Life in the Bush A New Topic: Violence


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?

Other complications.

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?

24 Responses to “Life in the Bush A New Topic: Violence”

  1. Martha Says:

    As to your “pretend” story……very realistic it seems to me.
    This scenario is probably all too common and I feel very badly for all those involved.
    What all of us know for sure is that if a person is beating their spouse (women beat men too) or their children………”promising” not to “do it again” is……well…………exactly what abusers do. The “hook” that keeps the abused from leaving. We all know that they never keep that promise. What happens is that it only gets worse until someone IS killed.
    We all know too that police are faced with these dilemmas every day. The abused refuses to press charges out of fear. Fear of being beaten worse at a later date, fear of loss of livelihood, fear that the abuser will kidnap the children etc. That’s why there are women’s shelters.
    But not in the bush I know. Still….the NEXT call WILL be more serious. It ALWAYS is. The abuse might escalate to include the children or murder of the spouse. The children ARE abused when one of their parents beats the other and they are witness to this. Wether they are drunk/high , depressed , mentally unstable etc. is BESIDE the point. Abuse is abuse. There are those who perpetrate it and those who allow it to happen, BOTH are abusers. The longer the children live with this the MORE LIKELY THEY ARE TO GROW UP TO BE ABUSERS THEMSELVES.
    The only way to stop the circle of abuse is to remove the children. Neither parent has the skills to BE a parent when : a: they are an abuser b: they stay even when they are being abused.
    That doesn’t mean that with counseling and time that they cannot resume their parental privileges. Quite likely next call will involve a weapon, so as a VSPO you might be shot or stabbed yourself. Better to wake someone up at 2 a.m. to care for children and guard the jail, better to have someone lose a job than to risk a child or another adult being killed.
    You said it yourself: This also happens to be a man who has been causing all sorts of problems recently ranging from harassment to contributing to a minor to assault and rape of a woman to now I am assuming attempted murder.
    If you do NOT remove the children and restrain the abuser after you are called in… are JUST as guilty as they are for allowing it to continue. In doing nothing ….YOU become an abuser too. Part of the vicious cycle. Communication and education are key to almost every circumstance. Children need to be taught in school that DV is not OK, not their fault and what/ where they can go for help. Just like child molestation. In BC that starts in 3rd grade.
    ALL of the following is true………but INEXCUSABLE:
    Where to start? How about simply struggling to survive? Lack of employment? Substance Abuse? When it comes to DV is it being passed down from one generation to the next in a vicious circle? Do children see their parents abusing each other and assume it’s ok and thus continue the same conduct when they grow up? Is it lack of education and retention in our schools? Lack of law enforcement. What about simply feeling like there is no one to help them if they can’t get the AK State Troopers to respond and there is no other law enforcement available?
    It must stop somewhere. NO peoples can/should live in a lawless society.
    Just as every small town policeman/women faces these scenarios every day, so will a VPSO or VPO. They are trained in DV and when the abused refuse to press charges……..they are obligated to and to remove the children. And yes, some policemen/women are abusers too.
    And yes, sometimes they are called to their bosses home or relative of their boss or even a fellow officer’s home. There are policies in place and training for those circumstances too. It seems that your VPO’s/VSPO’s have no formal training or guidelines to rely on.
    There IS no tribal leadership when the villagers live in this state of anarchy.
    You ask:
    What can we do to address violence in our bush villages? How can we keep not only our children safe but also our residents? How do we bring public safety to the forefront of our village issues? Etc.
    You cannot do ANY of these things without a police presence and leadership. If you cannot rely on state troopers, then someone needs to be a VPO. That “someone” cannot fulfill that role without training and policies to support them. Stopping/ not tolerating the violence comes first. Preventing and working on the causes, second and this part can involve many villages as they all have the same problems.
    If you want to think of anarchy……..think of Somalia. Who would choose to live there? How will you keep your young people living in the villages if this continues? Anarchist states always fail.
    Leadership comes first and you can build on that.
    Any group of people would be subject to what your villages are without leadership and law enforcement. It happens all over the world.
    As I said in the beginning I feel badly for all those involved and I can understand how various events and circumstances can evolve into DV.
    Never make the mistake of recognizing problems turn into excusing them. Everyone deserves a second chance too…..only AFTER they prove themselves sincere and capable.
    The definition of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect a different result.
    So really………it IS crazy to leave an abuser in their same circumstance and expect them to behave differently. To expect them to never drink, do drugs, beat their spouse or children without VOLUNTARY treatment .
    Enforced treatment rarely, if ever works.

