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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide


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

Fairbanks, Alaska
July 18, 1992

4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503


Witness List | Exhibit List | PDF Version


Native Health: Group B


COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you very much. I think, if there are no further questions, we should move along here. We've got about 12 minutes for a long program. Okay, it sounds like we can probably go a little bit longer, so let's still try to restrict the comments to five minutes; and I would invite Group B to come up: Rose Ambrose, Mim Dixon, Margaret Wilson, and, let's see, Melinda Peter has already given her testimony, so.. . . . (Pause.) Dennis Taddy? Okay, would you like to each introduce yourself, and then we can start with Rose Ambrose?

MS. AMBROSE: My name is Rose Ambrose. I was raised on the Kikuk (ph.) River, kind of half and half -- Kikuk (ph.) River and Yukon River. I went to school in Holy Cross Mission. I worked in a clinic for about 23 years, and I thought that the two most important subjects for village needs -- I have lots down, but my -- a top priority was the elders concerns, elders' care. Elders are the most ignored people in the villages. They need some -- we need some stuff out there for the elders. We should have at least one hospital bed to each village, and a little commode right by the bedside. I have seen elders fall off the bed, because the bed is not the right kind; and this hospital bed will also help the caretaker, because it’s really hard to stand right there, and trying to pack them around, and trying to move them around. And also a body lifter for bathtub. I experienced all these things from taking care of my mother. It's really hard to pack them around.

Also, we need elders' dinner out in the villages. We don't have this anymore; it's always they tell us:

"No money."

Okay? We can't have nothing. Everything is we can't have no money.

Another thing I had in mind was we send up a escort with each elder patient, and this escort doesn't get paid. All they get is their airplane ticket, and maybe about three meals, and eat with the patient wherever they end up. It's hospital cafeteria, or it's somewhere in the restaurant. And it's very little that what they ate. And us health aides, when we're go-to send up elder, I'm going out to the houses, and I'm trying to get a escort for this elder; and some of them tell me:

"I don't know. I got to have money. I just got to have money to make that trip, or else I use my own pocket money; and I cannot do that. I cannot do that anymore."

At the same time, it's not health aide's job to escort everybody for a routine checkup. Health aides are only supposed to escort emergencies: somebody that's on oxygen; somebody that’s on I.V. And I believe that the health aides ought to be at the clinic, because they got enough work today, and they got to keep up their work right there at the clinic and let somebody else escort. I was thinking why don't we pay -- they pay the person who is going to escort? And then the people give back time to health aides, because they say:

"Well, that's your job to escort these elders. That's your job. That's your job. That's your job."

Somebody else can do that. The health aides say:

"You're --"

The people say -- they tell us:

"You're not helping us."

Okay? If we're always flying on the airplane, and we're not at the clinic to work, how are we to get all our work done? We wish that we could keep up. In the bigger villages, it’s still worse yet. The people just run over the health aides. They tell the health aides:

"It's your job. It's your job to escort all these people."

Not for routine things. Not to bring somebody to Fairbanks for audiologist to get hearing aid. Not for a routine eye checkup. Those are routine things. Their families, or their friends, or somebody can do that part. Not the health aides.

Also, I thought to myself that many of those old people; they can't hear. They can't communicate with people. And they spend a lot of lonely times, because they can't hear nobody. I thought:

"Why don't they hire language sign teacher in school, so we can get started on that, so this can be for later on?"

Just hire somebody that can teach language sign, so people could communicate with each others, especially the elders. They're the wise people, and they're the people that's going to leave all the information to the rest of the people.

