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New England tribes mourn on Thanksgiving: ‘No reason to celebrate’

Thu, 2021-11-25 10:30

Supporters of Native Americans pause following a prayer during the 38th National Day of Mourning at Coles Hill in Plymouth, Mass., on Nov. 22, 2007. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole, File) (Lisa Poole/)

Members of Native American tribes from around New England are gathering in the seaside town where the Pilgrims settled — not to give thanks, but to mourn Indigenous people worldwide who’ve suffered centuries of racism and mistreatment.

Thursday’s solemn National Day of Mourning observance in downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts, will recall the disease and oppression that European settlers brought to North America.

“We Native people have no reason to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims,” said Kisha James, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota tribes and the granddaughter of Wamsutta Frank James, the event’s founder.

“We want to educate people so that they understand the stories we all learned in school about the first Thanksgiving are nothing but lies. Wampanoag and other Indigenous people have certainly not lived happily ever after since the arrival of the Pilgrims,” James said.

“To us, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning, because we remember the millions of our ancestors who were murdered by uninvited European colonists such as the Pilgrims. Today, we and many Indigenous people around the country say, ‘No Thanks, No Giving.’”

[This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.]

It’s the 52nd year that the United American Indians of New England have organized the event on Thanksgiving Day. The tradition began in 1970.

Indigenous people and their supporters will gather at noon in person on Cole’s Hill, a windswept mound overlooking Plymouth Rock, a memorial to the colonists’ arrival. They will also livestream the event.

Participants will beat drums, offer prayers and condemn what organizers describe as “the unjust system based on racism, settler colonialism, sexism, homophobia and the profit-driven destruction of the Earth” before marching through downtown Plymouth’s historical district.

This year, they’ll also highlight the troubled legacy of federal boarding schools that sought to assimilate Indigenous youth into white society in the U.S. as well as in Canada, where hundreds of bodies have been discovered on the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children.

Marchers carry a large painting of jailed American Indian Leonard Peltier during a march for the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Mass., on Nov. 22, 2001. Denouncing centuries of racism and mistreatment of Indigenous people, members of Native American tribes from around New England will gather on Thanksgiving 2021 for a solemn National Day of Mourning observance. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) (STEVEN SENNE/)

Brian Moskwetah Weeden, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, said on Boston Public Radio earlier this week that Americans owe his tribe a debt of gratitude for helping the Pilgrims survive their first brutal winter.

“People need to understand that you need to be thankful each and every day — that was how our ancestors thought and navigated this world,” Weeden said. “Because we were thankful, we were willing to share ... and we had good intentions and a good heart.”

That wasn’t reciprocated over the long term, Weeden added.

“That’s why, 400 years later, we’re still sitting here fighting for what little bit of land that we still have, and trying to hold the commonwealth and the federal government accountable,” he said.

“Because 400 years later, we don’t really have much to show for, or to be thankful for. So I think it’s important for everyone to be thankful for our ancestors who helped the Pilgrims survive, and kind of played an intricate role in the birth of this nation.”

This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.

Thu, 2021-11-25 10:25

In this Aug. 10, 2020 file photo the Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower ship that brought the Pilgrims to America 400 years ago, docks into Plymouth, Mass., as it returns home following extensive renovations. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) (David Goldman/)

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Overlooking the chilly waters of Plymouth Bay, about three dozen tourists swarmed a park ranger as he recounted the history of Plymouth Rock — the famous symbol of the arrival of the Pilgrims here four centuries ago.

Nearby, others waited to tour a replica of the Mayflower, the ship that carried the Pilgrims across the ocean.

On a hilltop above stood a quiet tribute to the American Indians who helped the starving Pilgrims survive. Few people bother to visit the statue of Ousamequin — the chief, or sachem, of the Wampanoag Nation whose people once numbered somewhere between 30,000 to 100,000 and whose land once stretched from Southeastern Massachusetts to parts of Rhode Island.

Long marginalized and misrepresented in the American story, the Wampanoags are braced for what’s coming this month as the country marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and Indians.

But the actual history of what happened in 1621 bears little resemblance to what most Americans are taught in grade school, historians say. There was likely no turkey served. There were no feathered headdresses worn. And, initially, there was no effort by the Pilgrims to invite the Wampanoags to the feast they’d made possible.

Just as Native American activists have demanded the removal of Christopher Columbus statues and pushed to transform the Columbus holiday into an acknowledgment of his brutality toward Indigenous people, they have long objected to the popular portrayal of Thanksgiving.