  2. alaskapi Says:

    My turn: Alaska must find creative solutions to domestic abuseBy Paul Mccarthy | Juneau Empire

    “Be open to fresh ideas. Part of the problem is old thinking that inhibits innovation. There are ways to increase safety and accountability not done in Alaska.

    Explanations of domestic violence need to be more complex. There is not just one single, simple explanation for men’s violence toward women, such as power and control, or just one solution. Each perpetrator is individually accountable. But abuse has many aspects. Crimes involving intimate partner or family violence may include substance abuse, mental illness, character defects, moral failings and gender role entitlement, among others.

    Relevant ethnic and cultural aspects to these problems need to be emphasized. While domestic violence is done within all ethnic groups, Alaska Natives are at greater risk for violence and abuse. This is an unfortunate legacy of massive cultural upheaval. There is evidence that violence and abuse have escalated greatly in the last 150 years among Alaska Natives. Researchers have traced this elevated prevalence directly to colonization of Alaska. Historical trauma and related intergenerational abuse is considered to be a clear risk factor for violence among Alaska Natives.

    Extensive community involvement is central to tackling this problem. In public health circles it is understood that, “If the problems are in the community, the solutions are in the community” (G.H. Friedell). To be sustainable, communities must own the problems, and take responsibility for solutions, using both traditional and mainstream assets. This initiative doesn’t emphasize community enough. It is absolutely key. “

  3. Country Girl Says:


    Thanks so much for keeping us in the loop regarding these serious problems. At least then you can know that you few are not alone, and that you are circled by many many prayers from all around the world. Look at the Mudflats map and think of all those ‘balloons’ as prayers.

    As bad as hunger and cold are, we can at least feel that we are helping you (plural) by sending food or money or adopting a family. We receive so much from you in so many ways and the exchange is mutual.

    Environmental programming that has gone on for generations is not an easy thing to change. Money and fuel won’t do it. As we all know, some politicians want to help and some don’t. So, I suppose, in the long run, one solution is to find a way to gather forces and vote in political leaders who will see that there are funds and manpower to provide police and other civic improvements. In that sense, you are already doing the tremendous job of making us aware so that energy for these changes can begin to gather.

    I am thinking on this and will write again.

  4. alaskapi Says:

    When culture is strong DV tends to be minimal, even in cultures which do not see women as equals. In America , DV is common in all poor rural areas AND poor urban areas… and it usually increases when economic stresses multiply.
    One of the largest problems with addressing it here is recognizing the full humanity of Alaska Natives in the face of cultural breakdown. Some notion that so-called minorities are less than human persists in conversation and action about this ( and while we are noting male on female violence, vice versa IS common) here and in other communities across America .
    It is a fully human fault to tear and lash out at those around you when boundaries are in flux. The cultural boundaries Alaska Natives in the bush live with are in enormous flux- it is a time of change. Human identity, in a group and individually , across cultural differences , relies on positive ( not necessarily progressive ) values and boundaries for health and strength. In times of change , necessary or imposed by circumstances, negative identities are often internalized by the affected group . At whatever level some natives are battling for dignity, parity, and cultural acceptance many more are living negative identities – as victims, whatever… they live as refugees in their own homes.
    The boundaries a village leader would have had to abide by in relation to his relatives harming others in the old culture have largely fallen. A leader who did not negotiate recompense between parties would have been run off in the culture of my ancestors…
    The function of elders in education and oversight of values has become a ghost of what it once was and nothing meaningful has yet replaced it…
    On and on…
    Whatever people in the bush decide to pick up and carry forward of the old cultures, this current battle of how to meet change has to be faced square on for it to be meaningful. This is the hardest chore humans ever take on and mostly they don’t manage to do it purposefully.
    I am hoping the idea of a strong, healthy future for our children and grandchildren will knit people together in work which will make the idea a reality.

