Why do we do this?


Apr 12, 2010

We learned much about life in Nunam Iqua last winter during the fuel/food crisis. Here’s a look at a side of the village that is not pretty but only by discussing solutions will life in bush Alaska ever change.

Alaska Pi addressed it thoughtfully at piinthesky.wordpress.com. Her post is reprinted here with permission.


An important story hit the news this week, first in the Tundra Drums, then in the rural blog at the ADN.

Staff quits Nunam clinic; officials scramble to find solution


The employees at a Southwest Alaska village clinic are quitting, citing a lack of local police that makes their job potentially dangerous and exposes them to harassment from fellow villagers.


The Juneau Empire and Associated Press have picked it up.

Information about what is going on in the bush is sparse and often lacking context. This story , as reported in both original venues, is more well rounded and in context than is the norm.

The comments on the ADN story took the usual turn … right away.

Important facts and issues in the story took an immediate backseat or were forgotten in the stampede to spout off about village life, Alaska Natives, Native corporations, big and samll…

Aside from the lack of knowledge displayed by so many commenting there ( yikes- those folks are my neighbors too !) the utter disregard for the issues facing Nunam Iqua, the health clinic there, the VPSO program as it really works was astounding.

The articles , right away,  set me to thinking about my community and what we do and what we expect :

In my community first responders, EMTs, are accompanied/met by police officers who secure unsafe  situations so that medical folks can do their job.

In my community bullies and ne’er-do-wells are brought to task when they try to shove others around…

In my community harassing health care workers would bring the whole town down around the ears of the harasser(s)…

Nunam Iqua has a long way to go to come together as a community,  picking up and making it’s way into the future, but simplistic responses to these troubles won’t get them there…

Not within Nunam nor without…

Nor will ignoring the problems there , willfully or by default,  advance Alaska as a larger community.

Not within Nunam nor without…

Far too often villages stay quiet about problems  simply because of all the horsepunky which crops up immediately like the move-who-cares-you-all-drink- gobbbeldy gook  spouted off at the ADN.

If we are going to get real about solving domestic violence and related unacceptable behavior , we are going to have to get real about our attitudes…

All of us…

While solutions must start in the community, it must gain the  will to face it’s own problems, they must be solidified by the larger community with  the kind of framework and infrastructure  which supports the rest of us in our quests for safe communities.

So, why do we do we always seem to derail off into the ozone  when stories like this appear?

To the point of forgetting what the point even is…?

Why do we do this?


7 Responses to “Why do we do this?”

  1. Jim Says:

    I won’t even read the comments over at ADN. Can’t stomach them.

    As a white guy, it is my understanding that historically elders did the job and kept their communities under control.

    There may be things our State government could do to help, like public safety personnel, but apparently our rural subcabinet hasn’t been very helpful. Parnell developed a proposal to throw a few people at this (very few), but how has the State addressed Nunam Iqua? Did they? Apparently not.

    Anyone else out there? Please step up.

  2. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    Thanks Jim – I’m right there with you on the ADN comments. I think there are quite a few bitter regulars who just bash anyone who is not like them, or doesn’t live where they do. I gave up on the ADN during the national election when the vitriol & stupidity was at its height.

    I have been thinking about this a lot and trying to compare it to what we learned about Nunam’s Tribal government. I have a feeling that the Tribal Council is inactive, petrified or corrupt. Nunam is so completely isolated, though located in an incredible place at the confluence of the Yukon and the Bering Sea which has served the village with abundant resources for a long time. Until the way to make a life in the Bush changed.

    The more remote & small the village, the more it seems a hardship to make the adjustment to a (at least partially) cash economy which is becoming more necessary for supplies, food and fuel. Even if these villages could provide for themselves with subsistence and a bartering system for supplies – fuel must be purchased with cold, hard cash (among other necessities). This is a huge leap for a village. The elders must be helped to understand this by younger villagers who can speak their native languages and also communicate with the outside world.

    It’s a huge task for a small community / village with no guidance. I’m not surprised that things fall apart, but am deeply saddened as it seems we could learn this from the past. There is great fear and helplessness which follows losing the ability to support oneself, or one’s family. Depression and violence can easily follow. It’s not a Native Alaskan problem – it’s a human problem.

    The answer is not to move everyone into town as the most clueless and mean seem to spout off all the time, for a million reasons they are to stupid to even think about. Rather than strain the resources of an urban community, it would be better to find a way to BUILD the resources of the rural communities. It’s just getting the foot in the door that is the hard part. Where to start?

  3. Jim Says:

    About 35 years ago, as a teen ager, I went on a painting trip with a couple other artists to McCarthy, near Kennicott, in the Wrangell Mountains. This place is rural although not indigenous. I was there for a couple weeks and got to know the residents. A couple years later about half the town, (including an artist I’d known), got shot dead by a crazy guy. There was no law enforcement and he just walked around and shot people. A day or two later the troopers flew in– this was perhaps the worst case scenario for a remote Alaska community. The other similar nightmare scenario was at Manley Hot Springs. Although they are remote, neither of these places are native villages.

    I wouldn’t know what the potential solutions could be for Nunam Iqua. Unfortunately I have become quite confident that our State government won’t be of much help, at least for now. Perhaps the tribal government hasn’t done its job.

    If I were the State, I’d seek informed advice. Have they done that? Ann would be a huge resource.

    I like Commissioner Emil Notte, but they went over him when they selected a rural subcabinet chair. I think the subcabinet may be too distracted with the upcoming election– they want their administration reelected– the State may not cough up assistance any time soon for Nunam Iqua. As an Alaskan I’m not happy with this situation– I don’t like the way Alaskans treat Alaskans. We think “their” problem is “their” problem. But they are we, and this is our problem.

    I guess if I had responsibility, I’d start by interviewing the clinic people and try to figure out exactly what is going in the small, remote community of Nunam Iqua. Unfortunately I’m happy I don’t live there– seems to be a bad situation and I’d be scared. I’d lock my door.

  4. Man_from_Unk Says:

    It’s the people’s problem that they allow a handful of BULLIES to destroy their peace and harmony. Anyway, anyone know the history of Sheldon’s Point/Nunam Iqua? Wasn’t it just a summer camp site before somebody started staying there year around? Perhaps the founder was red-ticketed out of another village in the area. They use to do that you know, red ticket trouble makers. Simple solutions.

  5. Monica Says:

    my husband just 5/10/10 phone interviewed for a teaching job in this community – I have a background in emergency services and was hoping I could find a way to contribute. I have looked at the VPSO website and the links to the corporation that hires for this village. However being mostly “white” and female I wonder about the response and if there would even be any support or interest in filling the position….

  6. alaskapi Says:

    Do contact the hiring corporation.
    The worst which can happen is that folks will say no.
    The being female…
    The being mostly white…
    Times are changing, people will have to decide what change they are ready for…
    They may not be ready but you can plant a seed …
    The village began talking about hiring a VPSO a little over a year ago but had not sorted out details enough to move forward to an actual hire.
    Best wishes .

  7. Monica Says:

    Thank You alaskapi – Even if I can just offer some encouragement and assistance I would be happy!! My background is more the communications side but I was an MP in the Army YEARS ago at Ft Richardson, AK… I will defintely keep looking and reasearching and putting it out there…

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: