Pipeline Baby

“The universe has a way of making things work the way they’re supposed to, even if it has to drag you off your path sometimes” – Til Beetus, ACES Poster Child


This book is dedicated to my cousins, many of whom have endured far worse than I have, the younger generation who watches us, and those who continue to believe in me.



FOREWORD

I lost my cousin recently. She was such a beautiful soul with the biggest heart. She was always there to listen and never treated anyone poorly. She knew, more than I did, the importance of forgiveness and love. She shared that forgiveness and love with everyone who knew her, including myself. She chose to give me forgiveness and grace when we were both hurting over losing the same boy. I am simultaneously writing this book and preparing her funeral program. I am writing this because of the stories she told me. They are stories that, I feel, most Alaska Natives share and cannot find the words or strength to address. When I told some of our other cousins that I was going to write this, their reactions affirmed what I needed to do. One of them said, “it is time…that could have been any one of us.” Meaning, of all the girls we grew up with, we could have been overcome by our unresolved traumas. The other said, “you will be giving a voice to those who are not strong enough, me included, to share what we have been through.” We endured things that nobody should ever have to go through, much less a child.

I am telling my story because, as a proponent for suicide prevention, I found myself frequently telling my story. I no longer want to live with that life on my back. I don’t want to keep telling my story, once it is down on paper, hopefully I will be free.

My story is not one of a happy childhood, it is with courage and dedication that one should read it. It may be a trigger and hopefully it will light a fire under those who wish to fight for those who are unable to do so themselves. I express my deepest gratitude to you, the reader, for choosing to face this reality.

The way this story flows is exactly how the mind of someone who has experienced such things works. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to how we struggle to get through any given day of the week. Some days are good, some we are just happy to be done with. Every day we just try to fit into a world that has no clue about what it is like to feel the way we do. Mental illness is real and more common than people realize.

Life One

When you look at me today, you would have no idea that I have experienced the things I have. In a recent training I first heard the term “academy award winning recovery.” I walk around in my fur coats, drive my fancy car, dine at high end restaurants, and live in a beautiful home. You don’t see the little girl who was born into a one room home with no real electricity, no phone and one inner wall that housed the metal coffee can I potty trained on. When my mother had me, she took me to her parents’ home in the village of Hughes. At the time there was one phone in the whole town, the airplanes flew in once a week and someone would yel ”Airrrrrrplaaaaaaaaaane, get off the field…get off the field!!” every time they arrived. Right behind my grandparents’ house was where the town would dump their buckets, it was basically the sewer, and we would have to cross that on two 2” x 4” boards to get to the outhouses at the back of the town. There were less than 100 people who lived there when I was growing up. We were dirt poor, and I had no idea because we were rich in love.

My dad wasn’t there at first. I am not actually sure where he was when I was younger. When I was about two years old my mom and I lived in Anchorage. Those were some of my earliest memories and my dad was there off and on as well. I don’t remember if he lived with us or if he would just visit. My best cousin, she is like my first sister, was there a lot. When I would cry, she would too, I was her first baby. Our parents would go out and I would cry by the window, and she would cry with me. I went to a head start program back then called Saakkaaya. It was there that I had my first “boyfriend”, I know I must have been only three years old then, but we would do silly things like…share our egg yolks during breakfast and give innocent pecking kisses. I used to have photos of our life in Anchorage back then, I would be sitting on my dad’s lap, and he was holding a beer with a blue bull on it. I remember him always wanting to talk to me, about God knows what, while he was drunk. I remember that smell of alcohol excreting when he would sleep. He would start sharing his joints with me then, my mom would protest, and I would inform her that, “my daddy said I could.” This was around the time that John Lennon died, we lived in an apartment off 16th Avenue, and we were in an older lady’s apartment, for some reason I feel like we were hiding from my dad. He was abusive to my mom, I don’t know the extent when I was that young, but as the years went on, I learned.

I know we spent parts of those first early years in Hughes. I have a bunch of photos of me always matching in outlandish getups with my hair done. In hindsight we may have been staying in the village to be safe from my dad, but he was there sometimes too. People used to reminisce about him having a dirt bike there and I remember riding one at a young age. Those days were my first experiences of sexual abuse. I hardly remember but I know older boys would molest us on the riverbank. I was about two or three years old, I’m not sure how much older they were. I knew it was wrong and, even though I was a toddler, I hit one of the boys in the head with a baseball bat. That was how we all grew up, kids molesting kids, we didn’t know any better and it was confusing as hell because, for the most part, sex feels good in a normal situation. 

In my mind, we lived in Anchorage in the winters and would go to Hughes in the summer. When I was about four years old, we moved to Fairbanks. Around then I started remembering a lot of the abuse my mom was enduring. What I didn’t realize was it was affecting me as well. I can’t say for sure how often it happened, but it felt like at least once a week or more. I would sleep with my mom every night and just about every single time the lights would flip on, and my drunk dad would be there, in a rage, and just start hurting her. It was terrifying and one of the worst memories was him kicking her in the stomach while she was pregnant with my sister. I was too young to understand what was going on. I was my dad’s baby, and he would hurt her and scare me so often. I was my mom’s baby and there was nothing I could do to protect her. I was so scared I used to wet the bed. Some nights I would wrap her long hair tightly around my fist so she wouldn’t get dragged out of the bed. There were times when our whole apartment would be wrecked…furniture, walls, all of it…except my bedroom. I would go to sleep and wake up with it looking like nothing happened. Thinking of what she went through now, I couldn’t imagine it. That shit wouldn’t fly in this day and age, but I think it was normal for that generation.

I have memories of being in Hughes, we used to fly on tiny 207 planes to get there. Some days, in the summer, those planes would get chartered and come back absolutely FILLED from floor to ceiling with alcohol, no passengers, just alcohol. Women would hide, with all the kids, in the woods while their drunk men were looking for the family with shotguns. Other women would be drinking with their men and would show up beaten the next day, if they could even get out of bed from the beating. One day my mom and I were taking a walk down the airfield and a shot rang out in the whole town, that was when I learned what suicide was.

Ever since I was about 5 years old, I was hanging out with my dad during the day, working on cars, selling drugs, stealing, and enjoying Shirley Temples at the Arctic Bar when it was downtown. Even though I was in the gifted and talented class I remember going to the lost and found and trying to pay two of my classmates to throw this girl in the slough, with a tape recorder I found in there. The girl and I were arch enemies, and she had a huge crush on my boyfriend, some blond-haired, blue-eyed kid named Ryan who I used to sneak around and make out like an adult with, at daycare, whenever we could. They didn’t really watch us very well back then and I wasn’t there long. One day I walked out the door, hopped on the city bus and showed up at my mom’s office. Pretty sure she stopped paying for daycare around then. That was also the first year I was faced with bullies…I was a five-year-old and remember four boys down the street giving me trouble about something. I’d always try to go out with my cousins or best friends after that.