For the Wampanoags and many other American Indians, the fourth Thursday in November is considered a day of mourning, not a day of celebration.

Because while the Wampanoags did help the Pilgrims survive, their support was followed by years of a slow, unfolding genocide of their people and the taking of their land.

To learn the history of the Wampanoags and what happened to them after the first Thanksgiving, a visitor has to drive 30 miles south of Plymouth to the town of Mashpee, where a modest, clapboard museum sits along a two-lane road. Outside, there’s a wetu, a traditional Wampanoag house made from cedar poles and the bark of tulip poplar trees, and a mishoon, an Indian canoe.

Inside the three-room house sits Mother Bear, a 71-year-old Mashpee Wampanoag, hand-stitching a deer skin hat. She’s lived her whole life in this town and is considered one of the keepers of the Wampanoag version of the first Thanksgiving and how the encounter turned into a centuries-long disaster for the Mashpee, who now number about 2,800.

Anita Peters, who is Mashpee Wampanoag and goes by her traditional name Mother Bear, packs up the traditional clothing and furnishings from the wetu, a traditional building that is part of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum in Mashpee, Mass., on September 29, 2021. (Photo for The Washington Post by Josh Reynolds)

That story continues to get ignored by the roughly 1.5 million annual visitors to Plymouth’s museums and souvenir shops. The Wampanoag museum draws about 800 visitors a year.

Paula Peters, a Mashpee Wampanoag who is an author and educator on Native American history, said “we don’t acknowledge the American holiday of Thanksgiving ... it’s a marginalization and mistelling of our story.”

The Wampanoags, whose name means “People of the First Light” in their native language, trace their ancestors back at least 10,000 years to southeastern Massachusetts, a land they called Patuxet.

In the 1600s, they lived in 69 villages, each with a chief, or sachem, and a medicine man. They had “messenger runners,” members of the tribe with good memories and the endurance to run to neighboring villages to deliver messages.

They occupied a land of plenty, hunting deer, elk and bear in the forests, fishing for herring and trout, and harvesting quahogs in the rivers and bays. They planted corn and used fish remains as fertilizer. In the winter, they moved inland from the harsh weather, and in the spring they moved to the coastlines.

They had traded — and fought — with European explorers since 1524.

In 1614, before the arrival of the Pilgrims, the English lured a well-known Wampanoag — Tisquantum, who was called Squanto by the English — and 20 other Wampanoag men onto a ship with the intention of selling them into slavery in Malaga, Spain. Squanto spent years trying to get back to his homeland.

During his absence, the Wampanoags were nearly wiped out by a mysterious disease that some Wampanoags believe came from the feces of rats aboard European boats, while other historians think it was likely small pox or possibly yellow fever.

Known as “The Great Dying,” the pandemic lasted three years.

By the time Squanto returned home in 1619, two-thirds of his people had been killed by it. The English explorer Thomas Dermer described the once-populous villages along the banks of the bay as being “utterly void” of people.

In 1620, the English aboard the Mayflower made their way to Plymouth after making landfall in Provincetown. The Wampanoags watched as women and children got off the boat.

They knew their interactions with the Europeans would be different this time.

“You don’t bring your women and children if you’re planning to fight,” said Paula Peters, who also runs her own communications agency called SmokeSygnals.

The Wampanoags kept tabs on the Pilgrims for months. In their first winter, half died due to cold, starvation and disease.

Ousamequin, often referred to as Massasoit, which is his title and means “great sachem,” faced a nearly impossible situation, historians and educators said. His nation’s population had been ravaged by disease, and he needed to keep peace with the neighboring Narragansetts. He probably reasoned that the better weapons of the English — guns versus his people’s bows and arrows — would make them better allies than enemies.

In the spring of 1621, he made the first contact.

“It wasn’t that he was being kind or friendly, he was in dire straits and being strategic,” said Steven Peters, the son of Paula Peters and creative director at her agency. “We were desperately trying to not become extinct.”

By the fall, the Pilgrims — thanks in large part to the Wampanoags teaching them how to plant beans and squash in a mound with maize around it and use fish remains as fertilizer — had their first harvest of crops. To celebrate its first success as a colony, the Pilgrims had a “harvest feast” that became the basis for what’s now called Thanksgiving.

The Wampanoags weren’t invited.

