Akiachak residents vote to ban alcohol

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Residents of Akiachak have voted to ban the sale, importation and possession of alcohol.

The village of 500 on the banks of the Kuskokwim River, about 380 miles west of Anchorage, is a a Yup'ik Eskimo stronghold that prides itself on its history of tribal sovereignty, but the vote will allow the village to get help from the state.

Residents voted for the ban 40-13 by mail in July according to unofficial results. State election staffers tallied votes Friday and will certify the election Aug. 24. The ban takes effect Sept. 1.

A 16-year-old village girl, Agatha George, froze to death in February 1999 after drinking and walking onto the Kuskokwim River. A group of concerned parents who met in Akiachak last spring drove the election, according to David Charles, the village's public safety officer.

''It really had bummed out some of the parents (that) their kids are drinking,'' Charles said. ''What if another minor passed away? It would again sadden the village.''

Offenders convicted under the new policy face up to five years in jail and a $50,000 fine, according to Bill Roche, chief enforcement officer with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

State law allows residents to vote on alcohol bans in individual villages. To date, 18 villages have voted to ban selling alcohol but not importing or possessing it, and 75 dry villages have banned sale and import. Another 27 villages have banned possession.

Akiachak became the first place in Alaska to dump its city government in favor of tribal government in 1987. The decision to hold a local option election and invite state involvement in local enforcement was difficult, given the village's push for sovereignty, said Willie Kasayulie, a former tribal officer and longtime tribal rights activist.

The vote was motivated by the seriousness of the alcohol problem in the village, coupled with problems getting enforcement help from the state, Kasayulie said.

''The state of Alaska did not recognize the authority of the tribal government in terms of enacting a ban,'' he said.

Status with the state gives Akiachak access to some of the $15 million in federal alcohol enforcement money coming to Alaska villages through the Alaska Federation of Natives, he said.

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