain ourselves and to entertain them sometimes.

We’d make up stories about how much fun we were having. [Laughing.] And how we would spend all day having picnics on the beach. You know, doing this and that, and we would make them really jealous.

I think we were jealous of them because they were spending time with my grandparents and having more fun than us.  One time there was the Fish and Game cabin and the researcher that was staying there was leaving to do some fieldwork and he said we could stay there for a while. So we actually got to stay in the cabin, which was a much nicer place to stay than the little, the covered skiff.  And so we were happy with that, but we wrote this big elaborate letter about how we got to stay in this nice big house, and how there was a track and a swimming pool, and all kinds of stuff. Boy we got our grandparents and our sisters wondering where this place was. (Laughing.)

It was just a, it was a very interesting summer. Got to see a lot of things we didn’t usually see. We spent a lot of time just sitting and hanging out on --

Yeah, on the skiff.

In the boat, yeah. In that little Fish and Game cabin.

Tried to nurse a mouse back to health.

Yeah, caught a little mouse in the woods, thought I was going to make it better. Then it died on me. [Laughing.]

I remember taking a sun-shower and that airplane flew right over us. [Laughing.] That was also the summer that I injured my knee.

Oh, that’s right.  That was serious.

Yeah, I dislocated my kneecap. On the cliff, so I got to take my first helicopter ride. That was one convenient part of the oil spill, was there were helicopters everywhere. There was a helicopter in Larsen Bay so I got to Kodiak pretty easy.

Yeah, but it was really interesting. We met a lot of characters too, a lot of people from all over. People that were there from, you know, with National Geographic. There was news people through the villages that had never been there, you know Fish and Game people, scientists, cruising through on different boats.

Yeah. Our relatives sometimes, were spotting for oil, and we’d be cleaning up the oil, and they would stop by and visit with us, give us some candy or something. And then go on their way.

Definitely interesting.  In a usual year just having the same old boats and crews out in different bays, then having helicopters flying over all the time and so much different traffic in places where no one ever usually went. It was pretty interesting

It was a great experience, but I remember as we cleaned each beach, I mean it was like never ending, and all I thought was, “How is this garbage bag going to actually make a difference?” Because you could pick up rocks on a beach all-day and there would still be oily rocks. And people were like literally wiping big rocky boulders down. And cleaning them off, and you’re thinking, “Is that going to make a difference when it’s so vast?” I mean, it was so huge and you could work all day and you can like pick up and take all the sand off of every beach and there would still be some there.

I guess it was sad in a lot of ways, seeing the people who fished for so many years not being able to do the thing that they were used to. I was really sad to see so many dead animals; that was one of the really sad things for me. And, just not knowing what would happen to the economy as well. Because the economy in the villages is so hard as it is. I mean, we grew up without any money at all, and that summer was okay. We had a little bit of income because of the hourly wages my parents were earning, and so we weren’t too bad off.  We had some reliable income, but just not knowing what would happen for the next year and the year after was a little bit scary too.

I think people are pretty resilient and, you know, you dealt with it just like you dealt with things on a daily basis. Out fishing things would come up that were very stressful with the weather and everything else, and people just kind of got through every day, day-to-day and worked hard. A lot of people worked very hard, cleaning up beaches and seeing how much coastline had changed one year to the next. But, people, you know, dealt with it. They used their positive humor and worked hard. It really was just like just like fishing. You know, you go out and you do your job for the day, and you drop it all off at the tender and they’d bring it to the next place to process. I can’t really think of how much it affected me, after that as far as, you know, things I went through as a teenager.

And it would’ve been nice if we could’ve been working and getting paid for it, rather than just out there helping our parents and not getting paid. It, that would have made a nice difference for us, I think. But, I think we would have had a lot more fun with our grandparents. [Laughing.] One thing is we usually get some money for fishing. And we didn’t get money for fishing that summer.  And, and we couldn’t be hired by –

Yeah we didn’t get paid –

By VECO.

Yeah, we’d always get a crew share so we started off at like a penny a fish when we first started beach seining. And what were getting before the spill? 5%? 2-½ %?   Yeah, and I remember, I was so amazed that summer by the run of fish. And Alberta I don’t know if you remember, but I remember like looking down this cliff and seeing fish. You know, maybe just because there wasn’t the fisheries. They say the run of fish was way bigger than usual and then nobody was fishing them, so it was amazing. You’d see jumper after jumper after jumper. You know, we were looking one day down, straight into the ocean from this cliff and I could just see solid salmon as far as you could see, like just solid salmon in the water, because it was just so clear looking from straight up above. And so that was really amazing to just think there’s this huge run of salmon. And nobody really, nobody really knew how it was going to affect the salmon. You know, nobody knew if it was really safe to eat. Yeah, we ate salmon that summer still, even though we couldn’t fish salmon commercially.   We didn’t eat any, clams. We didn’t really eat anything off the beach that year. You know, we used to clam quite a bit. I don’t really think we ate anything of the beach, right?

