Shishmaref Residents To Decide On Alcohol Ban

Tuesday, the Seward Peninsula community of Shishmaref will vote on whether or not to allow alcohol sales in the village of 600. Alcohol has been banned there for 30 years.

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Residents are divided about the issue. Younger people would like the ability to decide for themselves while older residents worry about the destruction alcohol can bring.

Elders say the community suffers few of the liquor troubles common to other Alaska villages.

Richard Kuzuguk says he’s pulled in both directions on the alcohol issue. A 51-year-old father of two daughters, Kuzuguk says kids need to be raised to be responsible but he says if you’re of legal age, you should be able to decide for yourself.

“With all due respect to the elders for it to remain dry, I think it’s time for a change and that’s just the way I feel and it’s my opinion,” Kuzuguk said. “The person that initiated the petition is really getting some backlash from the community members that want to keep it dry.”

The woman behind the petition, Felicia Nayokpuk, recently moved back to Shishmaref, her home village, after living out of state. She wanted to start a pizza parlor that could sell beer and wine. She didn’t want to speak about the petition.

Twenty-two-year-old Tiffany Magby says she thinks only allowing beer and wine would be good, but she also says young people may drink to excess.

“The younger generation, they talk about it so much and once they start talking about it the older generation kind of puts them down because they want it, but the older generation doesn’t,” Magby said. “And you can tell, by the ones that are so open about voting yes, the people around them, give them funny looks.”

“I’m more on the vote of no, but it’s cool if it does.”

Last year, only 1 in 20 Alaska state trooper calls for service in Shishmaref involved alcohol, according to the state. Most communities in the area reported far more.

Donna Barr, a suicide prevention counselor grew up with grandparents who didn’t allow alcohol but she and her husband had past struggles with it and she worries that instead of using healthy ways to cope with stress, grief or frustration, residents will turn to drink.

“And if alcohol is legalized in Shishmaref, binge drinking will occur more often and the anger and the unresolved grief and the hurt and pains there, they are going to come out through the alcohol use,” Barr said. “So I’m afraid, I’m afraid to see this happen, if it does pass.”

“They have their minds set on voting yes, a few of them. I feel the vote is going to be close, but I hope it will remain dry.”

State law allows communities to decide to allow or ban alcohol.

The stakes can be high. The Department of Public Safety reports alcohol or drugs were involved in more than 60 percent of violent crimes investigated by troopers in 2010.