Village considers going dry

Posted: Tuesday, December 26, 2006

ANCHORAGE - At least five residents of New Stuyahok have died this year after drinking heavily, leaving the village considering outlawing alcohol.

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"Everyone is scared," said David Eneyuk, a village safety officer. Young people are increasingly drinking, and domestic abuse, fights and other alcohol-related disturbances have risen sharply, he said.

The deaths include a city administrator known for his passionate efforts to keep the city of about 450 people afloat during a time of reduced state support.

The Yup'ik village is damp, meaning alcohol can be imported and possessed, but not sold.

Residents say alcohol arrives by snowmachine, plane and skiff from Dillingham, about 50 miles to the southeast, where it's sold in stores. People also have it flown out from liquor outlets in Anchorage.

The latest New Stuyahok death involving alcohol came in a Nov. 19 house fire that killed musher Bobby Chocknok, 41, said Evan Wonhola, another village safety officer. Chocknok was drinking heavily before he died, Wonhola said.

The state fire marshal's office determined arson was the cause of the blaze, said trooper Jason Fieser of Dillingham. The fire began in the arctic entryway of a house Chocknok occasionally used.

The blaze is being investigated along with another house fire that took two lives in March, Fieser said. Residents believe there's a connection, he said.

That fire killed two people who had been drinking, Eneyuk said. Andrew Gust, 23, and Samuel Kivolk, age 41, died of smoke inhalation after a lantern fell over and burned the cabin.

Residents are devastated, said Evan Wonhola, the village's longtime public safety officer. About 10 people have died this year, including some by natural causes. He said at least six people have died alcohol-related deaths.

"We been slowly healing, but whenever we try to heal, there's another one," he said.

More than 50 villagers gathered last Sunday in the traditional council offices to hear from elders who said the village needs to change by going dry, he said. Another meeting is planned after Christmas, he said.

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