Another thing, too, that always get me stuck is there's no room over at Tanana Chiefs Patient Hospital. It's always filled; it's always filled. Why don't you make it bigger? It's hard for the old people to stop in hotel, because they don't really understand those people behind the desk. It's easier for them, if it's bigger over there, and if everybody stop over there and have cafeteria in there that make it altogether easier for the older people –for anybody. So all these Native people, they could help each others over there. Somebody will be on wheelchair, and they got to go back and forth over there, too, because the cafeteria is over at the hospital. That's dangerous for somebody to be on wheelchair and go back and forth. Not only for them, for all the old people; because they can't hear, and their eyesight is poor, too. They can't see the traffic. Sometime we'll have accident. And we're also so sick to go back and forth. Even me, last winter, I was so sick that I don't know how I go across and I come back. And when we're that sick, too, we could care less what happens to us. Sick people are sick people. That's all I have down on that one

And I was thinking that, speaking on alcohol still it's a real problem. Drugging and alcohol is still yet a real problem. I just want everybody to think about it and to try to find out what to do about it. We done quite a bit in our village to try to control this alcohol; and it's really hard work, but it's worth it. In our village, we have watched all the planes, but it's hard to be working in the clinic and be running up to the airport. We meet the airplane, and we cut open the boxes when we think that there's -- somebody is bringing in booze. And, by doing that, we held it quite a while; and still it's like that. We're holding the alcohol down in our village, and that -- I just talk about it, because I want people to think about it and trying to find ways to help the rest of the villages.

And VPSO -- old people are pretty important in all the villages. I keep on hearing that there might be no VPSO after while, because there's no money, and that's the most important thing in the village is VPSO and the clinic workers. That's the two most important positions that we have in the villages. I hate the VPSO’s job to be cut out. From the time that VPSO was hired in our village, I did less tutoring and less medi-vac from right there on. So I hate that to be cut out. I think that's enough on that one now. I think that's all I had.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Rose, thank you very much. (Applause.) I think you speak very well for the elders, and I think it's something that we have to be aware of; and I would like to ask you a little bit later about maybe some of your suggestions about how to address this problem of drugs and alcohol. But I think we should move on with the testimony right now. Let's see. Mim Dixon?

MS. DIXON: Hello, I'm Mim Dixon. I'm the Director of Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks. I've prepared some written testimony on a number of subjects, including cancer prevention, detection, and treatment; birth control; alcohol and mental health; long-term care; the effectiveness of the Public Law 93-638 Contracting in our region; and the need for health facility construction. I know the time is late and I want to give my time so that more Native voices can be heard, especially the people that have come from far away today.


MS. DIXON: But I'll submit this to you in writing. Thank you.


COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Okay, thank you very much. That would be very good to read that, and it'll be very seriously considered. Thank you very much for relinquishing your time. And I'd like to pass it on then to Margaret Wilson?

MS. WILSON: Good morning. My name is Margaret Wilson. I'm originally from Kaltag. I work for Tanana Chiefs as a Community Health Services Director. Under Community Health Services, we have several different programs. Some of those programs address alcohol and substance abuse. Some of those programs address FAS. Safe -- some of our other programs address health promotion and injury prevention. What I have is written here, and I'll just go over it real quickly.


(Ms. Nelson [sic] broke down while reading her testimony, saying she could not continue.)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Okay, Margaret, thank you very much. I know these are very difficult problems, and that's one reason the Commission was asked to come into existence. I would like to talk with you personally about your own suggestions of how this very difficult problem might be approached. But thank you for what you have given us, and we -- you will submit the written -- what you have written?

MS. WILSON: I guess I will continue. (She continued with reading written testimony.)

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Thank you, Margaret. Your report certainly encompasses a lot of things that we need to investigate much more completely. But, given the time, we should move on right now. I do have some questions for you afterwards though. Would you introduce yourselves and --

MR. TADDY: I'm Dennis Taddy. I'm an engineer with the Tanana Chiefs, and I also manage the Low-Maintenance Worker Program, which is one where Cindy did so well. She basically made my whole talk, because I purposely had where -- Cindy Wiehl -- and I do want to apologize. That was one of the things I guess, which a lot of times we do, we hurry and do something for the Natives, and we forget to think about them when we're doing it. We're -- the comment:

"We’re from the government; we' re here to help you."

And I made that blunder. I knew she got married, and I spaced it.

