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Community News
Alaskan Natives Face Complex Psychiatric Stressors
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 19 page 7-7
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In this building on Ahkovak Street, the seriously mentally ill of Barrow can come together to cook meals, dine together, and socialize. When McCarthy works in Barrow, he sleeps in this building at night.

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This typical view of Barrow shows how both the old—a dogsled—and the modern—a motorboat—coexist here.

Another possible cause is genetic susceptibility to alcoholism, he noted.

A third likely cause is unresolved multigenerational anger among Alaskan Natives toward the Russians and white Americans who exploited them for several hundred years, McCarthy suspects. And a fourth possible explanation is the tendency of Alaskan Natives to repress negative emotions.

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Although many rural Alaskan Natives are experiencing mental health problems, a number of young Alaskan Natives are thriving—for example, Bunna Edwardson of Barrow (above) describes life there as "awesome," and a high-school student (below) performs a traditional Eskimo dance at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

Edwardson lived in Wyoming for two years, but missed Barrow so much that he came back. After all, he said, he knows just about everybody in Barrow and has many relatives there. He enjoys driving tourists around in his four-wheel-drive recreational vehicle, claims that whale meat is better than steak, and says that one of his greatest memories is when flushing toilets came to Barrow.

"Do you want to meet my family?" he asked a customer for one of his adventure tours recently. "Sure," she said. So he drove her over to his family’s house. "Look!," he said. "I can see Mom through the window, she’s on the Internet." He then whipped out his cell phone, punched in his family’s number, and his 12-year-old sister raced out of the house, up to his RV, and gave him a hug.

"Life in Barrow is awesome!," he exclaimed. "After all, it’s natural selection, survival of the fittest."

Whether the future of Alaskan Natives in rural areas is as rosy as Edwardson paints, there is little doubt that a number of young Alaskan Natives in Alaska’s biggest city—Anchorage—are faring well. They are not only attending top colleges and studying tough subjects like aeronautical engineering, but maintaining aspects of their traditional cultures. In fact, as a dozen or so announced at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage recently: "Yes, we can do the electric slide, but today we’re going to do some traditional Yupik [Eskimo] dances for you." ▪

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

In this building on Ahkovak Street, the seriously mentally ill of Barrow can come together to cook meals, dine together, and socialize. When McCarthy works in Barrow, he sleeps in this building at night.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

This typical view of Barrow shows how both the old—a dogsled—and the modern—a motorboat—coexist here.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Although many rural Alaskan Natives are experiencing mental health problems, a number of young Alaskan Natives are thriving—for example, Bunna Edwardson of Barrow (above) describes life there as "awesome," and a high-school student (below) performs a traditional Eskimo dance at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

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