Jan 24, 2010
Yesterday a friend, a teacher in Nunam Iqua, posted on Facebook something to the effect of: “We are in lockdown because someone shot someone in the head and we are waiting for the troopers.”
They were having Saturday school and planned to go out on the Yukon to go ice fishing for the day. Instead they were locked in the school – no one allowed in or out. I tried to call my sister-in-law Savanna, assuming that she was probably the health aide on call and I was worried about her. No answer.
I called my brother-in-law who works at the school. I asked him what was going on and he said two guys shot someone. The bullet just grazed the victim’s head and the guy is OK. The AK State Troopers haven’t arrived yet. The school will be in lockdown until they do. He said Savanna is OK.
Today, I got an email from my brother-in-law telling me that they caught the offender after he tried to runaway upriver to Alakanuk. He has also been accused of harassment, contributing to a minor, assault, and rape.
There is no law enforcement in Nunam Iqua or many other villages in bush Alaska. Nunam Iqua does not have a VPSO (Village Public Safety Officer) or a VPO (Village Police Officer) or any type of tribal law enforcement. Our villages must rely on the AK State Troopers to respond to a problem. Often we have to wait for a Trooper to travel to our village.
I believe that the Alaska State Troopers are so understaffed that they won’t respond unless someone is killed or a child is involved. Even if a child is involved usually it’s the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) who arrives on site. Most people don’t bother to call the Troopers because they know nothing will happen.
What can we do to address violence in our bush villages? How can we keep not only our children safe but also our residents? What are the contributing factors that lead to such violence? How do we bring public safety to the forefront of our village issues?
I think are some of the causes of violence and domestic violence in bush Alaska are:
- Simply struggling to survive
- Lack of employment
- Substance Abuse
- Family members abusing each other
- Children seeing their parents or family abusing each other
- Lack of education and retention in school
- Lack of law enforcement. Feeling like there is no one to help if the AK State Troopers don’t respond, with no other law enforcement available? Who is going to help? How can we stay safe?
Let’s say that I am a VPSO in the village. I get a call that a man is beating up his girlfriend. I respond. It’s my cousin, who is drinking and they got in an argument about how they are running out of money and don’t know how they are going to feed their 4 small children. She begs me not to take her boyfriend in. He has to go to work tomorrow, they can’t afford child care for her to work so if I take him in they will lose their only source of income. The boyfriend is sincerely apologetic and swears that he won’t do it again and wants to go sleep it off at his mom’s house.
Would you haul the boyfriend in? Let’s add to our scenario that the boyfriend is also the son of the Tribal President….my pretend boss! Now do I not only put this family’s financial well being in jeopardy but also risk bringing the wrath of the Tribal President down on my head to keep this family safe? My cousin says she won’t press charges. What do I do?
Here’s another complication: being a VPSO also makes me a mandated reporter. Are the kids safe if mom and dad are fighting and dad is drinking? No so now I have to call in OCS. This could easily result in their children being removed. If I call OCS right then they might advice me to immediately remove the children…now I have to find a family member or emergency foster home for them until OCS can fly in. Let’s say it’s 2 a.m. now I am calling half the village trying to find someone to take these children for the night. I have to find a guard to go to the jail and watch the boyfriend. If you decide to just give boyfriend a warning what will that lead to? Next time will he beat not only her but also the children?
These are just a few of the challenges that we face in bush villages. It’s no wonder why it’s so hard to find people to be VPSO’s and VPO’s.
What is the solution?