A new generation walks for sobriety in Kwethluk

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Kwethluk students march for sobriety in their community. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)
Kwethluk students march for sobriety in their community. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Tired of seeing families and children harmed from alcohol and drug use, a group from Kwethluk organized a march for sobriety through the streets of their community on Wednesday. Leading with a sign saying, “Enough is Enough,” new voices spread their message through the village.

A crowd is gathering in front of the Kwethluk Post Office. Students, parents, teachers, IRA members, State Troopers, VPSO’s, AVCP representatives, and Police Officers from Kwethluk, Akiak, and Akiachak. They all stand outside. Many hold signs. Some shed coats in the sun. Then one teenager steps above the crowd.

“Me and my fellow student are showing that a small group can also make a change in the world,” Jenessy Sallaffie said, senior and Student Council President at the Kwethluck School, “and to help that the ones who don’t have a voice that they are not alone and that there’s always someone there to show them that they can have a good life.”

Sallaffie and her friend Nelson organized the walk.

“Because I’ve heard too many times from my peers,” Sallaffie said, “that, ‘Oh this kid got hurt last night from their drinking parents. Oh this student came to school stoned and had to leave the school. Oh he won’t ever get a good education; she won’t either.’ So this is just one big step to starting a change in the village.”

Jenessy Sallaffie (far right) leads Kwethluk’s sobriety march. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)
Jenessy Sallaffie (far right) leads Kwethluk’s sobriety march. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Kwethluk Assistant Principal Natalie Mikesell is providing support. She says drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and sexual assault is an ongoing conversation at the school. Today, Mikesell says, the teachers talked with the students about what they were marching for and what exactly alcohol and drugs are.

“We talked a lot about what are some of the harmful effects of those, and a lot of the kids opened up about how it makes them feel unsafe when they see those things going on in the community,” Mikesell said.

To help have that conversation, Mikesell says many of the teachers made signs with their students to carry during the march.

KYUK: What’s your sign say?
Kid 1: Let’s say no. And on this one it says, No more drugs and alcohol.
Kid 2: We’re stopping drugs and alcohol.
Kid 3: Stay sober. Be happy.
Kid 4: No more spice.
Kid 5: Sober parents have happy kids.

KYUK: Why is that important?
Kid 5: Kids can get scared when [their parents are] drinking.
Kid 1: Some kids might get scared.

Not being scared and feeling safe, Mikesell says that’s a basic need for students to be able to learn in school. She says it’s similar to clothing and food.

“A student needs to feel those things are being met before they can really learn,” Mikesell said. “And so when those things are absent in the home because of alcohol abuse or drug use, the student will struggle.”

Max Olick is Kwethluk’s VPSO, or Village Public Safety Officer. He says much of the domestic violence and death in the delta is substance-related. And the kids, he says, have seen too much of it.

“They’re tired of it. ‘Enough is enough,’ they say, and we need to listen to them. They’re our future generation’s leaders,” Olick said.

After a half hour of walking, the group stops outside the community washateria. And like in the beginning, the march’s leader, Sallaffie, climbs the building’s stairs and addresses the crowd.

“We walked a while, and I’m sure your legs are tired, but from showing up we’ve shown what working together can do to solve a problem,” Sallaffie said. “Thank you for all your support.”

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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