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The Tundra Women’s Coalition: Restoring Connectedness Broken by Trauma

This video highlights programs developed through the Tundra Women’s Coalition that provide the support teenagers need to cope with adversity and that connect youth with each other, their elders, their traditions, and the environment.

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STACI, CUP’IK: I'm Cup'ik. I'm from Chevak. We have mountains, and they're beautiful in the summertime. You can see the purple rocks, and it's amazing.

NELSON KANUK, TWC PROGRAM COORDINATOR, YUP’IK: To me, being Yup'ik means to have respect for other people, have respect for yourself, and be able to have a connection with both the modern world and your traditional world.

TRAVIS, YUP’IK: I most like hunting—bird hunting, and then seal hunting, and then fishing.

NELSON KANUK: The thing that I love about being able to go out hunting and fishing is it gives you a connection with the natural world.

MICHELLE DEWITT, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TUNDRA WOMEN’S COALITION: The subsistence lifestyle is alive and well and vibrant in rural Alaska.

DANIEL BILL, DIRECTOR OF YOUTH SERVICES, CUP’IK: People are still going out hunting and fishing, going out berry picking, gathering food as much as they can.

NELSON KANUK: It gives you a chance to be able to connect with not only the animals of the tundra; it gives you a chance to be able to connect with yourself as well. It's like hitting a reset button.

MICHELLE DEWITT: It is an incredibly important part of who people are and how they connect to their world, the environment, and each other. That connectedness is disrupted when crime and trauma happens.

ALFRED, YUP’IK: Seeing my grandmother drunk wasn't always a great memory, but it's there.

MICHELLE DEWITT: Everybody in these small communities throughout our region are friends and family, and so everybody's impacted when someone is harmed.

STACI: Growing up was kind of hard because when I was younger, my mama, she was a really bad alcoholic. I had to make my own food because she wasn't there for how many days of the week.

DANIEL BILL: There's a lot of children that are being taken away from their parents due to neglect. And most of the time, those neglects happen when the parent leaves the village.

TRAVIS: Ever since my mom left, my dad, I think, got more into drinking, lost his job for, like, a while. My hope is that my dad quits drinking, like, completely, so I could go back and help him with the fishing, the subsistence hunting.

MICHELLE DEWITT: Drug and alcohol abuse is a major topic with the youth. TWC has a mission to address, respond to, and prevent domestic violence. And talking about substance abuse is something that is incorporated into all of our work.

STACI: I am not going to be an alcoholic. If I ever have children, I don't want them to live in that kind of...live that way. I mean, I struggled, so I don't want my kids to struggle.

MICHELLE DEWITT: The fish camp, it was a little bit farther down on the agenda...

NELSON KANUK: I believe TWC brings a positive impact within not only the community of Bethel, but also this whole region that TWC serves, because with the trauma that families go through, TWC opens its doors to assist these families in any way they can.

DANIEL BILL: We were told at a time when we were growing up, number one, whatever is in your mind, talk about it. If at a time you're talking about it, you need to cry, cry. Don't hold it back. But it's important to talk about it.

ALFRED: I was sexually abused by my father. And, um, that's always difficult. There are so many "what ifs"—what if things happened this way, what if this didn't happen? What would be different? And I find myself in a fantasy where all the mistakes, changes never happened. And I try to imagine what it would be like, but it never comes. The drum circle gave me something to look forward to...something that I was able to do at one point. I want everyone to pay attention and try to stay in time with it. Unless I go into the middle to do the honor beats, you keep going with the same beat that you were doing before. Let's get started. What TWC did for me was suicide prevention. It made it, um, I guess easier to live at the time.

DANIEL BILL: There's a very, very high rate of suicide among Natives in Alaska. Most of the suicides occur when the individual is between the ages of 15 to 25, and a lot of it is alcohol -related.

MICHELLE DEWITT: We're done with suicide. And by doing that, we want to go out and heal our communities. We found that, over time, peer education is the best way to deliver information to other youth. Kids listen to other kids. The youth are the strong opinion leaders amongst other youth.

TRAVIS: TAAV stands for Teens Acting Against Violence. It's a prevention program—the difference between healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships. We travel around villages and do a program.

STACI: TAAV was really awesome. I loved the experience.

ALFRED: I've been involved since age 13, so I was with it for quite a while.

STACI: At the end of the year we have an Outward Bound trip, and we go to cities that we haven't been to before.

ALFRED: The one I enjoyed most is when we went to the Deschutes River in Oregon. It was a great trip. A wonderful experience, actually.

NELSON KANUK: I believe, with TWC, with the work that we do here, it helps kids mend together the trauma that they went through and it also gives them a chance to be able to realize that it doesn't have to stay this way. Things will get better. It brings hope back in their lives.

Date Created: June 16, 2020