My part, which I'm going to talk about just briefly; and I wish I could be as brief as Mim, but then some people wouldn't believe it if I was that way. I have a reputation to uphold. Mine is dealing with the sanitation facilities in the villages, and deals primarily with Public Law 86-121,which came into effect July 31, 1959, and we're still, 33 years later, trying to provide the key part of it -- essential sanitation facilities in villages.

Most of what I have already written covers a lot of it. There is a couple of other items, which I want to briefly go over, which I happened to omit. Several of them are -- one of the major ones is somewhere the State needs to recognize that Natives do have some rights. The biggest one, which we just went through, TCC was a real battle to get the Village of Circle sanitation facilities, which we were going to put on airport land; and the Village of Circle was not eligible to -- well, they were eligible; but probably not in their lifetime to complete all of the legal headache to get control of it. So TCC leased it, and turned out; and we sub-leased the land to the Native village, so they can have a washateria built. It's been a three-year process, which, hopefully, we'll see start this year,

Another one, which Andy Jimmie talked about just briefly, very, very many of our clinics in the villages do not have running water; and, as Andy had stressed, how many of us would continue to go to a doctor, who he washed his hands under an igloo cooler? And that's prevalent in a good share of TCC villages, and it's also prevalent throughout the whole state of Alaska. It's definitely something that needs to be addressed. It is being worked on; and, as Andy said, there was a half million dollars allocated a year ago; that took care of 13 villages. That's not a. very good success, when you consider there's over 200 of them out there. At that rate, we will be at it quite awhile.

Another issue, which Cindy had mentioned briefly, was the operational maintenance costs of sanitation facilities in villages which are living on a subsistence lifestyle. A washing machine costs money to run; it costs money to replace; but it's real hard to shove that moose in the coin slot and make it work. So they have a real problem of trying to adapt our culture; which we, in some ways -- and I guess I don't have to -- I commented to Mim earlier:

"At least I don't have to show that I'm credible."

I think poor sanitation facilities are poor sanitation facilities no matter who they're for.

But we've made -- and because of the health -- the improvements of providing sanitary facilities, has made a big difference; but with it goes a lot of the things which cost money; and they don't have the money. Many times their needs, or interests, are not considered when the facilities are given to them. So it's very frustrating on their side to accept ownership for something that they were never even asked to be involved in the development of.

And, with that, I'm actually going to read my conclusion, 'cause I did -- the one thing which our office at TCC we've come up with -- we believe probably the most important step in solving some of the issues of sanitation facilities is recognizing that people in the villages are a member of -- need to be a member of the team that solves the problem and provides these essential sanitation facilities. And I will stop at that. Thank you very much.


COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Dennis, thank you very much for that, and for being brief. I think that what you conclude with is very important, that the Native people need to be involved with the planning, and on that level; and I think that that's one of the reasons that this Commission has been brought into existence, because of Tanana Chie -- or AFN asking that Native people be consulted on the programs which come into their villages. We're asking for that input now, and thank you very much for giving it.

Let's see. Are there any questions from the other members of the Commission for each one of the members of this particular board?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: I had one thing I'd like to comment on in regard to Margaret Wilson's testimony about the alcohol problem and everything that's been happening in the villages with the suicide. I’m originally from Anvik, and there have been a great deal of people who I grew up with that are gone because of suicide and accidental deaths; and I was listening to your testimony, and you mentioned something about informal help before -- I'd like to know, how can you capture that back to get to informal help? Maybe through the traditional councils, or there should be some type of incentive for the healthy, young people? I think they should start working and helping the elderly. This is something that is so important for the villages, and for the people who are living there, and how do you think you can obtain that informal help, or how can we help in stressing that out in the village?

