Is Alaska the Worst State in the U.S. for Women?

A newly issued Alaska State Legislature report held some grim findings about women living in the Last Frontier: They earn less than men, were imprisoned at a higher rate during the past 10 years, and have a suicide rate that’s twice the national average, among other problems, including homelessness and a lack of health care.

“Some of the numbers are shocking and disturbing. Sadly, some of them are what I expected,” noted Senator Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage) in a press release about the report, which was completed by Alaska Legislative Research Services in December but only made public Tuesday at the senator’s request. “That’s why it is important for us to figure out what’s behind these numbers and come up with solutions which make Alaska better for our daughters and granddaughters.”

Senator McGuire requested the Status of Women Report after reviewing a 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, which interviewed nearly 1,000 women and found that 59 percent have experienced domestic abuse, sexual violence, or both.

“We were waiting until the timing was right to release the report,” McGuire’s legislative aide Amy Saltzman told Yahoo! Shine, explaining that the office had spent the start of 2013 mired in issues including the recently passed oil tax bill.

Among the state’s upsetting findings: In 2010, women working in Alaska only earned 67 cents for each dollar a man earned (the national average is a still-low 77 cents to the dollar). As for crime and imprisonment, the number of women going to prison in Alaska is growing: In 2007, women made up 6.5 percent of Alaska’s prison population, but that number had jumped to nearly 11 percent in 2011.

Alaskan women are slightly more likely to have health coverage than Alaskan men, but the coverage for Alaskan women is still below the national average, with 21 percent going without (compared to the national rate of 20).

In the mental-health realm, the suicide rate for women in Alaska is twice as high as the rate nationally—nearly 10 percent of girls in high school attempted suicide in 2011. In addition, nearly two-thirds of Alaskan women were found to be in treatment for alcohol related problems, compared to just one-third nationwide.

As far as homelessness is concerned, only 25 percent of single people in shelters were female in 2012—but, for adults in shelters considered part of a family, 62 percent were women with children. The report cited domestic violence—which has rates in Alaska among the country’s highest—as a major cause of homelessness for women and children.

So why the raw deal for women in this state? It may have something to do with the ratio of men to women there, which was noted in the state report as being higher in Alaska than in any other state, with 108.5 males to every 100 females. Nationally, there are 96.7 men to every 100 women. (Among the women in Alaska, 70 percent are white, over 17 percent Alaska native or Native American, and just 4 percent African American.)

To begin tackling the mountain of issues facing Alaskan women, Saltzman told Shine, the senator’s office plans to host a women’s summit in the fall, which will hopefully lead to community action efforts and new pieces of legislation.

“We need to take a very serious look at these numbers and figure out what we need to do to improve the status of women in Alaska,” Senator McGuire said.  “These issues are at the core of Alaska’s high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. If we figure out solutions to these problems, we’ll finally be able to stop those horrible epidemics and rebuild Alaska’s families.” (Yahoo! Shine)

Dmitry Berezhkov freed from jail

Indigenous Peoples activist Dmitry Berezhkov is a free man after a court decision in Northern Norway on says the conditions for extradition to Russia is not present.

Saturday’s court ruling says nearly the opposite of the prosecutor’s claims. “The court says the conditions for extradition to Russian authorities are not present,” says Berezhkov’s lawyer Thomas Hansen to Nordlys.

BarentsObserver has spoken to people near Dmitry Berezhkov after the court ruling that says he is now on his way home to his family after having spent two nights in jail. Berezhkov has been living in Tromsø the last year where he is a student at the regional University.

Yesterday, BarentsObserver quoted sources saying there are clearly political reasons for why Dmitry Berezhkov stays in Norway and can’t return to Russia. The source points to the fact that there over a long period had been a dispute between Russian authorities and RAIPON, where Berezhkov earlier was the Vice-President.

RAIPON is the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and organization whose new leaders play the melody of Kremlin after an election thriller at their Congress in March.

RAIPON

The newspaper Nordlys on Saturday published an editorial under the headline “Putin’s prisoner” saying this is a case the Norwegian prosecutor should seriously think through.