Soon after my sister was born, we moved into a house, and I had my own room there too. The beatings were no different there, but they seemed to get worse. Sometime after that we started taking in kids from our family. One of them used to molest me every night in the closet when I was in the first grade. What kids in the village are taught is something that is still hard to address. Thankfully kids today can use their cell phone or tablet to record any audio at night, if nothing happens then GOOD. If something did then they could use that for those who refuse to believe and support them. I didn’t tell anyone; I feared getting beat up. They didn’t stay long though because my dad was still waking us up in the middle of the night and practically holding us hostage at the kitchen table while he went on a drunk rant about this or that. We would hide from my dad all the time. I think I must have spent half of my weekends at my aunt’s house growing up, she had two sons then, one is 3 months older than me, and I consider him my first brother. The year I turned 7 things started to change. I was growing up and learning at a fast pace. I was in the gifted and talented class and was entering spelling bees. It was a double life.

I was always running around town alone or with my cousins. I was bringing weed to school for my friends. My dad told me how to kill someone with a knife. I first tasted cocaine. I was in the first grade with my best friend, her sister was in the second grade, and we jumped a fifth grader right by the buses because she was a bully. We were so bold, we lit up cigarettes right in the middle of Dairy Queen and started smoking them. Still school was my escape. I was always trying to be a good student and listened to what the teachers and anyone else had to say, for the most part. One day a presenter came in from the Women in Crisis Counseling and Assistance (WICCA), I’m not sure what they were doing in my second-grade classroom but there they were. Around that time, I was sick of getting woken up to seeing my house getting damaged and my loved ones getting hurt. My dad even went so far as to burn my two-year-old sister in the back with a cigarette. That Spring I planned to run away with one of my classmates. One of the main roads in Fairbanks is University Avenue. As students at the old University Park, we spent a lot of time on that road. From that road we could see a hill at the end of Geist Road…my classmate and I figured there was no way anyone could find us if we went to that hill on our bikes. I informed my mom that if she didn’t leave my dad I was going to run away. I had my yellow Nike bag packed and was dead serious. Things came to a head not long after.

That April my best friend told my class that my dad wrecks our house and beats my mom. In what feels like the Sunday after that, my mom and I went to bingo after we were hiding at my auntie’s house for the weekend. I was allowed to be in there with her and would always sneak a few bingo cards. I won that day and was so happy to get those pastel pin striped jeans I had been eyeing. We got to our house, and I was happily going back to my mom’s room with the things we bought. I turned around just in time to see her body slam into the wall. My dad had been hiding, in the unused front door entryway, waiting for us.

He proceeded to trap us in the bedroom and screamed and yelled and beat my mom for hours. He was drunk and high on coke, I clearly remember him shoving a big bloody booger full of coke in her face, it was a nightmare. At one point he busted a beer bottle on the dresser and then herded us all into the living room because his hand was bleeding. He went into the kitchen to clean it and came back with knives which he threw at us. After a while we all had to get in the car, and he drove a couple blocks down the street and parked in front of the patient hostel. He tried to bend the gear shifter so we would crash into Hunter School and ran away to the hospital to get his hand fixed. We sat there stunned. Finally, I told my mom we needed to go to this place, and they would help us. At 7 years old I brought my mom and my baby sister to WICCA. I remember standing on their doorstep and wondering if what the lady who came to my classroom said was true. They took us in, and we were safe. All three of us stayed in one bedroom. In the house there were a bunch of other women and children in the same situations. About 15 years later my mom told me I saved her life that day. We left for Hughes after the school year ended. I felt free.

Life Two

We spent the whole summer in Hughes. They had a fire call that summer, and I spent a lot of it at my late “grandma’s” house. She was really my grandfather’s niece but, in our family, we consider the relationship structure differently. For example, a lot of my girl cousins are my children’s “auntie” along with my own sisters. It was an uneventful summer; a lot of the people were away firefighting, so the grandmas watched the kids, and I was uptown…past the old store from my grandparents’ house. We are talking about a three-story high, 20’ x 40’ or 50’ haunted log structure with a concrete bottom full of water and all the windows busted out. That building was full of tales and NOT a place I’d ever walk by alone! The old store separated the town. The concrete sidewalk remnants were still about 40’ from the riverbank last time I checked. I guess it was about two weeks before my mom was gone but it felt like an eternity! Luckily my grandma had girls and one of them was my model gorgeous cousin/auntie. She was the one that would baby me and made sure I was okay and taken care of and just loved me to death. I felt safe with her and always loved to see her after my mom came home. She passed on my ninth birthday, along with a lot of our other relatives leaving a devastating emptiness among us all. 8 young lives lost, 7 adults and an unborn baby, they were the ones who were supposed to keep our village prospering. Once all the firefighters returned it was probably a couple weeks until the alcohol arrived. My mom and auntie argued, and we were on a boat to Allakaket. Allakaket is where my grandparents originally came from, and I think this was my first time there. We stayed at my mom’s cousin’s house, and it felt like that town was poppin! It may have been the Fourth of July. I thought it was the coolest place ever, I don’t even remember where my mom was.

When it was time for school to start again things were different. We moved back to our house in Fairbanks, and we would always have family over. They would always have us cousins fetching them their wine coolers or beers and we would try to act cool and take a shot walking through the living room. My parents were and still are hard workers, it seemed like they weren’t home often and didn’t have much time for me. We would play all over town and basically do whatever we wanted; except I had a tag along with me. My poor sister got it all the time too. My dad taught me the wrong way to get things done. I would steal anything I wanted that I could get my hands on. One day we were in the store and stole four cartons of cigarettes. We went to the woods where the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center is now and had a smoke. After we hid the cigs and came out of the woods my mom drove by. She piled us all in her little yellow station wagon and my sister proudly announced, “We went to go smoke!” If I could write this book with emojis…you know that cringey face, I’d make and smack her upside the head or punch her shoulder! Once my mom made me breathe on her to detect the tobacco breath, she marched all of us into the store with the rest of the cigarette cartons. As we were walking in, a pale blue, square-looking Fairbanks Police Department car was sitting outside with a sad-faced little Native boy in it. I later learned that he had gotten caught stealing a G.I. Joe doll. I felt bad for him.

That year my mom started bringing my stepdad around and they were married soon after. They also had a lot more family visitors and some older cousins were staying with us to finish their high school years as boarding home students. With the influx of people came an influx of all the things. I would drink more, smoke more, steal more and be gone more. What a wild year that was! It was also very different, my best friends that I grew up with moved far out of town and they weren’t at our school anymore. I missed them terribly. It was also the year of that horrible boat accident our relatives passed in. The year that the Challenger blew up in the air right before our eyes on the TV. My teacher Mrs. Shiffler got beaten by Christa McAuliffe to get on that mission. That was also when a girl pushed me, I pushed her back and her arm broke.

