Alaska's Native communities are facing a crippling series of problems, many of which stem from alcohol abuse, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell told Native leaders Wednesday.
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Speaking to the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the Alaska Native Brotherhood issues forum, Parnell said the effect of alcohol is seen in Alaska's high rates of suicide, school dropouts, accidental deaths, incest and sexual abuse of young people.
"Alcohol is the cause of most of our problems," he said.
June Pegues, 77, said she could feel Parnell's sincerity.
"His concerns are my concerns," she said. "We sweep under the rug a lot of things, like suicide."
Native communities face especially high rates of sexual abuse, Parnell said.
Most troubling is the number of young people molested by family members and the impact this has on the victims and their communities, he said.
"Incest and sexual abuse are a threat to Native culture," he said, and much of the problem also has its roots in drinking.
Parnell said he understands the impact of alcohol abuse from his own family's experience. His grandfather was an abusive alcoholic, he said.
Parnell grew up without his grandfather in his life as his parents protected him from possible abuse. His grandfather died desperate and alone on skid row, he said.
There were many elders in the audience, and Parnell took note.
"We learn from the deep wisdom of Native elders," he said.
Parnell, who took office in December, urged the leaders to bring problems into the open so they can be solved.
"Shame only exists in secret," he said.
Also in the audience were several members of the Alaska Legislature, from Juneau and elsewhere.
Pat Forgey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.