Meghan Sigvanna Topkok

In their own words: Meghan “Sigvanna” Topkok

Council Seat D

Candidate Meghan “Sigvanna” Topkok

NN: What is your motivation to run and what are your qualifications to run for the Nome Common Council?

Meghan Topkok: I am running for Nome Common Council, Seat D, because I feel some in our community have not been heard or not understood by our city leaders. Sometimes we see a disconnect between leaders and citizens. I believe this shows that our city leadership may not have a shared experience with the majority of those who inhabit our town (over half of our population is Alaska Native, and nearly half are female – neither of which are currently represented in city leadership). Even with the best intentions at heart, if you haven’t lived life in someone else’s shoes, it can be difficult to craft solutions to the issues they bring to the table.

In recognition of this, we need greater diversity among our council members. As an Inupiaq woman I want to ensure that the incredible diversity of our town is reflected in our city council. I want to see people like myself and the values I carry reflected in city decision-making processes.

As an attorney I have been trained to identify core issues and to help find sustainable solutions to those issues. Words can be powerful; they can make a community stronger or break it apart. When we craft laws and policies in our city government they need to reflect the diversity of our community. When our council members interact with those outside of their own social circles we should feel assured those coming forward have been heard and valued. I strongly believe every decision we make needs to stand the test of time – we need to think about how the choices we make today will impact our children and grandchildren.

In my legal career, the work I do is in pursuit of assisting others and giving back to my hometown.  My successes have been the result of the continued mentorship and support of so many in Nome to whom I am eternally grateful. I hope to repay that debt by giving everything I can to help our town be the best version of itself. I know I have the time and energy needed for the responsibility of being a city council member. I have been fortunate to work as a law student for our state government in the Office of Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, and through this experience I’ve gained an understanding of the inner workings of our state government and how decisions are made. I feel this experience also allowed me to develop relationships with state decision-makers that can assist me as a city council member in understanding how local issues and decision-making interacts with state law and policies.

Most of all, I believe the strongest leaders are those who seek to serve, and listen to understand. Strong leaders collaborate, build bridges and empower those around them. In all that I do, I do my best to follow these principles and would strive even more to exemplify them as a city council member. Leaders are put in place to listen to all perspectives, review all the information, and proceed based on the information before them in making decisions that serve the best interests of their constituents. We must have procedures in place to ensure all voices are heard and perspectives are valued. If elected I would work to make sure those procedures are carried out to the fullest extent possible.

 

NN: What are the biggest challenges facing Nome today and how do you propose as councilmember to address them?

Meghan Topkok: I think we have several issues facing us today, but the one I am most concerned about is public safety. I believe the discussion we’ve begun highlights the need for increased transparency and accountability.  We need to recognize that Alaska Native women in our community don’t feel safe.  This is not where we should be as a community. We need to work together to change it for the better and I am committed to working on this as a council member. As a citizen of Nome, who cares deeply about our community, I don’t want to read the paper and see scandals splashed across the front page. We can no longer hide or cover up the systemic problems our law enforcement is entangled in.

We also face a host of other challenges around economic development, support for our school district, housing and ambulatory and fire response. We are walking a fine line between making sure our community is safe and affordable to live in, with ensuring we adequately compensate those who serve our community and provide critical services. I believe we need to think outside of the box in order to find realistic solutions. We need to engage a wide range of individuals and organizations in that effort and ensure their voices are included in decision-making processes. We need city leadership who recognize the value of those relationships and of building those relationships and utilizing the expertise that is represented in our town to make sustainable choices about the future of Nome. While I do not know all the answers to the problems we face, I do know that we cannot solve them alone. We must work together.

 

NN: How do you propose to stimulate public interest in attending meetings and becoming involved in city issues?

Meghan Topkok: I want to ensure that everyone feels welcome to come to city council members and to city council meetings and that their voice matters. I would also like to find ways to engage our youth in the community, as well, so they grow into informed voters who actively participate in city decision-making.