I was showing up to school hungover, I puked in my sleep from drinking too much, it was insane. I was nine. I knew it wasn’t right but was still offered some by people who were around the house. In all it was probably like five instances of me drinking but I still remember most of them. Once I was at the movies enjoying rum and cokes. Another time I was sitting on the roof with some older girls. I was always with way older girls because my maturity level was more in line with adults than my peers. I stopped drinking for a couple years after that year. It just wasn’t good for me. That year, I also represented my school district in the state spelling bee. I didn’t place but I earned my way to a stay at the Hilton Hotel with no parents and felt so grown! That year in my school pictures I was wearing a gold nugget necklace with 9 nuggets and a sapphire. I didn’t understand the significance of gold jewelry at that age.

My parents would take us to the village, and we would always be in some houses with all the other kids. That was where I first learned the differences in how it was to be raised in the village. I remember being in my cousin’s house with four other girls. One of them asked, “Have you ever had a sexual?” I was thinking, “WTF? You mean sex? GROSS! NO, I am only ten!” I just quietly told them no and immediately felt like I was a baby compared to them. That wasn’t the only place I felt inadequate.

My parents purchased a house out of the South Side, and I was moved to a different school. It was such a different environment and the kids all seemed to have plenty of money. I also felt like I was raising my siblings a lot of the time. We three girls were five years apart. I stopped drinking around then, the kids I was around didn’t come from party homes that I could tell. I was still just trying to fit in and was bullied incessantly.

On my first school camping trip I was humiliated by a group of girls in a cabin, one even pushed a flashlight against my jeans on my privates.

Another one of the most embarrassing times in my life was at that school. Jean skirts were popular back then. Gym class was a requirement. One day, I didn’t have any clean underwear and grabbed a pair of my mom’s plain white satin ones. We ended up having to go skiing that day and imagine my horror when the smooth fabric slid all the way down to my skis. I will probably never forget every student in my class standing around me pointing and laughing. I had like three friends there and was miserable. I’m pretty sure they just felt sorry for me. I went from ruling the school to being an outcast and an awkward ugly duckling one at that! My self-confidence was at an all-time low. That was the year I met Jan in Huslia. He was from Alatna. He snapped my bra and called it an Eskimo slingshot. *swoon*

Life was just getting to be too much for me around that time. After all I’ve written NOW it felt like it was too much? Regardless, in a strange turn of events, that holiday season I went to my aunt’s house in Northway and my dad was there. I didn’t see much of him because he was in a dark room hungover, but I hadn’t seen him in about four years, so I didn’t care. He was still with my, now, stepmom and they were expecting my brother any day. One day I packed up all my stuff into three black trash bags and moved out. I LOVED living with my dad and stepmom. I felt so loved and had so much attention. She was always home with us and I loved helping her with my five year old brother and my newborn brother. They had cable, we would watch Nick at Night and I got to have the whole bedroom in that one-bedroom apartment. All that was short lived though, after the school year was over my dad ended up getting abusive and I think my stepmom went to WICCA. I was alone at the apartment. Luckily, just over the fence about 100 feet away was an apartment complex with tons of kids all running around unsupervised. That was where I first saw Kevin and our friend. He must have been about nine and I remember thinking how sad it was that they were out so late. They looked so cute, one little blond hair blue eyed boy with spiky hair and a party in the back and one little black-haired green-eyed boy with spiky hair and a perm in the back. Mischief out late on their bikes. I had to move back to my mom’s house after that night because my dad and stepmom weren’t available.

I physically developed almost overnight once I turned 10 or 11. Attention from males started happening all the time. Some of them were a couple years older than me but there were also grown men. Although I was very uncomfortable at first, I became used to it very quickly. In no time at all I was literally popping a dude in the face to get the hell away from me. There were so many instances I cannot even name the most uncomfortable time but the grown men who would act inappropriately were the worst memories. Occasionally I would wake up with one of them trying to lie by me and donkey kick them off the bed or couch. Sometimes I would have to leave wherever I was and walk in the middle of the night to get to a safer place. That started when I was 11 or 12 and didn’t stop until 2001.

It’s worse for Alaska Native girls these days. It’s on a whole different level now with social media, especially with human trafficking and drug abuse. I think people just want to escape the trauma of their real lived experiences.

I lived with my parents up in the hills of Fairbanks again in the seventh grade. That year I was in the village with some other kids while our parents were enjoying the village dog races. I started drinking again, but just a few sips here and there. I was averse to drinking in my tween years because my “auntie” was gossiping about me and telling people I was drinking when I wasn’t. I was always the sober one making sure my cousins and friends made it home safe. That was the first time I knew a grown woman was gossiping about me and I was ten years old.

When I was 12, after spending a summer in Anchorage, I moved in with my grandparents in Hughes. By then, I was done raising babies, it was time to go out on my own. I LOVED living in Hughes at that time. One of my first weeks there we traveled by boat to Allakaket. I have a cousin; she is a little over 6 months older than me. We were inseparable. She and I did everything together, we slept in the same bed either at our grandparents’ or at her house. We talked all night and day about boys, music, the future…typical girl talk. We would take walks down to the end of the runway and daydream about being in some other town. By the time the school year was over I couldn’t wait to get back to Fairbanks. I was a teenager! The whole time I still had a huge crush on Jan. He was tall, handsome, and funny. We would write to each other the whole summer.

I started out my summer babysitting for the family of one of my older sisters. After a while their other sister came to Fairbanks to babysit for them. I hung out with her a couple of times and even spent the night. I woke up and felt the dad lying next to me that night. I told him to get out of there, my cousin was sleeping on the top bunk above me. I tried to go back to sleep but woke up to him peeking in the room again. It was a weekend night. I gathered my things, walked out of there and never looked back.

That summer it felt like there was a lot of pressure to lose my virginity. Several girls I knew had already lost theirs, someone my age had already gotten pregnant in the eighth grade. Peer pressure is the worst at 13. I wanted so badly to be grown and didn’t even know that I didn’t even know what I was doing. One of the main events in the summers is the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. People would come to Fairbanks from all over the state for athletic contests, pageants and just to gather. Back then it was cheap to attend and was always a good time to see everyone and their cousins. The first day of the event that summer I ended up going to a party at my friend’s house afterwards. There were a lot of older teenagers there, including some of my older cousins. That night, I got really drunk and lost my virginity. Not before I was making out with someone else. Looking back, it makes me think that they intended on running a train. The first guy and I made out for a while then he got up and left the room. I am so grateful that he chose not to go any further, he was my first real kiss and in a surprising twist of events we recently became friends again. The second guy went in there and we started having sex then my cousin was pounding on the door and ended all that. I felt horrible and ended up blacking out. To my horror I gave a guy a black eye that was really trying to hit on me throughout the night.

After that I just spent my time going to the movies, where everyone hung out, and babysitting for my aunt and other family members. At the end of the summer, I was about to start high school. We took a shopping trip to Anchorage and were driving home with all our new school clothes and a new major appliance. My parents loved to take us kids camping. I used to dislike going camping with them because I enjoy the comforts of a real bed, I do not like to wake up sweaty with no showers around and I feel that I value my life more than a wild grizzly bear does. Regardless, I got a ton of new school clothes and, since I was 13, I didn’t mind risking my life to get them.