Ousamequin and his men showed up only after the English in their revelry shot off some of their muskets. At the sound of gunfire, the Wampanoags came running, fearing they were headed to war.

“One hundred warriors show up armed to the teeth after they heard muskets fired,” said Paula Peters.

Told it was a harvest celebration, the Wampanoags joined, bringing five deer to share, she said. There was fowl, fish, eel, shellfish and possibly cranberries from the area’s natural bogs.

In his book, “This Land Is Their Land,” author David J. Silverman said schoolchildren who make construction-paper feathered headdresses every year to portray the Indians at the first Thanksgiving are being taught fiction.

The Wampanoags didn’t wear them. Men wore a mohawk “roach” made from porcupine hair and strapped to their heads.

Darius Coombs, a Mashpee Wampanoag who serves as the tribe's cultural and outreach coordinator, stands in the old Indian Meeting House in Mashpee, Mass., on September 29, 2021. (Photo for The Washington Post by Josh Reynolds)

Darius Coombs, a Mashpee Wampanoag cultural outreach coordinator, said there’s such misinterpretation about what Thanksgiving means to American Indians.

“For us, Thanksgiving kicked off colonization,” he said. “Our lives changed dramatically. It brought disease, servitude and so many things that weren’t good for Wampanoags and other Indigenous cultures.”

Linda Coombs, an Aquinnah Wampanoag who is a tribal historian, museum educator and sister-in-law of Darius, said Thanksgiving portrays an idea of “us seeming like idiots who welcomed all of these changes and supports the idea that Pilgrims brought us a better life because they were superior.”

Mother Bear, a clan mother and cousin of Paula Peters whose English name is Anita Peters, tells visitors to the tribe’s museum that a 1789 Massachusetts law made it illegal and “punishable by death” to teach a Mashpee Wampanoag Indian to read or write.

She recounts how the English pushed the Wampanoag off their land and forced many to convert to Christianity.

“We had a pray-or-die policy at one point here among our people,” Mother Bear said. “If you didn’t become a Christian, you had to run away or be killed.”

Wampanoag land that had been held in common was eventually divided up, with each family getting 60 acres, and a system of taxation was put in place — both antithetical to Wampanoag culture.

Much later, the Wampanoags, like other tribes, also saw their children sent to harsh Indian boarding schools, where they were told to cut their long hair, abandon their “Indian ways,” and stop speaking their native language.

Paula Peters said at least two members of her family were sent to Carlisle Indian school in Pennsylvania, which became the first government-run boarding school for Native American children in 1879. Its founder, Civil War veteran and Army Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt, was an advocate of forced assimilation, invoking the motto: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”

Mother Bear recalls how her mother’s uncle, William L. “High Eagle” James, told his family to destroy any writings he’d done in their native language when he died. He didn’t want them to get in trouble for having the documents.

Anita Peters, a Mashpee Wampanoag who goes by her traditional name Mother Bear, holds a deerskin shawl that traces her ancestors back to 1580 outside the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum in Mashpee, Mass., on September 29, 2021. (Photo for The Washington Post by Josh Reynolds)

Frank James, a well-known Aquinnah Wampanoag activist, called his people’s welcoming and befriending the Pilgrims in 1621 “perhaps our biggest mistake.”

In 1970, he created a “National Day of Mourning” that’s become an annual event on Thanksgiving for some Wampanoags after planners for the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower landing refused to let him debunk the myths of the holiday as part of a commemoration. By then, only a few of the original Wampanoag tribes still existed.

“We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people,” he wrote in that speech.

In the 1970s, the Mashpee Wampanoags sued to reclaim some of their ancestral homelands. But they lost, in part, because a federal judge said they weren’t then officially recognized as a tribe.

The Mashpee Wampanoags filed for federal recognition in the mid-1970s, and more than three decades later, in 2007, they were granted that status. (The Gay Head Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard are also federally recognized.)

In 2015, about 300 acres was put in federal trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag under President Barack Obama. That essentially gave them a reservation, although it is composed of dozens of parcels that are scattered throughout the Cape Cod area and represents half of 1% of their land historically.

But President Donald Trump’s administration tried to take the land out of trust, jeopardizing their ability to develop it.

Mashpee Wampanoag tribal officials said they’re still awaiting final word from the Department of the Interior — now led by Deb Haaland, the first Native American to head the agency — on the status of their land.

Some tribal leaders said a potential casino development would bring much-needed revenue to their community. But without the land in trust, Mashpee Wampanoag council member David Weeden said it diminishes the tribe’s sovereignty.

