Food Security in the North pt. 2: how to win the subsistence debate

Last year I wrote a post about food security in Inuit Nunangat, focusing on the Kuskokwim king salmon closure in Southwest Alaska by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 60 Yup’ik fishermen faced misdemeanor charges for fishing in defiance of the closure. In May 2013, 25 defendants made a religious argument to justify their actions in an Alaska State District Court, arguing that fishing for king salmon “is inextricably linked to the spiritual core of the Yup’ik people who inhabit the region.” Not surprisingly, the the judge ruled in favor of a compelling state interest to ensure continued king salmon runs, trumping the religious argument.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

This case is the latest high-profile iteration of the subsistence debate that’s been raging off and on in Alaska for the last several decades. This is because in Alaska, country food harvesting is governed by state and federal regulations rather than local indigenous management regimes. With the exception of marine mammal hunting, non-Natives generally have the same right of access to fish and game as Natives. This means that a non-Native from Anchorage visiting the Northwest Arctic to hunt caribou – with the proper permits and tags – has the same right of access as an Iñupiaq whose family’s food security may depend on a good caribou harvest in any given year.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

This system contrasts with fish and game management in Nunavut, Canada, where Inuit self-manage country food harvests (including the setting and enforcing of animal harvest quotas) through community-based Hunting and Trapping Organizations and are not required to buy permits.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

The top-down system of federal and state management of country food harvesting in Alaska is supposed to ensure equal access to resources under the state Constitution for all Alaskans – regardless of race – but it ignores the fact that many Alaska Native families are starting from an unequal place when it comes to quality of education, income and cost of living.

Yet for decades, Alaska Native peoples have failed to adequately make this case in the fight for self-regulation of country food harvesting. In the past, the Alaska Federation of Natives has pushed for an amendment to the Constitution recognizing some form of Alaska Native preference when it comes to accessing fish and game on state lands. But these efforts have failed, in part, because arguments justifying supposedly preferential treatment of Alaska Natives have largely focused on cultural differences rather than more palpable differences in social and economic circumstance.

The Kuskokwim closure religious defense represents a continuation of this strategy, which rests on the assumption that the dominating non-Native society is at least sympathetic to, if not capable of empathizing with the cultural and historical significance of Native self-management.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

These concepts are too abstract for many non-Natives to grasp for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here, which makes gaining statewide support difficult if not impossible. I propose an advocacy approach for self-management and a Constitutional amendment that instead focuses exclusively on food security and economics.

The food security status of Alaska Natives is a gaping hole in this ongoing debate. This is because there are hardly any data about the food security status of Alaska Native peoples as a whole, never mind specific regions like the Southwest and the Northwest Arctic where food prices are highest and educational attainment and median household incomes lowest.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Data from Nunavut and other parts of Canada where social and economic conditions are similar to certain regions of Alaska show us that these and other factors are a recipe for food insecure households.

The World Health Organization defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

Source: Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. Research to identify policy options to reduce food  insecurity (PROOF). (2013). Household food insecurity in Canada 2011. Retrieved from

Source: Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. Research to identify policy options to reduce food
insecurity (PROOF). (2013). Household food insecurity in Canada 2011. Retrieved from

Data about Inuit and indigenous food security in Canada has garnered international attention, and forced political leaders at the federal and territorial levels to address the high cost of living in the North, as well as the myriad factors that contribute to poverty and food insecure households.

In Alaska, I suspect that food insecurity is highest in Southwest and Northwest Alaska – incidentally the two regions that harvest the largest share of country foods. In these regions, the cost of energy and store bought foods is highest, and educational attainment and median household incomes are lowest.

For example, the median household income in the Northwest Arctic Borough is $59,893 compared to $69,014 for the state as a whole – a difference of nearly $10,000. And in the Arctic, nearly twice as many people live in poverty (about 20% of the region’s population). As the pictures I’ve posted from Kotzebue (the region’s largest and most inexpensive community) testify, the cost of living in the Northwest Arctic is staggering.