MS. WILSON: What we have done over the past year at TCC is we've formed our own task force within our agency. And some of the people who are involved are psychiatrists and a couple of mental health people, Substance Abuse Trainer, myself, our Youth Program Director, who is Richard Frank, and there is a group of 12 of us who are trying to get together to try and figure out how we can address this problem. And, at this point, we've kind of come up with three different elements that we have decided that we needed to address. And, as yet, again, because of lack of funding, we’re still trying to address some of the issues. What we have come up with is both short-term, which is like a suicide crisis intervention team. And this is what we have done in the past. We've sent out some of our own people. We'll be doing that next week, sending a group of people down to a couple of communities that have experienced suicide in the past month. And these are professional people from the Mental Health, and Department of TCC, and some of our people from our Health Education staff. And they will be in the community for two to three days, doing presentations on several different things like breathing, or suicide; and they'll stay within the community.

What we're trying to do is trying to encourage some of our village leaders to take responsibility for what is happening in their village. We can offer our resources. Again, our resources are limited; but, think, until you take ownership of the problem, it's not goin9 to be their problem. It's always going to be someone else's problem. And I heard an African proverb, and I think it should be one of ours; and that proverb like:

"It takes a whole village to raise a child."

And I think maybe we should start taking responsibility for our own, and start-addressing some of the problems that beset us in the villages. And, so, what we are trying to do right now is to try and raise the responsibility level of some of the community leaders. What we are also trying to do is looking at some other activities which would maybe help some of our youth in the villages. One of them is dog sledding.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Well, I think that' s a very, very good way to go. I believe that's one of the traditional values, and it'll keep you busy year round, and you don't have time to get bored, and you' re working constantly.

During some of the testimony, I also heard a lot of the questions is -- when you were asking for help, or asking for some funding, I heard the phrase used that they didn't have this, or they didn't have that, and I'd like to know who is they?

MS. WILSON: Let me see. I'm not really sure. I kind of went over a lot of --

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Is that some of the nonprofit organizations, or some of the regional corporations, or.....

MS. WILSON: I'm not really sure in which context I used that (laughing).

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Let's see, where you were talking about actions, you mentioned that after you got through, you said the rural alcohol and mental health program, recovery camps, traditional values, the education programs in the schools, and the HIV-prevention educators. And you mentioned that there wasn't enough money to really pursue those programs, and I think -- is that where you were.....

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Well, in -- I think it was in Rose's testimony in regard to the elders being forgotten, and that there wasn't enough funding available; but I kept hearing the word:

"They didn't have; they asked for help, but they didn't have the money; they didn't have the funding."

And I just wanted to know who is the they.

MS. WILSON: So the question is directed at Rose, not me, right?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Maybe so. Well, you used that term in your testimony, too, and --

MS. WILSON: Well, I think part of what I was trying to say is that we have tried to do a lot with limited funding.


MS. WILSON: And we are still trying to do a lot, in that we're emphasizing training for many of our para-professional counselors in the villages. Excuse me, I'm a little bit nervous. Plus, we have hired new para-professional counselors this year. We opened a new recovery camp this year out in the McGrath area, and these things cost a lot of money, and we don't get a lot of money from the State to do a lot of these things. And I realize everybody is suffering from lack of funding, or inadequate funding, but I guess I'm just expressing what we are trying to do, even if we have limited funding.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Okay, thank you.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: We keep coming back to the state and to the federal government. How long do you think we can go to that well? Don't we have to start generating something locally, from the land grants, and from the resources, and from the ANCSA Corporations, and so forth?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Well, that's -- I think should start demanding help from the regional corporations, from the nonprofit organizations, and what other organizations are set up to help the people, 'cause I've seen so many causes that are set out to -- their mission is to help the Native people socially and economically the well-being of the people; and I think a lot of this that we're discussing is fitting under that category.

MS. DIXON: If I could just say that the federal government does have a trust responsibility to provide health care, and there isn't really another payer, other than billing insurance companies, Medicaid and Medicare. And you heard Eileen Kozevnikoff speak at the beginning about many people who resent having Medicaid as a requirement before they can tap into contract health funds. But, in reality, I think the federal government has got to accept its responsibility for health care for Native American people.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: That's not the question.