  5. CRABLEWI Says:

    Thank You for helping make Our world a better place. After spending years in a dangerous household, I don’t reccomend violence for any purpose other than self-defense, or in defense of another. My Dad taught us that their are two teachers in life, Love and pain, and pain is a faster way of teaching. But what I learned is that pain sucks, and the one dealing it out is put in doubt over their real intentions. After being told that My birth was the worst thing that had ever happened to My Father, the doubt over the “Teaching” only increased. It was scary as a child, and I felt safer to not be around my Father, and moved into the banya out back at about 12 yrs. old. I would get food at my Fathers house and then run “home”. I felt safest to keep a distance between Me and Dad. I’m not talking about spankings. Example of fear I was raised under; We went to a mink farm to buy some mink. When the door opened, a man with a full beard and a large scar across his neck stood there. My Dad says “Oh sorry, wrong house.” and we left. I asked what was up. Dad says casually “Oh, I cut that guys thoat back in the day…” I’m talking real fear installed in a child. My Father recently narrowly escaped a life sentance for whacking a guy upside the head with a machete. I DO NOT reccomend this as a way to teach children. It has taken Me years to undo the damage. But I learned,.. I learned I did not want to be like my Father, and violence should NOT be the first choice in the tools to deal with frustration. I believe most of the violence stems from a self-appointed role to control others. I know as adults in a free society, we DO NOT have the RIGHT to forcefully impose our will on another adult. We ONLY have the Right to CONTROL OURSELVES!! And Our children,.. Carefully. So many adults try to control their community, when they cannot control themselves. We ALL need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are Helping or hurting Our children, neighbors, and community. We ALL need to practice self-control, before we attempt to control others. And WE need to remember that as adults in a free society, OUR RIGHTS DO NOT outweigh the rights of others. Everybody has a different idea of how the world should be. When WE ALL use violence to shape it, WE have war. I do not reccomend war, no matter the size. Global or personal. Too much collaterall damage, such as innocent victims and children. I know children ARE the FUTURE, and will be ruling us someday. I don’t want them using violence as a first resort when we have a difference of opinion. Parents,.. Teach your children well, Don’t give them hell,.. Show them HOW to be GOOD. We will ALL have to LIVE with them in the future… SOLUTIONS??… Feed the Babies,.. who don’t have enough to eat,.. Shoe the Children,.. with no shoes on their feet,.. House the People,.. Living in the street,.. Oh, Ohh,.. Theres a Solution. DO NOT TEACH VIOLENCE!! Teach PEACE, UNITY, and CIVIL RESPONSIBILITY. Or my Father may teach YOU and YOUR CHILDREN a severe lesson in what NOT TO DO!! Can’t WE ALL just get along?? I do Love my Dad however, and wish Him the BEST. Please PRAY for My Father, his neighbors (US) will be Safer if He changes. Or keep your distance, and watch what You say around Him. -PEACE-

  6. secret TalkerΔ Says:

    Thanks Martha for laying out for us a traditional psychological theoretical approach about abusive behavior.
    Alaska Pi makes several pertinent remarks regarding the problem of domestic violence in rural Alaska that stick in my mind. Firstly, the strong, traditional functional culture of the bush did not foster and promote domestic violence.Secondly,assimilation and dilution of the old ways weakened and changed bush society so that it seems to have become dysfunctional.Thirdly,the deragatory or predjudiced view of the people who live in the bush that is held by others can translate into negative self regard or intolerable self -hatred that is projected out and onto others.
    We cannot go backwards in time . The influences of our times and its culture cannot be ignored.As progressive thinkers we can dialogue here and elsewhere to elaborate on the problems and work to light up the darkness.
    Thanks Crab lewi, by sharing your personal experience.It helps me to understand the issue in a real way. Ann S. thanks for this important and graphic post .

  7. Jim Says:

    What do you think about Governor Parnell’s rural law enforcement proposals in his State of the State address? Would his proposed changes affect Nunam Iqua?

  8. Akinok Says:

    There was a book written by Harold Napoleon of Hooper Bay AK about our problems with alcohol, domestic violence, etc called Yuuraraq The Way of the Human Being. I have not read it yet, but based on the reviews has a very interesting take on the problems we face today.