I woke up on August 12, 1990, in a tent…sweating and dehydrated, ready to head home. I remember parts of the drive…listening to Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” as we crossed the green Jack Coghill bridge, noticing all the cars at my aunt’s apartment as we drove into town, little things. We got home and I zoomed into the house with all my bags. Back in the day we had things called answering machines. We got home and had a message from my auntie to call her. My mom was on the phone, she hung up and announced that my older cousin had shot himself. I asked if he was dead, and she confirmed.

My third older cousin/brother was gone, he was 10 months older than me. He was the one who I did so many things with growing up from the first time I met him. I remember him as ALWAYS being just a little bit smarter than me. He taught me how to drive a snowmachine. He taught me all kinds of things. He would tell me to stay away from this boy or that boy. He mainly told me to stay away from Jan. I was devastated. I ran up to my room and was bawling my eyes out. My mom came in and told me I had to be strong for my auntie. I hardly remember being in the village then. I see photos. I remember I didn’t go to his funeral. I laid in the bed we shared and just slept and cried myself back to sleep. I recalled the last time I saw him and wished we had hung out more. He was wearing the coolest black windbreaker with a neon green stripe across the middle.

A couple weeks after that I started ninth grade. I would skip school with a few of the other Native students that felt totally out of place in that big school full of seemingly rich kids. I also started babysitting on weekends for my sister’s friend. Every weekend they always seemed to leave a whole pitcher of strawberry daiquiri that I would happily help myself to. I realized I was depressed. It was not like me skipping school all the time and drinking every weekend. I asked to move back to Hughes to my grandparents and left.

It was great for me being in the village with my grandparents, my cousin, and her parents. We helped with chores and lived simply.

One of the biggest things we looked forward to was traveling to our neighboring villages which were at least 60 miles away. The closest one was Allakaket and every year they hosted a basketball tournament. Teams would fly from all over the Interior to participate. There would be games during the day and rock and roll dances at night. Even though it was a dry village people would still be drinking all over the place and it was generally a good time. Since we were 14, our grandparents would travel, and I would stay with my cousin OR my aunt and uncle would leave town and my cousin would stay with me and my grandparents. We were always together.

Back in those days the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend checks were mailed. They were still processed in early October, but they often took a couple months to arrive. Our grandparents, and my cousin’s parents, weren’t in Hughes when her PFD arrived. She was supposed to use her PFD to buy her glasses out of the post office where they were being held as a COD. At fourteen years old we packed our bags and jumped on a plane to Allakaket for the basketball tournament! We were SO excited and happy to spend the weekend with our family and friends. Although we were slightly scared to face the consequences, we felt it was worth it.

The universe, however, had other plans. After the tournament was over, and everyone went home, we were still there. We didn’t realize that the airlines didn’t always fly the route we wanted (AET to HUS) and it wasn’t a regularly scheduled stop. We called every morning but were out of luck. Then it became sixty below and planes quit flying. We stayed in houses all over town, trying to keep warm. Thank goodness for our boyfriends at the time, they made sure we were safe. We stole wood from the hall, which worked for a little while, until our cousin’s dad ended up passing away and we stopped. We just stuck together like a pack of wolves surviving all over town.

At first, it felt like the whole town of Hughes was infuriated with us. By the time we made it home two weeks later they were just relieved to have us back. I almost finished out the year with my grandparents but got sent back home in the spring because they started traveling a lot. That summer I lived with my dad and babysat my two younger brothers and baby sister while they worked. Nothing really happened that summer, I was 14 with three kids and stuck in North Pole for the most part. I didn’t drink much or smoke weed, I just smoked cigarettes and some mornings my dad would wake me up to a cigarette and a cup of juice.

At the end of the summer, I moved back to my mom’s house. I started 10th grade and had a group of cousins and friends, who were my age, that I would hang out with on weekends. I felt accepted and we always had fun. We started drinking Boone’s Strawberry Hill wine every weekend and would all be together babysitting at someone in the apartment complex’s house. We did what any normal teenage group of kids did. Drive around, talk about boys, occasionally skip school, drink…nothing major. That winter I went to the village for the holidays, which we usually did. That year was particularly hard. The love of my life (then) had found a new girlfriend and we didn’t really know how to handle it all. I ended up falling for his younger cousin who was about a year older than me, but I liked them both. We partied almost the whole break and sometimes we were in -55 out on snowmachines drinking and running around. I stayed for two weeks and then went back home. My legs had terrible frostbite, they were dark purple and black with blisters. I hid it from my parents, but I could barely walk sometimes, it was painful and throbbing. I still feel the effects today and my legs became permanently discolored. After I healed up, I went back to hanging out with my friends drinking Strawberry Hill on weekends.

One morning I woke up and was shaken. My auntie was sitting there with her sister. They said, “wake up, wake up, your dad died”. I jumped up, in a daze, and asked WHO? My aunt said, “Rodney”. I sat there for a minute, still trying to wake up, and we heard a car door slam. I looked out the window to see my grandma and auntie coming towards the door. I started walking down the steps and saw my grandma. All she said was “oh baby…” and burst into tears, so did I. Their presence confirmed his death. It was awful, the circumstances were straight out of a Lifetime movie. I was 15 and I had my own phone line in my room. For a few weeks before his passing, my dad would call me drunk and accusatory. It was annoying, I had school in the morning, and he was kind of reminding me of how he treated my stepmom and my mother before her. It happened so often that I just started hanging up on him. About a week before he died, I threw away all the photos I had of him, there were quite a few. I knew he was back to selling drugs and apparently, he was using them, and I just didn’t think I could deal with that anymore. On his last night, in a drunken and cocaine induced rage, he beat my stepmom unrecognizable, broke her legs with an axe and shot his head off. This happened in front of my eight-year-old brother.

I was lost, it was like 5 AM, I had no idea where my mom was, I had no idea where my siblings were. At the time I didn’t know what exactly happened. They brought me to my uncle’s apartment where everyone was “gathering”. It was so uncomfortable because there were people, I didn’t know hugging me nonstop. Finally, my mom showed up and got me out of there. We picked up my cousin, she is my sister, and we went to her house. I cried and cried once we got there, until I had no energy left to do so. I went to my stepmom at the hospital, she saw me and started wailing. Her sister kicked me out of the room. Someone brought my brother to me. I remember just sitting in my mom’s car alone with him. He wasn’t eating so I started cracking jokes and tried to make a game out of it. I couldn’t leave him that day, so I had to stay out at my aunt’s house that night. After that I was with my older sister and went back to my Boone’s. On the night before his funeral, he was sitting in the old white church across the river downtown. I didn’t want to leave, I hated the thought of him all alone in that big, dark church. On the day of his funeral, I was sitting in the church and got so upset because they started carrying his casket out before we got to say our final goodbye. I jumped up ready to go after him and all these people started getting in my way! They kept trying to hug me, I know they meant well but I really wanted to push them all aside. By the time I got outdoors I started running around the parking lot, looking at all the trucks, but he was gone. I was sobbing, I remember seeing someone, who ended up being like my older brother, looking at me pitifully. I was still lost, my uncle saw me and had his buddy stop the truck they were in, so he could just give me a hug. I was pathetic.

