In what may be one of his final acts as governor, Sean Parnell reappointed Unalakleet’s Donna Erickson to the state’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault on Friday.
First nominated three years ago, the appointment signals Erickson’s second term on the council, which she says plays an important role in addressing a troubling and persistent issue throughout Alaska.
“We look at all of the programs that the state has to offer for all of the wellness issues regarding domestic violence and sexual assault,” she said from her home in Unalakleet Monday. “We look at the budget and decide where funds go for different programs … and we have to make big decisions for the whole state regarding the safety of the people.”
Erickson’s seat is reserved for a representative from a rural community of fewer than 7,500 people outside the road and rail systems connecting Anchorage and Fairbanks. She said her decades of experience in the Norton Sound gives her a unique perspective on helping the council guide state policies; in particular, spending.
“Most of the board are from urban cities, and we have a different lifestyle out in the bush,” Erickson said. “We have to rely on air travel. We don’t have the bed facilities in the villages, so our clients have to be flown to Nome, and we work with the Alaska State Troopers [extensively].”
She added that her “perspective on the board is knowing how vital it is to have help, and that the funds do filter down to the village level.”
For more than 25 years Erickson worked to provide a “safe home” for women, children, and men escaping domestic violence and sexual assault in the Norton Sound. She’s also spent several years as a board member for the Bering Sea Women’s Group. She acknowledges the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault are many, but she said progress is happening.
“The money that goes to Kawerak Wellness, or many of the wellness programs in the state, are funneled through this council, so, there’s a lot of good things happening in the state of Alaska. We’re trying to turn around all of our stats that we have of domestic violence and sexual assault, there’s a lot of healing going on in the villages. We do a lot of stuff behind the scenes, and I’m real happy to serve on this board.”
In addition to Erickson, another Norton Sound resident received reappointment from Governor Parnell. Nome’s Tom Vaden, who works with health aide training at Norton Sound Health Corporation—and with the Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department—was reappointed to a seat on the state Emergency Response Commission. His seat is reserved for a member of a local emergency planning committee.