I also hope to stimulate interest and involvement through reciprocity – we cannot expect those in our community to be involved with city governance if they do not feel heard. If there are events in the community I plan to attend as frequently as possible and to interact with and listen to our community members.  For instance, when citizens requested to have a public safety forum to discuss concerns with council members, only one council member showed up. While the others may have had their excuses, it sent a message loud and clear to the citizens of this town that their concerns didn’t matter. It told this community that if they wanted to be heard, they had to attend a city council meeting in city hall and that is the only venue to have concerns heard.  I think there is much to be said for simply being present, listening to others, seeking to understand and taking prompt action. There are so many little things city council can be doing to ensure that their constituents feel valued.

I’ve also come to realize not everyone in town is going to feel comfortable coming down to city hall. I think we need to find alternative spaces and venues to hold meetings or public outreach events. Incorporating occasional informal events to interact with constituents is just as important as holding bi-monthly city council meetings to conduct city business. We need to make space and ensure we are welcoming all of our town’s constituents.

 

NN: How do you propose to combat the alcohol and substance abuse problem in Nome?

Meghan Topkok: My own experience in seeing some of my family members struggle with substance use has been to understand that people often self-medicate by using substances, rather than addressing the underlying reasons for the pain and grief they are going through. We are incredibly fortunate that Norton Sound Health Corporation is making strides to tackle this issue, such as through a day shelter. We also have many other organizations in town seeking to provide support to those who are struggling, such as Bering Sea Women’s Group, NEST, Kawerak, as well as our legal system (including the court, public defenders, prosecutors, and private attorneys), among many other organizations and individuals.

As a city we need to be supporting these organizations and individuals to provide services aimed at healing those who suffer from substance abuse. Compassion and collaboration are vital, we need to make sure we are valuing everyone as we continue to work toward wellness.  To focus on curbing sales of alcohol, or taxing sales of alcohol, are not looking at this issue from a sustainable standpoint – these fixes are merely band-aids on a gaping wound that so many of our community members struggle with.

We need to work closely with our many organizations in Nome who are dedicated to providing services to those who struggle with substance abuse – whether it’s medical, employment assistance, housing assistance, or the host of other factors that affect a person’s ability to get through hard times. As an attorney at Kawerak I work with numerous individuals who are working to empower communities through education, advocacy, child welfare and other programs. It is important that we be trauma-informed as we design solutions for the most vulnerable.  I believe we need to take a close look at the factors that contribute to substance abuse, and find ways to address this issue based on trauma-informed principles of care.

 

NN: Please outline your proposal to restore citizens’ trust in the Nome Police Department and describe what a functional NPD would look like in your opinion.

Meghan Topkok: Transparency and accountability are key in restoring trust. In order to function properly, the Nome Police Department needs to have policies in place to govern the many situations that law enforcement encounter to ensure protection of our citizens. Not only do they need policies, but they need to follow those policies. For years citizens of Nome have been crying out at the injustices from the action or inaction of the NPD, and little has been done until recently. This includes the fact that the grievance procedure currently in place only serves to re-traumatize the individuals who have been systematically hurt by the actions (or inactions) of some of those in our police force.

Law enforcement is a tough job; it comes with risks, and high levels of stress and I strongly feel our police officers should be properly compensated for that. If we can provide adequate and fair compensation to our police officers, ensure they have functioning policies in place to handle situations, and ensure that there is proper oversight through increased transparency and accountability I think we can help NPD function efficiently and restore the trust of our citizens in our law enforcement. No one should feel unsafe or targeted in our community. No one should feel that nothing will be done if they report a sexual assault or other crime. No one should feel that if they complain about NDP that they will have a target on their back. Our police department and our citizens should be working together closely and collaboratively. Community engagement and outreach is important.

Just as much as we need to conduct a thorough review of NPD policies and procedures, we also need to ensure that our law enforcement feels that it is properly supported. I think establishing the Public Safety Advisory Committee is step in the right direction. We can look to other communities who have undergone similar struggles to derive inspiration, such as citizen review boards and having dedicated staff to work with those who feel they have been unjustly treated so they can confidentially report their concerns without having to bring it in front of the entire town at a city council meeting and on the record. We are not alone in struggling with public safety issues – it affects communities across our state and across our nation – but there are things we can do to address those concerns collaboratively as a town. In the end it’s not something that can be solved by one or even a handful of individuals, it’s a conversation we need to continue and the conversation needs to include all of our citizens as we move forward together.

