Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Friday, December 19, 2014

Yesterday, my dogs attended a doggie birthday party at Happy Dog Day Camp. I supplied some snacks. They brought their unlimited enthusiasm. And as I drove away, I thought that probably my nonna, wherever she may be, is spinning madly in total disbelief.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Thursday, December 18, 2014

The murder in Barrow last week is one of those horrible, horrible moments in time. Most of us can’t imagine walking into someone’s house and blasting a shotgun at another person’s face. So while psychologists may be able to help us understand the mind of someone who does, comprehension will never translate into any empathy. That action will always remain over a line the majority of us will never cross.

Because this happened in Barrow, it feels very personal to me. I still think of Barrow as home. I’ve known the alleged murderer since he was a very young man. I know the rumors and quiet whispers that can often follow someone with a criminal record like his in a small town, the things said in private but never discussed in public.
On the day that Bun Bun Fischer was first arraigned, his family sat in the courtroom in mute support. They’d been advised they could not speak to him in the courtroom. And they didn’t because they respected the courtroom and what it stood for. When the hearing was over and the press asked for comments, Bun Bun’s sister stated that while he had his problems, he was a loving father and a good family man. Earlier in the news article in which her statement appeared, there was a list of Bun Bun’s recent run-ins with the police. Those run-ins included an incident in which he held his 6 year old daughter up as a human shield when faced with being tasered by police.  There are some who might argue that that action is the antithesis of a good family man. And they would be right. Most fathers reading this right now would instinctively push their daughters behind them to protect them.
So what’s reality here? Is this just a loving and distraught sister protesting that her brother is more than a murderer, more than the picture the charges against him paint? I have a brother so I know my instinct would be to always stand up for him. But is there more to it than that? Is this an example of the mentality that exists in communities in which domestic violence is so commonplace that calling someone who abused his family a “good family man and loving father” is viewed as true and appropriate? Is this the new norm? All you have to do is hunt and feed your family. Is that our new minimum standard that forgives all violent acts?
Last week I wrote about my belief that if the good men in our villages do not take a visible and vocal stand against abusers, then the abuse will never stop. Bun Bun’s court records show over twenty years of involvement with the criminal justice system, with most of those encounters involving harassment, domestic violence or other violent charges. Yet Bun Bun was a member of a whaling crew. I’m willing to bed that not one of the men on that crew ever suggested that a man who beat his significant other or was generally so violent should have such a place of honor. Yes, he needed to whale to feed his family. But what a powerful message could have been sent by those whalers if they’d told him he couldn’t have the honor of being a whaler unless he started acting like a true Inupiaq, respecting his cultural values. And then those whalers could have brought his family an extra share of their take to make sure the family did not suffer because of his actions.
Instead, he hunted and whaled during the day and committed repeated acts of violence at night. And again the question must be raised. Why would the good men of any community allow someone with his history to be part of their crews, their hunting parties, their world? Had he been shunned years ago when he first started accumulating a two page criminal court record, had his actions caused him to be ostracized from his peers, maybe he would have had a greater incentive to clean up his act and become a real man.  Instead, everyone looked the other way. Now one man is dead and the other will likely spend the rest of his days just remembering what it felt to be out on the ice in spring, because he will probably never actually be on it again.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How many times can you hear the same Christmas carols without wanting to run naked into the icy night to make the pain stop?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How can I be such an amazing chef for main meals but suck the big one when it comes to deserts? I am totally incapable of getting it right… ever!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:17 AM •
Monday, December 15, 2014

Here’s how you know you are a total captive to the world of the Internet. You lay in bed at night and use your iPad to send yourself e-mails about ideas you get late at night so they’ll be available on your computer the next morning. Too bad that system doesn’t also work towards making those ideas any better than you’d expect from something that popped into your mind at 1 AM. Half the time, they don’t even make sense to me.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 11:13 AM •
Saturday, December 13, 2014

For years, whenever I had something big that needed to go into the trash can upstairs in my kitchen, I would instead walk it right down to the garbage can outside because I didn’t want to fill up the trash can too quickly. If I did, I reasoned, that would mean extra trips to the garbage can to empty it. Except, of course, it occurred to me today that I make so many more extra trips bringing the big things down to the garbage can that I was probably doing more than if I just dumped it in the upstairs trash can in the first place. All of which is to say that it is not easy to be an obsessive compulsive, especially when you so understand why what you are doing is crazy but you keep on doing it.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:30 AM •
Friday, December 12, 2014

Today I learned that Reisling is not a beer. I learned that when the nice man at the liquor store explained to me that wine doesn’t come in a six pack.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:28 AM •
Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallot has ensured himself a unique place in Alaska history as the first Alaska Native to win a statewide office. As such, he holds a very singular position from which to do good for all Alaskans. Given the limited duties of the Lite Gov, I’d like to make a suggestion on a really great use of both his time and his influence.