No.

We did eat some fish.

Right, very rarely though, but besides that, people don’t clam as much as they used to.  I think after the oil spill and also red tide issues too, the paralytic shellfish poisoning, things like that. It’s hard to say.  We did get back to fishing. I don’t think we ever had very many good years though. And our family doesn’t fish anymore. Our parents divorced and neither of them continued fishing, and none of my sisters fish. And none of us have gone back to live in Larsen Bay, none of us spend summers out there anymore either. And I don’t know that’s related to the oil spill or just lifestyle choices. But we have two sisters in Kodiak and LaRita and I live here in Anchorage now.

Yeah, I know our father definitely blames the oil spill for the changes in the fishing industry: the salmon run, salmon prices, just everything that came after that.   It really made my dad pretty depressed. He’d be on and off in that direction anyways but I think it really made him depressed. He was more affected by the whole global piece of how the oil spill, you know, affected the fisheries and the environment and everyone’s livelihood. So I think that it really affected my dad quite a bit, which of course affected our whole family. And I was pretty young so I didn’t really, I was in junior high and high school, so after that I, probably didn’t connect it as much as I would nowadays. And we didn’t really know the scientific background of how much, you know, it would affect the environment. We were surprised, I was surprised at least, that it actually got to Kodiak. And I was surprised to, you know, sometimes go around in the skiff and go from one beach that had nothing on it and to go around to a point and land on another beach that was just covered. Pretty crazy to see that. But I myself wasn’t really, you know, too much directly affected.

I remember talking about it in science classes and a lot in the community as well.  And bringing up our concerns in classes and things like that, and thinking about the long terms effects of the oil spill. Yeah, I think there was a lot of talk about the oil spill in the following year in Kodiak for sure. Because at that time we still didn’t know how, how it was going to affect the community overall. I think there has been a lot of damage to the community, but overall I think the fishing industry has rebounded better than we would have expected after the first year of the spill.

Yeah, I remember talking about it. I just remember it being on the news constantly. I mean, it was on the news every day so we’d go back into Kodiak because working all summer we didn’t have TV. But you just see it on the news every day and you’d go, “Wow, we were actually part of that. And then you’d see all the stories. Well there’s a lot of information out there, and there’s a lot of people doing research, a lot of news coverage, and you know Alaska Geographic did a whole book really dedicated to the oil spill that’s out there. It was interesting to learn more about it. And I think that’s what’s most surprising, you see all the stories about the inventions with the oil spill. Like we’d have these big things of, these big white pads that would absorb oil and all the garbage bags and the different, they were trying different soaps that would, you know, disperse the oil, and all kinds of different things. You thought about, you know, “Someone is making a ton of money,” because they would just, they would just stock us and stock us with, you know, all these supplies. And so some people that were innovative and trying to get methods for clean up, they really made out. I just really felt that, “All these absorbent pads we have, how is that really going to make a difference?”

And then they just sent them somewhere to get incinerated, all these garbage bags full of beach sand and rocks and things like that. And some of these are areas around old settlements of Alutiiq villages and things like that. We were like, “How many artifacts are in these big garbage bags too?” because you never know. These huge garbage bags going out on these boats and then just going to get incinerated.

After that summer, we only went back a couple more summers. Things were really different. And then, you know the price was so low. The price had dropped down to like thirteen cents a pound, twelve cents a pound, for pinks and with the price being so low and we’d work and work and work, and not make any money. And I don’t know if that was a direct impact of the oil spill, but it happened right after and we ended up just quitting our family business. And so it was directly related our place there where we’d usually fish and where we grew up and where we would go in the summer time. And with that we stopped going back. So yeah, kind of sad.  I definitely miss a lot of things about fishing. It wasn’t for the fishing part it was just being out there on the water and seeing some of the amazing things.

I don’t miss the fishing part. I kind of miss the idea of the growing up in the village. And, you know, I wish we’d have a chance to all go back there together and see it and bring our families back now that we’re grown. And it’s also different now, all the people, so many of the people that we grew up with aren’t there any more. Some of the people have left.  When we grew up there, there were about 200 people in the village and now there’s only about 100. You know, so many people are leaving rural Alaska and moving into the cities and it’s just not how it used to be. I don’t see any of us ever moving back there, but it would be nice to be able to share a part of that with our spouses and the next generation and show them how we grew up and how we lived and where we went to school and things like that, because it is so different from how we live now.

