Forum magazine, Fall 2016

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Anonymous Samurai

Decorated Veteran Finds Transcendence in Tattooing

Cities Under Glass Space Age Metropolises of the Last Frontier


Photographs of Beauty, Neglect, and Humanity


Wild Sounds, Music, and the Resonance of Place

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Inform, Engage, and Connect



161 East First Avenue, Door 15 Anchorage, Alaska 99501 (907) 272-5341 |

t has been an exciting, rewarding and fast-paced first six months in my new role as the President and CEO of the Alaska Humanities Forum. And today is no exception as I write to you from Charlottesville, Va., where I’m attending presentations, discussions, and exhibits at Human/Ties, a four-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH was formed on September 29, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Arts and Humanities Act into law. This legislation initiated our nation’s first significant investment in the study of its culture and recognized the humanities’ vital role in the “current conditions of national life.” The Alaska Humanities Forum is one of 56 state and territorial groups supported by NEH. The Forum has been bringing people together since 1972 to engage in discussions about important issues as seen through the lens of the human experience, rooted in the values and history of people and communities across our vast state. Today, our work is perhaps more important than ever. Alaska is grappling with issues like climate change, a shifting economy, rural/urban divide, and the preservation of languages and cultures. The humanities—language, literature, history, heritage, traditions, dialogue, and stories—are critical, alongside the analysis of data and projected outcomes, to understanding where we come from, making sense of our world today, and navigating our future. I am grateful for the continued leadership and support from NEH, and also for the gifts from businesses, foundations, organizations, and community members. This investment in our current work and in the development of new, innovative opportunities to meet emerging needs across our state makes it possible for us to inform, engage, and connect Alaskans. I thank you for your support and look forward to connecting with you in the year ahead.

The humanities are critical

Clayton W. Bourne, Treasurer, Anchorage Michael Chmielewski, Member-at-Large, Palmer Joan Braddock, Ph.D., Past Chair, Fairbanks Bruce Botelho, Douglas Jeane Breinig, Ph.D., Anchorage Lenora Lolly Carpluk, Fairbanks John Cloe, Anchorage Renée Duncan, Soldotna Anne Hanley, Fairbanks

come from, making sense

Dave Kiffer, Ketchikan

of our world today, and

Chellie Skoog, Chugiak

— Kameron Perez-Verdia

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Elizabeth Qaulluq Cravalho, Vice Chair, Kotzebue Christa Bruce, Secretary, Ketchikan

to understanding where we

navigating our future.


BOARD OF DIRECTORS Catkin Kilcher Burton, Chair, Anchorage

Ernestine Hayes, Juneau Pauline Morris, Kwethluk Kurt Wong, Anchorage

STAFF Kameron Perez-Verdia, President and CEO Ted Leonard, CFO Christina Barber, Curator of Special Exhibits and Programs Carmen Davis, Education Programs Director Kitty Farnham, Leadership Anchorage Program Manager Veldee Hall, RCCE Program Manager’ Jennifer Howell, Community Impact Program Assistant Nancy Hemsath, Office and Projects Manager Jann Mylet, Development and Communications Manager Nathanael O’Connor, Take Wing Alaska Program Manager Naaqtuuq Robertson, Take Wing Alaska Project Coordinator January Scott, Take Wing Alaska Program Director Kirstie Willian, C3-2 Program Coordinator Megan Zlatos, Grants Program Officer

 David Holthouse Art Director
 Dean Potter Copy Editor
 Nancy Hemsath Contributors Ben Huff, Lillian Maassen, Debra McKinney, Joe Yelverton

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P79-024, Alaska State Library, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service Photo Collection


Hoonah (pictured here in 1905) is home to Ken Austin, or Te Sha Kee, subject of the Forum-supported film Te Sha Kee: Tlingit Warrior. See page 44.


dut y bound

The Anonymous Samurai Roger Sparks: from pararescue jumper to transcendental tattoo artist

10 grant report Cities Under Glass What might have been with three proposed Space Age metropolises of the Last Frontier

15 donor profile Wendy Erd, Storyteller Conversation with a Forum supporter about stories, communities, poetry, and place

20 grant report Abandoned to the Wind Photographer Ben Huff finds humanity amid desolation on Adak Island

30 ECCI notes Language of Survival At Dig Afognak “Survivor Camp,” the survival of the language of Alutiiq (Sugpiaq)

34 from the archives Resonances of Place John Luther Adams makes his “confessions of an out-of-town composer”

FORUM is a publication of the Alaska Humanities Forum, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with the purpose of increasing public understanding of and participation in the humanities. The views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the editorial staff, the Alaska Humanities Forum, or the National Endowment for the Humanities. Subscriptions may be obtained by contributing to the Alaska Humanities Forum or by contacting the Forum. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. ©2016. Printed in Alaska.

40 2016 Annual Humanities Grants A preview of Forum-supported humanities projects, from Cold War oral histories to a “book bike”

45 legacy of leadership anchorage Advanced Alaskans LA alum launches interview and photography series focusing on Alaskans over the age of 70

50 Second Friday @ the Forum A new season of art and dialogue awaits at the Forum’s office gallery in downtown Anchorage On the cover: “Bethany Horton,” by Jenny Miller, from her Alaska Humanities Forum-supported portraiture series Continuous. See pages 44 and 50.


The Anonymous Samurai Story and photos by Joe Yelverton


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The Anonymous Samurai Story and photos by Joe Yelverton

Duty Bound is a new initiative of the Alaska

Humanities Forum. It draws on the power of the humanities to support deepened understanding of the experiences of Americans affiliated with the armed services, whether active-duty, reserve, National Guard, retirees, or veterans. Projects supported by the Forum in the spirit of Duty Bound include Unseen, an ongoing series of portraits of the men and women of the Alaska Air National Guard Rescue Unit, created by Alaska writer and photographer Joe Yelverton. Anonymous Samurai and the accompanying photographs resulted from time Yelverton spent with Alaska Air National Guard pararescue jumper Roger

Sparks, who received the Silver Star for conspicuous valor in combat for his actions during a battle in Afghanistan in November 2010. “Most military rescuers are intrinsically private about their work,” states Yelverton. “One of the unspoken doctrines of rescue work is that a rescuer isn’t a hero when they save people’s lives; in essence, they are professionals who are just doing their jobs. Hollywood and popular culture have created a skewed perspective of military rescue and the special forces in general. In order to build trust with individuals who are innately distrustful of media, the first step is having genuine interest in their lives, their well-being, and what’s important to them outside of their professional life.”

flying in a helicopter to an unforgiving place where the local inhabitants intend to kill you. You’re on a rescue mission with a seemingly random set of coordinates in the Kunar Province; the war-torn mountains of Afghanistan. As you approach your destination, erratic bullets rip through the aluminum fuselage around you. Only your resolve helps you to remain still. Eventually, you arrive above a rocky mountainside and begin lowering to the ground on a thin steel cable. As you’re descending, the cable is hit and begins fraying, making your retreat back into the helicopter impossible. Still, you feel a deep sense of commitment driving you forward. The machine gun shells of a 50 caliber are falling down on you in a deluge of hot metal, reminding you that the gunner in the helicopter is the only thing


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Roger tells stories in the form of metaphor because it’s the only way he knows how. It’s how he reckons the past. He translates his own raw experience through ancient knowledge of the human condition, often through Greek mythology and Eastern philosophy. The most profound manifestation of this practice results in the creation of Roger’s own unique art—beautiful pieces that serve as more than just his language. Art is also Roger’s salvation. When Roger finishes tuning his guitar he starts playing a repeating rhythm, bending the notes into

keeping you alive. You’re dangling precariously above foreign soil. But all you can think of is your purpose. Before you slam into the ground with your partner and all of your heavy combat and medical gear, your life before this moment becomes strangely intangible. Your unfinished business has been erased. Your family is no longer a part of you. The things that brought you joy are gone. Your past and your future now belong to the universe. You are about to enter an escalating firefight where you have to save as many lives as possible, as fast as you can, while simultaneously leading a platoon of injured men whose leader was just killed. You are outnumbered, outgunned, and soon you’ll be out of ammo. Your name is Master Sgt. Roger Sparks. In the next 24 hours you will make the hardest decisions of your entire life. Two years later, I’m listening to Roger play an old blues riff on his favorite guitar. It’s a modest instrument characterized by hard use, not unlike the musician playing it. We’re in Eagle River, Alaska, in Roger’s garage-turned-studio; or

the “the opium den,” as he calls it. Roger’s garage is his sanctuary; it’s where he immerses himself in the creative process. After a few minutes Roger stops playing so he can tune his guitar, and at the same time, he’s telling me about a Buddhist metaphor that has stuck with him throughout the years. Not just stuck with him, but carried him through. He doesn’t just repeat the sage words to me now though. When Roger recites any sort of meaningful literature, he embodies it—it’s the Zen version of speaking in tongues. When Roger conveys his hard-earned wisdom, it leaves an impression on you. Because, for a litany of reasons—Roger should actually be dead. After Roger landed in the mountains surrounding the Watapur Valley, he would ultimately go on to save many men and watch half as many die. He and his partner would call in a large bomb strike that would render enough collateral damage for him to remember that decision his entire life. He would dodge bullets in a way that seems to only happen in movies, strangle a man with his bare hands, and be burned deeply with a legacy of human trauma that defies ordinary comprehension.

When Roger Sparks conveys his hard-earned wisdom, it leaves an impression on you. Because, for a litany of reasons—Roger should actually be dead. the sound of a train moving down the tracks. It’s a blues parable told with slide guitar; the story of a hobo who experiences a sense of freedom from riding the rails. But as the musical story progresses you realize that what lies ahead, farther down the tracks, is a world of uncertainty. The kind of uncertainty that weighs heavily on your heart. And somehow, you know this story doesn’t have a fairytale ending. Roger handles his guitar like it’s a spiritual tool. Instead of him telling you about all of the things he’s seen, he tells you how he feels.

