Subsistence activist Erica "Desa" Jacobsson is fasting again, this time to prompt further investigation into the recent deaths of six Anchorage women, five of whom were Native.
Jacobsson, 54, said she will abstain from all food and drink only water until three federal agencies visit Alaska with the intent of a full inquiry into the deaths, which have occurred within a year and a half. Those agencies are the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
"These are crimes of hate," Jacobsson said Saturday from Days Inn, the downtown Anchorage hotel where she is conducting her protest. "Officials have all yawned and it's getting worse. I don't think it will be handled locally," noting that the crimes occurred with "rape prevention counselors and the Native Justice Center already in place."
Law enforcement officials have said they are giving the murders full attention.
Anchorage police arrested a suspect in the string of slayings on Sept. 30. Joshua Wade, 20, whose bail was set at $1 million, was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Della Brown, whose body was found Sept. 2. Police said they have information linking Brown to other recent killings.
A national trainer who works with a grant to support Native justice, Jacobsson moved to Anchorage from Juneau two months ago. She fasted for nearly four weeks in January and February to bring attention to the cause of subsistence rights for Alaska Natives. She was also one of five Native women cited in Juneau following a subsistence fishing protest near the Mendenhall Glacier.
Jacobsson, who is Gwich'in and Yup'ik, first protested subsistence fishing in 1989, and was arrested for her efforts. In 1998, when she was the gubernatorial candidate for the Green Party of Alaska, subsistence rights were part of her platform.
Jacobsson said she would bring her fast to the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., if there is no response from federal departments.
Citing statistics that show Alaska Native woman are 400 times more likely to be assaulted than non-Native women, Jacobsson said more attention is given to changing the behavior of the victims than the perpetrators of these crimes.
"There have been news stories and public talk shows, but their focus has been to tell Native women at Bean's Cafe, Brother Francis Shelter and 'camps' about safety issues," Jacobsson said in a press release. "They are told everything from 'Be careful while drinking and/or taking drugs, be careful of strangers, don't put yourself at risk... .'"
"Why is it everyone has told victims of violence to change their behavior? Nobody told the perpetrator to change his," she said.
The six women killed in Anchorage were Vera Haphof, Tina Shangrin, Genevieve Tetpon, Michelle Butler, Annie Mann and Della Brown. Others include an unknown woman killed in Anchorage whose only identifying mark was a ring, Jacobsson said, and a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
"I saw what everybody was reporting that some women were stabbed 40 times and it made me sick. It makes me sick again yesterday that they fill up a big van with food for dogs, and Native women are dying," Jacobsson said Saturday, the day after she began her protest.