It is difficult to criticize any story about the plague of alcoholism and bootlegging. These issues are a statewide problem, and can be seen as a common thread in stories about crime, violence, suicide, accidental deaths, sexual abuse, health care and social dysfunction. This is not just an issue for Alaska Natives -- it is an issue for all Alaskans. We are in this together.
The Anchorage Daily News, with assistance from the Alaska Community Foundation, has embarked on an effort to report about alcohol abuse. Alaska leads the nation in all the wrong categories (e.g. sexual assaults, rape, suicide, etc.). While the purpose and goal of writing these reports is laudable, it comes with great responsibility to ensure that the wrong message and perceptions don’t divide our communities or reinforce racial stereotypes. The Nov. 30 article by reporter Kyle Hopkins, given the headline “With $30 million about to hit Barrow, a bootlegging crackdown,” missed that standard.
We are disappointed the article failed to provide the full spectrum of efforts in which our region engages to have healthy communities on the North Slope. The article shortchanged heroic efforts by the North Slope Borough to combat the scourge of bootlegging and illegal alcohol distribution, and it failed to provide any background on the community support provided by Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC). Instead, a sensational headline was written to ostensibly connect the success of ASRC with all the evils of alcohol abuse and its related problems. To leave that impression with Alaskans is simply wrong.
The North Slope Borough is committed to having healthy communities, economically, spiritually and culturally. The borough works with the tribes, cities, corporations, schools and businesses to support a strong culture, encourage families and employees to choose a healthy lifestyle, and sustain a vibrant economy.
ASRC is heavily involved in community schools, civic and religious organizations, municipalities and tribal governments to improve the quality of life in our communities. Whether it is through training, education and outreach programs in our schools, empowering our tribal governments or supporting community events, we strive to make our region a positive environment for our people.
Communities in rural Alaska are places where everyone is family. Alaska Native culture is based on the need to get along. When one suffers, we all feel pain. When a newspaper focuses on the dark side of a handful of individuals in our community, we all feel the reflection upon each and every one of us, which is why we are commenting.
The article is a gut check for all of us because the issue of drug and alcohol abuse should not be swept under the rug. However, if the Anchorage Daily News, other media outlets and the organizations supporting this series of articles truly want to make a difference, then there must be more diligence, discipline and awareness established by editors about the holistic message, or lack thereof in this case, being conveyed to your readers.
All regions of the state, from the richest to the poorest, have the same problems highlighted by Mr. Hopkins, so it is unfair to pin those ills on dividend distributions or financial wealth. Would Alaskans even entertain the notion that the Permanent Fund Dividend is a statewide catalyst for alcohol abuse and other social ills? The ADN has had editorial comments in support of the PFD program because it helps lower-income families with basic necessities. The same is true for the ASRC dividend, yet the article only highlighted some potential negative effects of that dividend.
ASRC is successful because of the stable and visionary leadership of its board of directors. In turn, shareholders share in that success. Many shareholders have shared stories of how the recent distribution will positively impact their lives. Some are paying off student loans or putting a down payment on a house, reducing mortgages, saving for college or using the funds to support their subsistence lifestyle. It is important to note that as ASRC succeeds so does Alaska. In 2013 ASRC contributed nearly $100 million to every region in the state.
Many of our efforts to secure and protect our wealth and culture have been overcoming hurdles established by racial stereotyping and negative images in the media. Reporters these days often find it difficult to get people in rural Alaska to speak on the record. This reluctance to open up is based upon a long history of experience.
Alcoholism is endemic throughout Alaska. No community is untouched. We need to continue to work together to battle social ills that impact all of our communities.
The article by Mr. Hopkins has instead perpetuated stereotypes and put another hurdle in front of us to overcome.
Charlotte E. Brower is the mayor of the North Slope Borough. She has lived in Barrow for over 40 years and is the proud mother of six children and grandmother to 26 grandchildren. Rex A. Rock Sr. is the president and chief executive of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which is owned by and represents the business interests of approximately 11,000 Iñupiat shareholders.
The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.