“To fabricate false charges of crimes against dissidents is just another weapon in the president’s arsenal against opposition and dissents. The prosecutor and the court in Tromsø must bear in mind that this is not in any way any ordinary criminal case,” the Nordlys editorial reads. (Barents Observer)

Indigenous Peoples activist arrested in Norway

Dmitry Berezhkov, former Vice President in RAIPON

Police Prosecutor Thomas Rye-Holmboe confirms to BarentsObserver that “a Russian citizen was arrested in Tromsø on Thursday” …and “the arrest is based on a demanded extradition from Russian police.”

Dmitry Berezhkov is the former Vice President of RAIPON, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North. Over the last year, Dmitry Berezhkov has been a student at the University of Tromsø.

Troms Police District does not want to give any further comments to BarentsObserver on the details behind the arrest. “Further particulars in the case are something I can’t comment on,” says Thomas Rye-Holmboe.

A trusted source speaking to BarentsObserver who will remain anonymous says there are clearly political reasons for why Dmitry Berezhkov stays in Norway and can’t return to Russia. The source points to the fact that there over a long period had been a dispute between Russian authorities and RAIPON.

Dmitry Berezhkov was arrested just after returning from the preparatory meeting for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples that took place in Alta, Northern Norway from Monday to Wednesday this week. “The arrest is done in accordance with a Russian, Norwegian juridical agreement,” says Troms Police Prosecutor Thomas Rye-Holmboe.

Aili Keskitalo, Sàmi politican and former President of the Sàmi Parliament in Norway says the arrest of Dmitry is horrifying. “I am horrified over the fact that an Indigenous Peoples activist is arrested in Norway on his way from an Indigenous Peoples conference. This is a signal to us all that we have to be on watch,” says Aili Keskitalo in a phone interview with BarentsObserver Friday afternoon.  Keskitalo says she has little confidence in Russian prosecution authority. “I am sorry to say I am afraid Dmitry will not get a fair trial in Russia.”

“The power struggle between Moscow and RAIPON is a well known fact. The struggle was very visible at the February RAIPON Congress in Salekhard in Siberia,” says Keskitalo.

At the Congress, Indigenous right activist Pavel Sulyandziga had to withdraw his candidature after pressure as Moscow and gas-hungry Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District urged the candidature of State Duma deputy from United Russia Gregory Ledkov.

Public Prosecutor in Troms, Lars Fause, says to Nordlys the petition from Russian Attorney’s Office was sent to Norway in March. “There is nothing that suggests that this is anything other than a normal demanded extradition. It is noted that the indictment is not based on race, religion or political reasons. This standardized information in such requests,” says Lars Fause.

Dmitry Berezhkov will, despite Thursday’s arrest, not be automatically handed over to Russian authorities. “The case will be considered in court. We may also request additional information if we find it necessary. When the case is tried by the court, we weigh whether it should be an extradition. After the case tried in court, there is also a possibility to appeal the verdict, says Lars Fause to Nordlys. (Barents Observer)

Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region halts all activities

Lars-Anders Baer (to the right) joined the “family photo” after the Barents Summit

The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region halts all activities due to lack of funding. The decision was taken one day after the Prime Ministers praised the Indigenous Peoples work at the Barents Summit.

Dmitri Medvedev, Jens Stoltenberg, Jyrki Katainen and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the Prime Ministers of Russia, Norway, Finland and Iceland, all underlined the importance of Indigenous Peoples participation in the Barents Cooperation in their official speeches at the Barents Summit on Tuesday. So did also Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal and the European Commission’s Vice President Siim Kallas.

Lars-Anders Baer, chair of the Working Groups of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP) was among the ministers at the podium.

“It’s a long way from the fine words of the Prime Ministers at the 20th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation, to the real world for us Indigenous Peoples,” says Lars-Anders Baer today after the ministers have taken off from Kirkenes with their private jets.

The Working Group has since 1995 had an advisory role for both the Barents Council and the Barents Regional Council.

Members of the WGIP represent the Sámi in Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden as well as the Nenets and Vepsian peoples in Russia.

It is the lack of economic support that now forces WGIP to suspend its activities. Russia does not grant any funding, and funding from Sweden and Finland are sporadic. Norway is the only providing economic support on a regular basis.