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He plays the blues because he’s a man with a storied past. After a few minutes Roger stops playing again to tell me about the time he visited the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His life is so influenced by the blues masters that he even collected dirt from that fabled intersection. The truth is Roger has stood at quite a few crossroads in his lifetime. It’s not often that Roger talks about his experience in the Kunar Province, but when he does, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend. Roger’s war stories don’t translate into words. People who hear about the trauma Roger experienced emotionally shut down after just a few minutes. They’re listening,


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but not hearing. This isn’t lost on Roger, either. And it only adds to the alienation he sometimes feels. A common person cannot possibly identify with Roger Sparks, because he has led an uncommon life. Roger is a very gifted musician and visual artist, but the medium he’s most passionate about is tattooing. His practice is aptly named Cathartic Ink. It’s a moniker that describes a level of spiritual and emotional intensity that’s palpable during his tattoo sessions. When he’s immersed in the creative process, time stops. I’ve been witness to some of these sessions and it’s comparable to extraordinary theatre, except Roger

and his clients aren’t acting. It’s a dramatic process, a healing process, and not just for his clients, but for Roger as well. The more tattoo sessions I witnessed, the more I realized that Roger’s art is a conveyance for an intimate connection with the person lying on his table. Many of his clients have faced traumatic, life-altering events. After Roger meticulously prepares his equipment, and the needle first touches the skin, his studio begins filling with a perceptible air of intense vulnerability that, at times, has challenged my own objectivity. At times I’ve had to force myself to keep shooting, while I was simultaneously moved

by the intense conversations I was hearing—of combat, personal sacrifice, and loss. After a long session of tattooing Roger is initially drained of energy. “Smoked,” is how he describes it, referring to the emotional and physical fatigue he feels from focusing for so many hours. Attention to detail is everything when he’s permanently marking his client’s skin. “The ink is permanent, the body is not,” Roger tells me, punctuating a story about the traditions of “irezumi,” an ancient Japanese art form. It’s a subject that Roger knows intimately. Homage to the masters of his craft means a great deal to this man, and he credits many teachers, most of whom lived hundreds of years ago. Roger doesn’t tattoo just anyone. He politely turns down customers. He’s not a “street shop” tattoo artist, either. His work has to have a spiritual purpose, not just to his clients, but to him as well. His design work is a collaborative and emotional process, and Roger always seems to know whether or not someone is ready to go deep. There’s a tangible sense of vulnerability and trust between Roger and his clients. “Process is

more important than outcome,” he says, “We’re more than just matter. There’s way more to us than just the explainable.” As I was watching Roger work during one of his tattoo sessions, something on his wall caught my eye: a classic drawing of a samurai accompanied by a poem. After reading it and then studying the picture, I began to wonder. The samurai were devout Buddhist monks skilled in the use of swords. These were virtuous men who adhered to a strict moral code. To the samurai, style meant everything. While I was watching Roger work, so focused that he didn’t even seem to know I was in the room, I began to imagine him in Afghanistan two years before. I drifted through this strange daydream to such an extent that I felt as if I was on the ground with him, following him, watching his movements as though they were choreographed, methodically navigating a terror-filled scene. And then, suddenly, with my full awareness back in present day, I realized that when Roger was in Afghanistan—he was the samurai in the framed picture on his wall. Roger was the anonymous samurai. ■

The Warrior’s Creed by the Anonymous Samurai I have no parents: I make the heavens and the earth my parents. I have no home: I make awareness my home. I have no life or death: I make the tides of breathing my life and death. I have no divine power: I make honesty my divine power: I have no friends: I make my mind my friend. I have no enemy: I make carelessness my enemy. I have no armour: I make benevolence and righteousness my armour. I have no castle: I make immovable mind my castle. I have no sword: I make absence of self my sword.

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Cities Under Glass Commuters would have made the eightminute trip across Knik Arm by aerial tram. Once inside the compound, people would have moved via subway and monorail, as well as moving sidewalks and escalators.


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grant report

Augmented reality project imagines what might have been with three proposed Space Age metropolises of the Last Frontier By Debra McKinney


Opposite and below: promotional materials for the proposed city of Seward’s Success, 1968.

n the flip side of Alaska’s current economy, back when the state was frothing at the mouth with newly acquired oil wealth, grandiose development proposals came and went. Among them were three covered, futuristic metropolises with corny names, designed to make Alaska’s weather irrelevant. Although Seward’s Success, Denali City, and Arctic Town were never built, Nathan Shafer plans to create virtual tours of these quixotic “cities,” offering glimpses into how Alaskans imagined their future during that freewheeling era of madcap boondoggles. The 37-year-old Anchorage writer, conceptual artist, and new media sage is the mastermind behind a geo-based augmented reality history, art, and storytelling project, a collaboration of nearly 30 artists, writers, and technology experts. The project, called “Dirigibles of Denali,” envisions what these pipe dreams might have been like had they actually been built. The recipient of an $8,500 Alaska Humanities Forum Annual Humanities Grant, “Dirigibles of Denali” incorporates science fiction, alternate histories, and a chance to see digitally in 3D what might have been. Driving this multifaceted

project is augmented reality, a digital overlay upon the real world. Unlike virtual reality, where the physical world is replaced by what the user sees in a headset, augmented reality enhances the physical world as seen through a mobile device like a smart phone with images, sounds, and other content, in this case helping viewers experience utopian metropolises designed in the late 1960s and ‘70s following the discovery of massive oil reserves at Prudhoe Bay. Although all three are referred to as “domed cities,” only Arctic Town was designed to be a dome, Shafer has learned from studying plans and schematics. He thinks an illustrated article on Seward’s Success, published in Popular Science magazine in 1970, with the title “An Entire City Under Glass,” helped create that misconception. There was no shaking the dome-city image after that. Proposed in 1968, Seward’s Success was to be built across Knik Arm from Anchorage at Point MacKenzie, its name an obvious twist on Seward’s Folly, the controversial 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia spearheaded by U.S. Secretary of State William Seward. Rather than a city beneath a glass dome, Tandy Industries, Inc. of Tulsa, Oklahoma proposed a system of interconnected, climatecontrolled malls, powered by natural gas, with commercial, public, and residential buildings

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connected by escalators and covered, moving sidewalks. “Coats and boots will never be required unless one traveled to Anchorage or went outside for recreation,” a promotional pamphlet read. Built in stages to accommodate up to 40,000 people, the $800 million Anchorage suburb would have included oil company headquarters, banks, hotels, shops, restaurants, condos, schools, a sports arena, and more. No cars allowed; they would have been left in a giant, heated parking garage at Government Hill, and commuters would have made the eight-minute trip, two miles across Knik Arm, by aerial tram. Once inside the compound, people would have moved around Seward’s Success via subway and monorail, as well as those moving sidewalks and escalators. With trans-Alaska pipeline construction delayed by the need to settle Alaska Native land rights claims, backers couldn’t make land-lease payments on the project’s 3,209 acres. Seward’s Success was scrapped by the end of 1972. Arctic Town, also called Arctic City, was a conceptual project designed in 1970 by German architect Frei Otto, and was the only one of the three “cities” designed to be a dome. More than a mile in diameter, the inflatable, doublelayered, transparent-foil dome, supported by a system of steel-cable netting, would have provided an enclosed ecosystem, heated by atomic energy, that would have been warm enough, not just for gardening, but for tropical fruit trees to grow. Arctic Town was a Buckminster Fuller-style dome designed for the Arctic, Shafer explained. “That’s all it was, a domed system that could go anywhere.” Since Otto did not specify a location for Arctic Town, Shafer has decided to build it digitally in the Kotzebue area. The augmented-cities portion of the “Dirigibles for Denali” project is sitespecific, or geolocated, requiring viewers to travel to their proposed locations — Point McKenzie, Peters Hills, and somewhere yet to be determined outside of Kotzebue. Using the augmented reality app Layar, viewers will experience


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Denali City

The four-squaremile villa was to include hotels, shops, condos, an ice rink, theaters, a golf course, tennis

Above: Denali, dirigible and domes in artwork by Shafer’s collaborator, Patrick Lichty. Below: Mike Gravel and a colleague inspect the proposed site of Denali City in the 1970s.

courts and so on, all covered by a gigantic carport built of interconnected Teflon tarps. Denali City, proposed in the ‘70s, was Alaska U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel’s attempt to create a winter wonderland in the Peters Hills area of south Denali, drawing tourists year-round and helping diversify the state’s economy. The four-squaremile villa was to include hotels, shops, condos, an ice rink, theaters, a golf course, tennis courts, and so on, all covered by a gigantic carport built of interconnected Teflon tarps. People would have traveled there, via Talkeetna, by dirigible airships, a fabulous detail that inspired Shafer’s project title. Gravel took a lot of heat for his unconventional ideas, including this one, with political opponents claiming he wanted to build a dome over Mt. McKinley, as the highest mountain in North America was called at the time. When Gravel lost his bid for reelection in 1980, hopes for Denali City went down with him.


Heated by atomic energy, the enclosed ecosystem would have been warm enough, not just for gardening, but for tropical fruit trees. A model of Arctic Town by the German architect Frei Otto, 1970.

Shafer’s renderings of the cities and structures superimposed upon the natural landscape. In the case of Seward’s Success, one can adjust the app filter to a two- or three-mile circumference to get a sense of Seward’s Success from Government Hill, Shafer explained, although it’s unstable at that distance and the geolocation may be askew. Best to go to the site, as there’s a cell tower right over it. For those who don’t make the trips, the project’s final form will be accessible to all online and as an interactive book with audio, video, and other augmented content. Audio interviews connected to the project will be archived with the University of Alaska Fairbank’s (UAF) Project Jukebox. Shafer spends a lot of time explaining the technology-rich world he lives in to the uninitiated. He’s so used to having his project ideas rejected by those who don’t understand the art form that when he first proposed “Dirigibles of Denali,” he was prepared to be disappointed. Rasmuson Foundation signed on in 2013 with an Individual Artist Award that helped get the augmented reality portion of Seward’s Success off the ground. This year, with

the project greatly expanded, the Alaska Humanities Forum offered additional funding, as did Rasmuson Foundation again. For the book, Shafer is working closely with his conceptual artist and illustrator wife, Joelle Howald; writer Paula Young Lee, author of Deer Hunting in Paris; and new media artist/theorist Patrick Lichty, one of the co-founders of Second Front, a performance art group in Second Life, and The Yes Men, a group of activists who create colossal hoaxes to shed light on everything from corporate greed to climate change. As longtime friends and collaborators, Shafer and Lichty have co-written papers on the “Dirigibles” project, as well as presented at various conferences together. Turned off by the culturally insensitive totem poles and other public artworks depicted in the 1968 version of Seward’s Success, Shafer has commissioned 10 artists, all but one of them Alaskans, to design new, virtual public art for the digital city. He’s also lined up 11 writers to create science fiction, alternate histories, and other stories exploring these futuristic cities that never were. Research and promotion of the project has taken Shafer across the country, from the Mike Gravel Papers at UAF to Washington,

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An image taken from Shafer’s augmented reality project, looking from Government Hill across Knik Arm to the site, Seward's Success.

DC, where he and Lichty did a “Dirigibles” presentation at the New Media Caucus panel on augmented reality during the College Art Association conference this year. He also hopes to interview Gravel, 86, in California, and is considering a trip to Berlin to look through the Frei Otto archives. With an art degree from the University of South Florida, and a master’s in new media from Rutgers University, Shafer, along with Howald, founded the Meme-Rider Media Team, one of the first artist groups working with internet memes. He teaches in the Structured Learning Program at Hanshew Middle School in Anchorage, working with 7th and 8th graders with autism, a job he loves more than he ever imagined, integrating computer science (coding, 3D modeling, augmented reality, and so on) into the curriculum. “Dirigibles of Denali,” with all its various parts, is Shafer’s largest new media project yet. Past works include “Anchorage Narratives” for the Anchorage Centennial celebration, and a project documenting the retreat of Exit Glacier in Seward, in which Shafer created augmentedreality views of five of its long-gone terminuses. As for “Dirigibles,” he’s looking forward to seeing years of creative work and collaboration come together as a book, which he hopes to debut at the Pratt Museum in Homer the summer of 2018. Creating a book is new territory for him. “I’ve written chapters for books but never a book I designed all the way,” he said. “I’m unbelievably excited.” ■ You can see some of Shafer’s work and watch the fiveminute Indie Alaska video, “I am an Augmented Reality Creator,” via his webpage: Debra McKinney wrote “Picture Man,” about Southeast Alaska photographer Shoki Kayamori for the Winter 2016 issue of Forum.


