Opinion: Alaska Natives must face their demons

"For most of us who have spent any time living in Native villages in Alaska, the survey done by the First Alaskans Institute and recently discussed at AFN offered few surprises.

Perhaps most eye-opening was the finding that "young Native men saw substance abuse as less of a problem than did Natives as a whole, and Native women saw domestic abuse as more of a problem than Native men did."

Well, in a perverse way, that makes sense. Getting drunk is often not a problem for the drinker. But it is a problem if you are a Native woman and on the receiving end of the domestic violence that frequently follows. Men aren't the ones who wake up with a black eye or fat lip.

Native or not, getting drunk, beating up the wife and then waking up in the morning to start all over again is pretty much a workable system so long as the law doesn't get involved. The wife or girlfriend beaten up usually forgives them because they are so darn sorry and the status quo is maintained. No problem for the drinker there except for maybe a hangover. In Native villages, the law is often quite far away and the abused woman doesn't have many options.

I'm glad to see the information in this survey being made public and getting discussed at AFN. Because there is a definite void in the leadership of Alaska's Native groups when it comes to confronting the twin demons of substance abuse and domestic violence. While the nonprofits try to find creative ways to get a handle on problems that are more threatening to the future of Alaska's Native cultures than any development or out-migration from the villages will ever be, the for-profit corporations and political leadership have rarely taken a firm stand on the issue.

The reality is that if the problems of drinking and violence aren't honestly acknowledged and dealt with, then the future of Native cultures is even dimmer than the dimmest forecast. And if we lose them, we will lose a unique and irreplaceable part of Alaska, a loss so large as to not be calculable."

Get the Story:
Elise Patkotak: Natives must face their twin demons (The Anchorage Daily News 10/31)

Relevant Links:
Alaska Federation of Natives - http://www.nativefederation.org

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