A Listening Session in Alaska
February 21, 2013 | Natalie Ortega
As part of its information-gathering activities, the Defending Childhood Task Force convened four national hearings and three community listening sessions across the country. The hearings provided an opportunity for witnesses nationwide to provide brief testimony to the task force.
As part of its information-gathering activities, the Defending Childhood Task Force convened four national hearings and three community listening sessions across the country. The hearings provided an opportunity for witnesses nationwide to provide brief testimony to the task force. To help task force members gain a more comprehensive understanding of children’s exposure to violence in highly impacted communities, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) facilitated three listening sessions in Oakland, California; Tacoma, Washington; and Anchorage, Alaska. These listening sessions allowed for longer conversations with practitioners, community advocates, parents, and youth about children’s exposure to violence.
The Oakland listening session highlighted the voices of advocates in the Bay Area. The Tacoma listening session on Joint Base Lewis-McChord highlighted the voices of military members and their community partners. The Anchorage listening session highlighted the voices of tribes, tribal organizations, and remote communities. Natalie Ortega helped to facilitate the latter session.
Last May, NCCD facilitated a listening session for the Defending Childhood Task Force at the US Attorney’s Office in Anchorage, Alaska. Attended by task force member Sarah Deer, who is assistant professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, this session was an opportunity for community members; service and program providers (including tribal, state, and non-tribal organizations); and survivors from across Alaska to talk about the impact children’s exposure to violence has on children and families in their communities.
The severity of children’s exposure to violence in Alaska has been well documented. In 2008, 8,900 Alaska children were likely victims of neglect, 2,700 Alaska children were likely victims of physical abuse, and 1,900 Alaska children were likely victims of sexual abuse. Eight times as many (16%) Alaska Native mothers reported that their children had witnessed violence or physical abuse compared to non-Alaska Native mothers. It is fair to assume that these numbers are underreported.
A major factor in responding to children’s exposure to violence in Alaska is the impact of historical and multigenerational trauma. Participants at the listening session explained that while the “boarding school era” for American Indians/Alaska Natives ended in the mid-20th century, its direct impact is still viscerally experienced today.
Beginning in the late 19th century, American Indian and Alaska Native children were taken from their families, communities, and culture to boarding schools and returned to their villages as young adults, many times having survived physical and sexual abuse in the boarding schools they were forced to attend. This era created a generation of American Indians and Alaska Natives whose opportunity to grow up in a home was taken away from them, depriving them of access to family, culture, and coping strategies, and whose trauma has been handed down to their children and grandchildren through the high rates of alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect.
Participants in the listening session steadfastly stated that a response to children’s exposure to violence in Alaska must involve programs that respond to trauma, are culturally relevant, and which engage the communities, including youth, in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the response. They shared examples of successes that could be replicated and programs that seem to be working but need to be evaluated. Participants repeatedly identified the challenge of providing treatment to children and families in small, remote, and isolated communities, and the need to overcome these challenges with interventions that can be provided in these communities. They recognized the strengths of Alaska Native communities and the need to build on those strengths.
Information gathered at this listening session and the Albuquerque, New Mexico hearing, as well as the other hearings, allowed the task force members to understand the depth and complexity of children’s exposure to violence for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The task force ultimately recommended the appointment of a federal task force or commission to fully examine the needs of American Indian/Alaska Native children exposed to violence and to recommend actions to protect American Indian/Alaska Native children from abuse and neglect and reduce violence.
To watch videos of the Defending Childhood Task Force hearings, visit NCCD’s task force page. For more information on the Defending Childhood Task Force and Initiative, visit the US Department of Justice’s task force website.