  9. secret TalkerΔ Says:

    Yuuraraq The Way of the Human Being -I looked the book up and it looks to be a worthwhile read and a learning experience. Thanks for the recommendation, Akinok.

  10. alaskapi Says:

    Look at this …

    Click to access Yuuyaraq.pdf

    It is a stunning book…

  11. Man_from_Unk Says:

    We can stop the violence by teaching our children what civil means. Teach them limits. Teach them self-control. Teach them compassion for other humans. Teach them that the world is not NICE to people who are not NICE to others. Teach them to love themselves because they cannot start loving others before they learn to love themselves. Give kids a heart and we’ll see the violence leave. Give kids a heart and we’ll see the violence leave.

  12. Man_from_Unk Says:

    Look into the history of the author of Yuurarak and see if he is a good teacher. He was given a break because he is Native. Then ask yourself, is that FAIR? Look at what other Americans have had to face up too and ask yourself is that FAIR? Laws should be applied equally to all who are obligated to follow them otherwise we live in a tainted world. Otherwise we live in a tainted world. If Harold truely lived by the book, then he wouldn’t have done what he did. Don’t make a martyr out of a criminal please.

  13. Man_from_Unk Says:

    It’s not the break-down of culture that invites violence to the home. It’s the lack of connecting to the value of another life. It’s about being so selfish that it’s nothing to strike out to hurt someone else. Violence is sick therefore it’s a sickness of selfishness. Dominance over others no matter the cost. It’s not the break-down of culture. Violence has been around for thousands of years in all of the cultures in the world. It’s not new. Selfishness and the inability to give other’s worth equal to oneself. That’s the cause of VIOLENCE.

  14. Man_from_Unk Says:

    Hey CRABLEWI I’ve missed you. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you are doing well. I’m blogging away and hoping that my words enlighten others. ADN sucks now.

  15. Man_from_Unk Says:

    Ok now, lets think about what these villages or groups were like before law enforcement, the outside version, came. Stories say that the peaceful had a conference and the violent one was booted out of camp. Kicked out of town, with a warning never to come back. Now it’s called “red ticket”. Yes, people tend to protect their own. That’s in history. So the violence goes on and on and on because the perpetrators are from a powerful family. Who’s problem is it then? It’s the people’s problem and if they don’t deal with it, it continues. That’s the cycle. If you don’t deal with it, it continues. I don’t know how much more simple I can make it. Violence is distructive. Who in their right mind would ignore it and not try to stop it I ask? People who love themselves more than others. People who abuse their position in the society, they use violence and bullying to keep their power. People who don’t give a rat’s behind about others. That’s the cycle. Live it or break away. It’s a choice. Live it or break away by standing up against wrong.

  16. Man_from_Unk Says:

    Thank you Ann for “opening up this can of worms”. I grew up in a harsh and violent environment. I wasn’t abused or neglected. I was spanked and corrected with logical reasoning and genuine compassion for being “good”. I was taught to work and help whenever I can. I was taught to take turns helping out because that’s what everybody in the family was expected to do. I was taught to help those who needed help, like the elders of the community. I was taught to be fair and kind when I interacted with people. Yes, I witnessed violence and abuse. I was hit in anger and ugly words were thrown at me many times. I was no saint until either until I decided that anger and hurt didn’t feel “good”. I chose not to be like that. I worked hard not to be like that. It’s a choice. It takes strength and pride in yourself to be “good”. It’s not that easy, but it’s a choice and it’s a peaceful one.

  17. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    Oh but I do feel it can be very much the problem of a culturally torn people because the traditions of the past have lost their context.

    And I agree that violence such as this is also learned, emulated and passed down if not stopped. Bullying has immediate results while learning and practicing empathy and compassion for fellow humans takes time. Kids see this, esp. when very young. Kids are survivors.

    And sadly, there is substance abuse which is so often the underlying catalyst to violence. I do believe that substance abuse becomes an illness but does not start as one (which makes it appear and feel inevitable).

    Without consequences and behavioral enforcement, there is little chance of healing and learning new ways. Yet in small villages that do have an officer, I have learned from rural AK friends that the pressure on the person practicing law enforcement can be enormous, and repelling. Many leave or quit. Somehow I wish there were a system, not just a person.

