Elise Sereni
Friday, May 11, 2007

As most people in Alaska know by now, the Anchorage Daily News will not be renewing its contract that allows the Voice of the Times to publish on their editorial page. I’ve received many wonderful e-mails and words of encouragement from people hoping that my column will be picked up by the Daily News.  I don’t know what the future holds but I will continue to write and publish. The Voice of the Times may make an appearance in another format and I may follow them. Or something else may happen...for instance, a multi billionaire may fall in love with me and propose to keep me in the comfort to which I greatly long to grow accustomed...but no matter what else happens, this website will continue and my voice will continue to be heard on it.
Thanks again for all the encouragement and kind words about my work.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:12 AM •
Thursday, May 10, 2007

My eye had to be numbed for cataract surgery which left the top of my head numb for quite a few hours.  What an extremely weird sensation. Suddenly it was the sixties again only I wasn’t asking “What the hell was that??!!”

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 05:05 AM •
Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Last week I wrote a column about the abuse faced by Native women throughout this state at the hands of their own husbands and relatives.  The angry mail I received in response was quite amazing for a number of reasons.  One is the fact that some letter writers believe that since I am not Native, I apparently am not able to tell when a Native woman is being abused. The second, and perhaps more disturbing aspect of the mail, was how many women who wrote were so angry and full of what can only be called hate because I mentioned this subject and dared to suggest that bad things happen in their communities. All I could think was that if this was the way they treated me, with so much rage, imagine what they would do to someone in their village who dared to mention the abuse she was suffering.

Is it any wonder that the other half of the e-mails responses I received came from women who said they couldn’t sign their names and I could not tell anyone they wrote and I shouldn’t even mention their village because of the trouble it would cause them if people knew they were agreeing with me?
I went on Dan Fagan’s radio show shortly after the column appeared and Dan asked me why the other men in these bush communities tolerated this being done to their mothers and sisters and friends.  Why, he wanted to know, didn’t these men, who didn’t abuse, stand up to the abusers in a way the women couldn’t, and defend them from further harm?
I didn’t have an answer for Dan then and I don’t have an answer now. But I do have an even more disturbing question. Why is it that the other women in these communities, the ones who are not being abused, are so quiet? Why are they allowing the abuse to continue without crying out in anger? They aren’t blind. They see the bruises. They know who is being hit and who is being hurt. They see the children. They know which children have chronic circles under their eyes from being kept up all night at drunken parties, listening to dad hit mom, wondering if the next footsteps will be someone coming to their room to hurt them.  Why aren’t these women marching through their villages enraged at the violence being done to their relatives and friends?
I was once talking to a young mother whose daughter had been raped. The daughter was three at the time. When I asked the mother why she didn’t do more to protect her child, she told me that when her dad abused her and she complained to her mother, her mother beat her with a vacuum cleaner attachment. She grew up thinking you weren’t allowed to complain. It was wrong and you got hurt even more if you did. Is it any wonder that she was not able to protect her daughter?
The problems and abuses will not ever stop or even slightly abate if, instead of confronting the real problem, we continue to keep silent, sweep it under the rug and spend all our energy on killing the messenger.  Because killing the messenger does not make the message any less true. 
The fact that I am a non-Native woman talking about the abuse suffered by Native women does not make that abuse any less real or horrible. The fact that I am talking about it in Native communities in bush Alaska has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with the fact that I am responding to a report from Amnesty International about the rate of rape among Alaska Native and American Indian women. I wasn’t talking about rape in general. I was referring to the abuse I had personally witnessed and had to deal with for so many years.
No one culture has the lock on either horridness or greatness. Every culture produces plenty of both. And just as American culture can point to someone like Abraham Lincoln and just as quickly point to someone like Charlie Manson, so do Native cultures have every shade and hue of individuals in their midst, good, bad and indifferent.
So let’s get beyond shooting the messenger and take a hard look at the message. Alaska Native women are raped and abused at astronomical rates compared with the rest of society.  This is done to them not just by strangers, not just by non-Natives, but by the men who should be the ones they can turn to first for protection.
Every person in every village in this state who knows a beaten woman or a scared abused child, who says nothing and does nothing, is complicit in the continued ravages of violence in traditional societies.
Shooting the messenger won’t change the truth of the message.
Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:57 AM •
Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Today I have my first cataract removed. I am in great fear of the first time I"ll look in the mirror after it’s been removed and I can somewhat see again. Will I see an old wrinkled face looking out at me that will make me want to run screaming from the room? Maybe I should just smear Vaseline on the mirror.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:59 AM •
Monday, May 07, 2007

