filmmakers would likely agree that it is a good sign when their
film has run out in stores, even if it's not always properly paid
for. Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson, a Barrow, Alaska, filmmaker, took
it as a compliment when her Inupiaq film "The Duck-In"
was snatched off the shelves. But for Edwardson, the film's popularity
is second to its importance.
Duck-In," Edwardson's pilot educational film, and her newest
"Nipaa Ilitqusipta - The Voice of Our Spirit," are both
part of an Inupiaq history series that will be included in the curriculum
and used in classes across the North Slope. A third film is on its
recently, the history of the Inupiaq language and people was told
by everyone but the Inupiat themselves, according to Jana Harcharek,
Director of Inupiaq Education for the North Slope Borough School
District. Harcharek and Edwardson have worked collaboratively on
the history series since 2004 with a grant from the Alaska Native
pieces (films) tell the history from our perspective," Harcharek
said. "It's interesting analyzing that perspective as opposed
to what has been written about us."
of Edwardson's films touch on important issues in the lives of Inupiaq
communities. In "The Duck-In," Edwardson documents the
people's successful protest in the early1960s against new federal
regulations that interfered with subsistence hunting.
second film, "The Voice of Our Spirit," presents viewers
with individuals, young and old, who struggle with the loss of language
in their own personal way.
film opens with scenes of a an Inupiaq boy sitting on a windowsill
and images of a North Slope village covered in fog, with the sound
of a modern rap song that speaks about like in the 49th state.
a long time now I have been wondering why I don't speak my language,"
says Dora "Aluniq" Brower of Barrow in the film's opening
would always hear it around me because my parents and my grandparents
were speaking, but when it came to us children they would speak
to us in English. It wasn't expected of me to speak back in Inupiaq."
film chronicles a history that spans 150 years," said Edwardson
during a video call from her current home in Melbourne, Australia.
"It starts with the epidemics, then the missionaries and the
boarding school. It provides a historical understanding of how it
happened that no one speaks the language."
grew up in Barrow and is the daughter of George "Saggan"
Edwardson, an Inupiat story-teller and Native political activist
who was raised in a subsistence lifestyle. Her mother, Debbie Edwardson,
was a journalist.
don't speak Inupiaq, which is why this film was such a personal
journey for me," Edwardson said. "Now that I am married,
my feelings are about how I will teach my kids when I can't speak
the perspective of a parent, Harcharek, now focused on incorporating
Inupiaq into student curriculums, admits in the film that she too
is guilty of not speaking the language to her children. She depicts
the children as victims of a generations-old tragedy.
think they're deprived of a birthright," Harcharek says in
the film. "They have the right by birth to know their own language.
I wasn't very successful as a mother at using it enough at home.
You can slap yourself up side one and down the other but that's
not going to fix it. So I do the best that I can and that's what
we all can do."
now, the School District never taught Inupiaq language and culture
in a systematic way, according to Harcharek, most likely because
no materials existed. That is already changing thanks to programs
and a curriculum developed by Harcharek and fellow educators. Edwardson's
films are a big part of the process.
Anchorage anthropologist, historian and curriculum developer, Patricia
Partnow, is currently working with the films to develop learning
guides that will accompany them in classes and place them in context
with the history the students are taught.
writing the guide, Partnow links the film to worldwide historic
events and looks for a way to "hook" the target audience,
in this case the adolescent students, by focusing on issues most
interesting to them.
idea is to find ways that this one thing can not just teach about
this one event," Partnow said.
justice is a big issue among teenagers, she said. Linking the films
to other events, people and theories helps make the guide non-linear
and more dynamic.
had fun with 'The Duck-In," linking it to Gandhi, apartheid,
civil disobedience and philosophy," she said.
first draft of "The Duck-In" guide is complete and work
on the "Voice of Our Spirit" guide will begin in the near
and Harcharek have spent the past six years developing curriculums
for the Inupiaq Education Program.
the films will mainly serve as educational tools for both Inupiaq
and non-Native viewers, they are also the beginning of a much larger
project Edwardson plans to develop.
husband, David Vadiveloo, a film director, producer and writer,
has developed a method of working with marginalized youths with
the use of media. Edwardson reported that seeing the projects in
action was an incredible experience. She and her husband are looking
into ways to incorporate a similar project in Barrow.
vision includes creating a "Qargi" - a traditional community
house of gathering - in a very non-traditional way. The Qargi will
be a place where all media created on the North Slope will originate
from. It will serve as a training ground and film production house
to attract youths to create a new way of story-telling.
have no problem with Inupiaq rap," Edwardson said. "We
need new ways of communicating and sharing, otherwise we will all
become a museum piece."
similar project is under way in Kotzebue. Edwardson said she wants
to partner with the neighboring borough to create an online Native
network that will be attached to the borough's media facilities
and will link with other Native networks around the world.
targeted at youths and young adults, a board of elders will take
an active role in overseeing the productions' content.
have to get back to honoring their leadership and wisdom,"
Edwardson said. "It's easy with modern technology to put that
aside, but now more than ever we need them."