His name was Anthony Choquette.
On Oct. 17, the last day of the Alaska Federation of Natives, he committed suicide in about as public a manner as is possible in Alaska: He jumped from the third floor of Anchorage’s Dena’ina Center, which was hosting the AFN conference.
Choquette’s death is a tragedy. Unfortunately, so is the reaction to it.
In the days after the AFN conference, we’ve read ample criticism of the Alaska Dispatch News for reporting on Choquette’s death. We’ve seen Facebook comments and letters criticizing the paper for writing about his life and attempting to answer the simple question of why a man would die in such a manner.
This type of talk is quite literally a grave problem.
Ignored problems are not fixed. A wound must be cleaned if it is to heal properly.
We must discuss suicide publicly and frequently, and we must do so now.
Suicide is a plague, and it is particularly virulent in Alaska. In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the same organization fighting maladies like ebola — released a report outlining the scope of this plague: Alaska Native and American Indian men and women are more than twice as likely than the U.S. average to commit suicide. Alaska has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation.
These statistics are shocking, but they are cold. They do not put faces or names to the figures.
If we tell you that Anthony Choquette was 49 years old, that he’d lived in Alaska all his life, that he’d been a hardworking commercial fisherman in Sand Point, that he liked to be called “Dean,” his middle name, that he once gave a woman sunglasses when she didn’t have them — you start to understand who he was and why his death matters.
This is true for other problems as well. In Juneau, the issue of late has been heroin and the overdoses that have killed many of the capital city’s young men and women. We’ve heard the cries that “Something Must Be Done,” but when the Empire attempted to speak to the families of the dead, few spoke up.
All people matter, and that is why their deaths are a tragedy. They rob us of good people.
It isn’t easy for families to open up and explain why their brother, son, father or uncle took his life. It’s difficult for parents to explain why their daughter is dead. It’s perfectly understandable that the brothers, sisters and parents of the dead may not want to talk.
But it must be done. We must make Alaskans understand that this not only has happened, it will continue to happen unless we do something about it. Not the man next door, not the woman down the street — all of us.
If you are the one who sits at home and vomits criticism from your Facebook page, the suicide isn’t the problem: You are.