“Four hundred years later we’re still fighting for our land, our culture and our people,” said Brian Weeden, the tribe’s chairman and David Weeden’s nephew.

The Wampanoags are dealing with other serious issues, including the coronavirus pandemic. The tribe paid for hotel rooms for covid-infected members so elders in multigenerational households wouldn’t get sick.

Even before the pandemic, the Wampanoags struggled with chronically high rates of diabetes, blood pressure, cancers, suicide and opioid abuse. In the expensive Cape Cod area, many Wampanoags can’t afford housing and must live elsewhere.

They also worry about overdevelopment and pollution threatening waterways and wildlife.

“The land is always our first interest,” said Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez, the 99-year-old Mashpee Wampanoag chief. “It’s our survival.”

When she was 8 years old, Paula Peters said, a schoolteacher explained the Thanksgiving tale. After the story, another child asked, “‘What happened to the Indians?’”

The teacher answered, ‘Sadly, they’re all dead.’”

“No, they’re not,” Paula Peters said she replied. “I’m still here.”

She and other Wampanoags are trying to keep their culture and traditions alive.

Five years ago, the tribe started a school on its land that has about two dozen kids, who range in age from 2 to 9. They learn math, science, history and other subjects in their native Algonquian language. The tribe also offers language classes for older tribal members, many of whom were forced to not speak their language and eventually forgot.

“We want to make sure these kids understand what it means to be Native and to be Wampanoag,” said Nitana Greendeer, a Mashpee Wampanoag who is the head of the tribe’s school.

At the school one recent day, students and teachers wore orange T-shirts to honor their ancestors who had been sent to Indian boarding schools and “didn’t come home,” Greendeer said.

In one classroom, a teacher taught a dozen kids the days of the week, words for the weather, and how to describe their moods. A math lesson involved building a traditional Wampanoag wetu. Another involved students identifying plants important to American Indians.

There are no lessons planned for the 400th anniversary of Thanksgiving, Greendeer said. If the children ask, the teachers will explain: “That’s not something we celebrate because it resulted in a lot of death and cultural loss. Thanksgiving doesn’t mean to us what it means to many Americans.”

This year some Wampanoags will go to Plymouth for the National Day of Mourning. Others will gather at the old Indian Meeting House, built in 1684 and one of the oldest American Indian churches in the eastern United States, to pay their respects to their ancestors, many of whom are buried in the surrounding cemetery. Plenty of Wampanoags will gather with their families for a meal to give thanks — not for the survival of the Pilgrims but for the survival of their tribe.

“History has not been kind to our people,” Steven Peters said he tells his young sons.

“Children were taken away. Our language was silenced,” he said. “People were killed.” Still, “we persevered. We found a way to stay.”

Sharing facts about Alaska’s fisheries

Thu, 2021-11-25 09:59

The cod end full of pollock bulges with the pressure of tons of fish on the factory trawler Northern Jaeger in January 1998. (BOB HALLINEN/ADN archive 1998)

A persistent trickle of misinformation about our region’s fisheries has recently become a flood. ADN carried the most recent example, an uninformed op-ed comparing many of Alaska’s world-renowned fisheries to “foreign pirate” fleets. This is reminiscent of a campaign launched by Greenpeace against trawl fisheries earlier in my career. Like that campaign, the implication now is that because these are large vessels targeting huge fisheries, they are inherently bad.

Nothing could be further from the truth. For more than 40 years, I have lived in coastal Alaska, in communities that depend upon fisheries for their survival. I now work with the catcher processor fleet that participates in the Bering Sea Alaska pollock fishery — the largest U.S. fishery, and the largest seafood fishery in the world.

Big is not bad. On the contrary, it is precisely because of this fishery’s size and scale that it is able to produce low-cost, low-carbon seafood that is helping feed the world. Unlike more expensive Alaska seafood, pollock feeds millions of ordinary Americans including those in need, through affordable retail and food-service offerings, and through the National School Lunch and food bank programs. It also serves consumers around the world, providing one of the most climate-friendly options of any widely-available protein. Its CO2 equivalent per kilogram of protein is 3.77 kg — compared to 12.5 kg for chicken, 20.83 kg for plant-based meat and 115.75 kg for beef. All food production has an environmental footprint; we are proud that ours is one of the most modest of any protein.

