Village mental health, public safety takes center stage at conference

  • By KATIE MORITZ
  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014 10:51pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — Just a few years ago, Julie Roberts-Hyslop’s nephew was “a normal guy.” Then, in May, he shot two Alaska State Troopers at point-blank range at her mother’s Tanana home.

The tragedy shook the community of about 300, Roberts-Hyslop said during a panel discussion at the joint Alaska Federation of Natives and National Conference of American Indians conference in Anchorage on Wednesday, and paints a bleak portrait of the state of mental health care and substance abuse in rural villages. The discussion included representatives of the federal government.

Twenty-year-old Nathanial Kangas, who shot and killed the troopers, is a product of a broken system, said Roberts-Hyslop, vice president of Tanana Chiefs Conference.

Voice wavering with emotion, she stood before the panel and said she feels “lost” in the aftermath of the trooper shootings and the heart-wrenching testimony of young people at the First Alaskans Institute’s Youth and Elders Conference earlier this week.

“I stand before you pleading for help,” she said to the panelists, Raina Thiele, White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs associate director, and staff from the offices of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. “When this substance (abuse) stuff takes over, it’s the hardest thing we have to fight right now. And I really want you, you up there, to help us. Please help us. Please go back and tell the President we’re suffering.”

A representative from Sen. Mark Begich’s office was invited but not able to attend.

Roberts-Hyslop said tearfully the shooting “was not something I would wish on anybody anywhere” and that she wishes she could do something to help the families of the fallen troopers.

With the right mental health care, Kangas might never have shot the two men, Roberts-Hyslop said, adding that her nephew is just one of many Native young men in Alaska’s villages who need more support.

“The women are strong, but the young men, they need our help,” she said.

Many members of the audience were moved to tears by Roberts-Hyslop’s speech, including Murkowski’s staffer Megan Alvanna-Stimpfle, a King Island Iñupiat from Nome. 

“It’s a difficult reality that we live with,” she said. “If we can take a minute and pray for the community of Tanana.”

The room fell silent before one man led the rest in prayer.

After the day-long meeting, Roberts-Hyslop said she addressed the panel because she’s “tired of being quiet about behavioral health.”

“A lot of it goes right back to the substance abuse,” she said. “We can help a lot of things, but we can’t help mental illness. We need professional doctors.”

Tanana Chiefs Conference receives $4 million each year from the federal government for behavioral health care for all of the 39 villages it covers, Roberts-Hyslop said.

“We need to have more funding,” she said. “How much is it costing the state to incarcerate them, when we can be helping them at an earlier age to lead normal lives. It has to happen for the Alaska Natives.”

During the panel discussion, Lenora Hootch, former director of the Emmonak Women’s Shelter, thanked Roberts-Hyslop for her words and wondered why things haven’t gotten better for Native villages.

“Our people continue to live in peril,” Hootch said, citing the high rate of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska. “We’ve been hearing that (statistic) for 30, 40 years. Why is that?”

She lamented that federal money for tribes is funneled through the state first and “a lot doesn’t go to the tribes.”

“We continue to lack law enforcement in our state,” Hootch said, and many of the officers villages do have “… are untrained.”

“There’s a high rate of homicide, there are a lot of murders going on in our villages,” she said. “They’re not getting properly prosecuted.”

Lack of law enforcement is a big problem, but it isn’t the only one, Hootch said. She spoke out against the way bodies are sent back to villages after being autopsied in Anchorage.

“We just lost a young man who committed suicide,” she said. “When they get sent home, they are sent home in cardboard boxes (with the bodies wrapped in thick plastic). They are brought to the home naked … Is that how they are supposed to send our loved ones home after they’ve taken them to Anchorage for autopsy? That is injustice, that’s inhuman, and that needs to change.”

More in News

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche, left, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, right, meet with reporters in Micciche’s office in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska, after the Legislature ended its regular session. Micciche, a Republican, and Begich, a Democrat, discussed their working relationship, as well as well as parts of the session they were either pleased with or disappointed with. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
After House balks at bigger figure, budget OK’d with $3,200 payout per Alaskan

Budget finishes as second-largest in state history by one measure, but Dunleavy could make cuts

Loren Reese, principal at Kenai Alternative High School, gives Oliver Larrow the Mr. Fix It award Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Kenai Alternative High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Alternative graduates 22, says goodbye to principal

The ceremony included special awards customized for students

Graduates throw their caps into the air at the end of Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘We never fell down’

Soldotna High School honors more than 100 graduates

Brandi Harbaugh gives a presentation during a joint work session on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Mill rate decrease, max school funding included in proposed borough budget

The final document is subject to approval by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly

Most Read