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Testimony

Submitted to the
Alaska Natives Commission
in connection with a hearing at

Fairbanks, Alaska
July 18, 1992

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 | Exhibit List | PDF Version

 

Deposition Exhibit #1 - Testimony of Eileen Kozenivkoff


TESTIMONY OF EILEEN KOZENIVKOFF
BEFORE THE ALASKA NATIVES COMMISSION
PUBLIC HEARING FAIRBANKS, ALASKA JULY 18,1992

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen. I thank you for the opportunity to speak of my concerns about the social and economic status of Alaska Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts.

Biographical
My name is Eileen Kozevnikoff. I am the daughter of Floyd Wheeler and Martha Stein Wheeler. Both my parents are Eskimo. Although I was born in Nome, I was raised in the Athabascan village of Tanana on the Yukon River. I married Ted Kozevnikoff in Tanana and I have two children and three step-children who are Eskimo and Athabascan Indian. Although both my husband and I are employed, subsistence plays a big part in our lifestyle. We are commercial and subsistence set-net fisherman; salmon, whitefish, moose meat and caribou are staples of our diet.

I am currently a director on the Executive Board of Tanana Chiefs and I serve on the Governor's Task Force on the Homeless; I have served on the Tanana Chiefs Health Board; and the Alaska Native Health Board. I am a past president of the Tanana Tribal Council. Through the years I have been employed in Tanana with Indian Health Service, by the Yukon-Tanana School District, by the City of Tanana, and most recently as the Executive Director of the Tanana Tribal Council. I am a volunteer EMT with the Tanana Tribal EMS program.

Native Village Tanana - Tanana Tribal Council
Tanana is a village that focuses on Self-Determination. The City of Tanana incorporated as a first class city in order to operate its own school system. The Tanana Tribal Council contracts directly with BIA and IHS under P.L. 93-638 to provide a broad spectrum of programs to Tanana Tribal and Community members. The Council operates the Tanana Health Center, the EMS system, the Social Services and Alcohol programs, Higher Education, HIP housing, Realty, and a number of other BIA and IHS programs. The Tribal Council is a fully functioning
governing body with an active Tribal Court.

Healing and Sobriety
There is a strong sobriety movement in Tanana that uses personal growth and self-esteem as its core. The Council views empowerment as the key to healing and growth for the tribe and members of the tribe. Tribal sovereignty is seen as a crucial part of that empowerment. There must be more funds appropriated by the federal and state government to provide access to treatment programs that deal holistically with both alcohol and drug abuse; providing therapy for underlying problems as well as focusing on the disease.

Economy
The four hundred and eighty people in Tanana are economically poor. There is very little cash economy within the community; summer fire fighting provides the only income for a number of people in the village. In years like this one where there are no fires, the economic outlook is grim. Although people are able to exist on subsistence hunting and fishing activities, basic necessities like electricity and propane require cash. Tribal Council members feel strongly that welfare programs such as AFDC, food stamps and general assistance have worked to devalue subsistence actives and are keeping people weak and dependent. Welfare programs need to be changed into employment programs for able bodied recipients. Economic development that takes into consideration the traditions and subsistence lifestyle of tribal communities must be developed. Strong management trainee programs need to be a part of the economic development.

Contract Health Care
There has been an increasing reliance on welfare programs by community members since the Tanana IHS hospital closed in 1982. The closure of the Hospital not only took away jobs from the tribe but also took away access to direct medical care within the region. Since federal contract health care dollars require that low income people sign up for and use Medicaid benefits before any IHS dollars can be used, this forces people into the welfare system just to have basic medical care needs. The Tanana Tribe is adamantly opposed to this practice because the tribe feels that the federal government has a trust responsibility for health care for Indian people and that Indian Health Service is an entitlement rather than a need-based program. Once people have been forced to complete the demeaning and intrusive application process for Medicaid, there is often a sense of defeat that makes AFDC, food stamps, and other welfare programs an easy next step. The regulations regarding the use of Contract Health funding must be changed so that Indian people are not forced into the Medicaid and welfare systems. Every effort needs to be made to keep people independent not dependent.

Village-based Health
Tanana is extremely fortunate to have a Health Center staffed by mid-level practitioners. There is a tendency for IHS and TCC to be complacent about the Health Aide system of health care available in most villages. This is wrong. Although many health aides are experienced and skilled, some villages have health aides that have very little training and almost no experience. Health Aides are presented with critical medical and trauma cases with the added burden that almost all are close friends or family. The support system for the health aides is not sufficient and village clinics are often very poorly equipped. I have seen patients who were treated and medi-vaced from the Tanana Health Center that probably would not have survived if they lived in a village with only a health aide. Access to medical care is a very critical problem. Women must travel to Fairbanks to deliver their babies leaving behind family and other young children. The cost of their stay in Fairbanks while waiting to deliver is extreme. Indian Health Service must do a thorough and objective study of unmet health care needs for village people. Village clinics should be surveyed for adequacy of equipment and medications. Level of training and level of support for health aides should be analyzed. Established accepted standards of medical care should be the basis of comparison. Access time; availability of aircraft; qualilty of inflight escort and care should also be a part of the study. Consideration should be given, to providing a prematernal program in Fairbanks that includes family units and day care for mothers awaiting delivery.

Social Problems
Although there is a strong healing and sobriety movement in Tanana, alcohol continues to be a major problem as does the use of cocaine. The federal government must fund treatment programs based on traditional cultural healing practices. The federal and state governments also need to encourage and support tribal government intervention to stop the sale and use of drugs on the village level.

Years of dysfunction within families have caused a pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior that many times include sexual abuse of children. The problem is multigenerational. The federal, state and tribal governments must work to educate judges and social workers about the differences between pedaphiles and "casual" sexual abusers. Emphasis within village culture must be on healing the abuser and the abused rather than just punishment and retribution. There is a frightening lack of therapists skilled in healing children who have been, sexually abused. Often the system of intervention is more abusive to the child than the original act.

Justice and Sovereignty
The State of Alaska wastes scarce resources fighting the concept of tribal self government and yet is not able to provide essential governmental services itself. Numerous felony assault cases have gone uninvestigated by the State. Break-ins, domestic violence, theft, and other serious offenses are never prosecuted if they occur in a Native Community. If a tribal member is charged with a crime, there is no court in Tanana and very inadequate legal representation. Many people are told to plead "no contest” even when there is serious doubt about the guilt of the party charged. The federal government needs to firmly assert its trust relationship to the native people of Alaska and to defend the tribes from the often malicious interference of the State of Alaska. The energy and resources of tribes are being wasted in the fight with the State of Alaska to preserve the essential sovereignty of the tribe. The federal government must provide better education to non-Indians about the basis of the trust relationship and the body of Indian law that recognizes the right of tribes to govern their own affairs. Much of the concern about tribal sovereignty is based on ignorance, fear, and racial bias.

The Answer
The key to the survival of the culture of the Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts of Alaska lies in the empowerment of village people. The federal and state governments can foster the empowerment of tribes and tribal people by encouraging tribal governments and initiatives rather than fighting them.


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Last modified May 11, 2011