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Native Pathways to Education
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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

 

Native Health: Group A

 

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Okay. The next issue will be Health Issues, and Father Sebesta has graciously agreed to volunteer to chair them. Thank you, sir.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: We move now to the section of health issues, and we have quite a group of people that are going to testify; and I think we should move right along. The first person that is on the list is Melinda Peter. Maybe we could have the -- is it Group A --

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Group A.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: -- who should come up to the table, and introduce themselves. (Side conversation)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: And I understand that there are two members of this panel that need to make planes, and so I would -- if you would just make a brief introduction of yourselves, and then we'll ask Melinda Peter to lead the comments.

MS. PETER: Hi, my name is Melinda Peter, and I'm a youth from Fort Yukon, I want to talk about concerns the youth of Fort Yukon and the other villages have. It's something that I experienced also, and it's teenage pregnancy. I have a son that was born this year on January 29. He's five months old now. I know that the youth have already heard a lot about it, but are they really trying to prevent it? Are they practicing safe sex? I know that I heard a lot about it all the time; but I never did anything about it. I thought teenage pregnancy was something that would never happen to me. I was pretty sure of that; but I was wrong. It did happen to me. Something that I never expected. I can't even begin to tell you how hard, and how much frustration there is in raising a child. It really changes your life. You have to grow up real fast and start taking a lot of responsibility. You're bringing another human being into the world, and you have to raise that baby the best that you can. I wanted to go to college, but I don't know if I'll be able to do it now. I still have one more year of high-school; and it's so hard to try to raise a baby and do homework at the same time. But I'm lucky to have my family and my friends helping me out. But even with their help, it's still hard at times. A lot of girls don't even have anyone to turn to. Their boyfriends, or whoever got them pregnant, might not even care.

I'm not saying that this is only a girls' problem; it's also a boys' problem. I really urge the youth and any others who may be sexually active to use condoms and practice safe sex. They not only prevent pregnancy, they also protect against HIV and a lot of other sexually-transmitted diseases. Both boys and girls should carry condoms, even it they're not sexually active, 'cause you never know what will happen. Tell your friends and family to use them, too, 'cause they're easy to get. Some people think it's too embarrassing to buy or ask for them; but would you rather be embarrassed for a few minutes, or have HIV? Go to the store and buy them, or go to your local health clinic, and you can get them free.

Oh, I think that the schools in Alaska need more sex education classes. People always laugh, or make jokes about condoms, and I think that that makes teenagers and other people not want to use them. They need to know that it's okay to use them, and that it prevents a lot of diseases. Condoms should be available in schools, or maybe teen centers where they're easy to get without them having to ask for it.

I hope that the youth will learn from my experience with teenage pregnancy and use some type of birth control during sex; and I hope that there could be more sex education in school, 'cause I think they really need it. Thank you.

(TESTIMONY OF MELINDA PETER ATTACHED AS EXHIBIT #[8])

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you, Melinda I think that what you bring up is a very important problem, and it's one of the ones that we're asked to address very seriously. And it's something which a great deal of thought has to be given to and a lot of input on the part of you, and just generally across the spectrum of people that are affected by this. I think we should move on, and we' ll have questions at the end. Cindy Adams I'll ask to testify next.

MS. WIEHL: Hi, my name is Cindy (Adams) Wiehl, and I'm from Beaver. I'm a Water Treatment Plant Operator, I'm an Alternate Health Aide, and I'm also the Second Chief of the Beaver Tribal Council. And the main thing I wanted to talk about today is the water sanitation facilities. You know, as a resident of Beaver, I know what it's like to live without a water and sewage system. We did have a safe water before; but it failed due to the fact that -- well, I'm nervous.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Relax, take your time-

MS. WIEHL: We didn't have any qualified operators; and our village council didn't have the funds to train operators. And, therefore, just one by one, everything broke down; and there was just an entire loss. And during this time that we didn't have a water facility, we had no alternative but to go back to drinking the Yukon River water. And during this time of consuming contaminated water, there was a lot of water-borne illnesses going around the village; and we had a case of salmonella, and that is a bacterial infection from consuming drinking water with animal and human feces in it.