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The Alaska Humanities Forum: A Good Pick Pick.Click.Give. allows Alaskans to easily share part or all of their Permanent Fund Divided with nonprofit organizations they care about. The 2017 PFD application period is January 1 through March 31. When you apply, please consider making a gift to the Alaska Humanities Forum.


photo by Peter Kaufmann


endy Erd’s father, a crystallographer, said it best when he told her, “Wendy, you’re a fractal.” A professional storyteller, filmmaker, and world traveler, Erd describes herself as having done many different things, with the exception of having a regular career or even a regular job. She and her husband, Peter Kaufmann, moved to Alaska in 1973. They settled in Homer, where Erd worked as a fisherman, started her own landscaping business, and joined the staff of the Pratt Museum. Though her official job title was “community liaison,” Erd thought of her role at the museum as “the dreamer,” because she got to rethink the exhibits so they would be told from a community perspective. Her experiences there set her on the path to becoming a lifelong storyteller. The most significant projects of her life, Erd feels, have had to do with storytelling in some way, either for herself as a writer, or as a facilitator in inviting other people’s stories. Her wandering path took Erd to Asia, where she and her husband have spent the last 20 winters, returning to Alaska to work in the summers. Based in Hanoi, Vietnam, Erd has partnered with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology to work with communities and help them tell their stories through the making of communitybased documentary films and exhibits. She has also workshopped a communitybased approach with Vietnam VTV5, which broadcasts to Vietnam’s indigenous peoples. Threading through all of this is Erd’s own passion for writing and poetry. Just last year, she finished work on the Poems in Place project, which sowed poetry across Alaska’s landscape by placing Alaskans’ poems on the signs in our state parks. Her own poems appear along the Beluga Slough trail in Homer. Please turn the page for a conversation with Wendy Erd.

, d r E y d n We Stor y teller Donor since:


“I support the Alaska Humanities Forum because of its emphasis on people, and on the connection of people and place. I think the larger goal of building bridges and understanding between all of us has always been an important piece of the way I look at the world and my work. My involvement with Poems in Place was a natural extension of that same passion, and being able to do it with the Alaska Humanities Forum has been wonderful; they’ve been so supportive and made it seamless. I’ve been gifted to be able to give time to that project.”

Why I Give:

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In your experience, is there a particular medium that is most effective or moving in conveying a story?

It was a dear friend of mine, Kim Cornwall, who was an Alaskan—her life ended all too soon. She was probably one of the best poets I’d ever met in Alaska. She and I were close friends and we exchanged many things of the heart, including poems, and after she was gone I was so, so sad. I used to run a lot at that time, and I was running one day and the idea just came to me. I always think of it as like this little bird that just came out of nowhere. I remembered in Kim’s poem, “What Whales and Infants Know,” there’s a little epigraph that says, “Beluga Point, Turnagain Arm, Alaska.” Suddenly it was so clear to




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How did your involvement with the Poems in Place project come about?

ir a e

us t


Some of my early work with the Pratt Museum gave me the opportunity to work on the Kenai Peninsula with the Alutiiq people and Dena’ina people, and it was a huge gift to be able to have a reason to spend time in those villages and make friends. The more I listened and heard, the more I fell in love with working with indigenous people, and their stories. Here and also overseas, I think indigenous voices are very seldom heard voices. My husband and I have also worked with people with disabilities, LGBTQ communities… people whose stories are not often invited. Their stories are often imposed upon them; there’s usually an over-narrative or a script. When I was with the Pratt Museum, I took exhibit questions to lots of different communities. I went to Port Graham, which is a Native village in Kachemak Bay, and I asked Herman Moonin, “If you could tell a story about yourself, rather than have curators tell it, what would it be?” He said, “I want to tell about how our language was lost, and see if we can bring it back again.” That started a whole series of things that have shaped many years in my life. There’s so much color and knowledge and depth in all the different cultures that aren’t my culture, that aren’t the dominant culture. There are so many ways to see and to know.

dium; e m r a l u rtic

y ou j

I often find in my work that there’s one question that keeps rising to the top, and that is: “Whose story is it?” In that way, I don’t feel that it’s the medium as much as the process that is effective in moving or touching people’s lives. It can be so powerful, for example, when communities come together and watch film clips of their members. If you’ve interviewed many different people, and then you invite the community to come together (around food, of course) and watch, they can’t talk back to the film, so they’re listening, maybe for the first time, in a really non-reactive way. I think people shift and sort and reflect and discover, and amazing things happen on the way to honesty. And the audience perceives that honesty. The unique thing about most of the stories I’ve worked with is that they’re always told in first person. There’s no over-narrative, it’s just coming from the storyteller’s voice. I wouldn’t call the work I’ve done “professional” in film terms, but it’s honest. It’s incredibly moving. So no particular medium; only the medium of honesty.

You’ve had quite a bit of involvement in the storytelling of indigenous peoples, in Alaska as well as in Vietnam and other Asian countries. What was it about these people’s stories that drew your focus?

throw language o u o y ut in n e h w t

wendy erd: I love something that my husband, Peter Kaufmann, says: “As humans, we are 65% water and 100% story.” I believe that’s true. The oldest way of gathering as humans was around food and a fire; I’m sure stories spilled out around fires. When you want people to gather and tell stories, you just need food and fires, and then stories pour out of us. We tell our stories when they’re ready to come. I think oftentimes stories live inside of us, and when they come out, they take on a different life and we have a different relationship to them. There is an opening, a deepening of those stories, even for ourselves, once we can share them with others. Especially in diverse communities, when we tell our stories together, they swim on currents of feeling or ways of seeing. They stimulate discussion, and sometimes disagreement, and as people start looking for that collaborative search for understanding, they connect us to each other. Stories help us listen to each other. I think, in the deepest sense, they’re like envoys or messengers for peace. Because that’s the way we learn to warm into appreciation for ideas that are different from our own. I think that’s the only way we’re going to make a peaceful world.

no pa

FORUM: Why do we tell stories?


a nd f ires, and then


only the

med ium

ty. ones of h

me that that poem had to be on the sign at Beluga Point. I called Tom Harrison, the superintendent of Chugach State Park, and I told him I had this idea for this wonderful poem, and he just said, “Read it to me.” Do you believe that? It was incredible. So I read it to him and he agreed. So he and I and Charlotte Fox, who was the director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and Claire LeClaire with Alaska State Parks, along with Kim’s mom and family and friends, all got together and made it happen. It was very moving. Afterwards, we knew we couldn’t stop there. It was just too powerful. We needed more support, and we got it from the Alaska Center for the Book, Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Usibelli Foundation, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and lots of private donors… We invented this three-year project. We decided that we were going to put poems in all the seven regions where Alaska has state parks, and that we would make it invitational to all residents of Alaska to submit poems. For the next three years, we chose two parks each year, each in a different region, and we put the call out, and people and poems poured in from everywhere. We formed a committee and chose our favorites, and we put them in the parks. We just finished last year, and I miss it! The public response was really incredible. I always thought the project had so many levels of grace. It inspired so many people to think about their relationship to place and ideas.

it has a beautiful con

w ce

flue n


o ur

ou t o

f us .

Interview by Lillian Maassen

e i r o st

lace. ith p

a conversation with Wendy Erd

What is the relationship between poetry and place? Why do you think the two seem to go together so well?

I think most people don’t read poems, to be quite frank. I think a lot of people are a little bit nervous around poetry, because maybe they remember difficult poems from high school that they never really understood. Or sometimes people feel kind of awkward around poetry. If a poem is popped out from between the covers of a book, and it’s put on a sign along a mountain trail or beside a lake, it greets an unsuspecting reader in a whole different frame of mind. And it’s always shifting. There’s that moment, there’s the weather, there’s the trav-

eler and the language and the ideas. And when all those things converge, it’s magic. Even if it just slows someone down, invites them to think about things in a new way. When you throw language out in the air—even the sound of language in your mind or when you read out loud—it has a beautiful confluence with place. The poet William Stafford said, “Let a poem be rooted in a place and lifted to an idea.” It’s like it gets wings. You have been a writer for most of your life. What would you say is key to the writing process for you?

I think it’s about entering a moment where there’s no you. You’re just part of something. I think more and more it’s just getting yourself out of the way and just listening. At the same time you go wide, you also go small and detailed. It’s that curious openness to receive. And I think it’s also just really, truly, recklessly accepting what arrives, and not arguing with it. Writing down what comes in, and then not losing the wild heart of it when you revise. Trying to stay true, not just in the initial inspiration, but in reworking that discovery of where it’s taking you. And of course reading, reading, reading. I have so many books all over my house! Mostly poetry books but lots of other books too. I’ve taken a handful of workshops where something resonates with me over time, but mostly for me it’s just paying attention. It’s that slowing down and coming into the present moment. What inspires you?

What’s inspiring to me is practicing Tibetan Buddhism. And along with that, kindness. The kindness I often see in the world, and generating kindness. And – on all sorts of levels – light inspires me. The quality of light. And what I call love moments, which sounds so corny but I don’t know how to say it in a different way! I remember being in Cambodia, and I’d go out in the morning and walk in Phnom Penh where life is very, very difficult for many people. They’ve had such hard times and they’re still having hard times. But I’d just look for love moments and find them everywhere, like a grandfather with a child on his knee, or kids stirring colors in a puddle, or… those moments. Children inspire me a lot. Probably just about anything inspires me, really! I just feel gifted to be alive. ■

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Leadership Anchorage Turns 20 Over 350 Alaskans have taken part in Leadership Anchorage in its 20 years. We are currently selecting this year’s new cohort of leaders seeking a unique, humanities-based approach to developing leadership capacity and expanding impact in the community. Above, Leadership Anchorage 17 participants discuss their goals at Birchwood Camp, Chugiak in January 2014.

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Cultural Immersions Cultural Immersions give new teacher hires in rural Alaska the opportunity to learn the values, heritage, and traditions of their students and families prior to the start of the school year. Here, a new teacher makes connections with students at the Kiana Traditional Council’s Youth and Elders Camp.

Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

Writers discuss war in the Danger Close: Alaska workshop organized by 49 Writers with funding from the Forum’s Duty Bound grant program. This event, held in February, 2016, was a two-day multigenre workshop for civilian and veteran writers to learn about journalism in unsafe places, discuss the role of storytelling, and view multimedia explorations of war narrative.

