Representative Tiffany Zulkosky is flying back to Bethel for the Cama-i Festival this weekend, and she’s bringing staffers from the governor’s office with her. The group will discuss alcohol’s impact on Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages at a “Listening Session” on Saturday evening.
The delegation arriving in Bethel on Saturday is something of a task force drawn from the Walker administration’s staff. Walt Monegan, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, will be there. Representatives from the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor’s offices will be, too. Representative Zulkosky organized the meeting in direct response to resolutions issued by the villages of Napaskiak and Marshall, which urged the governor to declare a state of emergency in their communities last week.
Both villages addressed the Y-K Delta’s lack of public safety. In Napaskiak, tribal council members claim that Bethel’s liquor store has led to a sharp increase in alcohol-related deaths in their village.
“We’ve buried so many loved ones,” Tribal Administrator Sharon Williams said. “So many already.”
In Marshall, tribal council members say that they’ve also seen a spike in alcohol-related incidents, and the village is struggling to handle it. With the exception of occasional Trooper visits, Marshall has no law enforcement. According to Marshall Tribal Administrator Nick Andrew Jr., that makes coping with the alcohol and opioid epidemics next to impossible.
“Living without public safety – in America, mind you – it’s a scenario where you feel like America’s forgotten,” Andrew said.
Both villages urged Governor Walker to intervene. Now, their resolutions are gaining traction at a state and national level. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski mentioned Napaskiak’s resolution on Wednesday during a meeting of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
“It is just yet one more reminder to me that when we think about those who we serve and the cries for help that they are asking us for, we have so very much to do,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski also referred to stresses caused by opioid use in rural Alaska. She said that Alaska’s rate of heroin overdose deaths in 2012 was over 50 percent higher than the national average, and the overdose death rate was highest among Alaska Native people.
Tiffany Zulkosky’s “Listening Session” on the impact of Bethel’s liquor store on the Y-K Delta is open to the public. Constituents are welcome to discuss other concerns as well. It’s scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Bethel Regional High School in room C-22.