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A Healing Journey for Alaska Natives: Community Responses with Victims and Offenders

This video highlights holistic and community-based approaches to victims and offenders. It also addresses the significant impact historical trauma has had on some Alaska Natives. Offenders often return to their homes and communities; therefore, communities must be actively involved in re-entry efforts to ensure the safety of victims and community members.

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ELSIE BOUDREAU, YUP’IK, PRESIDENT, ARCTIC WINDS, HEALING WINDS: The world view for Alaska Native people is really the interconnectedness that Native people have with each other, with the earth, with the animals. And so there's a sacredness to that.

PATRICK, ATHABASCAN TRIBE: Everything is connected in the world. Everything has a spirit. Nature is a healer. When I need to calm myself down, I go out to nature, sit by the river, the water, or the trees, and it's like meditation. And nature sort of calms you down and quiets you down. I suffered from depression—boarding school sexual abuse—and I was very suicidal.

JENNIFER MEYER, RN, SANE-A, SART-A, CLINICAL NURSE MANAGER, FORENSIC NURSING SERVICES OF PROVIDENCE: The Alaska Native people, for generations, there has been pain and trauma inflicted upon this population from the time that the land was settled that has never been adequately discussed, processed, and healed.

ELSIE BOUDREAU: Intergenerational trauma, the historical trauma that has occurred, unresolved grief that people have not processed, comes out in lots of different ways.

PATRICK: An elder, which was my first mentor, she said, "Face your fears." Three words: "Face your fears." Three small words, but it was the toughest journey from the head to the heart.

ASHLEY STICKMAN, NATIVE VILLAGE OF KOTZEBUE, MANAGER, MANIILAQ FAMILY CRISIS CENTER: Domestic violence and sexual assault is a reality; it's happening every day. And alcohol and substance abuse plays a high factor in when and why these crimes are committed.

JOE MASTERS, NATIVE VILLAGE OF UNALAKLEET, FORMER COMMISSIONER, ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: When I was a trooper and when I was a VPSO, you always seem to be dealing with the same people over, and over, and over again. And then if you're in an area for a long time, then you may be dealing with their kids over and over again.

ASHLEY STICKMAN: The patterns are learned behaviors. It's stuff that they grew up to see and know and acknowledge as being a normal act in a home.

OLINKA PETERSON, YUP’IK, TRIBAL VICTIM ADVOCATE/OUTREACH COORDINATOR, TUNDRA WOMEN’S COALITION: People are finally starting to talk about it, so a lot of it is starting to surface, when, back in the day, it was taboo to talk about sexual abuse, you know, nobody could talk about it. I always say we were born into the shadows of our ancestors' traumas. Now I am saying I want them to have some light within their lives.

ELSIE BOUDREAU: So it's really, really important to be educated, as far as the effects of trauma on children, on families, and then to understand Alaska Native culture and how the world view of Alaska Native people is really more of a "we" than an "I."

OLINKA PETERSON: I'm a survivor of sexual abuse, so when I work with families, I feel for them, and seeing it firsthand, how it was so scary to open up to strangers and talk about what was going on.

ELSIE BOUDREAU: What I know in working with children is that they often don't know the word "sexual abuse." And so it's really important when we're talking with children that we ask the right question.

OLINKA PETERSON: They need a lot of stability and to be aware it's not their fault that they were abused. It's not their fault; it's not their guilt or shame to carry. Some villages are just so remote, and everybody knows everybody. And if there is an incident, a lot of times victims are more victimized when they go back. It's like, you know, it's your fault. It's your fault that man is gone or that woman is incarcerated. So we got to make sure that victim or the family members have a strong support group before they go back.

JOAN DEWEY, RETIRED MENTAL HEALTH CLINICIAN, BETHEL SEX OFFENDER PROGRAM, ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: Looking at how we can promote healing in a community and increase safety involves partnerships with our tribal agencies that are providing social and behavioral health services in the YK Delta.

TERRA ABBOTT, NOME ESKIMO COMMUNITY, RN, ACUTE CARE UNIT, NORTON SOUND HEALTH CORPORATION: It's critical that we're all working together. Perpetrators usually have been traumatized themselves in some way, and that they need to find help.