And so now we have a laundromat, and a place to take showers, and everything's looking pretty healthy; but I think a problem that we're still having is maintaining the facility. And the Beaver Village Council is responsible for the electrical, the fuel, the operators' wages, and parts when repairs are needed and everything. And we just don't have the funds for that. And we don't have funds to send operators to training. And I, myself, thanks to TCC's Remote Maintenance Workers Program, have just completed and passed the operator and training course, so I'm not certified by the State for that* But that's just way down there. I want to learn more about it, but we need more training programs; and we need -- 'cause this is really important. This is the only facility in our village with running water, and it's -- and I think people -- and that we need to train the operators and everything to keep it going, 'cause it's essential.

RECORDER: I'm sorry, your last name was not Adams?

MS. WIEHL: I just got married. It's Wiehl.

RECORDER: Okay, thank you.. Congratulations.

MS. WIEHL: Thanks. So, with that, I'd like to thank you. And I have a plane to catch. I was supposed to check in at 4:30. I see you guys are running on Indian time here.
(Laughter)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Well, maybe before you leave, we should ask the panel if they have any questions of either of you.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Do have a question of Cindy.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: She -- they both have planes to catch.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Yeah, just a very quick one. Have you folks learned anything from the Point Hope experience not to put any junk into your drinking water?

MS. WIEHL: Could you, explain some --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: The fluoride death --

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Well, that was Hooper.

MS. WIEHL: Oh, I test all that daily, so -- like I said, we're all healthy right now. (Laughter)

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Do you add fluoride to your water?

MS. WIEHL: Yes, we do.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: You need to read some more on recent scientific reports on toxicity of sodium fluoride.

MS. WIEHL: Well, see, I need more training, too.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Have a good trip. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Congratulations, and thank you for your testimony.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Hooper Bay, yeah, that's right.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: And now if we could have the next person. Let's see, Donna Galbreath?

DR. GALBREATH: Correct.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Would you introduce yourself and give your testimony.

DR. GALBREATH: Hi, I'm Donna Galbreath. I'm from Mentasta (ph.), Alaska. I'm a physician, and a family practitioner at Chief Andrew Isaac. I work for Tanana Chiefs. I know all of us are a little frustrated here. This is kind of -- form, having to summarize all of this stuff, and for everybody else -- like asking a woman to birth a baby in less than nine months.
(Laughter)

DR. GALBREATH: You know, it's almost impossible.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Let me say, before she starts, she's one of our first and only Alaska Native physicians working in our region. So we're very, very proud of Donna and glad that you're here.

DR. GALBREATH: Thank you. Alaska is known as a Great Land. The indigenous people of Alaska have always known the land was great, in terms of size and resources. As with many indigenous people, Alaska Natives have lived in harmony with the land. With the advent of the fur traders, this balance ended; and from that point on, others learned of Alaska's greatness and its vast resources. The furriers, the gold rush, timber companies, fishing industry, oil companies, and others have always flocked to Alaska, and continue to. As a result of that, we've become a boom-or-bust lifestyle.

Alaska has a richness that is a two-edged sword, between needed resources and the blatant rape of the land. Unfortunately, Alaska Native people have been trapped in between. The cultures have gone from self-sufficient nomadic peoples to being thrown into, quote, "modern civilization," unquote. In the name of progress, religion, and assistance, Alaska Natives have been stripped of parts of their culture, self-sufficiency, and heritage.

Alaska's isolation created a group of people unexposed to many diseases that are now common. As a result, when other people came to Alaska, vast epidemics swept through the state. Smallpox, measles, mumps, influenza, TB, and other illnesses swept through, resulting in widespread death.