    The community, the village, the tribe used to be the system.

    OK, I said a bunch but didn’t come up with any answers dammit. I didn’t do that to hear myself think, but to agree with all of you in many ways and to thank you for your thoughts and ideas.

  18. secret TalkerΔ Says:

    I think that law enforcement works on a person by person basis..each single violation is dealt with as good as possible. Education can effect big change in a whole group or a generation. We need law enforcement for the bad apples and education for improvement of all.

    A problem is how to teach good values and a community enhancing lifestyle.Traditional yup ik values are admireable and could be the basis for renewal of communal pride,sharing,motivation for growth.

  19. secret TalkerΔ Says:

    Show Respect to Others – Each Person Has a Special Gift
    Share what you have – Giving Makes You Richer
    Know Who You Are – You Are a Reflection on Your Family
    Accept What Life Brings – You Cannot Control Many Things
    Have Patience – Some Things Cannot Be Rushed
    Live Carefully – What You Do Will Come Back to You
    Take Care of Others – You Cannot Live without Them
    Honor Your Elders – They Show You the Way in Life
    Pray for Guidance – Many Things Are Not Known
    See Connections – All Things Are Related

  20. secret TalkerΔ Says:

    The above is part of a school curriculum. These types of programs could be enlarged and improved.There can be “learning for adults too.Some will be hungry for it,and make many life changes, as I have seen in my own community.

  21. elsie09 Says:

    What if there were an incredibly comprehensive manual on the subject of domestic violence that was carefully written from a Native American perspective?

    “Mending the Sacred Hoop” at has done just that. MSH-TA is “a Native American program that provides training and technical assistance to our American Indian and Alaskan Native relations in the effort to eliminate violence in the lives of women and their children” and “to improve the justice system, law enforcement, and service provider response to the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in Native communities…”

    MSH-TA has published 168 pages of detailed and historical information titled “Addressing Domestic Violence in Indian Country: Introductory Manual” found at

    Some of the chapter headings in the manual include:
    • “Historical Overview of Violence against Native Women” which includes “The Evolution of Domestic Violence and Reform Efforts Across Indian Country” and “Tracing the Path of Violence: The Boarding School Experience”
    • “A Framework for Understanding” which includes “The Face of Violence”, “What Are We Talking About? Defining Domestic Violence”
    • “Advocacy for Native American & Alaskan Native Women” which discusses “Sovereignty: A Basic Right”, “The Advocate’s Role: The Dos and Don’ts of Advocacy”, “The Role of an Advocate”, “Stalking”, “Facts about Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence”
    • “Native Men Who Use Violence”
    • “Domestic Violence and Children”
    • “Organizing in Tribal Communities”

    “To successfully address violence against women we must also understand other forms of oppression. In addition to violence against women, the oppression of people of color, the poor, those of alternative sexual orientation, the elderly, children, non-Christians and others who are marginalized is supported by the same dynamics that maintain the power of a limited few over the majority. Ultimately, working to end violence against Native women is also working to end all forms of oppression.”

    In the ongoing dialogue within, and about, rural communities dealing with issues of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assaults, this “manual” might be worth taking a look at.

  22. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    Elsie, that is amazing that you found that document – GOOD WORK! We need to review this behind the scenes. We might be able to do a comprehensive post on the information.

  23. alaskapi Says:

    Some rural communities are working hard to deal with issues surrounding DV as well as the community response to reported cases.

    Hoonah Police Department hosts training session on domestic violence
    Juneau Empire

  24. Man_from_Unk Says:

    I’ve heard some ‘horror’ stories in my lifetime and I’ve done my share of helping victims become part of the greater community again. What blows me away is that we know who the Abusers are, yet we do nothing, we look the other way, we pretend it’s not happening. Communities will heal if people start challenging the wrong doing within their own family units. Outside forces only widen the gap and cause hard feelings thus the abuse continues and is passed onto the younger generation. Yeah, we could bring in all kinds of outsiders to help but it’ll be like talking to the wind. Healing comes from within, families have to force the change otherwise otherwise lose the right to own weapons and gone will be the hunting and subsistence tradition. That’s too much to lose over the inability to control ones emotions especially that of anger and jealousy.

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