Candidate Meghan “Sigvanna” Topkok

NN: What is your motivation to run and what are your qualifications to run for the Nome Common Council?

Meghan Topkok: I am running for Nome Common Council, Seat D, because I feel some in our community have not been heard or not understood by our city leaders. Sometimes we see a disconnect between leaders and citizens. I believe this shows that our city leadership may not have a shared experience with the majority of those who inhabit our town (over half of our population is Alaska Native, and nearly half are female – neither of which are currently represented in city leadership). Even with the best intentions at heart, if you haven’t lived life in someone else’s shoes, it can be difficult to craft solutions to the issues they bring to the table.

In recognition of this, we need greater diversity among our council members. As an Inupiaq woman I want to ensure that the incredible diversity of our town is reflected in our city council. I want to see people like myself and the values I carry reflected in city decision-making processes.

As an attorney I have been trained to identify core issues and to help find sustainable solutions to those issues. Words can be powerful; they can make a community stronger or break it apart. When we craft laws and policies in our city government they need to reflect the diversity of our community. When our council members interact with those outside of their own social circles we should feel assured those coming forward have been heard and valued. I strongly believe every decision we make needs to stand the test of time – we need to think about how the choices we make today will impact our children and grandchildren.

In my legal career, the work I do is in pursuit of assisting others and giving back to my hometown.  My successes have been the result of the continued mentorship and support of so many in Nome to whom I am eternally grateful. I hope to repay that debt by giving everything I can to help our town be the best version of itself. I know I have the time and energy needed for the responsibility of being a city council member. I have been fortunate to work as a law student for our state government in the Office of Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, and through this experience I’ve gained an understanding of the inner workings of our state government and how decisions are made. I feel this experience also allowed me to develop relationships with state decision-makers that can assist me as a city council member in understanding how local issues and decision-making interacts with state law and policies.

Most of all, I believe the strongest leaders are those who seek to serve, and listen to understand. Strong leaders collaborate, build bridges and empower those around them. In all that I do, I do my best to follow these principles and would strive even more to exemplify them as a city council member. Leaders are put in place to listen to all perspectives, review all the information, and proceed based on the information before them in making decisions that serve the best interests of their constituents. We must have procedures in place to ensure all voices are heard and perspectives are valued. If elected I would work to make sure those procedures are carried out to the fullest extent possible.

 

NN: What are the biggest challenges facing Nome today and how do you propose as councilmember to address them?

Meghan Topkok: I think we have several issues facing us today, but the one I am most concerned about is public safety. I believe the discussion we’ve begun highlights the need for increased transparency and accountability.  We need to recognize that Alaska Native women in our community don’t feel safe.  This is not where we should be as a community. We need to work together to change it for the better and I am committed to working on this as a council member. As a citizen of Nome, who cares deeply about our community, I don’t want to read the paper and see scandals splashed across the front page. We can no longer hide or cover up the systemic problems our law enforcement is entangled in.

We also face a host of other challenges around economic development, support for our school district, housing and ambulatory and fire response. We are walking a fine line between making sure our community is safe and affordable to live in, with ensuring we adequately compensate those who serve our community and provide critical services. I believe we need to think outside of the box in order to find realistic solutions. We need to engage a wide range of individuals and organizations in that effort and ensure their voices are included in decision-making processes. We need city leadership who recognize the value of those relationships and of building those relationships and utilizing the expertise that is represented in our town to make sustainable choices about the future of Nome. While I do not know all the answers to the problems we face, I do know that we cannot solve them alone. We must work together.

 

NN: How do you propose to stimulate public interest in attending meetings and becoming involved in city issues?

Meghan Topkok: I want to ensure that everyone feels welcome to come to city council members and to city council meetings and that their voice matters. I would also like to find ways to engage our youth in the community, as well, so they grow into informed voters who actively participate in city decision-making.

