AFN Youth Speak Out On Abuse

The Alaska Federation of Natives convention that just concluded in Fairbanks had a theme of traditional values this year.

Protection became a big component of that. The perennial call to ensure that subsistence rights are not diminished was strong, but even stronger this year was the outpouring of support for young people, who opened up with gut wrenching stories of pain from the fall out of addiction, suicide and abuse.

Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage.
Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage.

The kids were with the Tanana 4H group and their words were filled with emotion.

“I’m here to help those who hurt, like I hurt.”

Geneva spoke out about molestation.

“Male, female, young, old, gay or straight, we all hurt. No more. I’m not here because I hate my family. I love my family to the moon and back. That’s why I’m here, here for the future, of my little cousins and the children I will have in the future. Break the silence, no more violence – emotional, mental or physical. Rape and molestation stops today,” Geneva said.

The kids held cards with statements and words that were important to them. Patrick wrote about the connection between drugs, alcohol and suicide. He’d lost an uncle.

“Every time me and my brothers seen him when we were younger, he seemed joyful and happy, but he wasn’t. He got hurt, he got depressed – because of alcohol. The last time I seen him he was driving away in his buddy’s truck. I waved at him, but I didn’t know that was the last time I was gonna see him. I want to give him one last hug, but it’s too late now,” Patrick said.

Natawnee started by saying she hates alcohol.

“I hate it. I hate it in my family. I hate it in my village,” she said.

She told a story that is too common in families suffering from substance abuse, she had to be responsible for others. Rather than playing basketball as she wanted, she stayed home to protect her sisters when her parents were partying.

“Something bad happened to me when I was younger and I didn’t want it to happen to them, so I would stay home and send my sisters out to spend the night with friends whenever they were drinking. Sometimes I would wake up to drunk people laughing, or sometimes I would wake up to a zero below house. Nobody wants to feel alone,” Natawnee said.

Seven young people spoke, the last was a very young girl who urged people to spend time with their children and eat meals together.

Adults responded immediately by standing and taking a pledge to protect themselves and their families and stand together to stop suicide in Alaska. And during the resolution process, amendments were offered to strengthen language to combat abuse.

To applause, Rob Sanderson from Hydaburg said tribal leaders should not wait for funding from DC, they should stand up and act.

“We cannot keep coming up here year after year continuing to say that the numbers are rising. We must draw a line in the sand at the local level. People, please, for those of you that live in our communities, call out the people that hurt our women and children. Don’t be afraid, step up to the plate,” Sanderson said.

PJ Simon, from Alakaket said the root cause of problems in rural Alaska is substance abuse.

“At the very local level we need to turn in our bootleggers and the dope peddlers because we all know who they are,” Simon said. “So that takes courage, that’s what we need to do to protect our young boys and girls.”

Others called for working with rural air carriers and fish processing companies to help stop trafficking of drugs and alcohol to villages.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori