Out There

Another twist in Bethel’s history with alcohol

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on March 30, 2015

Remember in 2009 when Bethel voted to go from damp to wet, ostensibly because they were upset that Sarah Palin had pushed to cut the monthly importation limits (20 drinks per day) allowed per person in damp villages in half, among other things?

“Hawkins gathered names from friends at his backyard steam house. To him, the vote to go wet is about more than the failed attempt to tighten liquor limits. The problem, he thinks, is that lawmakers in Juneau have imposed restrictions on the city for more than 20 years, making them slap “ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE” labels on their luggage, putting their names in a database of booze buyers and trying to chop liquor limits without asking voters.

Quote is from this article from September 2009, and that article was originally in the ADN but can’t find it now, but prompted this post.  A similar quote from that post, about the same Bethelite (Tom Hawkins) is this one:
“We want the citizens of Bethel to be able to choose what they want or don’t want on these alcohol issues. We don’t want the state to continue to flog us with these rules,” said Tom Hawkins, 60.”
Also in the article was the widely-circulated argument by the wet-vote proponents that there would never be legal alcohol sales in Bethel.  That the move to go wet was just about the airline sticker, and keeping government out of our business, etc etc.  I remember several of the organizers going on record that they would be the first in line to oppose anyone who attempted to get a liquor license to sell booze in Bethel.  They stressed that this wasn’t a vote about whether alcohol should be able to be sold in Bethel, just about whether we should allow the government to require the sticker on our checked boxes of booze on Alaska Air, and whether we should allow them to monitor how many bottles we were ordering from Anchorage each month.  See this quote from the same article as the first quote:

“Hawkins says he and other petitioners would be the strongest opponents if the city tried to start selling booze.”


“Opening a liquor store is a “no-no in my” book, Trantham said. He said he’d fight it.”


“The ballot proposition would wipe away the shipping restrictions altogether. Westlake, one of the petitioners who put the question to a vote, says it’s a smaller-government thing. “I don’t want the state involved in our day-to-day life.”  The state’s push to halve limits fueled the backlash, he said.”

So now we get…the rest of the story.  Bethel Native Corporation lost it’s anchor tenant at their gigantic, beautiful building across the street from the hospital when Swanson’s mysteriously and without warning went out of business (which could probably be the subject of a very long series of posts in and of itself – crazy dysfunction on many levels, it appears).  BNC is clearly desperate to collect rent from someone, anyone, and in order to best serve their shareholders…they are pursuing opening a liquor store.  Meetings before city council have begun, and AC is planning on opening their own store too.  But I haven’t heard anything from Hawkins or Trantham or any of the people from 2009 who said they would be the “strongest opponents” on the issue.  When I heard about the liquor store opening, I immediately recalled those promises and had to google it to find what was reported at the time.  And maybe they have spoken up recently in opposition to the liquor store, I really don’t know, but if they have it hasn’t gotten coverage.  I think I’m going to give them a phone call and see what they have to say, 6 years later.  Might have to record it.  : – )

OK, so where do I stand?
I have written a lot of posts over the years on this issue – a byproduct of having strong feelings about it, which is a byproduct of working with FAS kids, comforting freaked out kids in our home village who have fled their house, and other alcohol-fueled heartache.  I get that you can’t stop people from doing what they want to do.  But actually, what the majority of people here in Kasigluk want to do, is have no alcohol available.  They voted.  As did almost all of the 52 villages for which Bethel is the hub.  Think about it – if Bethel was DRY, where would the booze come from?  (newbies remember Bethel and all of western AK is not on the road system)  Suitcases and the mail.  And homebrew.  And the price would skyrocket.  Which means less people drinking.  That’s a fact.  Just as higher cigarette taxes result in fewer people trying smoking.  If the price of illegal booze triples, there is simply less to go around.  So there is some frustration on my end that Bethel voters (mostly out-of-towners) continually give folks in the villages the finger, so to speak, in regard to this issue.
The only other option I could maybe get behind is the “package store” concept the troopers were promoting many years ago.  Basically it would be a large liquor store in Bethel, and it would be the ONLY alcohol option.  No more flying it in and picking it up at ACE air cargo.  And the package store requires picture ID, and tracks your purchases, and obviously won’t sell if your ID indicates you are from an outlying village.  This doesn’t solve everything either, but would at least make it a little tougher on the bootleggers.  Leave a comment if you like – but note that I screen them and it needs to be constructive and not abusive in order to get published.

one economist’s perspective

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on September 30, 2009

“In Galena and the six related villages the annual average suicide rate was 141 per 100,000 over the period 1979-1989. In Nome and the 15 related villages it was 89 per 100,000. In Bethel and the 48 villages of the Yukon-Kuskokwim region it was 56 per 100,000. Galena was awash in booze, with a store in Galena, one in Ruby, in, and one on the Yukon near another village. The Nome villages were dry, on paper. But residents brought booze in from the liquor store in Nome and arrived home drunk from its bars. But the Y-K region had no liquor stores or bars, except for the store in Red Devil, 150 miles up the Kuskokwim from Bethel. The three studies, which included accidental deaths as well as suicides, showed alcohol was involved in over two-thirds of all the deaths they reported.  What else should these suicide rates be compared with, besides each other? The annual average suicide rate in the U.S. has been around 12 per 100,000 since 1900. It fluctuates a little, but not much, through two world wars, the Depression, the entry of many more women into the labor force during and after World War II, increasing drug use, race riots, anti-war protests, a huge influx of immigrants, and other major social changes nationally.”

Here is the link to the full article.

alcohol issue (local option) coverage from ADN

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on September 20, 2009

Hey, the ADN has a big spread on the current movement in Bethel to do away with local option. This would essentially remove the monthly alcohol importation limit (It would not, as I understand it, necessarily mean that alcohol could start being sold legally in Bethel). OOPS!  Quoting from the article:  “If the vote passes, Bethel would be eligible for two bars and two liquor stores based on its population, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board that awards the licenses.” As I’ve pointed out previously in this space, the monthly “limit” is absurdly high.

Here are the ADN pieces: article, audio slide show, and short video. Good stuff, hopefully Bethel voters see it and do the right thing.

Just had to add this from the article:  “”We want the citizens of Bethel to be able to choose what they want or don’t want on these alcohol issues. We don’t want the state to continue to flog us with these rules,” said Tom Hawkins, 60.”  Yeah Tom, it is BRUTAL being limited to 20 drinks a day (not an exaggeration, that is the current limit if you do the math).  I feel so flogged.  This is the sort of person I was referring to when I wrote:  “If your desire to cling to your “right” to import ludicrous amounts of booze every month is so much stronger than your compassion at the state of your fellow man (even if they have made many crappy choices), then you have a serious problem.”

Or how about this guy:  “Meet 33-year-old Jeremy Westlake, a mechanic and pilot who by his estimate handles at least 70 percent of the legal alcohol that arrives in Bethel through a contract with ACE Air Cargo.  Westlake, one of the petitioners who put the question to a vote, says it’s a smaller-government thing. “I don’t want the state involved in our day-to-day life.””  HMMM, no conflict of interest there.

“If the liquor vote passes, authorities will lose control over how much booze arrives in Bethel, [trooper] Evan said. “I can imagine we’re going to see a lot more problems out in the villages.””


alcohol postscript

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on February 6, 2009

An added note, the following is an email exchange between myself and the head of the state alcohol beverage control board on the subject, back when I wrote that piece on alcohol. I’m only putting a snippet of it in here.   I tried to leave it as a comment on the last post, but wordpress was being moody.

From: Peter Schneidler [mailto:schneidler@yahoo.com]

Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 2:00 PM


Subject: questions for the ABC

I heard you on KYUK radio from when you had a representative speak before the Bethel City Council about the new law that creates a database to track what people order into damp communities. They were blasting you and generally behaving like selfish 7 year olds, as usual. I wanted to express my support of you all and your ongoing effort to support those villages that have decided on their own to try and regulate or stamp out alcohol from their community. Thank you for what you do, please keep it up, and bust those bootleggers who bring so much pain and trouble to the villages!!!! Peter Schneidler Kasigluk, AK


I appreciate your support regarding my performance before the Bethel City Council. I understand where the City Council is coming from; their constituents are Bethel residents, many of whom feel put upon by all of the hassles and intrusions government imposes on them. The focus of the Commission on Rural Justice and Law Enforcement and the new state legislation is on trying to protect the villages that are trying to help themselves by adopting local options to control access to alcohol. This involves coming up with a regional approach which involves addressing a major “hole in the dike”, the written order process of getting alcohol through Bethel . The whole effort to deal with alcohol abuse in rural Alaska is frustrating. I believe in personal responsibility, but the problem is so great we are placed in the position of protecting people from themselves. We also must, of course, protect the children who are the innocent victims of alcohol abuse and the next in line to suffer the cycle of misery brought on by this social epidemic of addiction. Along the way the people who obtain and use alcohol responsibly are forced to jump through hoops that they feel are unfair. What is the alternative? I hope this information helps and thank you for your interest in your village and dedication as an educator. – Doug Griffin, Director, ABC Board

alcohol in bush Alaska

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on February 6, 2009

Or “An open letter to Bethel drinkers.”  Booze are obviously a big problem in this part of the world, as they are in many other first nations communities.  Below is something I wrote back in the fall of ’07 and somehow never posted until now.  It came up for me again because of the news that the governor is trying to push through a bill that would reduce the monthly amounts each resident can legally import into a damp community.  I know Gov Palin is a lightning rod these days, but I’m behind her all the way on this issue.  If you disagree with me (and I know many do), leave a meaningful comment.  Dialogue, not “you ——.”

Thoughts on alcohol, rights, and responsibility


The state of Alaska has “local option laws” that allow communities to decide if they want to allow alcohol to be sold locally (wet), only imported with monthly limits (damp), or not imported/possessed at all (dry).  Most (or maybe all?) villages in the YK Delta area where I live voted to go dry.  Bethel, the only major city in the area and hub community for all 56 delta villages, is damp.

Alaska law allows people in “damp” communities to import up to:

10.5* liters of Distilled Spirits (vodka, gin, whisky, etc, max would be 14 fifths (750 ml bottle) per month); and

24 liters of wine (usually 750 ml or 1.5 L, max would be 32 fifths per month); and

12 gallons of malt beverages (beer, wine coolers, zima, etc, sold in 12, 16, 20, 40 oz, and gallons & kegs.  Max would be about 127 12-oz cans.)

So that is a max of 14 fifths of hard alcohol, 32 fifths of wine, and 127 cans of beer, every month.  What the heck are we thinking?  So I could have a fifth of wine, a half of a fifth of hard booze, and 4 cans of beer every day, and still have some left over at the end of every month!  And this is per person, not household, so my wife and other adults in my home could all do the same.  RIDICULOUS!!!

The pivotal issue of course is that drinking is viewed as a right.  The argument is “It’s not my problem if that guy can’t handle it or if that other guy is selling it illegally, I have a right to drink and I haven’t done anything wrong.”  Ahhhh yes, your rights.  I was listening to Bethel radio station KYUK broadcasting the city council meeting where the council members were blasting a representative from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (Doug Griffin) because of the new law that sets up a database to track people’s monthly imports so they don’t go over the “limit” by ordering the max from multiple vendors each month.  One guy complained that they were cutting this and cutting that, basically saying the limits were coming down too low (although the limits to my knowledge haven’t changed one iota). Another said the law will likely be overturned by litigation because it is too intrusive.  Never mind that this poor sap was just charged with enforcing the law, and didn’t create it himself.

As I listened to their arguments, I got upset (I mean, more than the usual anger I feel when I listen to those meetings—the Bethel City Council generally behaves like children in need of spankings).  Why?  The alcohol is destroying lives out here right and left, and all you can see is your RIGHTS.  Yes, it’s your legal right.  I don’t deny that.  But why is it so hard to surrender that right to make such an enormous difference in other people’s lives?  I can only think of two reasons.  Logically, you must be either (1) so addicted or (2) so selfish that you don’t care what the consequences to your neighbors are.  Am I making you mad now?  GOOD!  Join the club!  Feel free to respond and let me know how I’m wrong!  You can make all kinds of arguments and attempts at justification and talk about how you can’t control other’s actions, they’d get it from somewhere anyway, they need to be responsible for what they do, etc etc but at the core of it, you are supporting something that allows terrible things to happen out here, over and over.  Period.  The stats (from other village case studies) say if Bethel went dry, or even just got an alcohol delivery site, the crime and heartache would go down, and you are resisting.  How do you justify that? You’re resisting even being limited to the absurd amounts listed above!  Remember in the movie Braveheart how that king “Longshanks” had the right to take daughters of Scotland away with him for sex, and then discard them?  Having a legal “right” does not make you RIGHT.

Imagine I moved to a foreign land where the majority of the populace struggled with obesity, compulsively binging and putting themselves at huge risk of heart attack (or wait, that’s the U.S.).  In passing it should be noted that these people used to only eat healthily until ancestors from my race introduced chocolate to them, which they have a hard time resisting.  Suppose I insisted on my right, and everyone else’s right who lives there, to order 200 snickers, 500 twix, and 1,200 bags of M&M’s from my homeland every month.  I’m a skinny guy, its not my problem they can’t handle it, they’re weak, etc etc.  So I fight any attempt to lower those limits, even though tons of people are eating themselves to death on candy, and slimebags next door are selling the stuff to them at every opportunity for a 1000% profit.  How can you come to any conclusion but that person is selfish, even if they are within their rights?  And/or they’re addicted themselves.  So that was a clumsy analogy – you know what I mean.

I’m all for personal responsibility.  We all make choices, and we have to live with the consequences of those actions.  I’m also not very into legislating morality.  People need to do the right thing out of the strength of their character, not because they’re being forced to. And there are lots of people in this area making lots of crappy choices with respect to alcohol (and other stuff, which is why we lead the world in horrendous statistics).  I don’t deny it.

However, since moving here and seeing nothing from alcohol but pain and suffering, it’s moved me to consider more drastic measures.  There are statistics from nearly every village that goes from wet to damp, or damp to dry, that show a reduction in drinking and all of the crime that goes with it.  There are no stats for “heartache” but you can bet that goes down with the crime.  Similarly, when a village goes from dry to damp, or damp to wet, the trouble shoots up.  This is not open to debate, it’s the Truth.

If your desire to cling to your “right” to import ludicrous amounts of booze every month is so much stronger than your compassion at the state of your fellow man (even if they have made many crappy choices), then you have a serious problem.  The villages have spoken, and they want to be alcohol free, but it keeps pouring into the damp towns, and from there to the dry villages.

Your neighbors have a drinking problem.  Your problem is worse. You’ve chosen a beverage over people – your neighbors and maybe even your own family.  I invite you to change your way of thinking.

Emmonak, Nunam Iqua, hard times, and publicity

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on January 28, 2009

In case you haven’t heard, its been a hard winter here in Western Alaska.  I don’t have time to delve deeply into this issue, but wanted to at least mention it and put up the relevant links involved because it is getting some national attention.  I feel personally unresolved on the whole thing.  Obviously my sympathies are generally with my neighbors, who we love, and who are the reason we live here.  So I resent a lot of the mindless oversimplified criticism they receive all the time, and especially during times of crises like this.  However, to me it seems like the other side is oversimplifying things too, painting everyone as helpless victims.  A little bit of the “natives are pure, innocent children who must be left untouched” vibe seems to come into play in their tone at times too.  This is all (obviously) quite volative, explosive stuff.  And like I say I’m somewhere in the middle and haven’t personally processed or figured out where I stand on a lot of it.  I need to pray.  But at this point I’m darn sure that the issue is complex.  Far moreso than the neophytes posting on these various message boards believe.  Issues of cultures colliding, differing values, and other big stuff that is really unknowable from the outside.   Now all that said, I think it is fantastic that people want to send cold/hungry eskimos help in the way of food and money, pretty much without any questions and sight unseen.  That is amazing!  And its cool that some of them are using the super-duper flat-rate priority boxes from the USPS to do it.  That is a huuuuge $$ saver shipping to AK.  OK, I have work to do and have been reading some of these links for hours now and HAVE to stop.  Here is all the hullabaloo:




I have to say that this website mostly annoys me because he is such an unabashed Palin-hater.   She could sell all her posessions and give them to a leper colony in India and he would find a way to see evil in it.  I feel the dude, and 90% of the commenters, have lost perspective.  Between that and the woeful ignorance that comes from those from outside who try and speak with authority on alaska issues, I don’t even try and counter them on that site.  Pearls before swine.  I’m not a Palin fanboy, but remember my formative years in Alaska politics were under Frank Murkowski and the astoundingly arrogant and corrupt GOP establishment in Alaska.  And they ALL hate Palin with a passion, and she kicked their butts and helped get most of them out of places of power.  For this she has some measure of undying goodwill in my book.  And no, I didn’t vote for her, in the primary or the general election.  But these guys just go too far in demonizing her.



This one is devoted to the issue, the blog serves no other purpose, and it is run by a nice travel agent from Florida (who has actually even visited my blog, making her 1 of a very select few…)


Then there is a facebook page, of course, already with hundreds of members:



And finally the most popular site of the bunch, by far, is the amusing and offensive octogenarian writing found at:


specifically, this post is where they mention it:  http://margaretandhelen.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/apparently-ann-coulters-feet-are-as-big-as-an-emus/


Obviously, the latter site’s occupants are huge Palin fans as well.  Ha ha ha.  I don’t mind dissent.  What annoys me is that a lot of these people seem to be expressing concern for my neighbors only out of a desire to shame and criticize Palin, who they perceive as slow to respond to the issue.   Just like Hugo Chavez giving oil to our villages to shame George Bush’s lack of care for first nations people.  We willingly take the help because we need it (using “we” in the broad sense.  My family doesn’t qualify, nor does it need it), but at the same time its not exactly a pure love gift, is it, when politics are the driving force for many of the givers.  Actually, by setting herself up as a national punching bag for the left, Palin has provided for us, just not in the normal way…heh heh.  Palin haters are giving until it hurts!  : – )

I know my tone here is of a Palin defender.  But its only because of the irrational diatribe filling the ‘net on those other sites, its like I have to swing the other way a little bit.  Its my site.  Deal with it.  Sure, rural Alaskans have it tough.  Yes, there is a double standard.  But it has largely been this way since….forever.  This is indeed an unusually tough winter, but its not unheard of, and its the same stuff as always, just a little worse this time.  The story told by the woman from Nunam Iqua about what she has to do to go shopping, that would have been largely the same story last year or 1o years ago.

The response I always have for those who say we should all just move out of the bush because of the lack of services is “What do you think Anchorage was like 60 years ago?  Or any big city – they all started out as a frontier town at one point.  Does that mean they should never have gotten indoor plumbing?  By that logic the pilgrims should have gone back to England and never stayed here.”  Stupid.  There are colonists and people who choose to live on the frontiers of civilization, and they accept that it will be hard.  However, it is only natural for them to want to improve their situation, and appeal to the centers of power and finance for help in that regard.  This was the case when this place was “Russian America” and they besieged the czars for funding and help colonizing the territory and it remains true today.   I suppose some Russians in Moscow begrudged the royal coffers going to help the territory and probably used the same line (“if you don’t like it you should just move back to civilization”).  So I suppose the criticism is inevitable, but I believe its short-sighted and selfish.

Not to say that every citizen in Western Alaska is a shrewd money manager or makes all the right choices.  Of course not.  OK, I’m stopping.  Time to get some real work done.  The kind I get paid for, I mean.


Posted in grim stuff by Pete on May 9, 2008

Quoting from our local paper on 4-15-08, the Delta Discovery says:

Of all the adults in western Alaska, 52% use spit tobacco, or iqmik. That is more than half the population of the region. 42% smoke. Compare that to the statewide average of 6% for spit tobacco and 27% for smoking.
“This area has the highest number of smokeless tobacco users than the rest of Alaska and the rest of the country. They are both high. Over half of our population are users,” said Carrie Enoch, the Coordinator/Nicotine Dependence Counselor for the Yukon Health Kuskokwim Corporation.
Iqmik is a mixture of tobacco leaves, willow ash, or punk ash fungus, known as araq. The araq acts as a conductor to channel the nicotine from the tobacco leaves straight into the body at a pulsing rate of 99-100%. Even the user rate among pregnant women in western Alaska is high – 57%. Effects of tobacco use while pregnant include a higher risk of respiratory infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia, coughing, wheezing, and excess phlegm. Other effects include smaller rates of lung function and an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.”

While she compares Western AK tobacco usage with the rest of the state, a comparison to the nation is even more appalling. What’s more, I’d be interested in stats looking only at natives. Bethel has a significant (majority?) non-native population that I’m sure chews at rates closer to the national average, pulling our regional figure down. I know that here in Kasigluk it seems like virtually all adults use it. I don’t write this to blame someone in particular, or to ask for a handout. Just to call for change. I’ve got a similar post on alcohol, something I wrote a long time ago, that I’ll put up one of these days.

Real Alaskans

Posted in grim stuff by Pete on April 15, 2008

Quoting from the 4/15/08 ADN newsreader:

Racist joke may mean radio boycott. The Alaska Federation of Natives is considering a boycott of KBFX-FM’s advertisers after radio DJs Woody and Wilcox made a racist joke during their morning show. Listener Michelle Davis told KTUU that the DJs said, “You are a real Alaskan if you have made love to the Yukon River and you have peed in a Native woman.” The DJs and the station have since apologized.

Any other state and I contend they’d be fired. I don’t really endorse that because it would only enflame people and not really engage them in a way that can bring about much change. I’m more for social change than I am for vengeance, but that’s easy for me to say as someone who hasn’t had to suffer because of my race. Some links from my personal website that pertain to sex crimes in Alaska:

2/24/07: Another grim but informative story on sexual crimes in the YK Delta (where we live), apparently reported at a rate 25 times that of the nation.

5/15/07: And a companion story to that one, found on NPR, about a Amnesty International study of rape among Alaska Native and American Indian women. Native women make up less than 10% of Anchorage’s population, yet they are the victims of over half of all rapes committed there. Click on the red “listen” icon.

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