Early on, the anglo influence also included the introduction of tobacco and alcohol. At the turn of the century, the health care of Alaska Natives was appalling. This poor health status was eventually recognized and accepted as a problem. Gradually, many changes were made. The health of Alaska Natives have markedly improved. Alaska Native people were placed on a roller coaster ride, moving at great speed, with changes in culture and lifestyle. This ride initially started with massive death, secondary to the epidemics that occurred. Unfortunately, the roller coaster still continues.

We have made great adaptations to a new way of being, and continue to survive. Unfortunately, many of us have become confused between two different cultures, and drug and alcohol are common escapes. For some, self-unity has been lost; and physical abuse, sexual abuse, and suicide are common occurrences.

We cannot expect to move beyond a certain point with health care, education, welfare, and community development until self-abuse in all its forms are addressed. Some of our people are caught in a vicious cycle of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and abuse. All are inter-related, and all result in numerous medical problems and affect all aspects of community. Until these problems are addressed, we cannot expect to move on. The situation is dangerous culturally for our people. If changes are not made, the death of unique cultures will occur. The problems are overwhelming, and the causes are multi-factorial.

Much effort has gone into discussion as to why abuse itself is so prevalent. Many programs have been aimed at, quote, "curing," unquote, the Alaska Natives. I do not think that knowing the exact cause of this spiritual decline need to be discussed in great detail, as there is not one cause, but many. All babies are spiritual beings born in innocence. All are given foundations to live by. Some of these foundations are stronger than others, but all have the ability to crumble as the weight of more and more abuse is piled on cop. Despite the overwhelming nature of these problems, there is a solution and a starting point. That is the individual. If each person were to say:

"From this point on, I will no longer abuse myself or others,"

then drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and suicide would cease to be. This is easy to say, but very hard to implement. Programs need to recognize this point and begin with rebuilding our individual foundation. Many communities have already recognized this and have begun to teach traditional values and our culture. Down's (ph.) groups have sprung up. Our youth are involved with Native Olympics, moose hide tanning, fishing, beading, and many more activities. Regional spirit camps are commonplace. Our people are rising to this challenge.

If the government wishes to help us in our self-healing, they can assist from a resource point of view. Coming in with programs for us is ineffective. The government needs to recognize this. The programs have to come from within our own communities and have to be run by our own people. The resources that we need will be, initially, financial in making available consultants for expertise in certain areas. The financial part should not be an ongoing blanket sum of money, as this contributes to the problem. Finances should be allocated in plans that initial costs are met, and gradually programs become self-sustaining. Problems have arisen in the past from money being given; and when the money is gone, so is the program. Planning for continuity is of the essence.

In order to strengthen and/or rebuild our foundations, we need to focus on self-development. This means physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being. As the cause of our abusive problems is multi-factorial, so will be the solutions. But the starting dace is with the individual and with self.

Once this is addressed, then the pieces fall into place-Our families will become strong; our communities will be strong; and, therefore, our world will be strong.

There's a couple last little points I'd like to make, just based on this Commission. I'm real pleased that this Commission is here. I think that each of you, as members, should be very honored to be on it. But there's two points that I'd like to make. One is that this Commission was set up by anglos; and, as a result of that, despite, I'm sure, vehement denial, there is an inherent bias in this Commission. Just be aware of it.

The Commission is also a political vehicle, which it needs to be in order to make any changes; but, because it is political, this can be blinding of actual reality, because you have a focus that's a different -- more of a government focus and more red tape tied into it. So you need to be aware of that, so that you're open to what people say, and you're open to solutions. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you very much.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: That was excellent, and your comments are very deeply taken and listened to, including the comments about the Commission. I hope that we can incorporate them into our recommendations, and maybe we could call upon you for a further filling out of some of your ideas, 'cause I think they're very good.

DR. GALBREATH: I'd like that, thanks.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Maybe we should move along to Lorraine Jackson.

