Starting a Fire: Bringing Light to the Dark, by Tia Wakolee ©2018
Tia Wakolee has done a brave and necessary thing. She has shared her stories with the world as a step in her journey of healing. She has done this in the form of a self-published book. I learned of it in a book review posted in Alaska Dispatch News. I went downtown and purchased it at Originale, 400 D St. in Anchorage. The owners of that restaurant have a bucket on the counter with copies of the book in it, for sale.
Stories of Survival
Stories of surviving childhood sexual abuse in Alaska are abundant. Until recently, however, very few of these stories were documented by survivors. They have been shared aloud in clinics, counseling sessions, treatment centers, and in hushed words between friends. All of these settings still command some degree of secrecy (a provider must report only if a child’s safety is in danger and otherwise must maintain privacy of the disclosure). The terror and fear of sexual assault and abuse, reverberate for generations, affecting physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The intricate network of family ties in rural Alaska can be protective, but sometimes families have shamed or silenced the survivor who spoke up and asked for help. Sometimes, too, inexperienced therapists have been overwhelmed by the details of these stories, and have failed to be helpful. When these things have happened, the sense of isolation has increased.
More recently, universities and conferences and conventions have made more concerted efforts to train mental health workers on the nuances and impacts of complex trauma. As the field of mental health develops a better understanding of trauma and how to better support survivors, therapists are becoming more helpful. As writers who have survived the impact of repeated traumas recover pieces of themselves, they have begun to document their stories. This, in turn, reduces isolation for both the storyteller and the reader, and promotes healing.
Breaking Silence is an Act of Courage
Silence protects the abuser, and is often enforced by threats of harm to loved ones. Thus, breaking silence is an act of courage, and of healing. “Taking a stand for our children outweighs any fear . . . I’m not going to apologize for sharing my story.” There is always someone who will listen and protect, and abusers know this. Survivors ultimately find someone who will listen and protect, which is one key way out of the cycle of violence.
Thank you, Tia, for sharing your stories. I wish for you the healing peace of gratitude and connection, from and with those less eloquent with their words, who will find themselves in your pages. From your shared experiences, may warming fires light the way of safety and healing for the next generation of children in Alaska.
Building Bridges of Recovery Through Stories
Wakolee’s book is timely: Multiple indigenous authors of the north are starting to share their stories of recovery from trauma. They are allowing readers to witness their struggles and development as they gain insight into the true causes of their struggles with mental and spiritual health. Through finding their voices, the isolation is turning into connection and community, and healing begins. These stories come in the form of literature, audiobook, memoir, and essays and more. See rural Alaskan M. Jacqui Lambert’s review of Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth; and Mailhot’s Heart Berries, and this recent article by Elissa Washuta.
Obtain This Book, or Read More About It
Wakolee’s self-published book is on display and available for sale in a galvanized bucket at the counter of the Italian restaurant, Originale, at 400 D Street in Anchorage, for $25/each, cash or check. If you are in rural Alaska, a more detailed review with contact information for obtaining a copy directly from the author, was published in Arctic Sounder in December of 2018, and reprinted in ADN.
Additional note, July 9, 2019: In June, Tia Wakolee spoke on a panel in Kotzebue, and there is a short video clip of her presentation embedded in the article published in ADN and ProPublica, Discussing Alaska’s Long History of Sexual Violence is One Step Toward Seeking Solutions.
You are not alone. Resources:
If you are in need of help for yourself or a child you know that is in danger:
Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at andvsa.org, here is their list of resources around the state.
Note added July 9: Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica are investigating sexual violence in urban and rural Alaska this year. If you want to reach out to a reporter about your experiences, whether as a survivor or someone who has worked with survivors, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.