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Growing up in rural Alaska can be hard, but alcohol's no help

Mary Sue Hyatt

When looking out your window after curfew, you see a handful of teenagers. If you look close enough you will see that a majority of the kids are drunk. After the package store opened up in Kotzebue, it became easier for teens to obtain a bottle of booze. This is not how our Iñupiaq values go.

What do children have to do during the summers when it is light 24 hours a day? It's not like they could go out to a movie or go to the mall. Some kids have the gym and others have the softball fields, but some kids don't have either. Parents are drunk at home, not worried about their children, so the children go out and do the same as their parents. 

Getting a bottle of booze in Kotzebue is no task. People want to make money. If you drive by the package store, which is located right next to the jail, you can see individuals lingering around waiting for a "runner" who has a permit to buy liquor from the store. A permit is a card that says you meet all the requirements to buy liquor at the store. The package store has had a huge impact on teenage drinking. Those with a permit are allowed one liter of hard liquor, 2 liters of wine, and a gallon of beer per day. That is a crazy limit for one day.

Having a place to go for all teenagers would keep them busy and out of trouble. All the teens I talk to say they need something to do. The local package store should invest in giving something back to the kids. The store makes a quarter of a million dollars each month! That's crazy.

If we teenagers have to suffer from the package store being open the least they could do is give us something to do. A teens center should be addressed at the next city council meeting, not only would teenagers have a place to go, but it would also create more jobs for our town.

If you walk around the streets at any time of the day or night, you will see at least one person drunk. They will either be staggering down the road, yelling, fighting or passed out. After being around this your whole life, you start to think that it is okay to drink your life away. These people staggering around town should be living the Iñupiaq lifestyle, but instead they are wasting their life on liquor. Our values should be important to every Iñupiaq. If you take the time to read over the Iñupiaq values you would notice not one of them comes close to saying drinking is the way out of problems.

Since the package store opened up, more minor consuming alcohol citations, also called MCA's, have been issued. The court is filled with children who have gotten caught drinking.

Teenage drinking can affect them in many ways. Their bodies are not fully developed. Booze impairs judgment and acts as a depressant. It is addictive and when you start drinking at a young age it is even harder to stop. In the long run, high drinking will cause your brain and liver to stop working. 

This is a major problem in Kotzebue. I really hope that the city steps in and does something about the package store. There should not be this many MCA's a year. If it means they should shut down the package store to save and protect our youth of our town, then they should do so. The Kotzebue city council needs to find a solution that will help all youth succeed.

Mary Sue Hyatt lives in Kotzebue. The preceding commentary was first published by The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)