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Eagle and cabin at Finger Bay


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grant report


to the

Nothing about Adak is easy, from getting there to making peace with a landscape that veers from hauntingly beautiful to post-apocalyptic, with contradictions between raw wilderness and abandoned military infrastructure superimposed upon each other. Adak is a place of resourceful people, volcano views, and some of the most tumultuous weather on the planet, including winds that once blasted the island’s anemometer off its tower, leaving their record strength unknown. At least 120 miles per hour, anyway. Besides being prone to fits of raging-maniac weather, Adak offers the chance of stumbling upon unexploded ordnance. Being anything but easy makes this remote Aleutian island Ben Huff’s kind of place. The awardwinning photographer has taken on Adak as a long-term photography project. Supported by a $6,000 Alaska Humanities Forum Annual Humanities Grant, Huff’s Adak work will become his second book. Historically home to the Unangan people, known more commonly as Aleuts, Adak was developed as an Army installation during World War II. After the war it became a Cold War naval air and submarine surveillance station. The compound included schools, restaurants, a hospital, a ski lodge, a movie theater, a bowling alley,

Wind Forum grantee Ben Huff finds humanity amid desolation on Adak Island | By Debra McKinney

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a swimming pool, a roller rink, and courts for basketball, squash, and tennis. Even a McDonald’s. “The housing looked like any suburban subdivision in the Midwest where I grew up,” Huff said of the heyday of Adak Station. “It looked to me like suburbs in Colorado Springs. Mountains and cul-de-sacs and very safe, nonthreatening, cookie-cutter duplexes. Picturesque in the distance.” The military abandoned it all to the wind in the late 1990s. At its height, more than 6,000 people lived on Adak. Although the 2010 census recorded a population of 326, Adak is now down to about 70 full-time residents living among the bones of a once thriving community. “Military stuff up on the hill, old cafeterias, old barracks, old gyms, old atomic weaponry buildings — everything has seen damage by weather, seen damage by people, seen damage by time,” Huff said. “There’s this term called ‘ruin porn,’ sort of dilapidated and rundown buildings that once stood for power and now stand for decay. It’s just like a force field pulling me toward it.” But ultimately, Huff said, Adak’s battered, vacant infrastructure, the vast majority now owned by the Aleut Corporation, isn’t enough. It’s the people who’ve hung on, who’ve found a way to make a living among the ruins of a more prosperous time, who make him passionate about this project.

‘Because of the wind, there’s stuff everywhere. There’s house siding just sitting on the tundra. That’s

something I was always a little bit leery about. When the wind picks

up, a piece of siding flying through the air would cut you in half.’

No Turning Back

Drawn to human perseverance, the built environment, and how people manipulate and exploit the land, Huff considers Adak the logical next step after his last major undertaking: documenting one of the loneliest, most exotic, and quirky stretches of road in North America. For that project Huff made countless trips up and down the Dalton Highway, known locally as the Haul Road, the 414-mile mostly gravel lifeline between


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Livengood and the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. The photographs he made over the course of five years became his first photography book, The Last Road North, another Forum-backed project. A former semi-pro bicycle racer with a fine arts degree, Huff was living in Fairbanks at the time, having moved up from Colorado so his wife, Deanna, could pursue her Ph.D. in atmospheric chemistry at the University of Alaska. Photo expeditions up the Haul Road amounted to loading his truck with provisions, pulling out of his driveway and heading north. Now living in Juneau, where Deanna works on air quality issues for the state, the commute to his current obsession is a 3,400-mile roundtrip. One can sometimes find cheaper flights to Paris. “There are flights [to Adak] two times a week, so I couldn’t just hop in a car and then sort of turn pale and turn back,” Huff said of his first trip two summers ago. “I was committed to a week. “Worst case scenario was, I was going to go and then be on the plane home saying, ‘Man, I built this up in my head but in reality it’s not what I thought it was.’ And the opposite was true. I spent that first week just wide-eyed, in absolute awe, overwhelmed by everything I was seeing. On the flight home all I could think about was, ‘When can I get back there?’” That first trip, in July 2015, he landed on Adak knowing no one, his only connection being the city clerk who rented him a place to stay, picked him up at the airport, and handed him the keys. “I was on my own trying to meet people and being in the space, trying to make sense of the environment I had dropped myself into. I didn’t have a vehicle. I didn’t want to be driving by things quickly. I just walked. I walked for a week, put a lot of miles on my shoes. I’m sure by day three —it’s a very small community — everybody was like, ‘Who in the hell is the guy walking around town all day?’ I was so out of place out there and it was so obvious. I’m sort of comfortable being that guy, I guess.” That week, like many Adak weeks, was gray and soupy. Where the Haul Road project had its own weather challenges, Adak at least comes with abundant shelter. “There’s very little that’s locked up. Even with the door locked you can walk in through a missing wall. I would duck into someone’s

home, someone’s destroyed, ramshackle, past home, to dry off the camera, to dry off a lens, to get out of weather. “People in Adak talk about how you could do a zombie movie there and not have to do anything but just show up with cameras and makeup. That makes it sound sort of lifeless, and I don’t see it that way. But it does feel sort of strange, like the last person on earth, walking into someone’s home.”

Dramatic Light

With the island socked in that first trip, Huff was stuck with mostly flat, static light. His second trip, in March, was a different story. “The light was like nothing I had ever seen,” he said. “Every minute of the day I was outside chasing light and just devouring it. The light went from beautiful to more beautiful, back to slightly less beautiful the entire time. It was just magic for days. It was just so exciting and exhausting. As a photographer you live for those things. They don’t come as often as you’d like.” One of the most memorable moments Huff has experienced making a picture, ever, was during that same March trip. He was walking through an abandoned neighborhood, headed toward the beach when it snuck up on him from behind. “It was sort of a stormy day but the sun was shining, it had nice light, and I heard this te-tete-te-te from behind me. It sounded almost like BBs. I turned around and there was this wallof-a-storm with pea-size hail coming toward me. I mean, 45 seconds and it was on me. I stood there and made pictures with my back against this storm, with hail blowing and wind like crazy, almost blowing-me-over wind. It lasted six minutes, if that. It was just glorious. “I love weather. I love harshness to some degree. But that was moving at a pace I wasn’t accustomed to.” Adak weather is also why Huff is shooting this project with a digital camera rather than the large format one he used for The Last Road North. He needs the ability to move quickly, for art and self-preservation. “Because of the wind, there’s stuff everywhere,” he said. “Like, there’s siding off houses just sitting on the tundra. That’s something I was always a little bit leery about. When the wind picks up, I mean a piece of siding flying through the air would cut you in half.”



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Hailstorm, Bayview

A scene he photographed on his first trip, of a dilapidated cabin at Finger Bay, doesn’t exist anymore on account of the wind. Huff’s not a nature photographer, but when he saw a bald eagle perched atop the peak of its buckled roof, he set up his tripod and started shooting the instant the eagle launched. “I took five or six frames, and I just didn’t get it,” he said. “There were some that were almost good enough but nothing I could use. I sat there for a couple seconds, and then he came around and circled and landed on the roof again, sort of looking at me like, ‘OK, one more try.’ I took three or four frames and then got that picture. When he came back around and kind of gave it a second chance, that was great.” Last December, five months after making


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that picture, a storm packing winds of 120 mph pummeled the island. The cabin didn’t make it. “Yeah, it was leveled,” Huff said. “No one came and cleaned it up; it’s just lying there in the grass. That’s sort of interesting to me, this idea of change. You feel grateful for making a picture somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore.”

The Long Haul

Acclaimed photographer Dennis Witmer, along with Arctic Dreams author Barry Lopez, is a tradition bearer for Huff’s Adak project. Huff met Witmer while living in Fairbanks and, through the years, spent countless hours discussing contemporary photography and poring over Witmer’s vast collection of photography books.

‘I want beauty and humanity along with the neglected.’



“I think what makes Ben fascinating to me as a photographer is just the intensity he brings to his work,” said Witmer, who spent 26 years making photographs in Alaska before moving to Northwest Washington. “I mean, when I first met him he was wound a little too tight I think. But on the other hand, it’s energy he manages to put to good use when making pictures. “He’s trained as a painter, and painters, of course, will spend many hours, or days or weeks, working on a single image. They invest heavily in the single image. And I think that’s probably more than anything else what Ben does. He invests emotionally and intellectually in his single images. I would say that’s probably what makes him different than most photographers.” Huff recently founded Ice Fog Press, an independent publisher of art and photography books in Juneau. His first publishing project will be a collection of Witmer’s work titled, Winter in Fairbanks. Huff described tradition bearers Lopez and Witmer as “sort of the conscience of my work.” “I’m honored to have their trust,” he said. He plans to return to Adak in every season, as many times as it takes until he’s convinced he’s got what he needs to do the place and its people right. To see past the dying buildings. “I want beauty and humanity along with the neglected,” he said. “It’s something I think about all the time, the pictures I want, the pictures I don’t have. I’d love to say three more trips and I’m done because it’s logistically and financially different than shooting something closer to home. I don’t want it to be an open-ended deal. I also don’t want to artistically shut it down before it’s done, which puts a creative urgency on every trip.” ■ Debra McKinney has practiced journalism throughout Alaska for more than 30 years. She is a frequent contributor to FORUM.

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Abandoned to the Wind

Abandoned bar

Kuluk Bay from Captain’s Hill

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Abandoned to the Wind


Opposite: Living room view of Kuluk Bay. Above: Sharon

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program notes: ECCI

Language of Survival Living words at Dig Afognak By Adam Mackie


n drizzly weather I arrive on the shores of Afognak Island, about three miles off the coast of Kodiak. Denise and Neil Malutin, adult siblings and camp leaders, greet me as I step off the skiff. They extend a warm, “Cama’i,” a greeting word or word for hello. (The <c> sound in cama’i is pronounced as <ch> would be in English.) I smile and reply, “Cama’i,” and take my first steps on the beach at Dig Afognak “Survivor Camp,” a Native Village of Afognak camp offering “Alutiiq cultural activities” since it began 20 years ago. Looking at how the ocean laps against the shores of the island, I feel the historical presence of the landscape, and think about the inhabitants who have lived here for centuries. I remember reading a visitor’s guide titled Discover Kodiak: Alaska Untamed in my room at the Best Western hotel after landing in Kodiak the night before. “In the late 1700s Alutiiq people numbered about 9,000,” the visitor’s guide said. “Today there are about 1,700 Alutiiq people living in the Kodiak region, the City of Kodiak and six rural villages.” I was reminded of the Russians occupying the coasts along the Gulf of Alaska, beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, nearly annihilating the lives of the Alutiiq people (Sugpiat) and their languages. (Alutiiq people as well as their language are also known by the ancestral name Sugpiaq, or the plural Sugpiat.) Though startled and saddened by these realities, upon setting foot in Dig Afognak I am mesmerized by the luscious flora of colossal, moss-covered Sitka spruce trees, and prickly devil’s club, glowing green before my eyes.


