Elise Patkotak: The booze wars in Native villages
"Are you like me? Do you feel that trying to follow the booze wars in Bush Alaska is like trying to watch Australian rules football -- it looks like something you should be able to understand; yet you can't quite figure out what the heck is happening. And just in case you weren't confused before, you have the spectacle in Bethel of the same group that pushed a vote for going wet now opposing anyone actually getting a liquor license.

Villages can vote to have their communities exist in one of three states: wet, which means anything goes from liquor stores to bars; damp, which means you can possess and drink liquor in the community but not buy or sell it there; dry, which means no liquor, nohow, no time, nowhere. The fact that decades after these options were put in place there is not a village in Bush Alaska that doesn't have significant drinking problems says a lot about the intractability of addiction.

I lived in Barrow for 27 years. During that time I watched the village go from wet to dry to damp with sometimes dizzying frequency. In the early '70s, the city opened its own liquor store, figuring if people were going to drink anyway, you should keep the profits local. I still have an old newspaper from those years showing then-City Mayor Jake Adams and Borough Mayor Eben Hopson Sr. cutting the ribbon on the city liquor store with Oliver Leavitt as the honorary first customer.

Things change, life happens and, 20 years later, Jake was president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and firmly behind the sobriety movement that tried to take Barrow dry and led to the 1990s booze wars in Barrow."

Get the Story:
Elise Patkotak: Bush booze: controversy, contradiction (The Anchorage Daily News 10/21)

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