MS. DIXON: And I think, ultimately, the federal government needs to look at a national health policy for all people, not just Native people. And I don't think we should turn away from that as a source of funding, just because it's unpopular right now to keep tapping government sources. This is one program that should be funded from government sources in my mind.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: The trouble with that though is that the moment you start taking government funds, you get government strings, and government regulations, and government-imposed terms that we then complain about; because they're made in Washington, or maybe in Juneau; but they certainly don't take into consideration the local needs, and the local concerns; and that's the price you pay when you go there. And it seems to me there are ways to generate these things in-house, rather than going out there and asking for government assistance.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: I Chink we need to keep in mind that, as citizens of the state, and as citizens of the United States, we as Native people are entitled to certain services; and I would question whether we're getting our fair share of those services that. are being dispensed to other cities and municipalities. I can almost guarantee you that in the state of Alaska, we're not getting a proportionate, nor a fair share of State spending in rural Alaska. So to say that nonprofits, or the regional corporations, should pick up these responsibilities is, number one, not appropriate; it's not their responsibility; and if we were to pick it up, we'd be gone in about two years, because the responsibility of the state and federal government is so large that no nonprofit, or no profit could assume that, nor should they. The obligation is clearly the obligation of the federal government to perform what they're obligated, by law, in many instances, and by statutes in some, to perform.

That's what we're talking about; and I think we need to -- however, Ed ha -- I mean, my good friend has a good point. We need to think about other sources, because these sources aren't limitless; and we need to think of innovation; but we need to make sure that we're getting our fair share.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I don't disagree with any of this. But I only wanted to again emphasize that when you deal with government, and get government help, you. pay a high price.


MS. DIXON: I do think that the challenge for this Commission is to find ways that the federal funding can be spent more efficiently, more creatively, with fewer layers of bureaucracy, where getting money closer to the sources, to the people; and some of the written testimony I provided has given some suggestions for that; and I think we have a very good history with 638 Contracting for doing that; and I do want to mention that the nonprofit regional corporations, like Tanana Chiefs Conference, have no other source of funding than government contracts. They are a vehicle for government contracting. There is no way to generate money, other than government contracting; so, I think, with the challenge to help make that work better --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I don't buy that at all. Many nonprofits and charitable organizations in this state and other states are able to raise funds without going to the government, and I'm not saying that we should stop going to the government; but we should start being creative, and raise our own; and if that means growing some marijuana, I don't give a darn, whatever it is. And I'm saying that for shock value, not because I advocate it. But there are ways to do it. You can have a casino on an Indian reservation and make all kinds of money; and we're going to have to face those things, because they -- the well is going to run dry one of these days. This is -- our country, at the moment, is headed cowards total financial collapse; and ail of a sudden, if that happens, are we going to just throw up our hands and say: "It's over"? Can't do that.

MS. DIXON: Sir, I would submit to you that if the government can find us the money to bail out savings and loans -- if the government can find the money when it wants to for various other things, it can find the money to serve the health needs of the people.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I agree with you; but, unfortunately, it's not without limits. We are now the greatest debtor nation in the world, and we have the biggest deficit, and it's growing every year; and one of these days, you're going to have a depression and an economic collapse that you won't believe. And we better start --

MS. GALBREATH: Well, why start with the Alaska Natives?



COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Could we -- we got to get going here, Ed. (Laughter.) I mean, this is great; but this is not on the subject.

COMMISSIONER SEBESTA: Yeah. This -- I really appreciate the testimony; and I'd like to question both -- all of you a little bit more, because I think that it's very important that we get the suggestions to make solid recommendations to both government agencies; and I would like to follow up privately with you, because I think you have some very good things to suggest. If there are no further questions bearing particularly on health, I would ask the Social and Cultural Issues' people to come forward, particularly Group A. That's Susie Sam, Benedict Jones, Don Shircel, and Joe Neal Hicks.

MS. FATE: I think that last statement my good friend and lawyer -- not my personal lawyer -- Boyko said his personal view on growing marijuana, which I totally, 150 percent object. (Applause)

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I said: "That's for shock value." I don' t use it; I don't support it..; but if we had to grow guinea pigs, whatever it is, there are ways to raise money if you need to.

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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