Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has ensured himself a unique place in Alaska history as the first Alaska Native to win a statewide office. As such, he holds a very singular position from which to do good for all Alaskans. Given the limited duties of the Lite Gov, I'd like to make a suggestion on a really great use of both his time and his influence.
We saw our former governor create a campaign against violence that insisted Alaskans choose respect. Despite the marches that ensued, this slogan alone did not create a huge groundswell of Alaska men actually choosing respect. Now another study has come out from Alaska's social services division that shows Alaska Native children continue to be astronomically over-represented in the foster care system. These numbers are directly related to the continued epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault that is all too common in Alaska Native homes.
This problem is a chronic one in our state and especially devastating to our Alaska Native cultures. Each time I've written about this, I've asked the same questions. Where are Alaska's Native men in this story? Are they only abusers? Are they only part of the problem? Why do we not see any of them as part of the solution? Why do we not hear from male Alaska Native leaders about the destruction this epidemic is causing in their villages? Why are they not taking a stand and demanding a change?
Men seem to still think they have more important tasks to accomplish than getting involved in domestic disputes. That's for women, right? Women are the victims, so they are the ones who have the most at stake in quelling this epidemic. It seems as though women fight this battle alone. Men might support them, but if they do, it is the most silent, distant kind of support.
Meanwhile, for every Alaska Native child in foster care, Alaska Native communities can count another shareholder with a strong chance of growing up to not be a productive member of society, their culture or their corporation. Because for a child raised amid drinking, sexual assault and domestic violence, those are the things that become their cultural heritage.
Men who engage in abusive behavior need to be publicly shamed and shunned. Lt. Gov. Mallott can lead the way in creating an atmosphere among all Alaska men, but most especially among Alaska Native men, in which violence is not tolerated in any way, shape or form. I challenge the lieutenant governor to make it clear that anyone who engages in any form of domestic abuse, alcohol abuse or sexual assault is not welcome in his home, his circle of friends, on Native corporation boards of directors or in an executive position within those corporations. Men who drunkenly beat their wives and children on Saturday night should not be welcome as part of a hunting party on Sunday morning. They should not be welcome to sit as a member of the city or village council. They should not be allowed any position of influence, power or honor.
Additionally, the decent men in our villages need to make sure that those families affected by this scourge are cared for properly. This means providing them with subsistence foods if the hunter in the house is not capable of doing that because of his problems. This means making sure that if abuse is occurring, the village has a means of actively and quickly intervening so that the victims have a safe place to go where they will be properly cared for and receive any help needed.
For years, I've watched as good Alaska Native men have turned the other way while their hunting buddies, corporate board members and relatives have abused their families. That this has gone on for so long shames both the abusers and the men who let the abusers get away with no penalty. These are their sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, daughters … these abused women and children are all members of the extended family that is any Alaska Native village. Why are their men not doing more to protect them?
You have the power, the voice and the platform to make a difference, Mr. Mallott. Please use it to stop this epidemic before there is nothing left to save.
Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.