Gathering food security data from these and other regions would show that many Alaska Native communities depend on country foods  in order to access “sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” Food security data would reveal that without country foods, life in rural Alaska would be economically impossible for many, and that for most families traditional foods are a cheaper, more nutritious alternative to processed store-bought foods.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Food security data would give the Alaska Native community a stronger platform from which to negotiate enshrining self-management of fish and game or at least an Alaska Native harvesting preference in the state Constitution. This information would be most useful in cases similar to the 2012 Kuskokwim subsistence closure, where the state showed its ineptitude at managing king salmon runs and forced many Yupiit families to carry the economic burden of that mismanagement. Instead of abstract cultural arguments, such data could be used to emphasize the need for Alaska Native self-management and/or priority harvesting in order to ensure that families have access to an adequate supply of food.

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, June 2013

Such a move could easily be justified as a public health measure and would be far less politically controversial than religious or cultural arguments. The case could then be made that in the long-run, Alaska Native self-management of fish and game harvests increase economic self-reliance and decrease dependence on so-called “entitlements.”  This message would appeal to Alaska’s Republican majority. 

This change of strategy needs to come from the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state’s largest Alaska Native advocacy organization, and other Alaska Native advocacy organizations capable of leveraging research on this and other issues. For decades, Alaska Native organizations’ strategy on achieving greater Alaska Native autonomy over country food harvesting has not changed, and has not worked.

The way arguments are framed matters. Food security, human rights and public health are politically more difficult to deny than abstract religious or cultural rights. This is why Alaska Native organizations need to take the lead in researching and documenting the food security status of Alaska Native communities.

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The Arctic resource rush, enviros and Inuit poverty

A Foreign Policy Association blogpost last month points out one of the great ironies of Arctic environmental activism: the fact that all too often, environmentalists seek justice for the environment and animals like polar bears while Inuit and other indigenous peoples living in the Arctic are left out of the conversation. “Polar bears need icebergs and beluga whales need oceans free of sonar waves, to be sure,” the post’s author observes, but “people also need affordable food and warm homes – topics less news-friendly, but just as critical, to the future of the Arctic.”

Just last week Nunatsiaq News published two articles highlighting Nunavik’s severe health disparities and the staggering level of food insecurity in Nunavut. The data published in these studies and in others I’ve highlighted elsewhere in this blog paint a pretty grim picture of life in many Inuit communities, including in Alaska.

As rapid climate change ushers in an accelerating Arctic resource rush, these and other issues beg the question: will off-shore oil extraction and other “development” result in meaningful benefits to Inuit and other Arctic indigenous communities?

Indigenous peoples have always been told that we will benefit from resource extraction on our homelands, but our communities have generally received pennies on the dollar while more systemic challenges such as language shift, violence and suicide have continued unabated.

The financial success of multi-billion dollar Iñupiat-owned for profit corporations such as the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and NANA Regional Corporation has also not necessarily translated into action on issues such as household violence, child sexual abuse and educational attainment.
Screen shot 2013-08-03 at 11.10.13 PM

Inuit communities need jobs, education and money, but large-scale resource extraction hasn’t been and won’t be a panacea to these and other issues without forward-thinking leadership.

In May 2013, Greenpeace organized an indigenous peoples conference ahead of the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden. The result was “The Joint Statement of Indigenous Solidarity for Arctic Protection,”calling for, among other things, a ban on all offshore oil extraction. The response to the Statement and Greenpeace’s incursion into indigenous affairs has been thought provoking.

Portrait Of Hivshu RE Peary

Inuit organizations such as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Inuit Circumpolar Council have been vocal in their condemnation of Greenpeace, which they see as hijacking the indigenous voice to advance their own interests.

Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska president Jimmy Stotts warned that Greenpeace’s actions signify a “new wave of colonialism” and called Greenpeace’s incursion into indigenous affairs paternalistic.  “Moratoriums and sanctuaries that would lock up our homeland goes against what we have been striving to obtain for our people,” Stotts wrote in ICC’s most recent newsletter. “If there are to be moratoriums or sanctuaries they must be on our terms.”

Yet perhaps more paternalistic than Greenpeace’s move into indigenous affairs is a message from another Inuk, Canada’s Minister for Environment Leona Aglukkaq. Aglukkaq is from Nunavut and chairs the Arctic Council, and is promoting accelerated resource development in the North.

“The North is open for business. There are massive opportunities North of 60, in everything from natural resources to the service industry,” Aglukkaq stated in a June speech in Ottawa. There is an “untapped work force that, with targeted training, want to make a living an invest in local communities, because this is their home,” she continued.  