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I make my way down the Dig Afognak camp path to a comfortable bunkhouse, heated by propane gas and outfitted with padded bunks. I’ll end up sharing the bunkhouse with three or four pre-adolescent, Alaska Native boys (from Kodiak to California), a Navy Seal, and a Navy SWCC (Special Warfare Combat Craft) operator, all there to be schooled in survival skills from descendants of the land’s original inhabitants. I’m later honored by the opportunity to read stories of the Alutiiq people (Sugpiat) to the boys at night before going to sleep, and during the day on the beach. Jerin, a boy from another bunkhouse, beseeches me one day to read him a tale about a human-devouring, barnacle-covered sea monster as he and I stare at the ocean’s kelp-carpeted rocks. I see love and appreciation for the written word twinkle in Jerin’s eyes, and hear genuine curiosity in his questions about the legends. Walking through the woods, thrushes and kingfishers zip through lime green spruce branches. Sea otters and porpoises peek their heads up from the waves out toward Whale and Hog Islands across the bay. One morning, a band of four deer dance on the sandy beach at low tide. By the light of an oil lamp, an ancient tool of the Alutiiq people (Sugpiat), campers are instructed at opening ceremony to be “Bear Aware.” Everyone is to whistle loudly three times if a bruin is sighted, inviting help and assistance. Though no bear, or even bear scat, is ever spotted throughout the week, we all rest soundly knowing an armed leader is on duty.

Jerin and Adam read a story about human-devouring, barnacle-covered sea monster. photo by Mariko Kinikin

As an English Language Arts teacher at West Anchorage High School, I am coming to this camp after being selected by the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion program. Surrounded by strangers, I feel most in my element in a classroom yurt, a beige, circular tent at the top of a hill, with the Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) Though the main purpose alphabet hanging from the ceiling. of this particular camp is to The written Alutiiq teach outdoor survival—how (Sugpiaq) language itself was established in to build a fire and lean-to, the last 50 years with perform first aid, fire a rifle, the work of Jeff Leer, a linguist who conducted even paddle a kayak— research at the I observe the survival of University of Alaska Fairbanks. Though something else entirely: the main purpose of language of Alutiiq (Sugpiaq). the this particular camp is to teach outdoor survival—how to build a fire and lean-to, perform first aid, fire a rifle, even paddle a kayak—I observe the survival of something else entirely: the language of Alutiiq (Sugpiaq). The day’s weather forecast, the agenda, and other Alutiiq (Sugpiag) phrases are written in Alutiiq

(Sugpiag) on the daily schedule hung in the eating hall. I am excited for the chance to eat curried seal, my first experience with eating the curious selkielike creature of the sea, and am pleasantly surprised by the flavorful texture. I also enjoy hearty portions of salmon. After breakfast and morning chores, and before lunch, a language class is held in the large yurt. As a lover of language in all forms and finesses, I am home here. During language class, we sing the Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) alphabet to the tune of the common alphabet song and practice common Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) phrases. I am drawn to “Qunukamken,” or “I love you.” I feel exhilaration as I connect with this future generation, their longstanding Alaska Native heritage, and the passing on of living, Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) words. I also pursue conversations outside class with Robert “Bobby” Morrison a 75-year-old elder who tells me he is part Sugpiaq, part Russian, and part John Wayne. Bobby and I connect after I extend my hand and introduce myself by saying, “I’m Adam.” Little did I know that Bobby is a lover of palindromes and, to him, “I’m Adam” almost sounded like “Madam Adam.” Bobby and I laugh, and share many palindromes and riddles throughout our time together at camp. One afternoon, Bobby invites me back to his A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 20 16


program notes: ECCI

Bobby Morrison at a firearms demonstration. photo by Mariko Kinikin

bunkhouse. We walk together on the trail, hemmed in by Sitka spruces, with his black toy poodle, Kinguk (pronounced “king-ook”), in tow. I learn that “kinguk” means “bug,” and Kinguk was given the name because Kinguk was the runt of the litter. Bobby shows me an amazing harmonica collection, a harp in every key, and a shimmering Martin guitar. He plays a polka version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on his harmonica and a calypso version of The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” Bobby and I at one point discuss the word “today” or “ernerpak” (pronounced “ug-a-nuk-puk”). He says he doesn’t write in Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), and suggests that I just work on sounding things out phonetically in Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) the best I can. Bobby says “there is a word for everything in Aluttiq,” and offers me a rhyme that sticks with me. It is pronounced phonetically as: Unga-leek-chuck (many and growing) A-lug-a-nut (berries) Ug-a-nuk-puk (today)

I understand this as “many berries are growing today,” in English, as the parentheses indicate. While observing the children at the camp, though, I see “many and growing berries today.” One day I talk with Kavik, age 11, who started learning Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) at age 6 during afterschool groups on Kodiak Island. Kavik says he was familiar with Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) before beginning


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“Survivor Camp” at Dig Afognak. Kavik says he wanted to learn Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) to learn more about his elders and his-story (emphasis and spelling added). “It takes a while to learn,” Kavik says. “It takes a long time.” Children like Kavik, living in areas on Kodiak near the camp, will take Alutiiq 1-2 in high school. Alutiiq is also offered through the University of Alaska. “No matter how small and minuscule it might be, the Alutiiq language kids learn at camp will help them when they take Alutiiq in school, and in their lives,” says Susan “Susie” Malutin (mother of Denise and Neil), camp leader and teacher of the Northern style of speaking Koniaq Alutiiq. She takes the time to show me a pair of beautiful sea otter mittens she hand-sewed that are as soft as the sea itself. According to the Alutiiq Museum, Susie is “a self-taught master skin sewer who has dedicated as much time and effort searching for information on ancestral skin sewing, as she has spent documenting and learning Alutiiq words and phrases in an effort to understand how her great grandmothers worked skins and shared knowledge.” I will never forget making “banya bags” with Susie and the campers, sewing by hand for the first time since I was a teenager. A “banya” bag is used for going into a “banya” or bathhouse. The construction of a “banya” house is something the Alutiiq people (Sugpiat) acquired from the Russian influence, a Russian-style sauna

Above : the setting of Dig Afognak “Survivor Camp.” Right: Jerin paddling a kayak. photoS by Mariko Kinikin

or steam bath. Banyas became an amazing way for everyone to decompress at camp after a long day of outdoor activities. Banya bags, or a bag to hold soap, shampoo, and towels, became a desired and coveted item for going to banya. A banya bag resembles a drawstring-cinched tote sack, and is sewn out of donated sweatshirts. I thought this beautifully expressed the spirit of the practice of using every inch of a material and sewing clothing by hand. I spent long Robert “Bobby” Morrison, a hours into the evenings 75-year-old elder, tells me he hand-sewing with Susie and other elders, is part Sugpiaq, part Russian, and asking many quesand part John Wayne. tions about the Alutiiq people (Sugpiat) and their language. I see myself changing as a teacher, and as a human being, after my experience at the Dig Afognak “Survivor Camp.” I think my greatest awareness was further understanding the gravitas of language in a culture and the great responsibility that comes with teaching language arts in a diverse school. As a teacher, the lessons I have learned help me see how important a language is to a culture still healing from colonial subjugation and oppression. I was born and raised in Alaska, but have lived and worked outside of Alaska for more than a decade. Returning to Alaska to live, work, and raise my children, I feel a new awakening and

awareness. To be present and part of an effort to save a culture and a language that were nearly erased from the earth, weighs heavily on my heart. I am also inspired to learn more about the Alutiiq people (Sugpiat), including their language, and to innovate creative ways to become more culturally-responsive for my students. Though the road of learning a new language will be long and arduous, I am certain that better learning Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) and other Alaska Native languages will transform me as a teacher. Not only will I be participating in a fundamental aspect of Alaska Native culture, I will become a part of a surviving, living tradition. Perhaps I will return one day when my children approach camper age, and help out with the music, dance, and language programs at Dig Afognak. I can see how learning and speaking Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) at this camp, as well as future camps, will continue to shape me professionally, personally, and spiritually. I’d like to see myself and my students in my classroom, each and every day, becoming like a field of salmonberries, many and growing. ■ Writer and educator Adam Mackie teaches English Language Arts at West Anchorage High School in Anchorage. Mackie previously taught middle school as well as writing and literature at the university level. He is the author of A New Literacies Dictionary: Primer for the Twenty-first Century Learner and co-editor of Ethics in Higher Education: A Reader for Writers. This is his first article for FORUM. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 20 16



Resonances of Place (Confessions of an Out-of-Town Composer) By John Luther Adams

Editor’s Note : This article by world-renowned composer John Luther Adams originally appeared

in the May 1993 issue of Frame of Reference, the Alaska Humanities Forum’s monthly newsletter at the time. Its table of contents entry read, “Fairbanks composer explores the nuances of sound in our incomparable place—the far north.” Twenty-one years later, Adams was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his symphonic work Become Ocean. This September, the Alaska Humanities Forum hosted three events with Adams in Anchorage: a reading and book signing at Cyrano’s Playhouse, a presentation and reception at the Anchorage Museum, and an installation of his works “Veils” and “Vesper” for two nights, also at the Anchorage Museum. The events were held as part of the Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes and the Federation of State Humanities Councils to recognize the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Pulitzer Prizes, and to celebrate excellence in journalism and the arts.

“Landscape is the culture that contains all human cultures.” —barry lopez


he environments in which we live exert deep and subtle influences on the music we make. The sounds around us—the rhythms of the seasons, the songs of birds, the cries of animals, and the resonances of the elements—are all echoed in the music of a place. The rich diversity of musical expression around the world is largely a result of peoples living for centuries within the bounds of their own cultures and geographies. Today, even in highly urbanized areas where musicians have little or no intimate experience of the natural world, there are qualities of music unique to specific places. In large


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measure, those qualities arise from the vitality and persistence of ethnic traditions. But how did the music of the natural soundscape influence the birth of those traditions? How does where we are influence the music we make? And how might closer listening to the rhythms of place contribute to a renewal of contemporary musics and cultures? Since the early 1970’s, I have lived and worked in out-of-the-way places: rural Georgia, the Nez Perce country of north-central Idaho and, for almost fifteen years now, in Interior Alaska. Not surprisingly, I have given some thought to these questions and to the question of what it means, at the dawn of the next millennium, to be a composer so far removed from the cultural capitals of contemporary society. These questions are of continuing relevance to my work, and

One just might make a new kind of music here that somehow resonates with all this space and silence, cold and stone, wind, fire and ice.

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although I have not arrived at any conclusive answers, I have affirmed for myself some convictions about why I choose to live and work where I do.

Music in the Cold

The natural soundscape and a strong sense of place are deep and enduring sources for my music. Like many of my generation of middle-class North Americans, I grew up in several different places, amid relatively homogenous urban and suburban surroundings. In my twenties, I sought and found my spiritual home in Alaska and made a commitment to pursue my life’s work here. Through deep and sustained listening to the resonances of the far north, I hope to make music which belongs here like the plants and the birds; music informed by worldwide traditions but which can best, perhaps only be made here. As a composer in the far north, I have come to feel increasingly detached from urban attitudes and fashions. After all, the only music which has been here for very long is that which grew here— the dance songs and chants of the Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Inupiat, Aleut, Athabascan, Tlingit, and Haida peoples. There is a sense (illusory perhaps, but exciting nonetheless), that one just might make a new kind of music here that somehow resonates with all this space and silence, cold and stone, wind, fire, and ice.