PAULINE BIALY, ASA’CARSARMIUT TRIBE/YUP’IK, PROGRAM MANAGER, IRNIAMTA IKAYURVIAT, CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY CENTER: The Tundra Women's Coalition, we work with the Sex Offender Treatment Program by attending their monthly meetings and participating in some of their activities.

JOAN DEWEY: The men that come into the Bethel Sex Offender Treatment Program are from one of the 56 Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages. The important requirement is that they have to be willing to accept responsibility for the offense. We have a very high incidence of men who are substance abusers. A number of them come from horrendous histories that started very early in childhood.

JACK, YUP’IK: I was sexually abused when I was 5, 6 years old. I had more than one person sexually abuse me—male and other older females. And it wasn't until I went into this program that I learned it was from my abuse and anger that I held in for so long that I tried to remedy with alcohol and drugs and sex.

JOAN DEWEY: We have men, you know, that are perhaps working on their sobriety for the first time, and also then working on the sex offending behaviors. And then they are working on transitioning home, and the health in that community or in that family could still be very damaged.

PAULINE BIALY: At one of the sex offender treatment program meetings, they brought up that they were having one of the treatment men graduate from the program. And some of the community members in that village wanted to have a potlatch to welcome the man back. And then we mentioned, "Have you talked to the victim?" And then from there, they looked more into it and talked to the family members of that victim, and they did not have that potlatch. They didn't have that celebration for the man coming back.

JOAN DEWEY: We know that with every one of these program men, there are a number of victims, both children and adults, that are impacted by his presence.

JACK: I went to prison because I abused my stepdaughter. I molested her.

JOAN DEWEY: What we hope for is to get the men able to recognize the importance of how they think and how that directly impacts their behavior.

JACK: In this program I learned change thinking. And it's a powerful word for me today. I see a great need for me to stay in this program, to help myself and give hope to other...other people that is now coming in.

JOAN DEWEY: It's a huge undertaking, and it takes a lot of people, a partnership of working together.

OLINKA PETERSON: We pull in community members to help, and that's what makes it really unique. These men have support nets; they have five to six in their villages. When he sets up his support net, he'll have to tell them all his red flags—drugs, and alcohol, and gambling, and being out late. The net group is supposed to be looking after him. Once they see it, they have to let that offender know, "Maybe you need to back off and look at your behaviors." So they're getting reconnected with the community and reconnected with who they're meant to be.

JOAN DEWEY: They aren't just fixed once they go through 18 months of treatment. That's a good start, maybe gets them moving in the right direction. And these community members in these safety nets are people who have lifelong investment. And working on no new offenses—that's the goal. No more victims—that's the goal.

JOE MASTERS: As a Native Alaskan, I think that looking back to move forward is absolutely necessary. Look back at what those cultural values are that were so strong. The values that we as a Native people have on our environment and on our language, the importance of our family, and in faith, as well. Those need to be brought back.

JOAN DEWEY: It's required of each program man to be part of a pro-social activity with their community that help the men take responsibility. This is very traditional Yup'ik.

OLINKA PETERSON: Back in the day when men used to meet in their meeting, it's called Qasgiiq. They used to meet and gather, and they would talk about issues that are going on, and very openly, without hiding anything. And that's what the men do—they gather and they talk very openly about their issues, and they're very honest with each other.

JOAN DEWEY: The men that come into the Bethel Sex Offender Treatment Program, they're in what's called a restorative service type activity—going out and fishing, deliver hundreds and hundreds of pounds of fish that will feed the families that are in the shelter through the winter. Fish is very valuable here. While they're working, they are talking about recovery, they're talking about change. They feel good when they're actually giving something back that's substantial.

PATRICK: Once you're abused, or once you're beaten, or once somebody hurts you, then it's like a...it's like a...like a rabid fox, you know, it eats on your spirit.

TERRA ABBOTT: You know, as Native people, that we can come together and we could solve this. Whether you're even a perpetrator, a victim, there's help out there and there's hope.

JENNIFER MEYER: As service agencies, we can help them get back to some of the roots that worked for their elders and see that come forward now.

ELSIE BOUDREAU: We need to get back to the teachings of our ancestors and heal our souls, heal our spirit. And I would like for that to be true for all our Native people.

PATRICK: Looking at the strength, looking at the resiliency, and letting people know that we're a very intelligent, smart people, and we could make a life that's going to be very productive and leave a legacy for our children.

Date Created: June 16, 2020