Aglukkaq is a member of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet. Under Harper’s leadership, Canada has experienced some of the most destructive environmental policies in modern Canadian history and  seen the largest mobilization of indigenous peoples against a government ever through the Idle No More movement that swept North America. It is therefore disconcerting that the Harper government’s laissez faire approach to natural resource extraction is being promoted within the Arctic Council by Aglukkaq, who infamously rejected UN findings on indigenous food insecurity and threw her own people under the bus.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Inuit and other Arctic indigenous peoples find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place as we seek to balance the seemingly unstoppable forces of capitalism and multinational corporate greed pressing in on the one hand, with the needs of our people. These needs include things like housing, food security, educational attainment and job creation, as well as more complex needs such as spiritual and psychological healing from historical trauma, effective suicide prevention interventions, child sexual abuse prevention, and resources for survivors of sexual assault and household violence.

It is these human needs and human resource development that must be placed at the forefront of the Arctic resource rush, because meeting these needs is elemental to the future health and well-being of our people. Doing so requires being realistic about the degree to which resource extraction has helped Inuit realize our international human rights so far, and what needs to be on the table in order to ensure that the Arctic resource rush can be leveraged in the interest of meeting these basic needs in the future.

The “sustainable development” favored by ICC and other Inuit organizations will be futile unless the result is, in part, an equal investment in the human resource development of Inuit families and communities.

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Alaska and Public Law 280 and its Upcoming 60th Anniversary

Background Report on Public Law 280 – Prepared at the request of Henry M. Jackson, Chairman, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs United States Senate.  U.S. Government Printing Office Washington: March 18, 1975.


To: Members of the Senate committee on Interior and Insular Affairs:

“During the 1950’s the national Indian policy sought to end or ‘terminate’ the Federal responsibility for, and special relationship with, Indian tribes.  The ultimate effect of this policy on Indian tribes would mean that all statutes pertaining to Indians would no longer be applicable; that the Federal programs and services provided to Indians solely on the basis of their status as Indians would cease; and that Federal protection would no longer be provided for Indian lands and other natural resources.

“It was during this era that Public Law 280 was adopted by the 83rd Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower on August 15, 1953.  The express purpose of this public law was to grant broad discretionary authority to the States to assume civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian reservations within their borders.  Prior to passage of Public Law 280, State jurisdiction over Indian reservations was prescribed by specific statutes approved by Congress or judicially recognized because of their involvement of non-Indians.  And jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters between Indians on their reservations was vested in either tribal governments or the Federal Government.

“The Public Law 280 legislation was approved by Congress in the face of strenuous Indian opposition and denied consent of the Indian tribes affected by the Act.  In its final form the statute gave five States civil and criminal jurisdiction over all but three tribes within those States, and gave the United States authority to grant similar jurisdiction to all other States.

“The Indian community viewed the passage of Public Law 280 as an added dimension to the dreaded termination policy.  Since the inception of its passage the statute has been criticized and opposed by tribal leaders throughout the Nation.  The Indians allege that the Act is deficient in that it failed to fund the States who assumed jurisdiction and as a result vacuums of law enforcement protection have occurred in certain Indian reservations and communities.  They contend further that the Act has resulted in complex jurisdictional problems for Federal, State and tribal governments.

“With this background the Committee requested the American Law Division of the Library of Congress to prepare a report on Public Law 280.  The Committee envisioned that the report would serve as an educational and informational document for the Indian community, Members of Congress and other interested individuals and organizations.  The Committee wishes to commend Mr. David M. Ackerman, legislative attorney, American Law Division, for his thorough legal research and preparation of the background paper.

“This report merits the study by all interested parties in this complex issue.  I am hopeful that it will stimulate fresh thinking and new approaches to the resolution of the many problems imposed on the Indian community, the States, and the Federal Government, by Public Law 280.

Henry M. Jackson, Chairman.”

“I have…signed it because its basic purpose represents still another step in granting complete political equality to all Indians in our Nation.

My objection to the bill arises because of the inclusion in it of sections 6 and 7.  These sections permit other States to impose on Indian tribes within their borders, the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the State, removing the Indians from Federal jurisdiction, and , in some instances, effective self-government.  The failure to include in these provisions a requirement of full consultation in order to ascertain the wishes and desires of the Indians and of final Federal approval, was unfortunate.  I recommend, therefore, that at the earliest possible time in the next session of the Congress, the act be amended to require such consultation with the tribes prior to the enactment of legislation subjecting them to State jurisdiction, as well as approval by the Federal Government before such legislation becomes effective.”

