Gov., 2011 Iditarod champ push ‘wellness initiative’

ANCHORAGE — Gov. Bill Walker and 2011 Iditarod champion John Baker on Friday announced the creation of an initiative that calls on Alaskans from across the state to take it upon themselves to promote healing from abuse, neglect and suicides in their communities.

Walker and Baker were joined by Alaska’s congressional delegation for the announcement Friday at the annual conference of the Federation of Alaska Natives. The announcement comes as the western Alaska village of Hooper Bay is mourning the back-to-back suicides of four young adults since late September.

The idea for the new initiative, called “Alaskans Changing Together,” was sparked by Baker, and involves people signing up to become volunteer wellness ambassadors, or create wellness coalitions or youth councils, among other suggested actions.

“John Baker’s philosophy is that the most effective way to counter suicide and substance abuse is to plant seeds of hope and vision so that people, young and old, have something to believe in beyond the borders of their village,” the initiative website states. “It is this sentiment that will be embedded into the Wellness Initiative.”

The musher, who is an Inupiat Eskimo, wants to expand on the concept behind an ongoing youth leadership program he is involved with in his northwest Alaska hometown of Kotzebue.

“Every person deserves to live a full and beautiful life,” Baker said, noting how commonplace it’s become to find people lacking a passion for life. “We must act to make things right.”

Walker told the audience he quickly got on board when Baker called him about a month ago to discuss the idea, saying the musher’s vision and passion are contagious.

“He had me at hello,” Walker said.

To get the initiative started, the governor’s office has a $50,000 contract with Remote Solutions, an organization run by Baker’s fiance, Katherine Keith, according to Walker spokeswoman Katie Marquette.

Alaska is consistently among U.S. states with the highest overall suicide rates, ranking second in 2013, according to the latest national statistics available. The state led the nation in 2010.

Between 2003 and 2012, suicides among Alaska Natives between the ages of 20 and 29 occurred at nearly triple the overall rate for that age group, according to figures provided by the state.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Newly elected tribal leaders are sworn in during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
New council leaders, citizen of year, emerging leader elected at 89th Tribal Assembly

Tlingit and Haida President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson elected unopposed to sixth two-year term.

A waterfront view of Marine Parking Garage with the windows of the Juneau Public Library visible on the top floor. “Welcome” signs in several languages greet ships on the dock pilings below. (Laurie Craig / For the Juneau Empire)
The story of the Marine Parking Garage: Saved by the library

After surviving lawsuit by Gold Rush-era persona, building is a modern landmark of art and function.

A troller plies the waters of Sitka Sound in 2023. (Photo by Max Graham)
Alaska Senate proposes $7.5 million aid package for struggling fish processors

The Alaska Senate has proposed a new aid package for the state’s… Continue reading

Current facilities operated by the private nonprofit Gastineau Human Services Corp. include a halfway house for just-released prisoners, a residential substance abuse treatment program and a 20-bed transitional living facility. (Gastineau Human Services Corp. photo)
Proposed 51-unit low-income, long-term housing project for people in recovery gets big boost from Assembly

Members vote 6-2 to declare intent to provide $2M in budget to help secure $9.5M more for project.

Members of the Alaska House of Representatives watch as votes are tallied on House Bill 50, the carbon storage legislation, on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House, seeking to boost oil and gas business, approves carbon storage bill

Story votes yes, Hannan votes no as governor-backed HB 50 sent to the state Senate for further work.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read