The Aleutians East Borough community of Sand Point is gathering Friday afternoon and evening to condemn the toll taken by drug abuse, after residents ran a suspected drug dealer out of town last summer.
The event’s organizers, Reclaim Alaska, describe themselves in an email to Channel 2 as “ordinary community members who are sick and tired of watching our community, both (locally) and at a state level, surrender to drug abuse, and the social ills which accompany drug abuse.”
“We've had enough,” members wrote. “This is the official notice to the drug dealers, you are no longer welcome, we are going to do everything in our power to take our community back, and restore it to wellness.”
Tiffany Jackson, the executive director of the Qagan Tayagungin Tribe of Sand Point, has played a key role in organizing the event. She says Reclaim Alaska has been boosted by a dramatic Aug. 20 incident at the Sand Point airport, in which nearly a dozen concerned parents confronted a man locally known as a drug dealer. The man wasn't criminally charged, but was forced to board the same PenAir flight he’d just gotten off of as it returned to Anchorage, with locals paying for his plane ticket.
The incident, which Jackson calls “fuel to the fire” for the group, is part of a tradition of frontier justice in Alaska, including the use of banishment as a punishment. She says about 30 locals gathered in September to discuss the impact of addiction to drugs such as heroin -- including what she calls a lost generation in the community of about 1,000 people.
“It used to be you had a good fishing season, and you’d see people adding on houses or buying vehicles, very visible things you could see where people were improving their lives -- that’s not happening now,” Jackson said. “We’ve lost people. We’ve lost community members, vibrant young community members overdosing or dying, or just families being torn apart.”
According to Jackson, Reclaim Alaska’s main mission is to take the town back from drug dealers. Its priorities involve working with local entities to help people addicted to drugs move toward recovery, as well as offering healthy organized activities that don’t involve drugs. One such activity, a gingerbread-house building contest in December, was sponsored by local employer Peter Pan Seafoods.
“It may be slow building this movement, but if we build it a person at a time, five people at a time, hopefully it’ll spread through the whole community,” Jackson said.
The Reclaim Alaska event is set to start with a rally from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Sand Point school, where police, nurses and a former drug user will discuss drugs’ effects on their town. A panel discussion will follow, featuring Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack and Sand Point Mayor Martin Gundersen, as well as the presidents of a local tribe and the school’s student council. The school’s principal and elementary students will give a presentation on what makes Sand Point a community, with a wrap-up from Mack about the day’s lessons.
Cheerleaders will help conclude the school event, leading into an evening potluck followed by a rematch basketball game at the school between the Sand Point Eagles and the King Cove T-Jacks. In recognition of the event’s significance, admission to the game will be free.
Channel 2's Tracy Sinclare and Matthew Smith contributed information to this story.