A Reservoir of Silence There are silences so deep you can hear the journeys of the soul, enormous footsteps downward in a freezing earth. —john haines In his remarkable book The Tuning of the World, R. Murray Schafer uses the term “keynote” to mean the sonic ground of a particular place; the sound against which all others are perceived. Rarely do we listen to these keynotes. Often, they are most conspicuous in their absence. On the coast, the keynote is the roar of surf; on city streets and highways, the roar of the automobile; inside most modern homes and buildings, the 60-cycle electrical hum. The keynote of the northern interior is silence. The rivers are frozen much of the year. Snow mutes


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the land. Even the wind is still, more often than not. With human and animal life spread sparsely over sprawling distances, sound is the exception. This pervasive stillness can attune the ear in extraordinary ways. As Schafer observes: “In the special darkness of the northern winter ... the ear is super-sensitized and the air stands poised to beat with the subtle vibrations of a strange tale or ethereal music.” I listen for that music, in the growl of bootsteps on fresh snow at 40-below zero, in the haunted cry of a boreal owl and the luminous dance of the aurora borealis... Listening carefully, we realize that silence does not literally exist. Still, silence is a deep and mysterious sound-image. In a world going deaf amid a technological din, it is a powerful spiritual metaphor. Much of Alaska is still filled with silence, and one of the most persuasive arguments for preservation of the original landscape here may well lie in its intangible value as a vast reservoir of silence. To be immersed in that silence is to be near the heart of this place. As each sound passes, the silence returns. A vast and ancient silence that has covered this place like a deep, still ocean, since before Time began. Straining, you can almost hear the reverberations of the earth, stirring in sleep, centuries past; the movements of mountains; the passing of a cosmic storm; resonances so enormous that we hear them not with our ears, but from the oldest, darkest core of our being. And other sounds, unspeakably faint and so high you can almost see them, floating on the air, like the sunlight of a summer afternoon, ten-thousand years ago.

Sonic Geography

The words of Barry Lopez, quoted at the beginning of this essay, have the undeniable ring of truth. Deep within the human imagination, we sense that nature itself is our ultimate source of creative forms and energy. And most of us tend to think of landscape as the ultimate ground of nature. To be sure, the ideal of the sublime landscape has inspired many great works of human culture. Yet there is another sense in which the notion of landscape limits our understanding and experience of place. When Lopez speaks of landscape, the word is full of rich connotations derived from intimate personal experience of the natural world. But for many of us, landscape is something we view from a distance, within the frame of a painting, on the

screen of a television set, or through the window of a speeding automobile. Such encounters with place are at best thought-provoking and inspiring. All too often, they are superficial. In whatever sense we understand the concept, landscape alone is no substitute for authentic personal experience of being in a place. As with any true intimacy, this takes time. We can view a landscape in a matter of seconds. But it can take a lifetime to truly know a place. In my recent work, I aspire to move beyond simple landscape painting with sound to explore the larger territory I call “sonic geography;” that region between environment and culture, between place and imagination.

referential phenomenon, the significance of which usually rests in the making and hearing of sounds within a specific cultural context. In most musical compositions, the relationships between the sounds mean as much or more than the sounds themselves. The primal music of bird songs, animal cries, the voices of wind and water, remind us of the strange power of pre-symbolic voices and nonmetaphoric listening. By integrating something of the flow of the wild soundscape into human music, we may expand our awareness to encompass not only the symbolic strictures of musical semantics, but also those profound and ancient connections between us and the larger, older world.

Music and the Wild Soundscape

World Musics and Internationalism

Listening attentively to the music of the natural world, we encounter a different sense of “Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible.” time than that of most human music. The rhythms —wendell berry are often more subtle and complex. Tempos can be extreme—very much faster or slower than In the past fifty years, with the advent those to which we of widespread sound recordings, our awareare accustomed. ness of the musics of the world has broadened dramatically. Composers of Western “art” But ultimately, the music of the natural music have begun to integrate sounds, forms, soundscape leads us and instruments from all over the world into their work, at an unprecedented rate and to an away from any notions of tempo and rhythm unprecedented extent. The influence of non(which imply the Western musics on recent music in the West temporal “grid” of a has been remarkably healthy in many ways. But, ironically, our passion for the ethnic musical regular “beat”) to a broader experience traditions of the world has coincided with the of the organic flow of decay of many of those same traditions. Time. Deep listening Mass communications and marketing are into wild sounds not sidious for the ways in which they can transform only expands our authentic voices into mere fashions and commodiperceptions of the ties. As little-known ethnic musics become widely relationships between popularized, they may also become homogenized. sounds in time and The new “world beat” may contain within it the space, it can also seeds of a kind of cultural colonialism, through expand our understanding of musical meaning. which the unique idioms of specific places are Wild sounds, as they occur in the world, are devoured by the voracious machinery of the not symbols, subjects, or objects. Inherently, they “music industry.” Implicit in much of the currently do not represent or evoke anything. They simply fashionable cultural-crossover is an attitude which sound. Their greatest power and mystery lie in views the world as a storehouse of raw materials their direct, immediate, and non-referential for our convenience and amusement. Whether the product is automobiles, hamburgers, or compact nature. If we listen deeply enough, occasionally discs, the arrogance is the same. we may simply hear them, just as they are. Even if we listen metaphorically, each individual sound Cultural exchange is as old as humanity and a natural process of cultural evolution. But I believe reverberates with its own unique resonance. that any new “global” vision of culture should be Music, on the other hand, is generally quite a different matter. It is inherently a symbolic and based on an unwaivering commitment to cherish

Much of Alaska is still filled with silence, and one of the most persuasive arguments for preservation of the original landscape here may well lie in its intangible value as a vast reservoir of silence.

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Wild sounds, as they occur in the world, are not symbols, subjects, or objects. Inherently, they do not represent or evoke anything.



and sustain the diversity of local cultures. Artistic Toward New Indigenous Musics pluralism is not only necessary to cultural vitality, it is also, quite literally, a matter of cultural “I will build a new culture, fresh as a young animal. survival. It will take time... It will take time... There will be Diversity is an essential characteristic of healthy time.” biological systems. This is an incontrovertible —r. murray schafer law of nature. And the same may be said of human culture. The extent to which we realize Composers and sound artists all over the the imperative for diversity in art and culture world are turning their ears to the music of the will inevitably shape our consciousness, our earth, in the places they call home. Conversant fundamental attitudes toward the earth itself, and, with the broadest range of musics from other ultimately, our own survival as a species. times and places, these artists have consciously chosen to listen to and work with the sources most closely at hand. In doing so, they are helping The Indigenous Context create genuine, viable alternatives to a dominant, cosmopolitan monoculture. This is not self-conscious primitivism or “We are here on this earth, simplistic regionalism. It is an essential part of a tribe, a vital current in the flow of human culture and anybody.” consciousness. The musical explorations and —pawnee song discoveries of the 20th century have given us a wealth of new tools—musical and technical—with Like the first photographs of the Earth which to work. But in order to fulfill that most taken from space, recordings of music from other basic creative need to perceive and recreate order cultures have given us in the West a radically new perspective on the world of music. But, as Wendell between ourselves and the world around us, we must continually renew our connections with Berry observes: “Look at one of those photographs of half the earth, taken from outer space, and see if older, deeper sources. There is perhaps a certain naivety in this you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to attitude. But in such a jaded and cynical age, see where you are, you will have to get out of your a little naivety may be salutary. Much of the space vehicle, out of your car, off your horse, and music we make from this beginning may sound walk over the ground.” The same can be said for rough or tentative, especially compared with truly hearing where you are. the facile gloss and technical brilliance of more The longer I live in Alaska, the more I am cosmopolitan styles. But in time, more complete drawn to the musics of its indigenous Eskimo and mature statements will follow. and Indian peoples, and the more I find my work Writing about a festival of indigenous Hispanic influenced by those musics, which sound so fully music in New Mexico, his home, Peter Garland the sympathetic resonances of thousands of years expresses his amazement at the “integrity and of living and listening in this place. The sheer survival of those peoples and their musics, in survival of this music,” and observes that “this light of the physical adversities presented by their kind of regionalism is now no longer an isolated homeland and the incredible social upheavals one, but one that embraces its own values—in the confronting their cultures, is also a continuing face of everything else in the world.” source of inspiration. For those of us who have lost a sense of our own, I hope something of the energy and spirit of in the face of the mass media, pop culture, and indigenous Alaskan musics may eventually find “everything else in the world,” such musics remind its way into my own music. But I am unavoidably us that we can still rediscover and reclaim our someone else, of another history and another own and, along with it, a deeper sense of who and culture. What I hear in other musical traditions where we are. While maintaining appreciation (as in nature) will be filtered through my own and respect for musics from all other times and contemporary perspective and experience. So my places, we can begin to make new indigenous search must be to find the resonances of this place musics, here and now. ■ within myself.

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2016 Annual Humanities Grants Anchorage Cultural Summit Keys to Life Anchorage / $10,000

Adak: Birthplace of the Winds Ben Huff Adak / $6,000 Photographer Ben Huff published The Last Road North, a critically acclaimed collection of photos from the Dalton Highway, in 2014. Huff, based in Juneau, first traveled to the island of Adak, in the Aleutian Chain, in 2015. He found a ghost town, with a mere 70 residents, though the island once was home to 6,000 people during the Cold War, when it was a strategically important location for the U.S. armed forces. Adak was also a strategic base against the Japanese during World War II, and its military past is scattered across the island, with remnants of its military history in ruins, forming a bleak landscape. Huff is continuing to visit the island and capture the ghosts of its past in photographs, to be exhibited and featured in various publications (see story, page 20).


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Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac Alaska Marine Conservation Council Various Locations / $9,500

Alaska Young Fisherman’s Almanac is a publication of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC). “This book project captures the sometimes magical, sometimes mundane experiences and stories constituting young fishing livelihoods in Alaska today,” AMCC’s Rachel Donkersloot explains. The almanac will include everything from haikus to how-to essays, like the top ten ways to prepare salmon on a boat, along with valuable fishing life lessons from veteran fishermen. The book project follows the founding of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network in 2012, an organization created as a response to the “graying of the fleet.” “We want the almanac to be a practical resource as well as an eclectic catalog of the human-environment connections and curiosities central to this way of living,” Donkersloot says. “It’s as much about the multigenerational nature of our fisheries as it is about the next generation.”

The Anchorage Cultural Summit, held on September 17 this year, brought together a group of cross-cultural Anchorage residents, both community leaders and young people, for “a chance for all voices of all ages and cultures to contribute ideas about an action plan for how our community can become more culturally integrated,” says co-organizer Marie Acemah. “Quite recently it dawned on me that the whole world is literally and metaphorically in Anchorage.” Acemah’s fellow project director is Shirley Mae Springer Staten. “I connected with kindred spirit [Staten], and was intrigued by ideas that she had been working on with several people about dialogue on what we can do as a community to harness the beauty and power of our diversity to connect and become better,” Acemah says. A seven-minute film documenting the Anchorage Cultural Summit is in production.