Yeah, I guess [the spill] probably made everybody a little bit more environment-conscious. I mean, every oil spill that I hear about nowadays I really, you know it affects me and I tune into it a lot more. And I know my dad, when he’s heard about oil spills he gets depressed. He gets really stressed out about it even if they’re like thousands of miles away, he gets really, bent out of shape about them.

That’s really true. I mean, I think we have to think about the way we are living and the way we are impacting the earth because the more oil and natural resources that we consume the more the companies are going to be going after them and the more chances of environmental catastrophes happening. So, I think that’s really true. I mean, I’ve made a lot of choices in my life to try to minimize my impact on the environment and either consciously or subconsciously it may be due to the oil spill happening.  

People shouldn’t buy gas from Exxon. [Laughing.]

Don’t drink and drive [Laughing.]

I don’t think anything really could’ve made it any better unless it just didn’t happen. I don’t think, I don’t think anyone really was in need of additional services or counseling services, there were things financially that that probably could’ve done better. And the whole, I mean, people were upset about Joe Hazelwood’s sentence, and people were upset about the settlement and that it went on for twenty years.

And then it took so long for us to get any compensation. You know, I had just finished eighth grade that summer when we were working with our parents on the oil spill, and we didn’t get any money for the oil spill until I was in my residency training as a doctor. So you can see that’s quite a big difference. Quite a few years there. I guess, one lesson is ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ because we always wait for the settlement money and it didn’t come, and it didn’t come, and it didn’t come.  A lot of people counted on that, you know, in the early years. And you just have to be really patient and you know not plan on it. It was nice when we got it, we didn’t get a lot of money. But, I had never planned on spending it on something, so when it came it was a nice little bonus to have. I guess that’s, that’s one kind of lesson from all of this.

And, you know, things like that, yeah probably could’ve been dealt with better, but I can’t think of anything at that point that –

Yeah. When, when we were there at the time, you just had to kind of get through it I guess.

I mean, the Gulf of Mexico spill was so upsetting, so upsetting. And, I can’t really think of anything positive for those people that are right there on the coast that are dealing with it. I can’t.

I guess, just give them hope that things will get better and they’ll recover eventually.

Yeah, and the environment will recover itself, some.

I think the environment does more for itself than we ever can with all the absorbent pads and dispersants and booms and things like that.

Drawings by Kids

 

 

Inspired by drawings created by elementary students in Cordova during the weeks following the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, elementary students throughout the Gulf Coast have created their own drawings about their dreams for healing and recovery in the Gulf, bayous, and beaches.  My sincere gratitude to all who helped to make these drawings happen!

Elementary School Drawings, Lockport, Louisiana

Elementary School Drawings, Larose & Cut Off, Louisiana

Elementary School Drawings, Galliano & Golden Meadow, Louisiana

Drawings done at Celebrate the Gulf in Pass Christian, Mississippi

Laurel Hilts

Laurel Hilts, Seldovia, Alaska, Born 1970

 

That was what was happening for the community of Seldovia, was that anybody and everybody who owned a boat, their boats were being rented for the purpose of the clean-up and then the men were going and working, and women I assume, were going and working.  There was a substantial financial gain for all the people that owned these boats and substantial income for the people who had the opportunity to go and work, but it was mingled with the grief and the sorrow of what they were seeing.

photo courtesy Laurel Hilts

So, no, they didn’t necessarily see a ton of oil come into Seldovia and impact Seldovia, but they were seeing their region devastated.  And then the great frustration that they had in the requirements of the clean-up and the futility of it, where they felt that they were just moving oil from one place to the other.  And they were constrained by the requirements and so the men were really frustrated.  I think that, if you could have taken a common-sense approach where you allowed the local experts, the local people to say, “This is what needs to be done,” I think that maybe the initial clean-ups would have been a little more effective. Not to say that the trauma of it wouldn’t have happened.

I think you can take any situation, the fact that in 1964 our ground dropped 4-6 feet, that changed forever those kids’ thinking about life in Seldovia. So, with each dramatic change you have to make that change in your own thinking, whether or not it’s tangible. 

Laurel's Full Interview

Dallas Folse

Dallas Folse, Cut Off, Louisiana, Born 1999

Please excuse the background noise.  There were multiple interviews taking place in the library at the same time. 

The environment was very affected because we have a lot of sea creatures and a lot of animals that live by the sea, so they were oiled, so if the oil got into their skin or into their lungs then they would immediately die, but some of them were saved by getting oil washed off. 

 

Dallas's Full Interview