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Takes an Alaska village to resolve bootlegging and domestic violence

Kimberly Douglas

This is an open letter directed to those who bring alcohol and drugs to abuse or sell into communities in and around Kotzebue.

Some people call you bootleggers and drug dealers. Others call you uncle, auntie, mom, pop, sister, brother, neighbor. Whether the activity is once in a while for quick cash, or routinely to make a living, this letter is for you. And for all of us.

There will be no end to needless suffering from the ravages of alcohol and substance abuse until the supply is shut off. Even then, that is only the beginning. Healing will take generations, and a multifaceted effort on all community fronts, but the time to begin is now. Are we not tired of the tragedies that occur when our loved ones are under the influence? How many funerals must there be before we acknowledge that the parting was often premature, and related to alcohol and/or drug abuse, and preventable? What about the heartache of the ones that remain, left to deal with the sometimes violent or accidental loss of our loved one?

No parent wants to bury their son or daughter, no child wants to be left without a mother or father, no husband or wife wants to lose their life mate. Even now, my heart pains for the recently unexpected passing of a young man whom I did not know well, but he is family. And in this region, family connections are intertwined, widespread, and far reaching, with hurt knowing no boundaries.

Policies, procedures, programs, laws are all important, but more profound action begins with each one of us. Please consider what that bottle or drug is doing to our loved ones, our communities, and even the impact upon Inupiaq culture. Whether imported, homebrew, or homegrown makes no difference. The outcome is the same.

Hungry kids watch over passed-out parents; intoxicated persons sexually assault children and others; domestic violence occurs; or there's another unintended arrest, perhaps a felony this time. Someone dies by drowning, gunshot, freezing, or by suicide committed when under the influence. Those are just some of the tragic consequences.

Responsible drinking is something entirely different.

Everyone is affected directly and indirectly.

No one is immune. And that's why I feel compelled to write. This is my story, your story, every day. You may think once the sold or shared contraband leaves your hands, the problem is no longer yours. But the problem becomes all of ours, and lingers for years, generations.

The strength and resilience of people in and from the Northwest Arctic region is well-established. If each person does their part to promote sobriety and healing, it can and will happen. Then, we can get back to living a full and joyful life in the most beautiful place on the globe, with our loved ones, instead of without them.

Please think about the collateral damage from the ravages of alcohol and substance abuse.

Let's begin the conversation with each village and tribal council; with elders, schools, businesses; with Maniilaq, NANA, and especially in each family, how to best tackle this enormous problem. Change begins with each one of us, or better yet, let's each be the change we wish to see.

Together we can make the difference.

This article originally appeared in The Bristol Bay Times and is reprinted here with permission.

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