Alaska has an extraordinary number of vulnerable people, particularly women who are homeless or victims of domestic abuse and sexual abuse, but we do not have enough resources to care for them. As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s important to understand how Sen. Lisa Murkowski has undercut women who are in desperate need of support, both in Alaska and globally.
I recently visited the Downtown Hope Center in Anchorage, a faith-based organization that provides homeless Alaskans more than 500 meals daily, vocational training, showers, and clothing. The Hope Center also has a women’s program in which it houses 50 or more women every night, many of whom are fleeing dangerous situations or have been violently abused.
Unfortunately, the Municipality of Anchorage has passed an ordinance to force the Hope Center to admit biological men into its women’s housing program. The people who run organizations like the Hope Center say this can easily traumatize women who have already been through severe trauma and anxiety, place them at physical risk, and discourage them from seeking assistance in such places, ultimately leaving them more vulnerable. Every woman deserves to sleep safely at night.
The shelter is challenging the local ordinance in federal court.
The supposed “non-discrimination” ordinance imposed by Anchorage is similar to the national “Equality Act” now before Congress, and they both jeopardize women’s access to assistance when they badly need it. Organizations like the Hope Center have a right to provide services to the most vulnerable Alaskans, and sometimes that means providing women’s services exclusively to biological women.
It seems Murkowski has been silent on her position on the Equality Act, which has yet to receive a vote in the Senate, but she did vote in favor of similar legislation in 2013. She also was the deciding vote and only Republican to allow funding for schools that let biological males compete in female sports programs – every time a transgender, biological male wins in one of these competitions, a biological female loses. These votes clearly indicate that Murkowski supports forcing women’s shelters to admit clients who are not biologically female, and she therefore is threatening access to these vital programs, as well as the safety of vulnerable women.
But this isn’t the first time Murkowski has taken positions that directly affect the health and safety of women in her quest to appease the radical Left.
In April of this year, Murkowski was the only Republican senator to vote to confirm Vanita Gupta, President Biden’s anti-police nominee at the Department of Justice. Just a year earlier, Gupta had testified before the Senate and urged obedience to the ‘Defund the Police’ movement’s demand to cut law enforcement funding and roll back public safety efforts at the state and local level. The reduction in resources favored by Gupta, confirmed by Murkowski, would make Alaskan women even more vulnerable to violence, with fewer public safety tools to separate themselves from their attackers, real and potential.
And where would abused women turn for help? With Murkowski’s policies fully intact, a woman with an abuse in her past would have no choice but to go sleep side-by-side next to a male stranger.
The compassionless, ineffective policies Murkowski supports don’t stop at our nation’s borders.
She explained she supported Biden’s withdraw from Afghanistan because she initially believed that “this Administration had a viable plan in place,” but expressed surprise and dismay after-the-fact about how the plan was implemented. When other Republican senators were expressing concerns about the plan in the summer of 2021, Murkowski was silent on it.
That “plan” has given control of Afghanistan to the murderous Taliban, who swiftly imposed their autocratic rule and subjugation of women that places women’s lives in peril at every moment.
When people have been in the Senate for the number of decades Lisa Murkowski has, they frequently cast votes that reflect the Washington, D.C. insiders’ view of the world. Very often, they have no concept of the impact these actions have on people back home – especially the ones who are most at risk, like Alaskan women who are homeless.
My mom and dad once were homeless in Alaska. When I toured the Hope Center, it was easy to understand why my mom would need a safe place like the Hope Center to sleep if she had been alone on the streets.
When I’m Alaska’s next U.S. senator, I will never forget who sent me there and the effect my votes ultimately will have on Alaskans. It’s time we had a senator who represents Alaska values to Washington, D.C., instead of one who represents Washington, D.C. insiders to Alaska.
Kelly Tshibaka, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alaska
A Sense of Urgency in the Bering Sea
Alaska’s Bering Sea coast is suffering from dramatic climate changes and communities are taking urgent action against these threats. The University of Alaska Fairbanks and its partners are working to support communities in their path toward climate resilience. The success of this work relies on strong local to state-wide collaboration and a deep respect for the traditional knowledge and practices of Alaska Native people in the region. Programs like UAF and Alaska Sea Grant’s Adapt Alaska collaborative that work alongside communities to learn, share and build resilience in a changing climate deserve our attention and continued support.
For thousands of years, Alaska Native people along the Bering Sea have hunted, fished, and gathered wild resources, relying on the land and sea to sustain their ways of life. A 2017 study found that in Bristol Bay the average person harvests 210 pounds of wild resources a year; the number increases to 379 pounds in the Yukon Kuskokwim Region, and 402 pounds in the Bering Strait!
Climate change is having an impact on these traditional harvest activities, affecting access to and availability of culturally and nutritionally important foods. For example, in the northern Bering Sea, lack of stable pack ice makes walrus and seal hunters wary of venturing out. One hunter remarked that in the past they planned trips weeks in advance. Today, hunts happen last minute when ice conditions are just right.
Adapting to change has always been a means of success and survival. But rapid warming in the Arctic is bringing changes unlike anything in recorded history, and Bering Sea residents are seeking urgent action.
Failing infrastructure and transportation are compounding food security concerns. Sea ice used to buffer coastal communities from early winter storms. Now, ice forms later, allowing wind and waves to erode the soft soils of thawing permafrost along coastal bluffs. The soils underlying infrastructure commonly located along the shoreline, like docks, gasoline and heating fuel tanks, and schools, are washing away. These winter storm impacts are felt far inland upriver systems. For example, in 2019 alone, Napakiak lost 100 feet of shoreline, leaving critical infrastructure exposed.
Adding to these stressors is an increase in shipping traffic and oil and gas exploration in the Bering and Chukchi Sea waters. A 2019 workshop gathered Bering Sea Elders to share their knowledge and concerns regarding economic and social disruptions from oil spills. For these Elders, it was not a question of if a human-caused disaster will occur, but when. The Bering Sea fishery is one of the largest in the world with abundant non-salmon fish such as pollock and cod harvested, as well as a multiple crab species. A disaster would have a profound impact on local subsistence users and a fishery important for national food security.
Alaska’s Indigenous communities have always been resilient and adaptive, but climate change and maintaining modern infrastructure are posing new and more urgent challenges that require collaborative solutions.
I work as the Coastal Community Resilience Specialist which is a position at Alaska Sea Grant, a 50-year collaboration between NOAA and UAF that helps build capacity for resilience in coastal communities by leveraging university resources. Specifically, I bring data and decision support tools to communities and host workshops that help identify critical needs. My position is also supported by the UAF Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the International Arctic Research Center.
Sharing stories of resilience is another important way that my work supports capacity building in rural Alaska. The Adapt Alaska online tool, which I co-created, provides resources to communities responding to change. Adapt Alaska helps tell stories of people finding unique and innovative ways to build resilience and foster better community well-being, then share them with communities responding to similar threats.
These efforts, and others like Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Program, which embeds agents in coastal communities across Alaska, ensure that both local experiences and voices and university resources are leveraged and shared to collaboratively address some of the most pressing challenges of the day. These collaborations are great examples of how the University, partners, and communities are working together for a better tomorrow. Learn more about Alaska’s changing climate and the impact on rural communities through our website adaptalaska.org.
Dr. Davin Holen, Assistant Professor, UAF
Coastal Community Resilience Specialist