It has six bars, four liquor stores and two private clubs that sell booze, and annual alcohol sales total $5.5 million, which is equal to more than half of the city's annual budget.
The drinking crowd swells dramatically during the Iditarod and when Alaska's oil-royalty checks--last year's windfall was about $1,100--are distributed to nearly every man, woman and child in the state each fall. But even on the slowest nights, it's not unusual to encounter someone who has passed out.
Alcohol has long plagued the Bush, but stopping the flow is a tall order for small villages with limited help from law enforcement
It’s a problem plaguing Alaska villages that have taken a stand against alcohol abuse. To interrupt a cycle of accidents, assaults, heartbreak and death, more than 100 communities have voted to ban the sale, possession or importation of alcohol under Alaska’s local option statutes. But the lure of such staggering profits, and the self-destructive urge among a few people to drink abusively, can undercut a village’s resolve one bottle at a time.
After a liquor purchase consumes a family’s monthly fuel subsidy or a big proportion of its food budget, a bottle might be consumed by two or three people. And then the trouble starts.
“They’ll be intoxicated enough to where they’re willing to do anything to find more alcohol,” Leath said. “They’ll start beating people up. They’ll start breaking into homes. They’ll steal snowmachines—and they will be DUI. They will start assaulting each other for that last drink.”
Western culture has known alcohol for 5,000 years, “and we’re not doing a very good job of handling it,” said Darryl Wood, an associate professor with the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage who is now studying the effectiveness of recent anti-bootlegging enforcement on community safety.
“Alaska Natives have had it for 200 years,” he added. “I think if you took a population of Caucasians and put them in small, isolated communities with no jobs, very little hope for the future, the decline of subsistence and no history of dealing with alcohol, I think you’d see some very similar behavior.”
The damage caused to Alaska’s Native people by alcohol is well documented. Native leaders and social scientists have linked it to the disruption of traditional tribal culture that began with the first Russian fur traders and continues today with the erosion of the subsistence lifestyle.
More likely, the answer is the usual suspects: jobs, education, services, culture. In other words, all that boring stuff that takes time and costs money.
For more on the subject, see Drunken Indians.