- President Dwight Eisenhower on signing Public Law 83-280 into law on August 18, 1953.

Public Law 280 would not be amended with some of President Eisenhower’s recommendations until 1968.  The 1968 amendments provide for retrocession of Public Law 280, which the state of Washington has recently done, allowing for tribes to re-assume civil and criminal jurisdiction after over 50 years of Public Law 280.

Public Law 280 would be amended in 1958 to include the Territory of Alaska, one year before statehood.  In 1970 Public Law 280 would be amended returning criminal jurisdiction to the Metlakatla Indian community, the only Indian Country in Alaska.

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Alaska Redistricting Board Meeting – Anchorage LIO

One could easily figure the Alaska Redistricting Board waiting for the recent SCOTUS decision on the Voting Rights Act to continue deliberating over new legislative districts.  Several groups and interested parties attempted to coerce the Board to continue working after the Alaska Supreme Court decided the previous districts were unconstitutional: the Alaska State Constitution.  One can only imagine the scope of new effects of the recent SCOTUS Voting Rights Act decision on US Constitution law.

First note of partisan politics sees the chair of the Redistricting Board is also the chair of the Board of Fish, the Honorable Mr. John Torgerson, a former state judge.

10:07AM – Meeting called to order.

10:09AM – Mr. Michael White, attorney for the Board, states for the record Section 4 and Section 5 of VRA as ruled unconstitutional does have direct effect to the proceedings of the work of the Board.  The Board will work without consideration of Section 4 and 5 of VRA.

Dozens of proposals hang on the wall, and have been provided in smaller formats for the public.  Most proposals have Tanana, Alaska (the one place in the world I consider myself from) consolidated with the rest of the middle Yukon River villages, unlike the presently existing districts.  Ruby, Alaska and Tanana (adjacent to each other on the Yukon River) are the only two middle Yukon villages, primarily Koyukon Athabascan, set with the primarily Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan and Yup’ik Eskimo villages in Southwest Alaska.  Out of all the public gripes of the presently existing districts, I found this fact most upsetting.

10:30AM – Alaskans For Fair and Equitable Redistricting has finely parsed several different proposals.  Former Alaska Republican Party chair Mr. Randy Reudrich is serving as chair for AFFER and has testified to an impressive array of details for the AFFER Revised proposal.  Out of all the proposals hanging on the walls, AFFER probably has the most balanced proposals.  I’m guessing politics will significantly alter AFFER proposals if and when the Redistricting Board begins to adopt final proposals.

11:15AM – Calista Corporation, the regional corporation for the Yup’ik peoples in Southwest Alaska has proposed several maps.  Calista cites using ANCSA boundaries for considering their proposals.  Further analyzing the placement of the Koyukon Athabascan people and middle Yukon villages, the population of these villages are comparatively sparse, and keep being split up between one district and the next proposal to proposal.  They are either paired with Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan, Bering Straights, Northwest Arctic, and North Slope Arctic.  In some cases, three of these historic ethnic groups out of the four are set into one district.  Calista has cited difficulty in sorting this dilemma out.

1:00PM – The room has nearly cleared out now that the meeting has switched over to public testimony, mostly via teleconference.

There is a lot of experience that has gone into the many different proposals, with some participation spanning decades.  Many regions and sub-regions fight to have their constituents generally together, while leaving the rest of the state to work itself out.  It is a complicated process, with an almost unlimited amount of criteria that could add together making a legislative district.  The Board has a standard set of criteria giving definition to the process, with many disparate parties suggesting non-standard criteria as basis for proposals.  From what I hear, it seems there is plenty of awareness and participation from the Alaska Native peoples from all regions around the state.  The majority non-Native population of the state may force some aspects of the proposal that is in the end unfriendly to the Alaska Native vote, but the Alaska Native peoples understand the implications of the recent SCOTUS Voting Rights Act decision and will more than likely have the voice of the Alaska Native voice heard leading up to and during the final decision making process of the redistricting work.

Signing off 1:18PM.