We saw our former governor create a campaign that insisted Alaska men choose respect. Despite the marches that ensued, this slogan alone did not create a huge ground swell of Alaska men actually choosing respect. Now, another study has come out from Alaska’s social services division that shows Alaska Native children continue to be astronomically over represented in the foster care system. These numbers are directly related to the continued epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault that is all too common in Alaska Native homes.
This problem is a chronic one in our state and especially devastating to our Alaska Native cultures. Each time I’ve written about this, I’ve asked the same question. Where are Alaska’s Native men in this story? Are they only abusers? Are they only part of the problem? Why do we not see any of them as part of the solution? Why do we not hear from male Alaska Native leaders about the destruction this epidemic is causing in their villages? Why are they not taking a stand and demanding a change?
Men seem to still think they have more important tasks to accomplish than getting involved in domestic disputes. That’s for women, right? Women are the victims so they are the ones who have the most at stake in quelling this epidemic. It seems as though women fight this battle alone. Men might support them, but if they do, it is the most silent and distant of support.
Meanwhile, for every Alaska Native child in foster care, Alaska Native communities can count another shareholder with a strong chance of growing up to not be a productive member of society, their culture or their corporation. Because for a child raised amidst drinking, sexual assault and domestic violence, those are the things that become their cultural heritage.
Men who engage in abusive behavior need to be publicly shamed and shunned. Lt. Gov. Mallot can lead the way in creating an atmosphere among all Alaskan men, but most especially among Alaska Native men, in which violence is not tolerated in any way, shape or form. I challenge the Lt. Governor to make it clear that anyone who engages in any form of domestic abuse, alcohol abuse or sexual assault is not welcomed in his home, his circle of friends, on Native corporation boards of directors or in an executive position within those corporations. Men who drunkenly beat their wives and children on Saturday night should not be welcomed as part of a hunting party on Sunday morning. They should not be welcomed to sit as a member of the city or village council. They should not be allowed any position of influence, power or honor.
Additionally, the decent men in our villages need to make sure that those families affected by this scourge are cared for properly. This means providing them with subsistence foods if the hunter in the house is not capable of doing that because of his problems. This means making sure that if abuse is occurring, the village has a means of actively and quickly intervening so that the victims have a safe place to go where they will be properly cared for and receive any help needed.
For years I’ve watched as good Alaska Native men have turned the other way while their hunting buddies, corporate board members and relatives have abused their families. That this has gone on for so long shames both the abusers and the men who let the abusers get away with no penalty. These are their sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, daughters… these abused women and children are all members of the extended family that is any Alaska Native village. Why are their men not doing more to protect them?
You have the power, the voice and the platform to make a difference Mr. Mallot. Please use it to stop this epidemic before there is nothing left to save.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:43 AM •
Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Because their computer system is older than dirt and every time I go there they tell me I don’t own my e-mail address even though it’s the same one I’ve had for twenty years. Then they tell me they fixed it and that lasts until I try to make my next purchase one department over and they give me the same run around.
Then there is the fun delivery system. They call you and give you a number to call if the time they’ve set to arrive isn’t convenient. So you call and reschedule and they still show up at the original time and then cop an attitude when your not available and claim that they NEVER told you they changed the delivery time and if someone did, they were wrong. Then they leave a number for you to call back again and you call the number and it’s some guy’s phone and he doesn’t answer but you get a message saying that he doesn’t have a mailbox set up so you can’t leave a message. So you call the 800 number back and they give you the royal run around about not being able to reschedule for another week… until, that is, you suggest they take their damn bike back and put it where the sun doesn’t shine. At that point, they surprisingly find time to deliver it later the same day… you’ll just have to sit home all day because they can’t even give you the vaguest of ideas about whether it will be delivered in the morning or afternoon or at midnight.And the delivery guy who calls you back to confirm they will arrive sometime between 8 AM and midnight has an attitude about how you are apparently inconveniencing him.
Sears sucks.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:45 AM •
Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I’m having a bad day and that seems to be the person everyone blames everything on. So I’m blaming my bad day on him. Shame on you Barack!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:32 AM •
Monday, December 08, 2014

