Hank Wentz

Hank Wentz

Sometimes it takes more than once to get something right, and as my old man would say, “It don’t matter how many times you get knocked down, how you get back up is what matters.”

I must have been “chosen” to carry a burden I did not want in life. I say this as I recall being burned, on purpose, with hot bacon grease out of the frying pan, feeling the third-degree bacon grease burn, screaming torturously, seeing it done on purpose and reliving it over and over, blacking out from the pain. I was 6 then and that scar disfigured me permanently physically, and mentally, I wake up fighting every day in my mind.

My dad also was scarred at 6, but his were mental more so then mine, as I have had more than 200 stitches from my seven brushes with death. Dad was orphaned at six years old in Sitka 1928, and sent to Wrangell’s Sheldon Jackson Institute for boarding school known for bringing pedophiles into the ministry. Alaska was a favorite place to banish pedophiles and their fetish grew on Native children. Back then, half-breeds were not accepted, and dad looked white since he was half-German, a quarter Norwegian, and a quarter Tlingit, so needless to say my European German American grandfather abandoned my grandmother. What is a single mom with three kids in 1920’s Alaska with no skills, and excluded from the local culture to do? With no choice, and swallowing her pride, she did what she had to. Unfortunately she drowned in 1928 at 30 years old. I believe in generational curses, and breaking cycles. I broke that chain between me and dad, and also between me and my own children.

More inside

It hurts me and drains me — physically as well as mentally. I don’t know exactly dad’s whole life story, because he was proud and not entirely forthcoming. You never quite know what life events will shape and define you, which influences other’s lifetime ripple effect, much like a pebble tossed in a pond. His war time PTSD he would force me to listen to, as he fought four tours of war, two in Korea and two in France/Belgium, including The Battle of the Bulge. He would relive seeing his friends die, or shooting children as they were strapped with dynamite trying to take out our defenses. War is hell, I discovered at a real young age.

This little bit of information gives the reader a glimpse of history, as I do not sugarcoat anything; I’d rather hit you with the truth instead of kissing you with a lie. The signs put up by non-Native store owners calling Natives “dogs” and excluded, with some still living in third-world conditions. Expensive, isolated, no running water, poor education, with no opportunities for employment leaves some turning to alcohol to cope. Dignity and birthrights taken leaves the younger generation with few hunting/fishing subsistence skills. Alcohol and drugs leave some getting in trouble with the law, sometimes gone for years. Natives have only 100 years of forced assimilation and no alcohol in their system historical DNA. The Tlingit wealth system was based on how much you gave away, not how much you kept.

We are matrilineal, being raised by the mother’s brother so you are not spoiled. It is hard to accept we would vote to have our birthrights taken becoming a state, as the population was 95,000 rural residents vs. 25,000 urban. To this day we still have 150 Native villages, and is an important election swing vote. No wonder they suck up to us to get our vote then. Whoever signed for the land claims must have been drunk, as one only need to look at the 500 broken treaties taking advantage of vulnerable Natives with your laws.

The impact of 100 years of forced assimilation isn’t something you “just get over.” Cultural PTSD is very real, ask the Jewish people, or is it something only good for them and other non-Natives? Nonetheless, some residents cannot handle their alcohol in their villages and make a mistake drunk? Whatever the circumstances, they now become part of a prison industrial complex for profit. Each of them becomes — if you will — a commodity.

It is a struggle assimilating into prison life culturally, as we had our own sense of justice different from this. Westernized culture has some like me feeling like a ‘refugee,’ or a ‘Prisoner of War’ in my own country. I am the first to admit, some people are just plain evil, and NEED TO BE LOCKED UP. Anyone who victimizes women and children deserves it. Regardless, eventually incarceration ends, and hope is given with the possibility of going ‘home’ to the village. This is where the Alaska Nations Re-entry Group (ANRG) helps with transition. Their clients needed their Probation Officers permission to participate or have photos taken. Thus this writer gave a little Alaskan history and stresses insight on breaking generational curses and valid traumas.

ANRG was founded in April, 2015 for a peer support group, and advocacy group for Alaskan Natives and American Indians released from incarceration. While our 68 percent of the prison population, and 54 percent of the homeless Native is alarmingly high, on some Native reservations, 3 out of every 4 Native men are homeless and alcoholic.

The stigma of being an ex-con and homeless is overwhelming, and ANRG is partnered with Partners Reentry Group, which has 7,000 clients who could use their services, not all Native. One is eligible from one year of release and accruing no further open cases; others require merit based referral from social service agencies. Helping transition with job skills, case coordination, housing, cognitive behavior treatment is vital. It is important to have hope, and for me, well, I’d been searching the last five years for that. I am diagnosed with complex PTSD, severe anxiety, major depression, and addiction. But it is never too late.

I don’t ask for pity or to be patronized. The family wars in the village are fueled by alcohol, and each culture needs to own their part in it, from families stepping up to society itself. So many people call the Natives ‘bums’ because of their inability to cope, assimilate, and try to survive the only way they know how. Native Corporations need to ‘step up’ as Southcentral Foundation cannot carry this huge burden alone.

Next week I’ll be talking more about the ANRG, because even though some will never make it, everyone deserves a second chance.


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