My dad died on April 25, that was just a couple weeks before my school year was supposed to end. I couldn’t bring myself to go back to school. I dropped out. I didn’t want to be in Fairbanks anymore, the memories were everywhere. I retreated to my grandparents in Allakaket and just tried to stay around my friends and family. I started drinking and blacking out then. I remember being so sad and inconsolable at times. I’d walk off alone, I didn’t want to share my misery and grief with anyone, it was such sadness, and I was known to be a much happier person. I spent my whole summer in the village. When it was over, I headed to boarding school in Sitka. Looking back, I know my mom wanted the best for me, but I couldn’t have felt more lost. I felt so alone and so far away from any family or friends. I looked at most of those teenagers and thought they seemed so immature and sheltered. I only spoke to a few people; they were real to me and open about their adverse experiences as well. I stayed one semester and then somehow planned to live in Bettles at a local elder’s home. One of my best friends lived there, she was like my older sister, and always tried to look out for me. I ended up staying where she did at my relatives from Huslia. There were 10 of us in a three-bedroom house. It was a great time. I went on my first and only dog sled ride, we had excellent teachers that introduced me to keeping up with current events and we were just safe. I stayed for one month and two weeks of that month it was seventy below zero. One day I was walking home from the store, and it was just me and a huge moose on the road. I remember thinking I would be trampled by this moose, and nobody would even know because the ice fog was down to the ground, and nobody was out anywhere. We stared at each other for a moment and the moose walked away.

After a month I returned to my mom’s. I was 16 and that was my first summer without my dad around. He was all over Fairbanks and a lot of people knew who he was. We started out the Spring meeting new people, going to parties and just having fun. That May I had some cousins who had just turned 18 and got an apartment. One night after our usual partying I went to sleep in their bedroom, and someone raped me. I came to and could feel that someone had sex with me. I woke up and was asking what happened, someone said that it was this person…who was sleeping on the floor. I kicked him in the stomach and left the apartment. I was so confused and still drunk. I still don’t know who it was. That created some tension in my newfound social life, but it didn’t last long. I had just finished my 11th grade year; I was working for the borough in a summer job and partying in my free time.

The school year started, and I was at a new school with a lot of my friends. Every Friday we would collect pitch ins for a hotel room and alcohol. We spent the whole school year like that, I was 17 but able to rent hotel rooms under a pseudonym, “Talina Brewer.”

I was still traveling to the village for various events and that Spring I went to Allakaket. There was a dance the first night I was there, and we drank. I woke up to Jan smiling, watching me sleep. I opened my eyes, and he jumped up and walked out of the room. I felt sad and then he walked back in with a cup of juice. I felt relieved and grateful. Then he lit up a joint and we sat there, smoking and giggling, while his mom was yelling away looking for her joint.

It was such a great memory. I loved him for seven years by then. We hung out all weekend and I remember him sleeping on the couch at my cousin’s house when my plane landed. I didn’t want to wake him, so I left. I wished I could stay with him, but it was Monday and I had to get back to 11th grade.

Five days later my mom was calling my name to wake me up. It was early on a Saturday. All I remember was her saying, “They found Jan.”, meaning his body was found. I turned over and was sobbing.

The hours following Jan’s death were excruciating. The days were excruciating.

WHY DIDN’T I WAKE HIM UP TO SAY BYE??

I was in love with him since I was 10 years old!

I couldn’t even look at his body lying in that casket.

I wanted to die.

This wasn’t how life was supposed to be!!

I was only 17!

The months that followed his death were a blur. I was in my senior year of high school and barely made it to any classes. I turned 18 and there was a flood on the Koyukuk River. A lot of money was going around. We had all the kegs and cocaine we wanted. I would go to church every Wednesday evening, even if I was drunk or high. I was so close to death; I would pray to get better. I would drive drunk, black out every day, and just cry. My friends and family didn’t know what to say.

By the grace of God, I graduated. I was still drinking heavily and weighed the most I ever did in my life. Losing the closest males, I had in my life took a toll on me. I was in mourning for over two years after Jan died.

After one year at UAF, I moved to Phoenix. I went to school at DeVry Institute of Technology and wanted to become an electronics technician. I lived in seven different places in the nine months that I lived in Phoenix. I lost around 50 pounds from being a starving college student who caught the buses for two hours one way to get to school every day. One night I woke up to glass shattering and popping noises. Bullets were flying into our apartment. It shattered our whole sliding glass door and made a hole in my bedroom window.

I decided to go back home until the next trimester started at the Kansas City DeVry, they had student housing. August 31, 1997, the same day Princess Diana was killed, I always remember that date. I took an internship at my Native corporation for a few weeks. I was working and hanging out in my spare time. I had just turned 21 so my priority was to enjoy life and work. I hung out with Harley a lot, but also hung out with Kevin and Conan a few times too.

I never thought life would give such a shock as when the Fairbanks Four went to jail. I remember that Monday morning headline, running up to my mom’s bathroom and telling her.

I wanted her to do something!

We had just gone to Pizza 4 Less with Kevin a few days before that. After we ate, my mom took my siblings to bingo with her, we had my sister drive, and we rode around drinking and smoking weed until bingo got out. I remember that night so well because we would always play fight and I accidentally kicked him in his privates.

I can still picture him saying, “I’m okay…I’m okay…” all hunched over.

A couple weeks later I was on the plane to Kansas City, Missouri. I had never been there before but had friends that lived about 45 minutes away in Lawrence, Kansas. That is where Haskell and KU are. I didn’t get along with my roommates too well and ended up leaving DeVry and hanging out in Lawrence for a few months.

My roommates and I worked at the national student aid report center, the perfect gig for a party animal such as me. I was out of control stealing alcohol with my crazy buddy from North Carolina. He and his sister both attended Haskell. One night I almost got arrested and put myself on the next flight back to Alaska.

I had no place to live, no job, no money, my parents were mad at me. I lived with friends, but some guys would get mad because I wouldn’t sleep with them. That made it uncomfortable, so I’d leave. I would walk around all day, not knowing what to do. I was lost, I didn’t know how to be an adult.

Towards the end of the summer, I moved in with my friend. We were extremely attached as boyfriend and girlfriend. It was totally unhealthy, and I was 22 while he was a 19-year-old in high school. I got in my first car chase with him, we were out there surviving, sometimes things got violent with people. I remember my niece’s dad carrying me away from this one girl, as she was sliding down a car from me hitting her, at my 22nd birthday keg. Four girls, one being her, tried to jump me the weekend before and were trying to start trouble with my younger cousin. He stabbed someone in self-defense a couple weeks before. We lived together the whole winter, but as Kevin would say,

“Til, you just go out with guys in the winter and break up with them in the summer.”