Today is the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception… or one of those Mary days. I remember this because it was my father’s birthday and because 18 years of Catholic schooling was bound to leave its mark no matter how hard I ran from it.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:31 AM •
Sunday, December 07, 2014

Today is someone’s birthday. But I can’t remember whose? So to whichever of my friends and/or relatives to whom this applies, Happy Birthday.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 12:30 PM •
Saturday, December 06, 2014
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Trying to stay warm in mommy’s cold house on a winter’s morning while waiting for their breakfast.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:50 AM •
Friday, December 05, 2014
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Everyone in my family has thicker hair than I do. Look at this kid. You’d think she could offer some of that bush to her needy older cousin. But no. She keeps it all for herself… and has the nerve to be cute, to boot!
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:45 AM •
Thursday, December 04, 2014

So Alaska, with the possible help of the Feds, is going to once again attempt to banish honeybuckets to a museum. Right. And as soon as that’s done, we’ll open ANWR.

My first encounter with a honeybucket occurred soon after arriving in Barrow in 1972. As a nurse, I lived in hospital housing and had a flush toilet. But the town wasn’t that lucky. I was invited to a party in the village. Halfway through the evening, two gentlemen crossed the living room carrying a bucket full of liquid. I wondered what it could be. Then the pungent smell hit and I knew. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would use a bucket instead of a flush toilet like God intended. I got the answer when nature called a little later and I found out what that bucket actually was.
Growing up in the lower 48, I assumed flush toilets and running water were a birthright. I thought these amenities just came with America. My first year nursing in Barrow I quickly learned just how precious those commodities were and how devastating their absence could be. When there is no sure clean water source, sending a mom home to soak a child’s infected sore can be a risky proposition. Measles or chicken pox often meant a hospitalization for the child because it was the only way to keep the child safe and clean. It’s not that the moms didn’t want to. It was simply that they did not have the means to do it.
Eventually I married and moved into village housing. With a husband that was often gone on construction jobs to other villages, I often found myself facing the fun task of emptying the bucket for myself. I would haul it outside, nose wrinkled, eye watering at the very thought of what I was doing, and wondering how my life had reached that point. I quickly learned to control certain habits until I got to work where a primitive but functioning flush system was in place.
In my 28 years in the Bush I saw a wide variety of toilets come and go. Aside from the honeybucket, there were gas-fired toilets. I had a friend who installed one in her home. It was not quite the success we had all hoped. Aside from friends freaked when jets of fire burst out under them if they didn’t rise quickly enough, there was the fact that it was not meant for parties in which a large quantity of liquids of any sort would be imbibed. And let’s not even get into the lovely odor sensed by neighbors on either side when the burning occurred.
The other popular model was the compost toilet. You fed it vegetables and in turn it gave you dirt. At least, that was the theory. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t. For starts, vegetables are very expensive in Bush Alaska. Given what you pay for them, it’s hard to get enthused about feeding those veggies to your toilet. It just seemed that they should have to go through you before getting there. Then there was the fact that you could put absolutely nothing else down it or it stopped working, which meant the first guest who disposed of their paper indiscriminately could ruin a year’s worth of compost.
I’ve lived in Alaska for over forty years and during that entire time I’ve heard of one scheme after another to rid the Bush of honeybuckets and the sanitary problems that follow in their wake. The only entity that seems to have actually achieved some level of success in doing that is the North Slope Borough. And they succeeded only because property taxes from Prudhoe Bay gave the borough the money for extremely expensive, if actually well functioning, systems.
Here’s the thing, though. Given the expense of most honeybucket replacement systems, the question has to be asked if the state or the feds are willing to actually spend that much money on (mostly) Native peoples in small villages. The borough did it because it is composed of the people who had to empty those buckets before a better way was available. In times of declining budgets, I’m not holding my breath that after forty years of conversation about honeybuckets they will actually ever actually be relegated to a museum. I guess the best we can do is keep on hoping.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:18 AM •

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