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2013 Iñupiaq Language Conference & Workshop keynote address

The 2013 Iñupiaq Language Conference & Workshop was held June 4-7 in Kotzebue, AK. I was invited to give remarks on June 5. Other speakers included land claims leader and author Willie Iġġiagruk Hensley of Kotzebue and University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Ron Aniqsuaq Brower of Barrow. The event was organized as a collaboration between the Robert Aqqaluk Newlin, Sr. Memorial Trust  and the regional Iñupiaq Language Commission. About 50 people attended, the majority of them elders. This was somewhat disappointing because in order for language revitalization to be successful, young people need to be in the driver’s seat. Nevertheless, I had a great time visiting with our elders and practicing my Iñupiaq. 

I participated in this same conference in June 2012, and I will discuss the overall outcomes of the two conferences in more detail in a subsequent post, including my thoughts on how they could be improved.   

I wrote my brief remarks in Iñupiatun with the assistance of Kapniaq Lorena Williams, a friend of mine from Kotzebue who has taught Iñupiatun at the university level, and who provided many corrections to drafts of my short speech. Writing a speech in Iñupiatun required a great deal of effort for me. I have studied our language off and on since 2008, and have spent only several months working directly with fluent speakers in Kotzebue during brief work stints. The rest of my language comes from grammar books, dictionaries, sporadic encounters with fluent speakers at conferences, and by communicating with other Inuit in Greenland and Canada via social media. Unfortunately there are few other young people in our region actively re-learning our language. As someone who grew up mainly in Anchorage and Juneau and lived in/visited the Arctic infrequently, I wanted to emphasize and demonstrate that anybody can learn our language, even without much exposure to it growing up. I also had a political motive in that I wanted to show that if I can prioritize Iñupiatun speaking and learning as a person from Anchorage without a living fluent speaker in my family, then our leadership and people with daily access to fluent language speakers have few excuses.

My keynote address and the English translation are below.  (You can also read the line-by-line translation of my remarks here.)  

Paġlagipsi. Uvlaallautaq. Tautukkama kiiñaqsitñik nakuullapiaġataqtuq. Aasii tusaaruni Iñupiałiġmik nunaptikni quvianaqtuq. Quyanaqpak Manuluk aiyugaaġluġikma, aasii quyagivsi maungahusi nunaaqqipayaannin. Uvanga Aqukkasuk. Amauġmanun atchiutingagaatnga, Kenneth Mills. Nalauġmiutchisiġa Tim Argetsinger. Ipnatchiaġmiungurunga aglaan iñuguqtunga Anchorage-mi. Ukiupak iñuuniaqtunga Massachusetts-mi. Angayuqaaka Don Argetsinger-lu Lynda Simiitaq Hadley-lu. Atautchimik aniqatiqaqtunga, aapiyaġa Sapsauq, John Argetsinger. Aanam Sarah Sarich atchiutigaa Joseph Hadley-mun, amaułukpuk. Saupsauq qunngiļaaqaq Ipnatchiami. Taimmani Saamimium nunaptikniitmata ilisuatrigaat qunngiļaaqaułłiġmik. Aana tuquruq tatqimi aqulliġmi, 82-nik ukiuqaqtuaq. Uqaluitka aanamnun, aasii sivullaiptinnun. Akkupak iļitqusiŋata nayuġaatigut.

Uvlupak quliaqtuaġluŋa uqaqatigisukkivsi sivuniġmik uvakŋamin. Aanam aakanga tuqupman TB-kun, Kenneth Mills nuuttuaq Nautaaġmun. Sapsaum tiguaqługu aanaga aasii iñuguqtitlugu. Iñupiaraałhaiñaqtuak. Aglaan taimmani sivulliich Nalauġmiut aggiqmata mauŋa, isumaptigun atanniqsimaniallapiaġataġaatigut aglagviŋñi. Tavraasiiñ, iñugiaktuat iñuvut tammaqsimarut.

Willie Iġġiagruk Hensley talks about growing up in Kotzebue.

Willie Iġġiagruk Hensley talks about growing up in Kotzebue

Aanaga aglakman Ipnatchiami, iļisuatrim Iñupiaraaqmata anauviñaqtaqługich iļilgaat uuktuutimik. Taipkua iļisuatrit sivuuġanaġniqsuat.Tavraasiiñ, aanam nalauġmiuraałhaiññaqhuni aakamnun, aakaga uqapiaraallaitchuq. 2008-mi, iññiaqtuŋa Yupiit Nunaŋatnun, aasii tusaagigitka nutaġaat uqapiaraaqtit.