We were devastated when we broke up, but he ended up in jail, and I moved to a village. That was when I met my daughter’s dad. We hit it off right away. In no time we were living in our own spot. Soon after we were making plans to move. I was still drinking and didn’t really care if I lived or died. This was evident when I chose not to wear my seatbelt, on August 22, 1999, in a car chase with the Alaska State Troopers. We flipped going over 60, although my knees ended up the size of basketballs, I walked away.

My new relationship was also having trouble, signs of domestic violence were starting to show. I ignored them. Like an idiot, I ignored them. I thought I knew it all. We tried to live in Albuquerque, I got pregnant, and didn’t want to be alone down there. He was to the point where he would be screaming in my face. It didn’t get better when we moved back to Alaska. He was drinking a lot, and I was pregnant in the hot summer. I’d lie naked under a wet sheet with the fan on me to cool off.

When I was 40 weeks and 4 days pregnant, he beat me so badly my face was disfigured, and his fingers left bruises on my neck. You can still see them in my labor pictures. I was scared. I was about to turn 24 with a new baby. I planned on moving to Hughes to work.

We didn’t last. On Christmas Eve, he got drunk, tried to beat me up at my friend’s while I was sleeping, and got arrested. He would call and tell me he had a gun, or he was going to drive up to Hughes. He showed me a worksheet he did in treatment that said something like,

Driving up to Hughes, and shooting at the troopers, is STINKIN’ THINKIN’!

One night he called me drunk and told me he was going to drive up to Hughes. I couldn’t sleep. That morning I heard a snowmachine pull up, I heard the door open, and thought, “I am going to get shot!” There was no VPSO in Hughes, once I helped my older cousin leave an abusive situation and it took the troopers way too long to get there. I made a plan, sold everything, and moved in with my parents. I didn’t know I would continue to be harassed and stalked.

Newly single, I started going out and having fun. I always made sure I had someone with me that could protect me. One of the people I knew would protect me was someone I first saw when I was pregnant with my daughter. He walked in with his white jacket, and I was intrigued, especially since my daughter’s dad was sitting at a booth with some girl on his lap. I was six months pregnant then but noticed him. He had no idea who I was, and I didn’t know his name. Once I found out, I told my younger Brother Vince to be friends with him. Then, I told him to have them pick me up one night to go ride around and smoke weed. I had no idea that would be the start of a decades-long friendship. We grew up together.

Unfortunately, I was sexually assaulted that summer by someone who I thought was my friend. To this day I have no idea how he got to my house. When I went to sleep my cousin and two of our friends were the only people there. It took me a long time to forgive him for that. I was drinking so much after that I asked my older cousin to take my baby. I told her I had gotten raped, and I didn’t want my baby to be affected by me not being able to care for her properly. My beautiful cousin always had my back and took my baby for a few months. I was working out of town and was gone most of the summer until I broke my arm. After that I got my baby back and was doing good, until I woke up in jail with a weapons and assault charge. I immediately called my friend, he told me what to do and my baby and I went to a residential treatment in Sitka, Alaska.  I hadn’t been to Sitka since I was in high school. It was such a calm time. It was good to have a schedule and a safe place. I remember a pivotal moment in my healing journey. We were walking to a healing circle, and I thought to myself,

I am never going to see these people again. I am going to tell them everything!

Once we were done the leader was so stunned, he hit the bottoms of my feet with the eagle feather.

I worked hard to stop drinking, I cried and prayed to God in a sweat lodge, jumped off a power pole to a trapeze to conquer my shame, and I graduated. I was so excited to go home and so happy to feel healthy!

Four days later reality tested my sobriety. One of the best friends I ever had in my life, my goddaughter’s mother, Danielle Noel Knight passed away. I was so hurt then, I can still hear her saying, “love you”, in her soft voice, when I cross the Nenana bridge on my way home.

I continued working on my sobriety and healing after that and found myself in the same aftercare program as my ex. It was awkward to be there, but I kept on going. I did everything I could to start a better life for my baby and me. I had no car, no license, no furniture, but I didn’t care. I would walk to work, in the winter, with my baby on my shoulders. It was such a different life than what I was used to. I had to stop talking to all my old friends so that I could focus on building our life. It was a struggle! I decided to go back to school.

I was still being stalked by my daughter’s dad. He would follow my relatives and friends as well. I was hiding for 29 days from him. One day the AST called me and said he left his third party. They wanted me to move into the shelter and escorted me to pick up my daughter from HeadStart. Another time he was beating me up in front of everyone in the middle of the fairgrounds. So embarrassing!

Life Three

Being that I was born into a life of selling drugs, in no time I was doing things, here and there, to get by. I was still seeing my son’s dad. One summer I bailed him out, he told me I could look it up on CourtView to find out when the bail money would be returned. What I saw blew my mind! There was a felony drug case with my name on it.

I started watching that case like a hawk. I knew exactly when each step progressed in the case, and when they issued a warrant. I was ready. We went through the court hearings, I had an 11:00 PM curfew, and only broke it the week before I was scheduled to turn myself in. Unfortunately, that was also the year my daughter started kindergarten. I went from being a PTA mom to, “mom, Chantel’s mom just got out of jail” with awkward looks all around.

When I was released from Hiland Mountain, I found myself starting over AGAIN! This was the third time, and I was 28. I was on probation and living at my parents’ home. I had a job at U-Haul, and it didn’t pay enough to support my daughter and me. With my brand-new felony drug conviction, it was hard to find work at a lot of places. I took a job at my mom’s village; they were struggling to keep their school open. We moved there right after they had a big flood. We were told there would be housing. A few months later, we were asked to move out of the house we had been living in. We moved into my uncle’s house, but it was still frozen underneath because of the flood. The first time it hit thirty below I planned and moved. I went back to U-Haul and was happy there.

In January of 2007, I was out one Saturday night, and my friend came and told me there were a lot of law enforcement around his house. Three young Natives passed due to that incident. One of them was my younger sister’s ex-boyfriend. He was my buddy, even though he was way younger, he’d always ask his older brother to use his ID to go out with me. Of course, he’d get rejected but it was always funny to see him ask. When he got shot, I got my sister a ticket to see him in Anchorage at the hospital. I would always talk to her after that. I’d try to encourage her. She was devastated and took her own life, in our parents’ home, on April 11, 2007. My bestie immediately flew up to be with me. She held me while I cried myself to sleep, calling for my Sharona in my dreams. I’ll never forget singing Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones to her while she was in her casket in Hughes’ Hall. She was my baby. Our entire family was devastated.

Later that year, my daughter’s dad walked up to my parents’ garage with a gun asking for me. That started a six month stay at the women’s shelter. While I was staying there, I had a job downtown across from this huge apartment building. My brother called me screaming one morning. My niece’s mother hung herself across the street from my job. I immediately went there. My niece jumped into my arms from the officer’s before I even got to the door. Now my dad’s side of the family was going through what my mom’s side just did.