MS. JACKSON: Hello, my name is Lorraine Jackson, and I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak of behalf of the Copper River Native Association. Just a brief background of the Cooper River Native association, of which the Native population is of 1,074; which makes as the smallest region of Alaska with a high rate of health problems. It is sad to say that we had the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome; and, needless to say, that we have a tremendous need for services for families and children. Alaska has managed to secure two treatment centers for Native youth with subsistence abuse. However, we have young people who have other problems, such as sexual abuse and who are currently in suicidal stage. And these youth need long-term counseling programs; and, as of now, we do not have any child advocacy center or other referral programs which will help our children. The criteria for the funds available for this type of program is set up for our larger communities; so, therefore, CRNA is not eligible.

Throughout the Indian Child Welfare Act’s history in Alaska, funds for this program have not been fairly or consistently distributed to the tribes. Programs which were funded one year were not funded the ex; and, in general, it was difficult to provide consistent services. This year, BIA is interested in contracting directly with tribes, and it would be a competitive process. This program should not be competitive, but be based on needs. For as long as the ICWA have been around, we have not had a program in operation to protect our children in the Ahtna Region.

But on the positive note, I would like to compliment the statement to health for its efforts on the suicide program. This program is a community based, and is a step in the right direction; but, on the other hand, mental health has allocated some money to serve the seriously mentally ill adults. And we have just a small number of clients in this category. And we are not allowed to reprogram this money to better suit the local needs. Community-based programs seems to be more effective, because it is based on what the community needs to help solve their problems. It will encourage the villages to take the responsibility. Every village has different views and ways to pursue their goals. In closing, I just want to say that distribution of the funds should be based on needs and not be competitive or based on population. And I want to urge you to support community-based program.

And earlier today I heard comments about the hearings should be held out in the sub-regions of TCC. Well, I think it should be equally, and be fairer, and be held in every region, so that you will be able to hear from each of the region and understand where we are coming from. And I was told there wasn't going to be any held in the Ahtna Region, so we came up here to this hearing today. And it would have been a lot easier for us if you would have come to our region.

With that, I just want to thank you.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Lorraine, thank you very much. (Applause)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: And we are aware of the fact that there are many people to near from, and there may be some way of getting into your area. And I think that the Commissioners will be very seriously discussing that, because we do realize that. The best suggestions are going to be coming from the grassroots, the people who are there. And Any Jimmie?

RECORDER: Excuse me, off record. (Off record to change tape)
(On record)

MR. JIMMIE: Thank you. Been waiting all day. (Laughter.) My name is Andy Jimmie. I'm from Minto. I appreciate the opportunity to testify. I am presently the President of Tanana Chiefs Regional Health Board. I'll be speaking a little as a health board member and a little as a village resident. When I say "little," I mean short. (Laughter.)

First of all, the Tanana Chiefs is working on expanding the Tanana I mean, Andrew Isaac Health Clinic, and that really it's a must, I think. We're shorn of space. In reading the IHS -- Indian Health Service and the guidelines, it's 600 square feet for the clinic. And it's -- what they're operating now is a little over 10,000 square feet; and with the amount of people -- 1,200 or so people, this is not enough. We need to expand that clinic, and there was a lot of us that, can drive in from villages net sick enough to be admitted in the hospital, but sick enough to see a doctor; and then come up here and have to wait three or four hours; and you're pretty sick by the time you finally get to see the doctor. So it is really important that we expand that clinic.

And, in the villages, one of our main problems there is alcohol and drugs. We do have, in. a couple of sub-regions, a alcohol recovery camp, which is working very well, I think. It's helping a lot of people, but we need a backup program; have a counselor in each village, where they can go to after they leave the camp. The way it is now, they stay at a camp for 30 days, and they leave, and they can go right back into the same place. There's a lot of them that I know of that's keeping pretty good, but there's a lot going back; and if we have a counselor working with these clients after they get out of this recovery camp, I think we'll see a lot more progress.