Arigaa, tusupaluksimaruaŋa! Utiqama Anchorage-mun, utuqqanaaqaġviŋmi Eva Heffle-gum iļisautigaanga qanuq iñuk iļitchuġipkaġnaqmagaan uvamnik Iñupiatun. “Uvaŋa atiġa Aqukkasuk…”Arigaa, suaŋaniqsuaq! Ilaa sivullaipta nipiŋatigun uqaqtuaŋa. Tavraŋŋa qaŋa iļisaqtuŋa uqapiaraaqtitlu Iñupiatun makpiġaatigunlu. Ukiaġmi 2009-mi atautchimi tatqimi, savaaqłuŋa nuuttuŋa mauŋa, aasii utiqtuŋa upinġaami 2011-mi. Rachel Adams-lu, Aġniglu, Kapniaġlu, Ada Apaurak Ward-lu, Maqiġlu iļisuatripiaġaatŋa. Arigaa iļisuatripiaŋuplusi mikiruuramik Iñupiaraallaruŋa.

Ataramik aptaŋitpata apiqsruutiqaqtuni isiqattaaġayaġitka. Aglaguuruŋa uqalutchianik uvani. Aimmiamma anaqami iļisaqpauraqtuanga. Aptarivalukkitka aglaan iñullautaupłutiŋ uqautiŋitkaatŋa. Tavra kisupayaaq uqapiaraaqtiŋullaruq. Uvlutauġman iñugiaktut utuqqanaavut kisimiŋ aimmiruat. Isiqattaaqtuni alianaitchuq, aasii iļitchukkuvisi iļisuatigisigaasi.

Elders Minnie Gray of Shungnak and Barbara Wesley of Noatak

Elders Minnie Gray of Shungnak and Barbara Wesley of Noatak

Uvagut nutaġaat iļisimagivut uqapiaraaqtivut. Aasiin uvva iļisautilugich iļisautravut qanuq iļiññaqmagaan. Siļaliñiġmiutitun atautchikun sivutmukta, NANA-tkutnilu, Borough-kutnilu, Chukchi-kutnilu, School District-kutnilu savaqatigiigsa. Aglaan utaqqiñasi maniŋmik. Uvagut kisipta uqapiaraałiq utiġmun tasullagikput. Nalauġmiuraaqapta Nalauġmiutitun isumarugut. Nalauġmiutitun isumagupta, piigungniaġikput Iñupiatun ilitqusiqput. Uvagut nutaġaat uqavut siñiktut qaniptigni. Akkupak itiġnaqsiruq. Sivutmukta.

Tavra, quyagivsi tusaaplusi.

Welcome. Good morning. It’s extremely good to see all of your faces. And to hear Inupiaq in our land is cause for happiness. Thank you Manuluk for inviting me, and I’m grateful to all of you for coming from all of the communities. I am Aqukkasuk. They named me after my great grandfather, Kenneth Mills. My English name is Tim Argetsinger. I am from the Ipnatchiaġmiut, but I grew up in Anchorage. This year I am living in Massachusetts. My parents are Don Argetsinger and Lynda Hadley. I have one sibling, my older brother Sapsauq, John Argetsinger. My aana named him after Joseph Hadley, our great, great grandfather. Sapsauq was a reindeer herder in Deering. The Saami taught him about herding reindeer when they were in our land a long time ago. My aana passed away last month – she was 82. My words are for my aana and for all of our ancestors. Their spirits are watching over us right now.

Ron Aniqsuaq Brower shares an unipkaaq (legend) during some downtime.

Ron Aniqsuaq Brower shares an unipkaaq (legend) during some downtime

When my aana’s mother died from TB, Kenneth Mills moved to Noatak. Sapsauq adopted my aana and raised her. They only spoke Iñupiaq. But back then when the first white people arrived here, they tried extremely hard to control our minds in the schools. Consequently, our people started to become lost. When my aana was a student in Deering, the teachers would strike the children with a ruler for speaking Inupiaq. Those teachers were terrible. As a result, because my aana spoke only English to my mother, my mother does not speak our language.