Seriously, who knew that birds could get seasick? I was just trying to get Abdul used to sitting on the handlebars of the bike so we could take a ride together. So I put her on the handlesbars and went out into the circle and went around a few times. She looked at me, opened her mouth and barfed all over me.  Or was that a comment on my bike riding ability?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:06 AM •
Sunday, May 06, 2007

I wish scientists would make up their minds.  On the one hand, Anchorage comes in as the 8th cleanest city for breathable air. On the other hand, we have some of the highest pollen counts in the world for people who suffer from allergies. So from what I can gather from these facts, we are breathing in the cleanest possible pollen on the planet.  Yea us! Now pass the Zyrtec.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:08 AM •
Saturday, May 05, 2007

No matter what else you think of him, he was the only thing in the so called debate of way too many Democrats running for the White House that kept me from running out of the room screaming. Can’t we just pass a law restricting running for the presidency until 30 days before the election? It will save us all a lot of money, force the media to follow real news and force the candidates to tell us where they stand in a succinct manner.  All of which will contribute greatly to the survival of civilization.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:21 AM •
Friday, May 04, 2007

I wish that doctors and their staff would understand that what’s routine for them because they A. see it every day and B. it’s not their body being discussed, is not routine for the patient sitting in front of them who may be nervous and in need of reassurance. Brushing that patient off by saying. “Oh it’s easy. People have this treatment all the time and it’s no big deal”, is just wrong.
Please, health care providers, see the person who is actually sitting in front of you and not some faceless general public that you have to filter through the office to make your paycheck. Really listen to them. If they are fearful, try to allay those fears. But for god’s sake, don’t brush them off or tell them that everyone else did better than they think they will, thereby making them feel like a failure if they don’t just bounce back in an instant.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:26 AM •
Thursday, May 03, 2007

How else to explain the fact that I can brush her for an hour, remove enough hair to stuff a pillow and five minutes later see her visibly shedding more hair on my couch. Maybe there is life on the dog star Sirius and she has come to me from there....

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:10 AM •
Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Here’s one of those things you just never really forget.  I was enjoying a social evening with friends some years back in Barrow. One of the people sitting around the table was a police officer. He told us a story, a story that obviously disturbed him. I think he hoped someone around the table could explain it so wouldn’t seem so bad.

Here’s the story.  A husband and wife were picked up by the police for public intoxication and placed in separate cells for their own protection until they sobered up. This was hardly the first night they’d spent in the drunk tank.  All their children had already been removed from them and adopted out. They had no permanent home since they could never stay sober long enough to get a job. They were often found sleeping around heaters in the lobbies of the new public buildings going up in Barrow at the time. Both had been raised in drunken, violent homes so their lifestyle choice was no surprise.
The cop sitting at the table said that the husband kept calling out to his wife who had already passed out in her cell.  Let’s call the wife Sally. This is what her husband kept calling out to her. “Sally! Sally! I want to make rape with you.”
So when I hear the horrible statistics about rape and Alaska Native women, I can’t pretend to be even slightly surprised. Neither, I would guess, is anyone who has ever worked in Alaska in the field of human services or ever lived and worked in Bush Alaska.  It’s a harsh world out there and the harshness doesn’t necessarily stop outside the door of your home.
Being a woman in a community where there is no protection except that afforded by basic human decency is scary because basic human decency, when soaked in alcohol, tends to disappear pretty quickly. And if you live in a village where your life is dependent on your family and social network, you are not apt to make a lot of waves about something like a rape. If you do, you are as likely to be shunned as the perpetrator. In fact, if the perpetrator is an important hunter or leader in the community, you may find yourself shamed for bringing it up. Your life can become so unbearable that killing yourself, leaving the village or drowning yourself in drinking and drugs are your only options.
Given a choice between being isolated and vulnerable in an environment in which a tightly woven communal society is the only way to survive or moving out into a scary, foreign urban world, many women chose to stay put and endure the beatings and rapes that may ensue. They figure that at least they will emerge from it, most of the time, alive. In the city, the news seems to imply you’re apt to be found dead.
Sending more police into these communities isn’t really the answer because once the police leave, that woman is left to face the consequences of the courage she showed in making a complaint.
Here’s another story I’ll never forget. A very young girl was brought into the Barrow clinic with a sexually transmitted disease. She was afraid to say the name of her abuser. But everyone knew who it was. He was a “respected elder” who has been abusing girls his entire life. He might have even started with his sisters. He sexually abused his daughters and was now doing his granddaughters.
This young girl had an older sister, now an adult, who brought her in for treatment. We took the older sister aside and asked her if she would speak to the police, if she would tell them what her sister was afraid to tell us. We asked her to tell the police what happened to her so the abuser could be stopped and her sister would not have to suffer anymore. Her answer? “I lived through it and grew up and got out. So will she. If I say something, my family will be mad at me.”
To speak about the abuse would have meant being shunned and isolated from her family.  Better not to speak. Better to just endure. Better to drown your pain on a Friday night but know that on Saturday you’ll be able to go have dinner with your family because they won’t be mad at you. Better to be a drunk than be shamed because you spoke of what was done to you as a child, as a young girl, as a woman, by men you were told you needed to respect. Better to endure than be forced to leave your village and live in a town like Anchorage where being a Native women seems to be the equivalent of a death sentence.
If Alaska Native women are treated as less than nothing by the criminal justice system, perhaps it partly stems from the fact that so many Alaska Native men treat them that way while their villages and cultures turn a blind eye to the mayhem, unwilling to face something so shameful.
If their own culture does not treasure them, is it really any wonder why society at large doesn’t either?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:23 AM •
Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Not only do I now know the dialog from every episode of Golden Girls by heart but I’ve recently found out that Family Feud is still on the air with like its 800th host. I am still amazed by the families that show up. In my entire large, extended, loud and crazed family, I can think of maybe two people who would willingly go on that show...and you know who you are Marina and Mary.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:41 AM •
Monday, April 30, 2007