The insinuation that our fishery is destroying this region’s precious marine ecosystems is just plain wrong. Alaska pollock has been certified sustainable by independent certification bodies with some of the highest sustainability ratings of any fishery. All of our vessels carry two federal observers who measure everything that comes aboard. Everything we catch is documented and publicly shared. There is not a more accountable and transparent fishery on Earth. We are proud to participate in the North Pacific fisheries management process, which is investing heavily in climate science; is working to incorporate local and traditional knowledge into the management process; and is world-renowned for precautionary, ecosystem-based management.

Let me address the question of incidental catch. All fisheries encounter non-target species. Our fleet goes to great lengths to target pollock and avoid other marine life. As a result of these efforts, more than 98% of what our vessels catch is pollock. Since 2010, we have had chinook salmon caps that, if exceeded, would shut the fishery down. That cap is lowered when Western Alaska returns are low. We have developed innovative methods for reducing incidental catch of salmon, including underwater cameras, salmon lights and salmon excluders. We have reduced our incidental catch of chinook by 89% since 2010. Salmon encountered by our fleet are retained and sampled by federal scientists. As a result, we know that a majority of chum salmon we catch originate from hatcheries outside the United States. Given these facts, it is not surprising that the science clearly shows that incidental salmon catch by our fleet is not a cause of the devastating reductions in some salmon returns that we have seen this year.

Finally, the Western Alaska Community Development Quota, or CDQ, program inexorably links our fleet to coastal Alaska: CDQ groups partner with or own our companies, meaning that pollock provides much-needed revenues to these communities.

In short, our fishery is an incredible Alaska environmental, social and economic success story. I am proud to work with this fleet.

Stephanie Madsen has been involved in Alaska fisheries since arriving in Alaska more than 40 years ago. She is the executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association and has lived in the fishery dependent communities of Cordova, Kodiak, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and now Juneau, so she understands firsthand the importance of healthy, sustainable fisheries to thriving communities.

Having served six years on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, four of those as chairwoman, she was involved in establishing the Arctic Fishery Management Plan, the Aleutian Islands Fisheries Ecosystem Plan and designing catch share-type programs in several fisheries. Madsen continues to serve the Council as member of the Ecosystem Committee.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Commit to your community, Anchorage. Shop local.

Thu, 2021-11-25 09:45

Holiday decorations hang above a downtown Anchorage market outside 49th State Brewing Company on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

We are quickly approaching my favorite holiday, Shop Small Saturday! This holiday combines three of my love languages: small businesses, screaming deals and gifts. Shop Small Saturday celebrates small businesses and the unique and quirky flavor they bring to our community.

Downtown Anchorage has a plethora of extraordinary, funky, fashion-forward and fresh shops that are locally owned and operated. Those shops feature scores of inspired art, pottery and jewelry.

Downtown is Dena’ina Ełnena, and one meaningful way to celebrate Alaska’s 10,000-year history is to support Indigenous artists and makers. In a cabin on the corner of H Street and Sixth Avenue, Oomingmak is home to a musk ox producers’ co-operative. You can find scarves and stoles made of qiviut, which is shed naturally from musk ox during the spring months and hand-collected. This material is eight times warmer than wool and softer than cashmere. Two-hundred and fifty Alaskan women from remote coastal villages hand-knit each of these incredible pieces of wearable and cozy art.

[Anchorage holiday shopping season kicks off downtown this weekend with Small Business Saturday and a tree lighting]

On the corner of G Street and Fourth Avenue, Cabin Fever has an expansive collection of Alaska goods and Alaskan-produced art, jewelry and pottery. This is one of my favorite spots to find Sonya Kelliher-Combs earrings. Raised in the Northwest Alaska community of Nome of Iñupiaq, Athabascan, German and Irish descent, she’s an incredible mixed media painting and sculpture artist with work featured in the Anchorage Museum, throughout the United States and worldwide. She also makes stunning earrings, which are one of my favorite presents for myself and those I love.

Alaskans’ obsession with coffee is well documented, and has most recently been featured in a piece in Alaska Magazine. There is no better way to celebrate this nourishing and comforting beverage than through the appropriate vessel, a handcrafted mug, which doubles as a piece of art. Sevigny Studio on G Street has fantastic mugs from Theresa Westerwardbound of Canvas and Clay AK, which feature Alaskana from Xtratuf, fireweed, ravens and salmon. Stephan Fine Arts in the Hotel Captain Cook has delightful mugs by Jeff Szarzi of Homer that complement any caffeinated beverage. Tiny Gallery on Fourth Avenue has a collection of mugs from Rustic Clay AK and potter Haylie Travis, which are sure to bring extra warmth and joy to any cup of joe.