Then in 2008 I visited the Yup’ik region, and I heard the young speakers. Wow, I sure became envious! When I returned to Anchorage, Eva Heffle taught me an Inupiatun introduction (how to talk about who I am, where I am from, etc.) at the senior center. “Uvaŋa atiġa Aqukkasuk…” Wow, that was powerful! It was like I talked through the voices of our ancestors. I have been studying since then with speakers and through Iñupiaq language books. In the fall of 2009, I moved here for one month for work, and returned in the summer of 2011. Rachel Adams, Aġnik, Kapniaq and Ada Apaurak Ward, and Maqiq (Mary Schaeffer) really taught me. I can speak a little Inupiaq because you are excellent teachers.

If they weren’t busy I would always visit them in their homes with questions. I’d write new words in here (my notebook). I studied really hard at night when I was at home. I probably annoyed them, but because they are nice people they didn’t tell me. Anybody can learn to become a speaker. Everyday many of our elders are in their homes alone. It’s entertaining to visit and they will teach you if you want to learn.

We younger people know our speakers. Now based on this fact, we must show them, our learners, how to learn. Let’s move forward together like the people of the North Slope, with NANA, the Borough, Chukchi, and the School District working together. But don’t wait for money. Only we alone can reclaim our language back. When we speak English, we think like white people. If we think like white people we will forget our Iñupiaq spirit. We young people, our tongues are asleep in our mouths. Now it’s time to wake up. Let’s move forward.

That’s all, thank you for listening.

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The Nunavut Suicide Follow-Back Study and Alaska Native Suicide

During a recent trip to Kotzebue (an Iñupiat town of about 3,200 in Alaska’s Northwest Arctic), I took a walk one evening and passed a house where a man was screaming at a young child. The little girl must have been about four or five, and she was sweeping the floor of their storm shed with a small broom. An adult male (presumably her father) emerged from inside the house and as he passed her, he yelled, “Stop sweeping the fucking floor, you’re making a fucking mess!” The little girl put the broom down and went back inside the house as the man sat down outside and lit up a cigarette. I wondered if that negative experience and others would leave an imprint on the girl’s brain as she grew up. I wondered if the man had had similar experiences as a child, and I hoped that what I had witnessed was an isolated incident rather than a glimpse of much worse.

In an earlier post, I shared some of my thoughts on the elevated suicide rates experienced by Alaska Natives. I talked about how suicide prevention efforts could benefit from understanding the role of traumatic experiences like sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and other risk factors in suicidal behavior. Since this information is not readily available from the Alaska Native regions with the highest suicide rates, we’re dealing with an incomplete picture when developing strategies to prevent suicide. Yet new research from Nunavut, Canada looking at some of the life experiences of Inuit who have died by suicide gives us clues about the situation in Alaska.

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The Nunavut Suicide Follow-Back Study 2005-2010 published in June 2013 examines the lives of 120 Nunavut Inuit who died by suicide between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2006. (You can find a news article summarizing the study here.) More than 400 interviews were conducted with the family and friends of the deceased, as well as with 120 individuals who made up a comparison group of living individuals whose backgrounds closely matched those of the deceased. The purpose of interviewing living individuals was to identify risk and protective factors associated with suicide. In other words, to attempt to understand why individuals with similar backgrounds to those who died by suicide are still alive today.

As might be expected, individuals in the comparison group of living individuals were more likely to be married or in a common-law relationship, employed or in school, and to have more formal education than the 120 people who died by suicide.

Significantly more individuals in the suicide group had experienced child abuse than the comparison group, including physical and sexual abuse.

  • 21.6% of the suicide group had experienced physical abuse during childhood compared to 13.3% of the comparison group.
  • 15.8% of the suicide group had experienced sexual abuse in childhood compared to 6.7% of the comparison group.

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Diagnosed psychiatric illness, personality disorders and addictions were also higher among the suicide group.

The report “indicates that the risk factors of unemployment, child maltreatment, sexual abuse, impulsiveness, aggression, current and lifetime diagnoses of major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and current or past cannabis abuse or dependence are risk factors for Inuit suicide in Nunavut.”

The report concludes that inter-generational trauma and its results as well as elevated mental disorders are the main drivers of Nunavut’s high suicide rates. It stresses the need for greater mental health care, counseling and substance abuse services for Inuit in Nunavut.

Yet the study does not discuss the connections between adverse child experiences (experiencing or witnessing physical or sexual abuse, etc.) and lifelong outcomes such as mental disorders. This is interesting to me because it seems somewhat reactionary — a call to deal with the symptoms of trauma rather than to directly address and prevent some of the causes of trauma.

