Alakanuk featured at suicide prevention meeting

by Sophie Evan on August 23, 2013

The 13th Tribal Leaders Summit, held in Anchorage, ended the first day by drafting a resolution on how the Tribes will tackle the suicide epidemic, which in turn will be presented to Alaska’s Tribal Governments, Elders and Parents. The tribes also heard about what has become known as the Alakanuk Story, and from a panel that asked the question, “what can tribes do to assist their young people liver fuller, more hopeful lives.

The Thursday afternoon session started with Alakanuk Tribal Administrator Ray Oney who talked about what has become known as the Alakanuk Story. The Yukon River village experienced cluster suicides in the 80’s and continued to lose their people to suicide in the subsequent years, to the point where their elders said enough.

A village wide ceremony was held where Alakanuk residents went to all of the four directions around their village to exorcise the spirit of suicide by beating drums, stomping, and yelling at the spirit of suicide to get out of Alakanuk.

The village did not lose another person to suicide for four years after that. Alakanuk started the Qungasvik project which is a toolbox filled with ways for a healthy traditional subsistence life. Tribal representatives asked a lot of questions to Oney on some of the nuts and bolts of using the Qungasvik Tool Box.

The panel addressing the question, “What can Tribes do to help young people live fuller more hopeful lives” consisted of AVCP’s Daniel Bill, a young man from Copper Center Samuel Johns, the statewide suicide coordinator, Lindsay Kato, and Ray Oney of Alakanuk.

The first day ended with drafting a resolution on how the Tribal Leaders of Alaska will unite to solve the suicide epidemic.

The second day’s agenda is filled with statewide tribal issues such as the clash between Alaskan Tribal Sovereignty and the State of Alaska’s refusal to recognize Tribal authority.

Co-chairman Mike Williams says the underlying issues that cause Native People to become hopeless and suicidal need to be addressed. Such as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that limits traditional land and water use, for hunting and fishing that the Native People of Alaska live for and by.

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