A map of Alaska with the Northwest Arctic region highlighted.
Initiative: Council on Domestic Violence
Organization: Maniilaq Association
City: Kotzebue
Region: Northwest Arctic
Program Area: Health \ Regional health
Grants Received:
2013: $25,000  2002: $4,117
2012: $250,000  2001: $39,770
2011: $24,998  1995: $4,810
2004: $201,960
2003: $11,972

Offering safe harbor from domestic violence

Mission Statement
Maniilaq Association for the
Kotzebue Family Crisis Center

Maniilaq Association is committed to individual responsibility for health and quality care through tribal self-governance. Maniilaq Association is seen as the premier model for creating successful, healthy communities through the planning, development and strengthening of village-based services supported by strong, accountable tribal self-governance. The Family Crisis Center is a seven bed emergency shelter that provides safety and support services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
In Kotzebue—-unsheltered geographically, treeless, windswept and squatting on a gravel spit almost an island--our blizzard of the winter steps into town on a Friday with a reassuring 34 degrees below zero, drifting snow, one sixteenth mile visibility and northwest winds gusting to 40. Frozen ocean rises to low land—-white on white. Wind chills pass -100. Walking to the post office I fall down drifts I can't see. Buried trucks loom in the gloom of what yesterday was street.

But, storms keep our pride alive. Adversity and weather define who we are; this amalgam sort of our last shield from the coming Kmart conformity. On days like today, off the sea ice west of Front Street, screams the white wall of Big Nature in her old and icy mood. For that reason some of us find pure cheer in having our heating oil once again in danger of becoming the consistency of peanut butter, gratified to see folks stumbling past each other in parkas, drawn wolf ruffs and masks, unwittingly waving to people whom they regularly despise.

Back inside, unfortunately the phone still works and is ringing. A friend is worried and tells of a polar bear
reported at the post office. I didn't see it this morning; I did get some catalogs though. Not a track or sighting has been confirmed, but people are staying inside, rumors are piling up all over town. Apparently it's a nineteen footer. I wonder how big it'll be by evening.

An interior photo of the Kotzebue Family Crisis Center.Spacer ImageThe blizzard--and possibly the bear tidings--have canceled the kindergarten potluck, the Teen Center and Lion's Club dances. This according to Johnson Greene, dry and unimpressed, on AM radio KOTZ. Village air services and certain businesses have shut down. He plays a recorded weather forecast: Wind chill advisory to 120 below. Avoid unnecessary travel! Protect life and property! The National Weather Service emergency bulletins twinge us all with warm pride. But that's as far as the warnings get up against the needs of our daily lives, shelter, warmth, food and friendship.

In the evening, I walk the streets of Kotzebue for elucidation. A pearly moon gleams up in a dark sky shrouded with snow gusting south. My face feels like someone is bringing an iron up to temperature on it. I pull my mask up to my eyes, my otter hat down to meet it. The mask has quarter inch holes in a circle around the mouth. My lips freeze. Ice on my eyelashes sticks my eyes shut. I'm happy again, finally not homesick to be upriver, away from this crowded, noisy metropolitan area.

The streets in places are drifted halfway up stop signs, wind-scoured in others, the snow white and hard as porcelain. By the AC grocery store I pass a masked person--maybe a woman, maybe a life-sized Ninja Turtle. It waves. In front of the old-folks home, I make out Laura Frankson standing in the swirling snow in her tropical-print parky. "Aana (grandma) Marlboro" --she's out 365 days a year in her parky and snow pants, chain smoking, with a Pepsi in the same hand. I take her presence outside as a sign that I'm sane. Who wouldn't be reassured to see a seventy-one-year-old woman with a missing thumb out enjoying a Marlboro and a Pepsi in a mind-numbing 100 below?

Young guys--and girls, I guess--wearing Darth Vader snowmobile masks scream past me on Polaris's and Arctic Cats. The machines make anguished-metal sounds. The young people gun their throttles, the call of the hormone. Wind chill apparently has no affect on that force of nature.

Down the street, houses are hard to make out in the moving snow. I pass the family shelter. It looks like any other house—-probably for a reason--except there's a wheelchair ramp sifting the drifts. In the window a woman peers out. Her eyes have a hollow look, and dark circles underneath. For an instant I recognize her, a girl I knew as a kid back in the village, back in 1979. She turns away, disappears, not recognizing who it is in these layers of clothes and snow, or maybe time.

Seth Kantner was born and raised in the wilderness of northern Alaska. He has worked as a trapper, fisherman, mechanic and adjunct professor. His writings and photographs have appeared in Outside, Prairie Schooner, Alaska, Switch! and Reader's Digest. His first novel, Ordinary Wolves, won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. He lives in northwest Alaska with his wife and daughter.