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Testimony

Submitted to the
Alaska Natives Commission
Social/Cultural Task Force at

Ft. Yukon, Alaska
June 9, 1993

ALASKA NATIVES COMMISSION
JOINT FEDERAL-STATE COMMISSION
ON
POLICIES AND PROGRAMS AFFECTING ALASKA NATIVES
4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Witness List | PDF Version

 

MR. SCHAEFFER: Our next speaker is going to be Titus Peter, but before we -- before I ask him to come up here and sit down, I'm going to have to catch a plane. I've got another meeting in Austria that Iíve got to go--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER: (Indiscernible).

MR. SCHAEFFER: (Indiscernible) flying to do. And what I wanted to do is just mention a couple of things, just in case somebody doesn't bring them up here for the record. Because I -- like all of you, I've been talking to other people here. And I wanted to bring up a couple things. And one of the elders here talked to me about ANICA. And I hadn't heard that anywhere else before. But the comments he made was that ANICA should be looked at, since it was a program that the BIA put together for -- to assist villages to get cheaper groceries and better food services and other supplies. And be felt that if had exceeded its usefulness, that they were now -- had just built their own little bureaucracy, didn't even support the state, all of their 35 employees in Seattle. And they placed their orders with Carr-Gottstein in Anchorage to send stuff to the villages. And not only that, but they put an extra mark-up on the costs so that they could pay dividends to their member stores every year. So they were actually charging more than the stores would get if they had some other system.

And he thought that if the -- the reasons that they first started were still valid, and that was to help the people get cheaper groceries, that we had to look at an alternative for ANICA. That was one.

The other one I wanted to bring up, one of the reasons I wanted to come here was -- and I hope John will talk a little more about it, but I still wanted to make a comment about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER: Off record.

(Tape changed -Tape 2, Side 2)

MR. SCHAEFFER: And took a look at it. And I think, having spent the last six years trying to work on sobriety, that this recovery camp is one of the few programs that has worked for alcohol and drug recovery. And so I was looking forward to it. And I was surprised to see that John Titus was no longer running the program and it they had now were getting funded by I guess the state or the feds, it doesn't really doesn't make any difference. And they were making them comply with their regulations. And if it continues, they'll probably ruin the program, because they'll spend more time and effort trying to comply with the regulations than work with the people who need the help.

In fact, what we were told last night was that you had to be physically fit to go to that camp. That camp was put up there for those who are not physically fit, who were hurting, who were sick (laughter). And now they had to be physically fit to go there, so you've already lost the ones who need the most help.

And so I wanted to bring this up. And that's what happens in the system. The same old problem we've had all over Alaska. The programs do not recognize the tact that you're -- we're tribal people, that we're a tribal people in the sense that we have to be dealt with as tribal people, not as individuals. We're a part of the whole, whether that's a family or a community, or a part of nature, however you want to look at it. So when we start to do something, they give us these regulations that try to make us like them. And it just ruins our program.

And I wanted to bring that up because I thought it was, you know, put together very well here. We have good people trying to do the right thing, good people trying to help out, and it's going to ruin the program.

And so those of you who are here, I want to -- I've had a good time visiting Fort Yukon again, and it's good to be at your elders conference, and I've really enjoyed myself. Who's going to be in charge, you going to be in charge?

He's ex officio member of our task force and co-- chairman of our committee, so we'll put it in him. I don't want these two Fathers fighting before (indiscernible) (laughter). So, Perry, you take over --

MR. EATON: Okay.

MR. SCHAEFFER: -- please, and (indiscernible). (Indiscernible) down the road (indiscernible).

FATHER ELLIOTT: Good-bye, John, good to see you.

(Side conversations)

MR. EATON: Mr. Peter.

TESTIMONY OF TITUS PETER

MR. PETER: I feel that -- whenever I sit on this chair, I need to be sworn in, so what I'm about to say is the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me, Father Elliott.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Raise your right hand (laughter).

MR. PETER: I can't hear very well, so if there's a question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Titus Peter.

MR. PETER: Titus Peter. I'll probably have a hard time hearing you if you are asking a question. I want to ask Father Elliott to help talk if I hesitate. But (indiscernible) experience in talking to you then, so...I've just witnessed a lot of debate on languages. Seems to me like there's a little misunderstanding or disagreeable.