So I’m watching the 4500th rerun of the Nanny as I feed and clean my birds in the morning and on comes that commercial for Boniva (Boneeva?), a calcium supplement that Sally Fields is flogging. Once I get over the shock of the Flying Nun being old enough to do a commercial for calcium supplements and actually listen to the copy I realize she’s suggesting it’s easier to remember to do something once a month rather than once a day.  Huh? Do advertisers really think we’re that stupid? And the pitch she gives is that she has a friend who has to take time from her busy scheduled ONCE A WEEK to take her calcium but with this Boniva she only has to worry once a month.  Seriously, taking a pill once a week that will prevent your bones from collapsing in on you is an inconvenience? And somehow remembering to do it once a month is easier and less time consuming?  Exactly what are these women doing prepartory to taking this pill besides pouring a glass of water?
I don’t know about the rest of you out there but it’s easier for me to remember something I have to do once a day. Put the pill bottle out by the coffee pot and see it there each day. But remember once a month?  Remember which day each month? Remember to look at the calendar or wherever else I wrote it down? Is she kidding or do they all really just think we are idiots?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:31 AM •
Sunday, April 29, 2007

I can’t believe another year has gone by and I’ve once again been left off People Magazine’s list of 100 most beautiful people. Sure, Brangelina made it again. And that silly George Clooney.  And all those other people who are just such yesterday’s news. But me? A beautiful, mature woman who wears her years proudly if only because she can’t afford plastic surgery?  Once again, I have inexplicably dropped off the end of the list.  Damn!
PS - George, if you like a little salt and pepper in your salad, call me.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:25 AM •
Saturday, April 28, 2007

I have three smoke alarms in my house, all hard wired into my electric system. I thought I was set.  Never had to worry so long as I could look up and see that comforting green light saying they were working.
Well, it turns out that smoke alarms have a life span of about ten years before their efficiency starts a pretty steep downward spiral. Who knew?
I know now because a very nice friend who is also a rabid fireman came over, checked them all, pulled them off the walls, bought me three new ones, and installed them, all in less that two hours. And now my birds and dogs and I are very, very safe again.
So I’m passing this knowledge on for what it’s worth...and it might be worth your life.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:40 AM •
Friday, April 27, 2007

Washington State is poised to pass a bill forbidding text messaging while driving. Other states have banned anything but hands free cell phone use.  Here’s a suggestion. Why not just ban the idiots who think they can do those things and drive. Think of how much safer and less congested our roads would be. Think of how it would help global warming.  Think of what a pleasure it would be to drive without fear that some fool is watching a video while driving.  Think!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:23 AM •

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