It is pretty well documented that the foundation for sound mental health begins in early childhood in an environment of relationships (with parents, extended family members, community, etc.) In other words, traumatic experiences like witnessing or experiencing violence or sexual abuse during childhood can place people at greater risk for experiencing mental health issues and other “risk factors” later in life.

It is no coincidence that many of the Inuit in Nunavut who died by suicide experienced physical and sexual abuse in childhood, just as it is no coincidence that the same is true for people in the broader U.S. population who have attempted suicide.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) carried out between 1995 and 1997 used a questionnaire to compare the current health status of more than 17,000 people in the U.S. to information participants shared about adverse experiences during childhood. The categories of adverse child experiences looked at included:

  • abuse (psychological, physical, sexual)
  • household dysfunction (substance abuse, mental illness, mother treated violently)
  • criminal behavior in household

Those who had experienced four or more of these categories of childhood exposure, compared to those who had experienced none, had 4- to 12-fold increased health risks for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide attempt. Of the respondents who reported having attempted suicide in their lifetime, those who had experienced four or more of these adverse childhood experiences were at the greatest risk: of those who had attempted suicide at some point in their life, 18.3% had experienced 4 or more categories of childhood exposure.

The Nunavut study apparently only looked at two kinds of adverse experiences (physical and sexual abuse), which makes me wonder what other forms of childhood adversity people who died by suicide may have experienced, and how they would compare to the comparison group.

Implications for moving forward
Understanding the prevalence of childhood exposure to adverse experiences among Alaska Natives, and then implementing interventions that prevent exposure to things like household violence and child sexual abuse will be an important step toward implementing more effective suicide prevention measures. We continue to experience elevated suicide rates in Alaska in part because this research has not been carried out, with the result that people who work on this issue are dealing with an incomplete picture of the challenge. This is not to say that the inspiring advocates, service providers and many Alaska Native people who work in this area are not aware of this aspect of suicide. But until the taboo around publicly addressing some of these challenges begins to erode – opening the door to interventions that focus on preventing adverse experiences – we will continue to play catch up.

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However, as I pointed out in my last post about this challenge, public dialogue about some of these issues is becoming more common in the Alaska Native community, and this is promising. For example, the MISS Movement was started by two young women in Kotzebue to raise awareness about rape culture and violence against women in Northwest Alaska. And friends of mine who do public health research in Alaska Native communities are in the process of gathering information about adverse childhood experiences that can be used in the future to tackle them head-on. These warriors and others are working to help build a brighter future for our kids.


Filed under Author: aqukkasuk

On the Separation of IRA Tribal Government and Alaska Native Corporation

Title 43 United States Code, Section 1626(a) Continuing availability of otherwise available governmental programs

The payments and grants authorized under this chapter constitute compensation for the extinguishment of claims to the land, and shall not be deemed to substitute for any governmental programs otherwise available to the Native people of Alaska as citizens of the United States and the State of Alaska.

Title 43 United States Code, Section 1626(d) Federal Indian programs

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, Alaska Natives shall remain eligible for all Federal Indian programs on the same basis as other Native Americans.


Notice the absence of any explicit term referring to IRA tribal government in Alaska, or any term referring to the sovereignty of IRA tribal governments in Alaska (section a only refers to Alaska Natives as citizens of Alaska or the U.S.).  The broad language perhaps allows for the non-profit arms of the corporations to contract and compact with the federal agencies under the guise of IRA tribal governments.  The non-profit arms of the corporations have since been expedited into “tribal consortiums”.  The legal definition of tribal consortium follows below:

Title 25 United States Code, Section 458aaa (5) Inter-tribal consortium

The term “inter-tribal consortium” means a coalition of two or more separate Indian tribes that join together for the purpose of participating in self-governance, including tribal organizations.

The confusion becomes worse since several non-profit tribal consortiums participate fully in the Alaska Federation of Natives, the organization made of and concerning mainly the Alaska Native Corporations.

It is difficult to firmly delineate IRA tribal governments and Alaska Native Corporations, especially considering tribal consortiums serving as non-profit human services organizations began pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which gave birth to Alaska Native Corporations.  Does this focus onto ANCSA by way of legal language take away human capital from IRA tribal governments in Alaska?

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Filed under Author: alaskaindigenous