Following alcohol complaints, governor’s office proposes meeting with Napaskiak leaders

Governor Bill Walker signs HB 141 at Bethel’s Yuut Elitnaurviat surrounded by high school students from the Kuskokwim Learning Academy on August 29, 2017. (Dean Swope / KYUK)

The governor’s office plans to meet with leaders from Bethel and Napaskiak to discuss the impact of legal alcohol sales on Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities.

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Governor Walker’s staff proposed the meeting in response to a resolution issued by Napaskiak’s Tribal Council this week, which urged the governor to declare a state of emergency in their region. According to tribal council members, Bethel’s liquor store has led to a sharp increase in alcohol-related deaths that they compare to the state’s opioid crisis.

Tribal Administrator Sharon Williams said that five Napaskiak residents have died in alcohol-related incidents since Bethel legalized alcohol sales in 2016. That’s a little over one percent of the village’s total population.

Williams said that she hasn’t heard from the governor’s office yet. Governor Walker’s Press Secretary, Austin Baird, said that they plan to iron out the details of a meeting with Bethel and Napaskiak leaders within the next two weeks.

“There’s been a lot of attention to the opioid epidemic, and that’s certainly an enormous issue, but alcohol has been a constant issue,” Baird said. “It’s a very painful and complicated issue, and that I would expect to be a part of the conversation.”

Baird added that questions surrounding Bethel’s liquor store specifically should be addressed at a community level.