Selling and importing alcohol in Ambler will remain illegal. Voters in the Northwest Arctic community took to the polls last Tuesday to decide whether or not to legalize the sale and importation of alcohol. And with an unofficial tally of 60-47, the village decided against changing the current law. There are still absentee and question ballots to be counted.
"I'm really disappointed," said Tristen Pattee last Tuesday evening from Ambler. Pattee was one of the sponsors of the petition to legalize alcohol. "I am surprised, I thought I educated the public enough to help them recognize that this is a problem in the village. I was hoping to take a step forward to solving those problems."
For Pattee and others who supported the petition in the community of nearly 300 people, legalizing alcohol would potentially bring more support, in the form of law enforcement and revenue, to the village.
But those opposed argued that lifting the law would wreak havoc on an already alcohol-fueled society, bringing with it more violence, suicide and crime.
According to Pattee, two residents were Medevaced out of Ambler on Monday in two separate incidents, both apparently alcohol related.
At a public meeting held by city officials last week, locals got the chance to speak out against the proposal to lift the ban on selling and importing alcohol.
"We live in a really beautiful place, but if alcohol is in the picture, and we know it's already here, it would be worse," said Ambler's Gladys Jones. "We would have more child abuse, child neglect, we have to think as parents of our children. We need to raise our children the right way."
Other residents voiced concerns about the potential for a rise in crime and the current lack of law enforcement. Ambler has one Village Police Officer and is currently trying to get a Village Public Safety Officer in the community, but a lack of housing is holding up the process.
And with inebriates already walking, and driving, the streets, they feared more accessibility to alcohol would exacerbate those issues.
"Right now I say, let's try to keep that alcohol out and try to talk to our people, and start some programs, find other ways to get money and attract our people to get well instead of bringing in the very thing that will make them more sick or kill them," Ambler's Virginia Commack said at last week's meeting. "We need to help our people get well."
Pattee argued that issues like violent crime are already happening in the village and that the current system obviously isn't working.
"If you can actually, successfully keep alcohol out of this village, then, yeah, it might work, but it's impossible to keep alcohol out of this village," he said. "It's always going to be here."
Lifting the laws would fast track a move toward more law enforcement and thus a higher level of public safety, he said.
Pattee said he might bring the idea forward again in a couple years but for now will focus on the upcoming votes in Kobuk and Shungnak, slated for October.
"This is still a big problem and not just in this village," Pattee said. "Hopefully the other communities will take steps forward to actually solve the problem. I hope they will realize that this will benefit the villages."
Pattee maintains that revenue from a city-run package store would help the community, much like the profits used in Kotzebue from its package store being used to build a new youth center.
Revenue could be used for services and infrastructure the village needs, along with youth programs or substance-abuse prevention programs. Doing away with the law would also allow more control over the sale of alcohol, he said.
Though the law will remain the same in Ambler, this whole two-month process has brought the issue of alcohol abuse to the forefront and has got the community talking about the problem.
"This has been a big wake-up call for the village and the city council to actually start having the laws enforced that are in place because right now they are not," Pattee said.
This story originally appeared in The Arctic Sounder and has been republished with permission.