I also hope to stimulate interest and involvement through reciprocity – we cannot expect those in our community to be involved with city governance if they do not feel heard. If there are events in the community I plan to attend as frequently as possible and to interact with and listen to our community members.  For instance, when citizens requested to have a public safety forum to discuss concerns with council members, only one council member showed up. While the others may have had their excuses, it sent a message loud and clear to the citizens of this town that their concerns didn’t matter. It told this community that if they wanted to be heard, they had to attend a city council meeting in city hall and that is the only venue to have concerns heard.  I think there is much to be said for simply being present, listening to others, seeking to understand and taking prompt action. There are so many little things city council can be doing to ensure that their constituents feel valued.

I’ve also come to realize not everyone in town is going to feel comfortable coming down to city hall. I think we need to find alternative spaces and venues to hold meetings or public outreach events. Incorporating occasional informal events to interact with constituents is just as important as holding bi-monthly city council meetings to conduct city business. We need to make space and ensure we are welcoming all of our town’s constituents.

 

NN: How do you propose to combat the alcohol and substance abuse problem in Nome?

Meghan Topkok: My own experience in seeing some of my family members struggle with substance use has been to understand that people often self-medicate by using substances, rather than addressing the underlying reasons for the pain and grief they are going through. We are incredibly fortunate that Norton Sound Health Corporation is making strides to tackle this issue, such as through a day shelter. We also have many other organizations in town seeking to provide support to those who are struggling, such as Bering Sea Women’s Group, NEST, Kawerak, as well as our legal system (including the court, public defenders, prosecutors, and private attorneys), among many other organizations and individuals.

As a city we need to be supporting these organizations and individuals to provide services aimed at healing those who suffer from substance abuse. Compassion and collaboration are vital, we need to make sure we are valuing everyone as we continue to work toward wellness.  To focus on curbing sales of alcohol, or taxing sales of alcohol, are not looking at this issue from a sustainable standpoint – these fixes are merely band-aids on a gaping wound that so many of our community members struggle with.

We need to work closely with our many organizations in Nome who are dedicated to providing services to those who struggle with substance abuse – whether it’s medical, employment assistance, housing assistance, or the host of other factors that affect a person’s ability to get through hard times. As an attorney at Kawerak I work with numerous individuals who are working to empower communities through education, advocacy, child welfare and other programs. It is important that we be trauma-informed as we design solutions for the most vulnerable.  I believe we need to take a close look at the factors that contribute to substance abuse, and find ways to address this issue based on trauma-informed principles of care.

 

NN: Please outline your proposal to restore citizens’ trust in the Nome Police Department and describe what a functional NPD would look like in your opinion.

Meghan Topkok: Transparency and accountability are key in restoring trust. In order to function properly, the Nome Police Department needs to have policies in place to govern the many situations that law enforcement encounter to ensure protection of our citizens. Not only do they need policies, but they need to follow those policies. For years citizens of Nome have been crying out at the injustices from the action or inaction of the NPD, and little has been done until recently. This includes the fact that the grievance procedure currently in place only serves to re-traumatize the individuals who have been systematically hurt by the actions (or inactions) of some of those in our police force.

Law enforcement is a tough job; it comes with risks, and high levels of stress and I strongly feel our police officers should be properly compensated for that. If we can provide adequate and fair compensation to our police officers, ensure they have functioning policies in place to handle situations, and ensure that there is proper oversight through increased transparency and accountability I think we can help NPD function efficiently and restore the trust of our citizens in our law enforcement. No one should feel unsafe or targeted in our community. No one should feel that nothing will be done if they report a sexual assault or other crime. No one should feel that if they complain about NDP that they will have a target on their back. Our police department and our citizens should be working together closely and collaboratively. Community engagement and outreach is important.

Just as much as we need to conduct a thorough review of NPD policies and procedures, we also need to ensure that our law enforcement feels that it is properly supported. I think establishing the Public Safety Advisory Committee is step in the right direction. We can look to other communities who have undergone similar struggles to derive inspiration, such as citizen review boards and having dedicated staff to work with those who feel they have been unjustly treated so they can confidentially report their concerns without having to bring it in front of the entire town at a city council meeting and on the record. We are not alone in struggling with public safety issues – it affects communities across our state and across our nation – but there are things we can do to address those concerns collaboratively as a town. In the end it’s not something that can be solved by one or even a handful of individuals, it’s a conversation we need to continue and the conversation needs to include all of our citizens as we move forward together.

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

www.nomenugget.net

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