It was a long winter in the shelter. I was finally able to get a good job that would support my daughter and me. We moved to our own place from the shelter in February 2008. Things were looking way up! I was finally off probation and free to go as I pleased, even though I was the “Travel Pass Queen” to the POs. I was working out regularly and had a sweet arrangement driving and delivering for a friend. I ended up losing four clothes sizes and was feeling great. Unfortunately, someone didn’t feel the same way. I started hearing, “I’m gonna knock you up…” and whattaya know…I found out I was pregnant with my son in December of 2008.

After some soul-searching, and a talk with a favorite religious figure in our town, I realized that God planned for me to have my son. I kept working until he was born and was back at work, with him, a week after my c-section. Things were still going well, and my babies and I were safe. My parents and I were planning for my late sister’s memorial potlatch. I decided to go back to school and finish what I started. My babies deserved better.

I kept focused on school. Through many tears over math, I finally earned my degree in Information Technology. An associate degree that I started in 1995. I walked in May of 2013. I knew people always told me to go back to school, but the doors that opened up after that little “two-year degree” were amazing. Since then, I learned, it doesn’t even matter what your degree is in, as long as you have one.

I was working in a school district during that time, but they always piled more and more work on me without increasing my pay. They started mentioning me taking over a food service program as well. I knew I had to do something else. My life was changing in more than one way. I was supposed to get married the year before, but after a few incidents, I realized that was not how I wanted to live. I walked away and focused on exercise, school, and work. I was truly happy for the first time in a long time.

Life Four

My life went beautifully for a couple of years, I had just turned 39 and was working with leaders of my Native corporation. AND I was driving my dream cars.

One morning, I was driving to work, down the street from my house.

I heard, “does anyone know why all of the cops are going down the Richardson?” on the radio.

I walked in and told my work bestie, “that better not be my brother.”

I went to lunch, was talking to Rambo and said, “that better not be my brother.”

I walked back into my office for a 1:00 meeting and my phone lit up.

B Mama

I instantly knew it was my brother. My 33-year-old brother Vincent was killed in a shootout car chase with the Alaska State Troopers. Two days prior, his former roommate, Tristan Vent was shot and was on life support when Vincent was killed. He passed soon after we buried my brother.

Our whole family was devastated once again. When you lose a parent, sibling, or a child, it is usually with the greatest pain. Losing my younger siblings, that I helped raise, hurt me in so many ways.

I was hurt for losing someone I watched, dance to the Monkees show on Nick at Night, in his Underoos.

My mother was broken, she still is.

My nieces and siblings were hurting.

There was anger for the events that led up to my brother’s death.

WHY were we born into this?!

WHY were we all addicts?!

HOW did it get this bad?!

I was encompassed by grief and very impatient. I felt agitated and didn’t think clearly. I felt out of place with my co-workers. That wasn’t the only big change to happen that year. I had been talking to my friend Kevin since July of 2013. On December 17, 2015, he was released from jail after 18 years. That night, he moved into my home.

We were just friends, I didn’t admit it then, but I had a huge crush on Conan. Kevin saw it right away when we went on a trip to visit him at the end of January 2016. Conan and I went to an AC/DC concert and had so much fun. Soon after, Kevin must have decided he didn’t want to be “just friends” after all. Our relationship was extremely complicated and held together by a fierce love.

I am so thankful for him being in our lives, he would help me with all the things I hated to do. He would also help with my son, anytime I needed. One night, I woke up to my doorbell ringing, and loud knocks. It was after midnight. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like to be woken up in the middle of the night. It was my sister. Our younger brother had been shot eight times and was in critical condition at the hospital. I was screaming and crying to our late dad, and to God. It was just one year and three months after we buried Vincent. Kevin came right over to stay with my son. I got to the hospital and slept on the ICU waiting room floor. We couldn’t see him. He was like that for days. He pulled through, he has to be here for a reason. He has been stabbed up before as well.

He made it through, 2017 was off to a good start, until I was going to Seattle for work. My grandma was terminally ill and fell sick right before then. As a birthday present to me, Kevin was supposed to go with me to Conan’s in Washington before my work week started. We ended up having a huge fight, and he didn’t go. Once I got to Washington, I thought I had my non-alcoholic beer all lined up, but it wasn’t. That night I had my first real beer since August of 2004. My grandmother passed two mornings later. Conan took care of me until I went back home.

After my grandmother was buried, it was Mother’s Day. I knew I wouldn’t have anything to look forward to at home and my brother was in Anchorage with his mom, who was at her end of life, so I went to see him. I found out later that Kevin cheated on me. I recalled our discussions before he got out of jail, and we talked it out. I told him if it happened again, I would have to leave him.

That summer turned out to be one of the worst summers of my life. Loved ones kept passing away. I’ve lost five loved ones in five weeks multiple times. I was in a program called Doyon Leadership Training then, and without that training and those people, I don’t think I would have fared as well as I have. Nobody went to my graduation, not my parents, not my kids, not my boyfriend. I traveled as much as I could the whole winter. In January of 2018 I got a message from my ex’s sister that he wanted to see Kevin. I told her that he was probably at his house downtown. Later that evening, my ex knocked on my door. I didn’t open it.

That winter Kevin and I’s relationship started deteriorating. One night he came home and woke me up. He was bawling and I still don’t know why. We ended up breaking up after he cheated on me again. I spent the whole summer celebrating and just enjoying life. I felt like I was finally free from an isolation I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t realize the impact that relationship had on my lifestyle. I was blinded by my need for justice and doing what is right.

After we broke up, he was in a new relationship, almost immediately. He would show up or call and just be an asshole to me for no reason. I started growing to hate him, but a part of me knew it was because of what he went through, so I always forgive. I had a hard time letting go of him too. Nothing felt right without him, but I love myself more.

In December he got very sick from drinking. He had been going hard ever since we broke up. He got mad at his brother’s girlfriend for stalking his house, and yelling at people who went there, and did something to her car when he was drunk. Being that he was Fairbanks Famous it was in the newspapers all out of context. The court blew it out of proportion even though “SB91” was in effect. We found ourselves in a courtroom quashing a $20,000 warrant that was about $15,000 over what it should have been. Regardless, we were told to go to the electronic monitoring place, pay $2,000 and we could go. Nothing was mentioned about a DUI case that he had. We were confused, the hired attorney said he hadn’t seen that happen before. We walked out like…okay, let’s go eat and take care of this.

It was January 16, 2019, at about 2:00 PM, we left the courthouse and turned south on Noble Street. Once we arrived at Airport Way, we were in the right-hand turning lane waiting for the other westbound traffic to pass. I noticed an undercover police officer waiting to turn onto Noble’s north lane. He was staring at us, we just waited until it was our turn and turned. We had NO idea what was about to happen next.

I made the turn, the undercover cop did a u-turn and his lights came on, two Fairbanks Police patrol vehicles blocked both lanes in front of us by parking sideways, and about six or seven more patrol vehicles came in behind us. In five seconds, we were surrounded. We had five thousand in cash on us. They started yelling out of their megaphone…

“Driver…turn off the vehicle!