Collaborative Language Institute University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks / $9,800

Anchorage Public Library Book Bike Anchorage Public Library Anchorage / $5,000 “There was no one inspiration for the Library a Go-Go, our mobile library on a bike,” says Sarah Preskitt, project director for the Anchorage Public Library Book Bike. The Book Bike is an electric bicycle with a trailer containing books for all ages to check out, as well as books donated by the Friends of the Library to give away to people without library cards. The Book Bike and trailer made their debut in late June at the Anchorage PrideFest and Equality Parade. Unlike “Bookmobiles,” classic mobile libraries contained in motorized vehicles (often vans), the Book Bike has the versatility to escape the street system and cruise Anchorage’s trails. It has a WiFi hotspot and there’s a laptop aboard, so residents can sign up for library cards as well as check out books. “Alaska summers are so short and intense, and there can be many demands on people’s time,” Preskitt says. “With so many residents and tourists out in our parks, on our trails, and exploring our neighborhoods, it made sense to bring the library and its resources outside to them.” The Alaska eBike Store, Anchorage Parks and Recreation, and Anchorage Makers all collaborated on the project.

Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites Project Jukebox – Phase II University of Alaska Fairbanks Various Locations / $7,650

The Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites Project Jukebox, online and at the UAF Rasmuson Library, is a collection of oral histories from individuals whose work was related to Alaska’s missile defense system during the Cold War. The grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum is allowing organizers to add up to seven interviews to the existing collection, including a soldier who commanded one of the batteries at the age of 23. “He was so young; he never really recognized how much responsibility it was,” says project director Linda McCartney. “None of them at the time really understood the gravity—later on they realized, ‘I worked on a nuclear missile site.’” The new oral histories will be added to the existing online catalog, for researchers worldwide to access.

The fifth biennial Collaborative Language Institute began June 20 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It’s a series of classes, workshops, public talks, and practicums focused on documenting and learning to teach endangered languages. Through its first two weeks, a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum sponsored daily hour-long plenary talks by linguistic scholars on topics related to language revitalization and teaching methods for endangered languages. “It’s really an intensive language experience for students and people interested in working with language,” says Lawrence Kaplan, the project director. Among the speakers were Fibbie Tatti, of the Sahtuotine First Nation in Canada’s Northwest Territories, a speaker, writer, and storyteller of the North Slavey language; and Allan Hayton, who has developed theater productions of Shakespeare’s plays in various endangered Alaska indigenous languages. Attendees represented every continent but Antarctica, “from graduate students to community representatives to community people trying to figure out how to work with their language,” Kaplan says. This year marked the first time Alaska has been host to the Collaborative Language Institute.

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2016 Annual Humanities Grants


Dirigibles of Denali Nathan Shafer Various Locations / $8,500

Katie John Collection Alaska History Conservancy Mentasta Village / $10,000

Few people have heard of Denali City and Seward’s Success, two planned but never built “domed cities” in central Alaska. Dirigibles of Denali includes augmented reality renderings of Denali City and Seward’s Success on the sites where they were intended to be built. Seward’s Success was proposed in 1968, but scrapped in 1972, after which Denali City, a new capital of the state, was proposed in the foothills of Denali. Both were imagined with biodomes for regulating the environment, and the project takes its name, “Dirigibles of Denali,” from one of the intended methods of transporting visitors to Denali City. The project is as futuristic as its subjects—with a mobile device, an app will place video, audio, and virtual environments over images in the book (see story, page 10).

Dr. Cynthea L. Ainsworth has worked for 30 years collecting audio and video recordings documenting the life of Katie John, the traditional Ahtna Indian elder from Mentasta Village who passed away in 2013. With the partnership of John’s daughter, Norah John David, and John’s granddaughter, Kathryn John Martin, Dr. Ainsworth has curated the Katie John Collection. A grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum is assisting the team in its pre-planning for the digitization of the collection. “On an ethnographic stage, Katie’s life history is a glimpse of a traditional lifestyle that to some extent is still being practiced—it’s a living culture—but her approach to it, and the way that she did it, the way she practiced her tradition and the way she remembers it, and talks about it, all of those things are what make this collection important,” Dr. Ainsworth says. “Many of the aspects of that lifestyle have not been published yet.” Digitizing and protecting the recordings from the last 27 years of Katie John’s life will ensure the collection’s future accessibility.

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The Miracle That Didn’t Happen: The Alaska Resettlement Plan Alaska Jewish Museum Anchorage / $10,000 Recent events in the Middle East have raised the issue of asylum and refugee status in communities around the world, including Alaska. But it isn’t the first time such concerns have come to the fore in this state. The Miracle That Didn’t Happen: The Alaska Resettlement Plan is an exhibit under development at the Alaska Jewish Museum in Anchorage that examines the efforts and eventual failure of the U.S. government to resettle Jews escaping from Nazi Germany in Alaska during the 1930s and ‘40s. “I will be curious to come across individuals that find similarities between the immigration and refugee situations then and now,” says curator Leslie A. Fried. The “Alaska Development Bill” of 1940 was never approved by Congress. “I find it interesting how attempts to assist in the immigration of desperate families from Europe were also mired down in lack of timely communication, indifference, confusion, and in-fighting within the government,” Fried says. The exhibit will include photographs, transcripts of political debates, booklets extolling the virtues of the Alaska Territory, and letters of requests to resettle from German Jews.

Rural Documentary Film Classes Institute of the North Various Locations / $10,000 Revealing Their Faces: Tlingit Master Artists and Their Descendants KTOO Juneau / $10,000

Revealing Their Faces: Tlingit Master Artists and Their Descendants is a half-hour documentary in production by KTOO, scheduled to air on public television throughout Alaska in May 2017. “There really hasn’t been much study of Tlingit masters,” says Cheryl Snyder, the film’s producer. “It’s looking to explore the work they’ve done and the spirit carried forward from ancestors to descendants.” Snyder is working with tradition bearer Ishmael Hope, an Iñupiaq and Tlingit storyteller, as the narrator and lead writer of the film. They’ve interviewed Tlingit elders, master carvers, weavers, and beadworkers, discussing their crafts and their legacy, as well as why Tlingit art hasn’t been studied as widely as other Pacific Northwest traditions. “Elders we’ve spoken to are really appreciative to talk about their art. It’s really special work,” Snyder says.

“Alaska doesn’t have a lot of rural filmmakers; I’m hoping to plant some seeds so we see more work in the future with a distinct local voice rather than an ethnographic filmmaker—or worse, reality television—coming in from the outside and telling people’s stories for them,” says Patrick Race. He and fellow filmmakers from Lucid Reverie in Juneau are partnering with the Institute of the North and Alaska scholars to present rural documentary film classes to share the unique perspectives of young people in rural Alaska. “After documenting [the Institute of the North’s] 2014 Week of the Arctic, I realized that there were all these important rural voices that just weren’t being heard, and I wanted to figure out a way to tell some of those stories. We’re hoping to work with a group of young folks who are eager to learn more about filmmaking and give them the tools and skills to tell their own stories in their own voices,” Race says. “It’s also a push back against some of the common misconceptions about our state—it’s important that we define our identity and don’t let other people write our story for us.” The classes will provide students with equipment, and instructors will visit rural communities and provide intensive studies, along with long-distance feedback. The project will culminate in screenings in the young filmmakers’ communities.

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2016 Annual Humanities Grants

Tupik: The Documentary Film Holly Mititquq Nordlum & Maya Sialuk Jacobsen Various Locations / $10,000 Continuous Jenny Irene Miller Various Locations / $4,550 The Continuous project is a series of portraits of Alaska Native LGBTQ “two-spirit” people by photographer Jenny Irene Miller, accompanied by the subjects’ stories. “The inspiration for Continuous came from personal experiences, many scholarly essays, books, and other readings, as well as discussion I had with my peers in a Gender in Native American Societies course,” Miller says. “It originated as a research paper, which incorporated my personal story. During that time I knew I wanted to bring this project to life as a portraiture series.” The subjects of the portraits are Alaska Natives who identify as LGBTQ and who maintain strong associations with their tribes’ cultures as well as feminine and masculine perspectives. Miller plans to exhibit the project in galleries across Alaska and eventually publish a book of the photos and their subjects’ stories.


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Te Sha Kee: Tlingit Warrior Holly Cusack-McVeigh, Ken Austin, Indiana University Various Locations / $9,000 Ken Austin, or Te Sha Kee, is a Tlingit man from Hoonah, born in 1934, who was taught the traditional and cultural knowledge to eventually lead his clan and become a Tlingit Warrior. Instead, he served nine tours in Vietnam before returning to Alaska, bringing his values and traditions with him while fighting in the U.S. Army. Te Sha Kee: Tlingit Warrior is an oral history and book project conducted by Holly CusackMcVeigh with Ken Austin that documents his life’s journey. The project “stands to reach Alaska Native youth in deeply meaningful ways,” Cusack-McVeigh says. “If there is any enduring legacy that comes from this project, we hope that it will be one that brings greater pride and a sense of hope to the next generation of Tlingit ‘warriors.’”

The word “tupik” means “tattoo” in the Iñupiaq language. The documentary film Tupik , now in production, explores traditional Inuit tattooing and the women who practice it and carry its marks. The tradition of Inuit women tattooing one another nearly disappeared, but this film’s principals—artist Holly Mititquq Nordlum, from Kotzebue, and tattoo artist Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, from Greenland—are among those promoting the resurgence of the tupik tradition. The documentary “will explore the revitalization of the nearly extinct techniques of skin stitching and hand poking that were once performed regularly throughout the Inuit regions of the world, including Russia, Greenland, the United States, and Canada,” Nordlum says. The film will also follow Nordlum and Jacobsen as they search for the histories of tattooing in their own families, and speak to elders about their families’ tattoos, their cultural significance, and why the tradition ended. ■

Photos by Matt Waliszek

legacy of leadership anchorage

Advanced Alaskans LA alum launches interview and photography series focusing on Alaskans over the age of 70


n late fall 2014, Alaska Council on Economic Education board member Nancy King joined the 18th cohort of Leadership Anchorage. King holds a Master’s Degree in education, owns the Anchorage stock market education company Smart Stock Investing, and is the author of the well-reviewed Stock Market Investing Made E-Z, published in 2000. She’s also the Alaska coordinator for the Stock Market Game, a national online simulation of global capital markets that promotes financial literacy for students in grades 4-12. Since graduating from Leadership Anchorage, King joined the program’s Alumni Council as well as LA’s Community Impact Team. She is 78 years old. “When I first became part of Leadership Anchorage, I was immersed with a group of people in their 30s and 40s who were talking about their social and professional networks of peers who, like them, were very active in making a positive impact in Anchorage,” says King. “And I kind of whined to myself, ‘Where is my network? Where are those of my demographic who are still active on that level?’ After several days of bemoaning it hit me, ‘Well, I’m part of Leadership

Anchorage now, I guess I could lead the way.’” As a result, King launched Advanced Alaskans, a media project to document the current motivations and achievements of Alaskans over the age of 70 who remain determined to keep making a difference in the lives of fellow Alaskans. “Advanced Alaskans are those who are near or way beyond retirement age but still actively involved in their communities,” says King. “I want to inspire others who may be feeling dissatisfied or feeling sidelined. If you are an Advanced Alaskan or if you know of one, let me hear from you.” The first phase of Advanced Alaskans is a series of condensed and edited interviews accompanied by photographic portraits, to be gathered and published online and in book form. Beginning on the next page are the first three interviews and portraits in the series. The interviews of Bill Hall and Barb Robek were conducted and written by King. The interview with King was produced by FORUM magazine editor David Holthouse, who is mentoring King on the Advanced Alaskans project.

