Environment Health Lifestyle Local

Advocate For His People

Written by Heather Penn

Born 100 miles outside of the village of Huslia in a camp upstream on the North Fork of the Huslia River, Ray DeWilde is every bit an ac- tivist for the Alaska Native People. “I am Koyukon Athabascan, I am a warrior and I protect my kids and tribal members.”Tall, slender and well spoken, DeWilde has campaigned for his people for over 20 years. Having been placed in foster care at the age of 13, DeWilde faced much hardship in his younger years.A victim of child abuse and sexual abuse,
DeWilde sought solace in drinking, drugs and womanizing. DeWilde was drinking regularly by the age of 11 and by 20 had attempted or thought about suicide more times than he cares to count. From his early teens to his late twenties DeWilde sought counseling. “It worked,” said DeWilde “be- cause I am headstrong and smart.” He knew what had happened to him as a child was wrong but “I had to break silence as a boy and continue speak- ing out as a man.”

When he aged out of foster care, DeWilde joined the military, seeking a sense of belonging. After his term was complete he came back to Alaska and worked at building houses, cooking, mapping and attending college for engineering. While he was successful in most endeavors, an emptiness lingered and alcohol and women were losing their ability to ll that void.

It wasn’t until his rst child was born that DeWilde was able to stop his desire for self-de- structive behavior. “When my girlfriend told me she was pregnant I never took another drink.”“I wanted my kids to have a clean slate,” said DeWil- de. DeWilde was now a single dad with a new business that required him to travel all over the states. “I was quite successful,” said DeWilde.

But his travels kept him away from Alas- ka and home. His son missed him so DeWilde “shut the business, did some soul searching and switched to counseling.” He worked for the Fair- banks Native Association (FNA) and Tanana Chiefs Conference at the Old Minto Recovery Camp as a drug and alcohol counselor.

He never forgot his younger years and the “silence we live with.”“There is nothing worse than hurting children,” said DeWilde. Child sexual abuse is downplayed across the nation. Words like molestation, abuse or inappropriate touching can mask what is really happening, child rape. DeWilde believes there are causal issues associat- ed with child abuse. There is a clear connection of self-destructive behaviors when a child has been abused. The addiction rates sky rocket, increased health problems, an huge uptick in suicide, higher incarceration rates and an overall decrease in one’s mental health. But what is to be done?

Unlike western medicine which emphasiz- es the need for con dentiality, the Alaska Native culture encourages their people to gather around the one in need. This gathering brings forth the problem and presents it to the community whereas the con dential approach isolates the individual in a one on one tactic. DeWilde stresses that western culture is not wrong but perhaps a di erent approach more centered around one’s own upbringing might bring a more favorable result. DeWilde “doesn’t know where we go as a native people or where he goes as an advocate,” but that hasn’t stopped him from trying. “We need our native people to make support for us. We need our interventions our help and it should come out of our communities and our people,” said DeWilde.

As a father of four and a foster father to eight DeWilde has seen rst-hand the impact of having an active father in the house. “Children
see adults as god, the supreme authority,” said DeWilde. DeWilde worked with Al Pooley of the NAFFA, Native American Fatherhood and Families Association on a fatherhood program. Piggyback- ing o of Pooley’s model, DeWilde wrote his own fatherhood program to bring back to Alaska. He taught classes at prisons and elsewhere but still feels his reach isn’t far enough. DeWilde plans on continuing his advocacy for his people, especially the children.
“Love, is the greatest tool we have but there is a difference in saying and showing I love you versus don’t tell on so and so because you love them,” said DeWilde. Mothers have the gift of giving and sustaining life. A fathers honor is in teaching about god and all that encompasses,” said DeWil- de. “We all have to look in the mirror, you want to appreciate the person you are.”

We at Free The People AK would like to thank Ray DeWilde for his insight and o er sup- port in his advocacy. As a local Alaskan paper, we feel it is imperative to have a place for any and all voices to speak, absent of an agenda.

About the author

Heather Penn

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