I have been so proud of how the Alaska Native health system has been handling the pandemic in general, and the vaccine rollout specifically. So imagine my surprise to open the news this morning and see an absolute hit job piece of poor journalism published with a disgraceful slant toward how the system is failing the Anchorage community.
Except it’s not surprising. Any time Native people are perceived to be “doing better” than the dominant group in Alaska, there will absolutely, without fail be a backlash from individuals or large groups about how it’s not fair.
Never mind that Alaska Native people are getting gravely sicker and dying from COVID at twice the rate of white people.
Never mind that the focus on getting vaccines out to the health care providers and Elders the Alaska Native health care system was responsible for was done at a remarkably faster pace than the state – and certainly the federal government – and should be applauded for protecting so many so efficiently.
Never mind that the Alaska Native health care system has no legal requirement or external mandate to vaccinate anyone that is not Native, but chose to use its allotment for non-Natives because it knew more vaccines would not only protect Native families better, but the whole community.
Never mind that instead of taking a deeper look at what the state and federal government is failing at, this media organization chose to focus on what an organization that exists to serve a vulnerable population is doing well and framed it as a failure.
Never mind that the Alaska Native health system’s vaccination efficiency has likely saved dozens, even hundreds, of lives in Anchorage, both Native and non-Native, and will slow the spread to the entire community and state.
Never mind that instead of highlighting the state’s failed responsibility to the Pacific Islander community’s risk, and ask why it was not reaching this community more, this media organization chose to place the blame on an organization that is already serving those outside of its founding responsibility – and seeking to do more.
Never mind that due to the Alaska Native health system’s efficient distribution of vaccines, the state itself will likely receive more vaccines than if it had screwed up distribution as badly as some states and communities are doing in the Lower 48.
Never mind that this media organization’s piece focused on how bad it is that younger Native people are getting vaccinated, when younger Native people’s chances of serious illness or death due to COVID is remarkably higher than a young white person’s chances.
Never mind that the community of Anchorage, state of Alaska and federal government should be thanking the Alaska Native health system for relieving it of needing to vaccinate so many non-Native AND Native citizens it is responsible for.
Never mind that this writer, backed by his editors, is attacking an organization that has spent the last year overhauling its system in endless hours of the most risk-laden work anyone can be doing right now to ensure the community this writer lives in is more safe.
Never mind the historically poor and too-often-tragic history of this state’s and this federal government’s treatment of Native people, including horrific health care abuses and negligence whose legacy continues today.
Never mind that the frustration and failures of the primarily white institutions and government are being shifted to Native entities this federal government already acknowledges it is not living up to its contracted commitments to.
Never mind that the Native-owned and led Alaska Native health care system’s vaccine rollout is a story of success and generosity in a time of worldwide fear and death, and this media organization disgustingly frames it as selfish and not caring for the community.
Except – I do mind. I mind every bit of it. For too long Alaska Native people’s success has been framed as failure, or immoral, or something that needs to be stopped. The disproportionate rates of health problems and death for Native people are directly linked to how the dominant society views Native people, and I cannot understate how harmful the slanted framing of this piece is to our community.
As a customer-owner of Alaska Native health care, I was relieved to get a shot, knowing my risk of literal death because of my race and underlying conditions is astronomically higher than most in the community. I was so impressed with the strategy and efficiency at which I was called about and received my vaccine. At the same time trying to assist non-Native family members in other communities through the state’s system has been a frustration of inefficiency. The direction of this writer’s ire is wildly off the mark.
A point of some relief I have seen since this morning is how widely this article has been condemned by both Native and non-Native citizens alike. I hope that Dr. Zink rethinks her comments and association with this article.
Alaska Native people are literally just trying to save lives, as fast and as widely as we can. Shame on you Alaska Public Media for attempting to turn the success we are having with that urgent endeavor into a failure.
Southcentral Foundation and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s entire existence is supposed to be about looking after the health and wellness of Alaska Native people – and that is exactly what they are doing. We owe them our gratitude and support. Gunalchéesh. Quyana.