Driver…take the keys out of the ignition!!

(Me:) I can’t, it’s a push start!!

Driver…get out of the vehicle slowly with your hands up!

Driver…turn around with your back facing us and walk slowly backwards, keep your hands up!

Take a couple steps to the right.

Keep walking backwards…”

With every step, I felt like I would get blasted up like my brothers if I made a wrong move, it didn’t matter that I was dressed head to toe in a court suit. They grabbed me, handcuffed me, patted me down, and put me in a patrol car. I could hear the dispatcher on the radio saying they were trying to contact the DA’s office and there was no answer. I was yelling at the officers trying to explain that we JUST left the courthouse.

It was Kevin’s turn to get out of the car. They had him get out and kneeling in the snow with his hands laced behind his head. I was so scared they were going to kill him right in front of me. They knew exactly who he was, who I was, they were waiting for us. I was still trying to tell them that we just left the courthouse. The dispatcher was still saying she couldn’t reach the DA’s office.

Finally, they got an answer, and arrested Kevin on his DUI charge instead. We were all cleared out and I followed the cop car to FCC to bail him out. By the time we got out of there, it was 4:30 PM. We didn’t even have time to go get his ankle monitor on. We got food and I brought him home. He was still very sick, and so the next morning I took him to the clinic to get medicine. I called the electronic monitoring place to let them know we would be going there and the person on the other line sounded panicked.

I felt like, if I were to tell them our location, they would storm the clinic with all the cops in town. I lied and told them he was home, and I was at an appointment. Then I called his hired lawyer and told him what happened to us the day before. I had feelings of being shot up for years afterwards, the law enforcement in Fairbanks, Alaska is quite dishonorable and cliquey. It is no secret that there is some irreparable damage done to Native and law enforcement people at the hands of each other. Some people feel very strongly about how my brother and others were killed and/or treated by law enforcement.

April 1 st of that year, my whole family was suddenly going to Anchorage on a Friday night. I asked what was going on and found out my godmother was in the hospital. She wasn’t awake, the doctor told us she was terminally ill with cancer. She was my favorite auntie of my dad’s sisters. She put up with me, no problem, when no one else did and I needed help the most. I named my daughter after her. I started getting so worried even though she made it back to her home in Fairbanks. I got to talk to her about everything. She was so peaceful. I went to Atlanta for a work trip and woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible stomachache. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it took hours to go back to sleep. On the day I was to return home, April 25, it was the day of my dad’s death in 1992. I knew my auntie was getting sicker. I wrote out what I wanted her to know, and had my sister read it to her. She passed before I reached Seattle.

After that, my stomachaches started getting worse. I was telling the medical staff that it might be anxiety. They were giving me all kinds of strong pain medications to try to fix it. Dilaudid, Vicodin, Percoset, Morphine, Tramadol, Toradol, nothing was working except a Toradol shot. I kept going back to the clinic and ER. They decided to take out my appendix and gallbladder. I agreed, anything to stop that pain.

When I was released from the hospital, they gave me a prescription for more Toradol. I went downstairs to the hospital pharmacy, and they wouldn’t fill the prescription because I was already given a shot. They told me to just “use whatever I had.” I almost died. I was out of it and don’t remember but I was changing wifi passwords and taking down photos on the wall.

Four days later I showed up at the clinic for my follow-up appointment. I don’t know how I got there. I don’t know who I saw. I barely remember but I was arguing with the PA, I was still in pain, but they were trying to take my pain meds. I was trying to explain that I just needed to know which one to take. She was trying to tell me I was overdosing. I demanded she get my sister, who works at the clinic, because I was out of it and wanted her to know I wasn’t addicted to pills like that.

I was finally back to normal, and Kevin moved back in for a bit. He knew I needed to be taken care of. We still wanted to make it work, but this time alcohol was involved, and it was a disaster. We both did horribly regrettable things and said things we regretted. I began to despise him again, he would only come to me horribly sick, almost dead, for me to build him back up. As soon as he was okay, he would go back to ignoring me and acting like I was overreacting and bugging him. I FINALLY told him he had to learn how to live without me. Thankfully, he is doing well with that now. Thankfully, I am no longer putting off healing and self-medicating with alcohol and cocaine. I didn’t do it often, but I barely remember days, I would still be up the next day. Hating that I was still up but still drinking and doing lines, unable to sleep when I lied down.

When COVID happened, I was on a DC trip and probably one of the first ones to get it. We started losing so many people then, I was having a hard time processing the losses. I found this program called the Grief Recovery Method and, through my job, organized a group class.

Life Five

I had finally found the healing method that I longed for. In April of 2022. I became a Certified Advanced Grief Recovery Method Specialist.  I started drawing to uncover any past trauma I wasn’t aware of yet. As you can see, I’ve been through some things.

I started writing my story and learned how to do healing circles. I still didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do once I got all those nasty memories and experiences out of my mind and body. I just knew that, if I wanted to be at peace, I had to face it all. I had to put it onto paper. I had to take back the power the experiences had over me. I know that once I get it all out, I will be free.

I had been following a couple on Instagram for a couple years and finally decided to put down the money for their book. I arrived just before a trip to Florida in October of 2022. What happened on that trip turns out to be a catalyst for what is coming in my future!

Although the trip itself was full of heartbreak. On my third day there, my mom and cousin texted me at the same time to let me know my younger cousin was found dead.

I couldn’t believe it. I was walking around confused, with tears, away from the group I was with. We were at this incredible wall in Lake Worth, Florida that used to be for segregation. It was now a community project with people from all walks of life represented. I started walking down the wall towards the bus, and this guy with a camera asked if he could interview me. I declined and burst out that I had just lost my cousin. He walked silently with me, listening, all the way to the bus. We all met at a restaurant, I sat outside facing away from everyone and he sat with me. I was so grateful for him being there at that time, I felt so alone even though there were more Beetus’ about two hours away. He was telling me about his work, I could tell he is interested in important topics and loves music videos too. I was grateful when he said he would be honored to film my story, when it is ready.

The book that I bought is called, “The Purpose Factor”, and I can 100% say that it is the one thing that has helped me figure out wtf I am doing on this Earth, living this life full of trauma and loss. If you have read this far you are probably asking yourself how I even lasted this long. It is because my purpose is…


To use my story to encourage and inspire young Native people to

hang on, ask for help, heal their trauma, find their purpose, and live the life they have dreamed of.


We aren’t always given the best in life,

our parents didn’t always know what to do,

or didn’t do what was best.

That doesn’t matter.

It wasn’t their fault either.

We are one generation away from a lifestyle that used dogs as transportation.

Nobody knew how the Trans-Alaska Pipeline would affect us.

All the money, drugs, alcohol, and troubled relationships.

My hope is that we all can heal and do what our spirits were intended to do.

Find what works for you, we are all different.


Enaa’ Baasee’ Denahuto’