And alcohol syndrome. Every village have students, kids, with alcohol syndrome. And what we need to try to do -- I've been pushing this for a long time -- is to try to get the school district to recognize this, and they're just now, in our area, recognizing that they have a lot of students with alcohol syndrome that couldn't learn; and now they're trying to get special education for them. In the past, they were just working with them as normal students, and it's just not doing the trick. It's not. We need to have these students counseled-I'm pushing for a counselor in each school, But like everybody, say they're broke, they can't do it.

The old people. There's a lot of them-up here like in Denali Center. And we need a whole home care service, where they can stay at home. When you get 75 years old -- 75, 80 years old, and live in a village all your life; and the only time you ever left the village was to hunt and fish, and they stick you in a place like Denali Center, you wouldn't be very happy. And these people I'm talking about just don't really need to nave a professional working with them. All they need is some help; reminder taking their medication; work with them; clean up their places; and help them in any way. They need something like that so they can stay at home. There’s a lot of unhappy people over at Denali Center, and I wish something can be done about that.

Sanitation. There's a lot of clinics in the state of Alaska, but not too many in our region. There is some that don't have running water. And that should be the first priority for everyone, to try to get running water in these clinics. I don't think any one of you guys would be very happy if you go to Fairbanks Memorial or Providence in Anchorage and they don't have no running water; and you'll have to run outside to use the outhouse. So there is a lot of villages that don't have no running water. The State did appropriate $500,000 last year; but it didn't even put a dent in the problem.

The health aides in the villages, they need counseling; they need help from different organizations. Out there in the villages -- to put out there meant that the stuff they have to go through is pretty stressful. And a lot of 'em don't really have the training that they should have, and it's pretty hard for them. That's why, in some places, the health aides have a big turnover; and they need to have someone to talk to. And if we -- I don't know how to solve that problem, but they do; and it was brought up to me several times that the health aides just barely hang in there. It's really stressful. And, again, I thank you for the opportunity to testify.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you very much, Andy. The points that you make are very good, and I think that the health aide program is one of the best programs I’ve seen, and I agree with you. They do a wonderful job, and I know I've been personally treated by them, and I appreciate them very much, and I Chink they need to be supported. I think you're right. And I also think the drug and alcohol, as you mentioned, is a very serious thing; and there needs to be cooperation with the school districts. And I agree with the points that you make. I thank you very much for them. Are there any questions that the panel -- the Commissioners would like to address this panel?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: I just want to make a comment or two on what Andy said, and maybe, rather than agreeing, we need to be -- and we all tend to agree when we come up with some good points; but I, too, want to echo his comments. Those health aides, and other counselors -- now there's some suicide counselors, alcohol prevention counselors that are being trained out there -- I think, and doing a very good job. Those are very high-stress jobs. They're low pay, They're long hours. You're dealing with emergency situations with minimal skills sometimes. Not chat they’re not dedicated; but the skill level that they have to deal with some of the traumas that they deal with would overwhelm most of us; and they really and truly are a cadre out there. They're doing a great job.

And I appreciated your comments on the recovery camps, because I know Tanana chiefs and others have really done a great job in getting these things going, and the fact that we need support when the individuals leave the camp and go back home. And I know, in some areas, there is some local concepts, or local ideas being put together. I visited a couple of communities where they're developing community support groups; and I applaud them, where they're -- if they see someone coming back, they have a group of people who are trying to stay clean and sober themselves, meet with that individual, and try to support him or her through these times when they come back to the community. And that s a community-base program, I think that Donna mentioned. I think it has a lot of good ideas and, I know, good, solid support in the communities. So, it is the number one problem. I appreciate the AFN and other groups with the Strong and Sober Blue Ribbon Commission approach, and others that are taking place in the region. I have no further comments, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Donna, I just was very impressed with the testimony that you gave, especially the fact that programs need to come from the people and be run by the people. I really appreciate that, and I'm very happy to see you, a Native person as a doctor among Native people; and I think that it's very encouraging. I would like to talk with you more about some of the suggestions, so that we can make good recommendations to the governments, both state and federal.

DR. GALBREATH: Okay.


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