Our small businesses punch above their weight class with their benefits to the community. For example, they are more likely to buy goods from other local businesses than non-local suppliers, they spend a more significant percentage of their revenues on local payroll, and they donate a higher percentage of their revenues to local charities and causes.

There is no denying that online shopping is convenient, but small businesses are more likely to support a youth hockey or T-ball team in our community. In contrast, Jeff Bezos’ wealth, to use a terrible pun, rocketed by $79.4 billion during the pandemic, rising from $113 billion in March 2020 to $192.4 billion on July 31, 2021. As our friends and neighbors who own small businesses barely hung on, and some heartbreakingly closed, billionaires blasted with their wealth to outer space. Jeff doesn’t need any more of our dollars — our families, friends and neighbors do.

Throughout this pandemic, our downtown continues to bear the brunt of the impact of the 2020 closures, restrictions and cruise ship cancellations. This summer, we experienced a burst of activity as thousands of independent travelers visited Alaska, specifically downtown Anchorage. They brought a much-needed surge of economic activity with them as they lingered in our restaurants, bars, hotels, gift shops and public spaces. However, as we have transitioned into fall and winter, we have seen cancellations of conferences continue to impact our community negatively. It’s more important than ever to support our downtown and our small businesses to help navigate these dark months.

When you shop local, your money not only supports friends, neighbors, and fellow community members, it also continues to recirculate locally for ongoing benefit to our Anchorage economy. For every dollar spent at local business, 40-60 cents stays in the community. Supporting local makers and artists double downs on that investment. So commit to our community this holiday season and spend your dollars here in Anchorage. It will support a brighter holiday season for us all.

Amanda Moser is executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Alaska’s caregivers are unsung heroes

Thu, 2021-11-25 09:45

Caregiver Mayzel Tolosa helps client Betty Lee Higgins paint a pumpkin at the Turnagain Social Club on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Chances are, if you aren’t a family caregiver yourself, you know someone who is. Every day, at least 82,000 Alaskans help their parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, neighbors and other loved ones to live independently. In the face of COVID-19, family caregivers have stepped up more than ever to keep friends and family members safe and healthy.

Family caregivers are unsung heroes. They make independent living possible once elders need help with activities of daily living. Many people experience some increased need for support as they age. For others, a serious accident or health episode can lead to a sudden need for caregiving. In either case, most people can continue to live at home if they and their caregivers can get the right in-home services and resources.

For those who are not living in an assisted living or nursing home, only three in 10 use paid help from housekeepers, aides or other assistance. That’s because most caregiving in the U.S. is done by unpaid caregivers — usually friends and family.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to highlight the important work that unpaid caregivers do. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has also declared November 2021 as Family Caregivers Month here in Alaska. The proclamation encourages all Alaskans to recognize the importance of family caregivers as part of our long-term system and to support them in their caregiving responsibilities. Housing the fastest growing senior population in the nation, our state has room for improvement in supporting Alaskans to age at home and the caregivers who support them.

In Alaska and across the country, AARP is fighting to support family caregivers and the loved ones they care for. At the state and federal levels, AARP advocates for policies and funding that make it more possible for Alaskans to age at home including:

• Protecting and increasing both state and federal funding for home and community based services to support elders in aging at home once they need caregiving and the family members that support them.

• Increasing access and coverage for telehealth services to help Alaskans and their caregivers better manage their health.

• Increasing the accessibility and affordability of high-speed internet to support access to telehealth, public services, online caregiving and health management tools, and brain health resources like social connection, learning, and recreation.

In Washington, D.C., AARP is fighting for the passage of the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act, which would provide a federal income tax credit for eligible working family caregivers to defray the out-of-pocket costs of family caregiving, like home care assistance, adult daycare and respite care, home modifications, and assistive technologies.

AARP is also advocating for a federal paid family and medical leave program to better support family caregivers who work full- or part-time.

Resources for family caregivers

Recognizing the many challenges of caring for a friend or family member, AARP offers free resources to help make caring for a loved one more manageable.

• AARP provides information and resources on caregiver life balance, financial and legal issues, care at home, health and more. Learn more.