“Russia is with its zero-funding hindering its own Indigenous Peoples participation. One can say that Russia’s contribution to WGIP today is only fine words. Also Russia’s new law on NGOs that need to register as “foreign agents” create problems for the Indigenous Peoples cooperation, “says Baer.

During the Barents Summit, Lars-Anders Baer, was sitting on the stage discussing the further of the Barents Cooperation together with the Ministers. Afterwards he told BarentsObserver “We are on stage, but we’re the cheap ones.

“It’s not a question of big money,” he says, adding that annual funding of even NOK 400,000 (€52,000) would be sufficient for indigenous people to have adequate involvement in the Council’s activities and decisions. It’s peanuts in the governmental structure.”

On Wednesday, the Working Group made the decision to suspend activities. Lars-Anders Baer says that also Finland and Sweden mainly have contributed with nice words at conferances and festivities. (Barents Observer)

UNESCO bid to recognize Ontario forest hits snag

WINNIPEG — An attempt backed by millions of dollars in public funds to get UNESCO recognition for an extensive stretch of boreal forest along the Manitoba-Ontario boundary appears to be at a stalemate.

An advisory group to the United Nations agency has raised questions about whether the area, known as Pimachiowin Aki, is more special than other areas in terms of the cultural traditions of its inhabitants. But the First Nations who live in the region don’t want to put themselves above other aboriginal groups and resent the question.

“We have a world view that everybody’s equal and we’re not superior to any indigenous groups or communities, so, yeah, I found that to be insulting,” Sophia Rabliauskas, spokeswoman for the non-profit Pimachiowin Aki Corp., said from Darwin, Australia, where she was discussing the issue at the international conference of indigenous peoples.

“I don’t think that’s going to change. I think … we’re going to stand by our beliefs about we’re not better than anybody else, so I’m not sure how we’re going to further discuss that.”

Rabliauskas and other delegates from Canada have set up a petition denouncing UNESCO’s demand for any aboriginal region to prove superiority over another.

UNESCO currently recognizes more than 900 places around the globe as world heritage sites — everything from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to an old deciduous forest in Belarus.

The Manitoba government has committed $10 million toward a trust fund for Pimachiowin Aki and has spent another $4.5 million over the last decade. The Ontario government has contributed smaller amounts, and the federal government officially submitted the bid for UNESCO designation.

Manitoba says world heritage status for Pimachiowin Aki, an Ojibwa phrase that translates as “the land that gives life,” would attract tourists to the remote, fly-in region and would help ensure it remains protected. The 33,400-square-kilometre area is almost half the size of New Brunswick and home to five Ojibwa communities of between 500 and 2,000 people each.

Much of the bids’ cost comes from mapping the area and developing land-use plans to convince UNESCO that the area will be protected from development. The area deserves recognition because it’s the largest intact northern boreal forest in the world and because the First Nations in the region maintain a strong connection to the land, according to the submission.

The bid is to be considered by UNESCO’s world heritage committee at its annual meeting June 16 in Cambodia, although two of the committee’s advisory groups have recommended the decision be deferred for at least another year.

Among their concerns is whether the region is truly unique, because there are other large areas of pristine boreal forest in the world as well as other areas with similar aboriginal land use. One advisory group is expected to return to the region this fall to do more research.

Manitoba’s Opposition leader has questioned whether the money behind the UNESCO bid is well-spent.

“We’re concerned that the government has spent money on this project for some years, has yet to demonstrate any results for the people of Manitoba, and they’re doing it all with borrowed money,” Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said, referring to the government’s ongoing deficits.

“That’s what the people of those communities and that region are telling me, frankly. They’re saying, ‘OK, fine. We get a UNESCO site. What next? Are we really going to benefit from this project?”‘

A study done for the project has estimated that it might attract fewer than 1,000 tourists a year. But the report by Marr Consulting Services also said small tourism numbers would be likely to be in keeping with the desire to protect the area’s environment.

Rabliauskas said she hopes UNESCO backs down on its demand that the First Nations prove some superior connection to the land over other aboriginals. In the meantime, she and others involved in the project will meet to plan their next steps.

“We’re still in the process of deciding what needs to happen next.” (CP24 Toronto)