I myself at one time thought that, what's the use of our language. (Indiscernible) universal and it's not. I even blamed it as jeopardizing my English vocabulary to the point where I can't express myself very well. But there are things within the culture, and this is (indiscernible) culture, that people like to call their own.

I feel that it's very important that people do have things of their own, that they can call their own. I got this feeling after watching the young people dancing in Fairbanks, the first time I went there I was very impressed. They all wore, you know, one costume. They (indiscernible) everyone, everyone dances with songs -- song in their own languages. And they were out there dancing with their faces actually shining. They (indiscernible). And this is the most important thing in people's lives, to be proud of what they own, things that they can call their own.

And I -- and again, after that, I work with people like myself, alcoholics. And a lot of these people get to the point where they don't have anything that they can call their own, the only thing they have is their clothes. But they still have their culture that they can call their own. And even with that, they can come back up and get them to their sobriety life, and in the community.

I just wrote a article (indiscernible) Tanana Chiefs come up (indiscernible) explain a lot of these things (indiscernible). Subsistence. We were calking a little bit about the (indiscernible) too, (indiscernible).

We used to (indiscernible) and Fort Yukon, we used to think that we should have a road, and that things would be cheap, that we can transfer it into our area with our truck. Every time I remember that time, every time somebody run for the House or Senate, all the politics. (Indiscernible) one of the things that they promised us is a road to Fort Yukon. Nothing ever come out of it. But lately, after a while, then they start thinking about their subsistence, that it would interfere with their subsistence life. And everybody's against it now. They don't like the road, they don't like any connection with the outside world.

This also became a more -- more so after what happened at Manley Hot Springs, where a young Caucasian girl from there shot six guys, six people. So those things happen and people experience these things, and that's why they don't want them near roads into

their areas. And subsistence doesn't sound very important. There's a lot of food out there in Fairbanks and places like that, and all they have to do is get a food stamp and buy all the food you wane. That's what I thought when I was young and my stomach was strong, healthy and (indiscernible) kind of weakened it with substance like alcohol.

But that wasn't the only reason, I don't think, because I heard people who never drank, elders, when I was young say that they can't stand or they can't just eat white man food. They have to have their own food, their cultural food. And that used to make me laugh, because that sounded funny to me. But now I'm experiencing the same thing, now that I'm an elder. I go to Fairbanks and I eat some really choice food. Steaks, T-bone steaks. I go to restaurants and have T-bone steaks and lobsters. I have spareribs. Still yet, in a week time, I start eating (indiscernible). I have to get that over here or somewhere in the villages and start eating fish, meat, and (indiscernible). So it's really something that's a necessity in our -- lives of elders, is subsistence food. So that's what I came over here to talk about, to bring to your attention, those of you, and I appreciate your interest in such a thing. So if you have any question, I'd be happy to answer it.

MR. EATON: Father Elliott.

FATHER ELLIOTT: Titus, in Dillingham, they mentioned, one woman did, what she called a survival camp, rather than -- I had asked her a question about spirit camps, and she said they called them survival camps, because in addition to trying in -- to help alcohol and substance abuse, they were also teaching the Native culture. Has anything like that been done in this area, or have you thought about developing something, a camp? You have your camp for recovery, but has it ever been added to, or have you also thought about for the young people a camp that would teach Native values, Native customs, Native ways of hunting, trapping, and so forth?

MR. PETER: Yeah. My brother over there, John Titus, he's the one that started the recovery camp down here. And he went down there with a wild idea that he's going to run it in a subsistence way.

FATHER ELLIOTT: Mm-hm (affirmative).

MR. PETER: And it seems to have good results, in my estimation (indiscernible) on alcoholism --

FATHER ELLIOTT: Mm-hm (affirmative).

MR. PETER: -- for quite a few years myself. And there's one guy who I at one time thought a hopeless case, is now closer. And he developed that fight against alcoholism from that recovery center (indiscernible) with John. There's -- even this language could be something to go about and working toward a sobriety, help the young people. I can't say (indiscernible) alcohol (indiscernible) alcoholism as a target. There's a lot of things involved that we don't touch on. And lot of times we take a person into a treatment center and nothing is being done about -- about this problem in their homes. You come back, and the environment is still the same, probably the environment that's gotten them to start drinking to begin with, before they got into it. All these things ought to be considered. The cultural way, teaching our culture can make a person very proud to the point where they wouldn't want to do anything else to feel better or -- see, I feel that a lot of these people have tried to make a world of their own by getting drunk and things like that.

