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Friday, October 5, 2012

Staying Alive In Sobriety - Inspiring Video For Alaskan Young People

Mount McKinley, or Denali, in Alaska is the hi...
Mount McKinley, or Denali, in Alaska is the highest mountain peak of the United States and North America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you ever been to Alaska? It is a beautiful state, filled with natural wonders, incredible wildlife and vital cultures. Alaska is our largest state, but the total population for the State of Alaska is only 722,718, with about half of this population clustered in the Anchorage area. Alaska has a rich history both before the United States purchased it from Russia in 1867 all the way through to statehood in 1959 and continuing to the discovery of oil in 1968 and the development of the North Slope and the Alaskan Pipeline. In 1971 President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act transferring land titles to 12 Alaska Native regional corporations and eventually adding a 13th corporation for those Alaska Natives who no longer live in the State of Alaska. Ahtna Inc is one of the 13 Alaska Native regional corporations.

Alcoholism and drug abuse in Alaska

According to the State of Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services "Alcoholism and chemical dependency have long been recognized as Alaska’s number one behavioral health problem." Here are a few statistics:
  • As of 2010, Alaska ranks number 13 in the US for heavy drinking. 5.6% of Alaskans are classified as heavy drinkers.
  • Alaska's ranking for binge drinking in 2010 moved from number 11 in the US to number 2.
  • Binge drinking in Alaska is highest among males
  • Between 2006 and 2008, Alaska's rate of alcohol-induced deaths was approximately 3 times the U.S. rate. The alcohol-induced death rate is significantly higher for Alaska Natives than for non-Natives.
  • According to SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug use and Health, illicit drug use among those ages 12 and older has been consistently higher in Alaska than in the U.S. as a whole. In 2009, Alaska ranked number 4 in the nation for illicit drug use. 
  • Alaska’s suicide rate has consistently remained among the highest rates in the nation and almost twice the national average. Between 2001 and 2009, the age-adjusted rate for suicides in Alaska increased 22 percent, from 16.5 to 20.2 deaths per 100,000. 
  • The suicide rate among Alaska Natives in 2008 was almost double the rate for Caucasians. Intentional self-harm or suicide remained the sixth leading cause of death in Alaska. Between 1999 and 2008, on average 36.1 years of life were lost prematurely for each suicide death.
  • The number and rate of deaths by suicide among Alaskans aged 15 to 19 decreased between 2008 and 2009. Between 1994 and 2007, the rate of teen suicide (ages 15 to 19) in Alaska averaged almost 5 times the U.S. rate for this age group. 

Ahtna Inc board member envisions a video to curb alcohol use among Alaska's young people

Often when we attend the funeral of a family member or friend we wonder why they had to die. We ask this question even if death came to our loved one after they lived a long and productive life. But sometimes we find ourselves at the funeral or memorial service for someone whose life was cut short due to their own abuse of alcohol and/or drugs or as a result of another person's abuse of alcohol and/or drugs. This experience can be jolting and force you to take action to help curb the abuse of substances that cause these senseless deaths.

It was one such funeral that inspired an Ahtna Inc board member to act. The board member is Ken Johns. He set a goal to help produce a video that might just reach a vulnerable population - Alaska's young people. He wanted to create a video with a message of sobriety and so he met with Bruce Cain, Ahtna's vice president of administration and finance. Cain, in turn, suggested that Johns meet with Paul Gray of Soldotna, best known for his weekly television show "Exploring Alaska" which is seen across Alaska, the United State and many foreign countries.

A collaborative effort was pursued with the Ahtna Heritage Foundation in Glennallen, the Ahtna Heritage Dancers, and Ken Johns' nephew Samuel Johns. Samuel Johns is in recovery and had written a rap-style song "Stand Up" with lyrics that speak to the problem of addiction:
"There's a lot of problems in this world/But anybody or anyone/It doesn't matter who you are/You can have a solution to anything/It's up to you to let it out/Let's not point fingers but put our heads together/Everybody stand up with your faith."
And so, the video was produced using both "Stand Up" and the Bee Gees 1977 hit "Stayin' Alive".

Stand Up and Stay Alive (Music Video)

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

As the YouTube video's description says:
"The broad smiles and sparkling eyes of elders and youth, images of dancers swaying in time to traditional rhythms, the processing of freshly harvested berries and salmon. The message becomes more powerful compared to scenes of addiction-caused disasters... a powerful and joyous story of a sobriety-lived life in this new music video produced for Ahtna Incorporated by Paul Gray Producer of Exploring Alaska TV Show. Directed by Ken Johns, Associate Director Liana Charley-John Ahtna Heritage Foundation, Administer Bruce Cain."

Staying Alive in sobriety...

When someone seeks recovery they gradually learn that it is possible to live life sober. Part of the transition is finding your passion in life. That passion can be as simple as learning to draw, to becoming involved with volunteer work, to writing, to sharing your experience, strength and hope with others. Recovery happens one day at a time, but you need to take the first step
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