Kobuk Valley: The package store

After I graduated from college I spent two years teaching elementary school on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota.  All of my students were Lakota, or as you read in your textbooks, Sioux.  It was quite a striking change to go from the University of Virginia to a reservation.  At the University I seemingly had everything at my fingertips. I received an incredible education and was surrounded by privilege. On the reservation things were a bit different. The education was not incredible, and privileged is one the last words I would use to describe the educational resources available on the reservation.

It ranked high in alcoholism, violence, poverty and suicide. It ranked low in education, income, life expectancy and opportunity. As a white person I was relatively protected from many of the issues. I could escape to my family and friends, pretty much whenever I wanted. I preface this post with this information, so that you know I have some experience with what I am about to talk about.

While we waited for the presidential motorcade we got the opportunity to talk several folks that worked at the hospital. They talked about the violence and alcoholism that they had seen in the community. While we had only been there a day, we commented that we hadn’t seen much of that while we had been there. They informed us that it was because ‘The Package Store’ was closed for several days leading up to Obama’s visit, to dry the town up.

Confused, we asked what ‘The Package Store’ was. Quite simply it was the city owned liquor store. The difference is that you had to have a permit to receive shipments to ‘The Package Store.’ Permits for residents of Kotzebue were $50 and permits for non-residents cost different amounts depending on their length of stay.

If you think I am making this up I encourage you to read this document and Google ‘Kotzebue The Package Store.’

If you don’t want to read the document, let me highlight this one point for you.

‘How much alcohol may an Individual Kotzebue Resident with a Current Valid Permit Ship to the Delivery Site Each Month?’

·      4.5 liters of Liquor (6 bottles @ 750ml each)
·      24 liters of wine (16 bottles @ 1.5 liters each) aka a Magnum or double bottle
·      12 gallons of beer (128 12-ounce cans/bottles)

In a 31-day month that is 4.13 beers, 0.77 liters of wine, and 0.15 liters of liquor per day. So either the alcoholism is insane, or they assume that you are going to buy and provide to others.  Keep in mind that you purchase a permit just to be able to then have alcohol shipped in to you, you still have to pay the inflated prices for alcohol to be shipped in.

This may seem like a side story to the parks. It is important, to me, because we have to remember that we while these parks that we have are beautiful, not everything in this world is pristine. I choose to use my time in the parks as a way to recharge so that I can help better the rest of the world. Being in Kotzebue was a reminder that while I am lucky to be able to do this trip, there are places near the parks that are in need of support as well.