Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966



Soaking in the Takhini Hot Springs pool Saturday, I overheard a conversation between a middle-aged Yank from Ohio and a young Australian traveler.

The Yank was well-traveled and was advising the Aussie on places to see in the United States. Perhaps inevitably, he arrived at his home state and started waxing about the virtues of Ohio, including the beauty of a mowed cornfield in winter, snow covering the stubby stalks.

Catching himself, he stopped and said, “Well, I guess most people like where they’re from.”

His remark set me to thinking about Haines, and the people who live here.

The great majority of our residents, including this writer, are immigrants. We are not from here. And we didn’t particularly like where we were from. Or at least we didn’t like those places enough to stick around. We were dissatisfied, and went looking for someplace else.

On a national scale, that makes us a minority. According to the U.S. Census, most Americans stay in the area they’re from, and when they move more than 500 miles, it’s most likely for a job. According to census figures from 2010, 59 percent of U.S. residents live in the state where they were born. Seventy-four percent of residents in my home state of Pennsylvania were born there.

But Alaska is a state of immigrants – only 39 percent of residents were born here. In Haines, that number shrinks to only 29 percent Alaska-born.

We’re a town full of immigrants. That makes us different from other places.

Immigrants tend to be strong-willed, independent types. They’re not easily satisfied, or they would have stayed put. Immigrants want something different, and they’re typically willing to take risks and endure discomfort to get it. They’re wired differently than their brothers and sisters back home.

If you doubt this, talk to your immigrant neighbors about their last trip Outside. They will tell you about interesting things they did, but they’ll end the conversation with something like, “But we couldn’t live there year-round.”

People say that people in Haines fight a lot. That’s probably true compared to a small town in Pennsylvania, populated by folks who are more accepting of what comes to them.

In important ways, we’re not like those people. That doesn’t necessarily make us any better or worse. But it probably makes us more difficult to govern.

On the whole, we’re not sheep that are easily herded. We may, in fact, be a whole herd of stray sheep. Accepting that about ourselves may be the first step toward becoming a more functional community.

- Tom Morphet


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