The language part, again, I thought about it once, like I say, jeopardized my English vocabulary. I always thought that it makes us feel out of place, especially when we're in a big city. We go into a society where white folks talk in their own language, your friends, you get in there with them, and these white folks talk so much, you don't get a word in there edgewise. And they finally stop and ask you a question, the answer, you know the answer and it's in your mind, but you have to translate it into English. And then in the process of doing that there's a period of silence. And the white man who doesn't like silence will start talking again, sometime with an entirely different subject. And so the whole evening would end with just conversation one-sided. And that makes a Indian person like myself very uncomfortable and out of place, This is why most of us would end up down in skid row, where we feel more comfortable and where we get drunk and make a world of our own, so to speak.

But the spirit camp or recovery camp done in a cultural way, and wouldn't be a waste of time. Could be very important.

Has that answered some of your question?

FATHER ELLIOTT: Yes, it does, Titus. Now, the second one, we've had hearings, as you may know, in Hiland Correction Center and also Wildwood at Kenai. And I think 96 percent of the people who talked to us said that although they may have been in there for abuse or whatever, assault, that alcohol was behind it. And one young man, and I won't mention his name, who was on a teleconference when we were in Kenai, is from Fort Yukon. And he said also that alcohol was the cause of whatever he did.

And I asked him what he was going to do when he came back to Fort Yukon, because of the liquor store here. And he said, I honestly don't know what I'm going to do, because it's there. And I don't want to put you on the spot now, because you are from this area. But when I asked him what he thought should be done, he said, well, close the liquor store; in fact, burn it down.

I don't know how that sits with the people of Fort Yukon and I'm not trying to get you to get an answer from it, but he did emphasize, all of them emphasized this business of alcoholism as being a background for it. And so your recovery camps are certainly a tremendous help in trying to solve many of the problems, not just drinking but the effects of it.

Thank you, Titus.

MR. PETER: All right. I really don't feel that you can battle alcohol by trying to help someone. I know there's some places where they say, you drink too much, get out of the village. I don't like to do that in my village, my little village (indiscernible). I would rather hold them right there where I can keep an eye on them and maybe can -- I can help them, maybe sometime (indiscernible) to himself and find out that what he's doing isn't -- it's not doing him any good, and come to me for help. And if I send him out of the village, he might wind up in Second Avenue of Fairbanks, and drink until he dies.

Alcohol is behind a lot of problems, I experienced this in my own life. It -- there's also some other things that get us into an alcoholism problem. Myself, when I started working with people, I experienced a lot of things like depression, loneliness, and tiresome. I get tired and I'm away from Fort Yukon and that gets me lonesome. A friend of mine told me that maybe l should have a bottle, take a drink whenever I feel that way. And I took him up on it, I tried that. Every time I'd get depressed, lonely, or tired, I'd make myself a hot drink. And it really helped. I'd go to bed and I'd sleep good, I'd sleep soundly.

But the trouble with that is that the alcohol is like an aspirin. You got a constant headache, you're -- you take a lot of aspirin, as alcohol, one wouldn't help, you'd have to take two Alcohol is the same way. Alcohol, before I know it, I have to get drunk to forget my problems. And the way it, innocently, without my being aware of it, that got into my life. And I became an alcoholic. And after that, whatever I do is as a result of that alcohol.

So to me, seems to me like we wait until a person gets well into, hey, this man's drunk, he needs help, let's get up & rehabilitation plan. I feel that what we need to do is to go at them before they get involved, like young people. And one of it is culture, culture in a cultural and traditional teaching, traditional.

I just gave a talk over here at that other place, and said that we should really try to make this traditional thing and give it more significance. I even suggested that we have a Athabascan national song that they can call their own, and pay homage to some of our traditional heroes, chiefs. You know some of them, you know where some of them are buried; pay homage to these great people in our traditional times.

I know there's a lot of people waiting. Any more questions?

MR. EATON: Thank you very much.

 

This document was ocr scanned. We have made every attempt to keep the online document the same as the original, including the recorder's original misspellings or typos.

 
 

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