• AARP’s Alaska Family Caregiving Resource Guide is a FREE resource to help family caregivers access key programs, services and agencies across the state. Access the guide online or call 1-877-333-5885 to have a copy mailed to you.

• We can also help you learn more about whether care at home is the right option for you and your loved one. Learn more.

Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system. We are thankful for all their contributions to keeping older Alaskans safe, healthy, and well cared-for. During National Family Caregivers Month and beyond, let’s give them the support they have earned.

Teresa Holt is the state director of AARP Alaska. AARP Alaska is a nonpartisan non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Alaskans to choose how they live as they age. AARP creates positive social change through advocacy, information, and service focused on health security, financial resilience and social connection.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID-19 vaccines

Thu, 2021-11-25 09:37

Dr. Jay Butler (Courtesy Jay Butler)

I hope that as you read this, you are spending time this holiday weekend with friends and family and finding time to do whatever it is that recharges you — maybe getting some extra sleep, reading a book by the fire or heading outside for some physical activity and time in nature, caring for your mental and physical health.

You may also be grieving the loss of a loved one, missing family or friends or reflecting on the challenges of the last few years. As we approach the darkest time of the year in Alaska, I find gratitude can help brighten even the darkest days.

Even with loss in my own family this year, there are so many things I am grateful for — family, friends, the amazing teams I work with at the state of Alaska and in the emergency department, our beautiful and inspiring state and Alaskans who inspire me every day with their energy, strength and resilience.

But this photo from my predecessor, Dr. Jay Butler, summarizes it best — this year I am most grateful for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Developed by science in record time and with impressive safety and effectiveness, the COVID-19 vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish. The vaccine itself is destroyed by our body shortly after it’s administered; what is left is our natural immune system that is now better trained to recognize and fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus if we do get infected.

Vaccines are one of the safest things we do in medicine, often safer than even over-the-counter medication. Many people these days overestimate the risks of the vaccines and underestimate the risks of COVID-19, but the data is clear: Vaccines help protect you, your family and your community and are safe for nearly everyone age 5 and older.

On Nov. 19, COVID-19 vaccine boosters became available for anyone age 18 and older if six months have passed since a person’s second dose of mRNA (Pfizer or Moderna) vaccine or two months have passed since a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. While the vaccines remain highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, we’re seeing that protection from the vaccines does wane over time. Boosters help restore strong immunity and increase protection against COVID-19, a benefit to all Alaskans. This is a great time — as people start traveling and visiting with others during the holiday season — for most Alaskans to get boosted.

This is also true even if you have previously had COVID-19. While immunity from past infection does provide some level of protection, it is variable and, like immunity from the vaccines, also wanes over time. Studies show that people who were previously infected are better protected when they are also vaccinated. However, you should not get vaccinated if you are actively infectious with COVID-19 or are within 90 days of receiving monoclonal antibodies.

Boosters, like the primary series of the COVID-19 vaccines, are free and widely available. You can find them, like COVID-19 vaccines, at pop-up events, school clinics, doctors’ offices or pharmacies. You can find a vaccine provider by visiting or, or by calling our helpline at 907-646-3322 if you have questions or trouble finding an appointment.

When you are looking for a booster, you can get the same brand as before or you can take a “mix and match” approach to booster shots. For example, people who initially received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can choose either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for their booster. It does look like people get better protection from the mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) so this may be worth considering as you choose your booster. You can also get your COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time you receive other vaccines such as your flu shot, which is important this year as influenza is picking up and flu vaccination rates for Alaska are down this year.

We’re making tangible progress. More than 370,000 Alaskans to date have rolled up their sleeves to become fully vaccinated against COVID and we now have life-saving therapeutics if people do get infected. Cases are starting to come down, thousands of Alaskans are starting their vaccine series every week, our hospitals are starting to have more capacity and it is joyous to see people gather, laugh, hug and be together. We are not powerless over this pandemic. We have tools to stay healthy and well. We must care for our physical and mental health, get vaccinated and boosted, wash our hands, test if we have symptoms or before events and gatherings, stay home and seek early treatment when we are sick — and, while cases are high in many communities, mask when in public.

Like those legendary sled dogs of Alaska lore, the heroes of the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaskans are tough and care for each other. This holiday season let us count our many blessings, celebrate what it means to be Alaskans, and continue to protect ourselves and our communities — remembering the enemy is the virus, and not each other.

Dr. Anne Zink, M.D., is a board-certified emergency physician and Alaska’s chief medical officer.

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