Elise Patkotak: Solution to village violence, abuse requires the help of men

Elise Patkotak

Another group has come through Anchorage to talk about the problems of abuse and violence in our villages. Panelists take testimony, listen to horror stories of lives lived in fear, collect data on Alaska Native children showing them on par with returning war vets for PTSD and declare the situation intolerable. Each time this happens, I wonder where the men are. The only time men get mentioned is as the problem. But there is no solution without them.

A few years ago I wrote that for Native women to be respected, that respect must begin at home. Since the majority of Native women are abused, assaulted and raped first in their home villages, clearly Native men bear a great responsibility for the subsequent disintegration of traditional family life and subsequent damage done to the next generation of Alaska Native children.

I got a lot of angry responses, mostly from Native women telling me how wonderful their husbands, boyfriends, brothers and fathers were. I don't doubt there are strong, good, ethical and kind men in the Alaska Native community. I've known many of them. But the reality is that most Alaska Native women first suffered abuse in their homes as children, sisters, wives and mothers. And that abuse came from within their communities.

So I again ask the question -- where are the men in this discussion? While some of them may be the perpetrators of the abuse, most of them aren't. And it is those good men who must be pulled into the conversation if any real solution is ever to be found. Not the drunk who sobers up at 60 and demands to be a respected elder. Not the "community leader" who chairs a meeting at eight and drunkenly beats his wife at 10. Not the "good Christian" who takes his granddaughters for long solo rides down lonely roads and returns them silent and haunted. They should not be the men showing boys what being a man in their culture means.

There is a lot of debate in America today about the importance of fathers in children's lives. I don't see how there can be a debate about something so obvious. Clearly if the father is an abusive drunk, the family is better without him. But that does not translate into meaning that fathers are extraneous to healthy family life. They are, and should be, more than just sperm donors. While women have raised children alone for millennia, there is little doubt that a healthy, intact family produces the best results. But if dad teaches his daughters that they should suffer abuse quietly and teaches his sons that rape and violence are just parts of another Saturday night at home, then there is no chance that we will ever stem this tide.

Alaska Native men need to get involved in this discussion in a vocal and visible way. The good men of the community have to make a very public statement about their culture's family values. They have to take steps to shun those men who make a mockery of those values. They have to take the time to mentor their young men who are all too often growing up with a twisted vision of what it means to be a man.

By the time we take a young boy out of a violent home, he's already absorbed the lessons of his family life. The person with the strongest punch wins. By the time a girl is removed, she's learned it's best to shut up and take the punches. No amount of therapy will ever truly erase those lessons.

But the male leaders of every Native community can make a major difference just by standing up and proclaiming, "No more. Never again. Not in my community. Not in our families." Without the involvement of the male half of the village, the battle will always be uphill because it will always be about mopping up the mess and not preventing it.

Where is the council of Alaska Native men addressing the problems created by their peers, their sons and brothers? They have the power to make a difference. They should make clear that domestic violence and those who perpetrate it are no longer welcomed in their circle -- not as hunting partners, not as corporate board members, not as village councilors. The power is in their hands. They need to exert it.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

Elise Patkotak