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legacy of leadership anchorage

Advanced Alaskans:

Barb Robek W

hen people ask me when I am going to retire, I often repeat my husband’s statement. He says he figures he passed that age long ago, so there is no sense in doing it now. He is putting in 13-hour days at the age of 78. As for me, I have nothing to retire from except the things I want to do. And I do enough to keep life interesting and to benefit other people’s lives. I’m an extrovert, so I need people; I’m wired that way. If I don’t have people, I shrivel. I have friends of all ages; I don’t think of myself as being a certain age. I enjoy my 11-year-old neighbor girl as much as I enjoy my 94-year-old friend. To me we are all about the same age—30 years old. Some people might say that I’m not in touch with reality; I say I enjoy people of all ages. Everyone has their worth. My motto is to be a blessing. That gives me the flexibility to meet whatever need arises. If a friend, who no


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longer drives, would like to go shopping, my car goes everywhere. Meeting and visiting with people energizes me. I like encouraging people. I used to joke that my ministry was going to lunch with friends, but now I realize that is one of my gifts. It is natural for me. Even though I said it jokingly, it really is me and what I enjoy doing. Being a blessing and encouraging people led me to become an active volunteer in Reach for Recovery. Reach for Recovery, through the American Cancer Society, matches women who have survived breast cancer with newly diagnosed women. The American Cancer Society is good at matching women who have had lumpectomies with those facing lumpectomies, or those with mastectomies with those facing mastectomies. As soon as a woman has been diagnosed, she may call the American Cancer Society to request support. When a woman has been diagnosed

with cancer, it totally consumes her. She can’t imagine there will be a life after cancer. In addition, she is faced with treatment decisions, such as what kind of surgery she should have, does she need chemo, or does she need radiation. When I had cancer, my contact person came while I was still in the hospital, right after my surgery. I was so impressed with the materials she brought and the things we talked about I decided I wanted to be a Reach for Recovery volunteer. I am able to give newly diagnosed women an opportunity to talk to someone who is successfully surviving and walking the talk. More recently, I’ve been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to adult immigrants. I have taught Level 5, the top level, for the past 8 years. Many of these students have had jobs in the community that have also helped them learn English. My classes of 5 to 12 students, mostly women, meet at the

Photos by Matt Waliszek

Sunset Baptist Church. I have had students from Peru, Japan, Russia, South Korea—really from all over. Over the years, the school has served students from 40 countries. Anchorage is a melting pot. Through the years, I have noticed that when it is time for a change, the new direction seems to find me. My teaching ESL is an example. Two of my friends—one from Guatemala and the other from Thailand—were actively pushing me toward ESL teaching; however, I had no intention of ever doing that. But one day, I was talking to a neighbor on the phone, and she said they needed a Level 4 ESL teacher. Out of my mouth came, “Oh, what does one have to do to be an ESL Level 4 instructor?” The next thing I knew I found myself taking a class on how to teach ESL to adult students. The opportunity just presented itself. I guess I have to be at that crossroads where I am ready to say yes, and it just feels right.

Advanced Alaskans:

Bill Hall O

ften I find myself thinking about age, wisdom, knowledge, and information. In this regard, I often ponder a statement made by Mary Bateson, the daughter of Margaret Mead, to the effect that wisdom doesn’t come naturally with age. Neither does it come from experience. Instead, it comes from reflecting on experience. As we grow older, we spend more time living in our heads and reflecting than we spend doing physical activities. To help us maintain our health, energy, and mental stability, we must make opportunities to interact with people of all ages. Through conversation we reflect on our experiences, talk about them, and gain new insights about ourselves, learn new things from others, and apply that wisdom and knowledge to the changes going on around us. Currently, I am involved with Let’s Talk Alaska. It’s about holding meaningful community conversations that build relationships and a sense of community. It is about facilitating honest conversations that honor and recognize one’s basic principles and those of others while talking about important community topics. It is about listening and sharing rather than trying to persuade others to believe as you believe. Through Let’s Talk Alaska dialogues, participants discover they have many shared interests, beliefs, and values even though they don’t always agree on how to get there—wherever there is.

Do not fade into your easy chair and deprive the

community of your gifts.

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legacy of leadership anchorage

Let’s Talk Alaska began under the auspices of Alaska Common Ground more than six years ago with a small research contract from the Kettering Foundation. At this time, I am facilitating the conversations. Facilitation is about managing the three Ts—the time, the topic, and the talking. While I can handle the three Ts, it is not always easy for me to remain balanced and non-partisan— especially during discussion of those topics I feel strongly about, such as Alaska’s fiscal situation, and what government can and should provide its citizens. When we [Advanced Alaskans] consider an opportunity to become involved in an activity or project, we are often concerned about obligating ourselves to something we no longer feel we have the energy, stamina, or emotional strength to do. Like me, you may find yourself asking, “Can I really do that? How much will it demand of me? Do I want to take on that responsibility?” However, those thoughts should not stop you from trying new things. Opportunities throughout the community require different levels of time, energy, and passion. You can start something new that fills a need you have identified. Or you can become an advocate for a particular change in the social, political, economic, or educational system. Or you can look around and ask, “What has someone else started that I would like to help with?” There are also those things you can do in small chunks—a little piece at a time. Each of these demands a different level of interest and commitment. Most importantly, know that you are a needed, relevant resource. Do not fade into your easy chair and deprive the community of your gifts. Your wisdom, history, perspective, and desire to be connected and to contribute are important to the community. You are still alive, so make sure you are still “out there” engaged in your community.


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Advanced Alaskans:

Nancy King E

arly in life, I had an image that at this age I would be sitting in my rocking chair on a wide veranda, looking out over an expanse of green lawn with lovely gardens, and sipping a mint julep brought to me by the world. I was going to be living the gracious, leisurely life. Someplace along the line, when I discovered the deep satisfaction from the hard work of teaching someone to read who had previously been unable to do so, my veranda mint julep picture fell by the wayside. Instead of leisure, my life at this age is about producing something of value for other people’s lives. I am compelled to contribute; that is what drives me. Otherwise, I would end up sitting around talking about my aches and pains; I would die on the vine. I was not put on the earth for that. I was put here to be involved. I was brought up to stay busy. One did not sit when my mother was busy and visible. There were things to be done. My mother also taught me about community involvement. When I moved to Anchorage, I wanted to live someplace where I could take an active part in the community and be more than just a classroom teacher. I could not have chosen a better place to live than Anchorage for that kind of life. I began volunteering with the Anchorage Concert Association as soon as I arrived in town five decades ago. Currently, I am involved with Leadership Anchorage, and I’m the Alaska Coordinator for the national Stock Market Game (SMG). The Stock Market Game, a hands-on financial market simulation, is used in classrooms to reinforce economic, financial market, and personal finance concepts. I get to recruit and support teachers who are using the program in their classrooms.

My first love is my educational therapy work with dyslexic adults and children. More than anything, it thrills me to watch their reading, writing, and spelling skills improve and begin to match and reflect their high intellect. I have come to recognize that my motto in life is learning, testing the knowledge, then sharing it with others to make a difference in their lives. This continually drives me.

Dry times simply seem to be part of the cycle of my life. They Photo by Matt Waliszek

are periods of vast discomfort and impatience with the lack of anything that energizes me. I have found it necessary to remain open and wait and watch. The dry periods in my life are difficult. The fear of boredom and the lack of something meaningful to do is always with me. Those dry times simply seem to be part of the cycle of my life. They are periods of vast discomfort and impatience with the lack of anything that energizes me. I have found it necessary to remain open and wait and watch. Specifically looking for something to do does not seem to work. I just have to remain open, active, have my antenna up, and listen and believe that what is meant to come along will do so. That is difficult. Something has always come along, even though I think each time it will be different and nothing will catch my imagination ever again. My major complaint about this necessary process is that it always takes longer than I would like. I forget there are others, unbeknownst to me, who will be involved; everyone has to “get their ducks in a row.” With this project, I want Alaskans to discover and recognize members of the community who are defying the stereotypical perception of “senior citizens.” I want to inspire other Advanced Alaskans who are dissatisfied and feeling sidelined. I want them to know they have role models showing them how and what to do. I intend to die with my boots on. ■


celebrates —

20 YEARS As Leadership Anchorage enters its 20th session, the Alaska Humanities Forum recognizes longtime Leadership Anchorage supporters Atwood Foundation, TOTE, and the National Endowment for the Humanities for their lasting commitment to Alaska’s premier leadership development program. The Forum offers special thanks to all the Leadership Anchorage alumni and other individual donors whose generosity provides Leadership Anchorage scholarships and programming. Please consider making a gift today to advance Leadership Anchorage for the next 20 years.

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SECOND friday @ the forum October 14–November 8

February 10–March 7

March 10–April 11

Landmarks Keren Lowell Mixed Media

Sense of Direction Gretchen Sagan Mixed Media

No One Will Find Us William Kozloff Spray Paint on Plywood

Landmarks presents a collection of new small-format wall-hung pieces. Lowell examines the kinds of marks humans make on the surface of the ground (roads, fields, trails, repairs), reinterpreting and translating them onto small panels and shield-like reliefs.

Sense of Direction is a series of paintings or landmarks exploring the definite but often vague awareness or impression of the line or course on which one is aimed to move in space, time, and history.

A street art-style narrative about love, loss, and drunken pillow talks. Or maybe it’s about being in your late teens, then your early thirties, with varying degrees of stoicism. Or maybe it’s about lying so you can spend one more night.

Opening Reception: Fri., Feb. 10, 2017, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; artist talk, 6:30 p.m.

Opening Reception: Fri., March 10, 2017, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; artist talk, 6:30 p.m.

Opening Reception: Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; artist talk, 6:30 p.m. November 11–December 6

Upstart Group Exhibit Mixed Media

All opening receptions, exhibits, and artist talks happen in the Alaska Humanities Forum lobby gallery, 161 E. 1st Ave., Door 15, Anchorage.

Upstart features the artwork of emerging Alaskan artists, ages 18 to 25. This exhibit will showcase their stories, ideas, and experiences; and provide a glimpse of the coming arts community and its richness. Opening Reception: Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; artist talk, 6:30 p.m. December 9–January 10

· Finding Na-Mahta’sóoma (My Shadow) James Temte Oil Paintings on Canvas Northern Cheyenne artist James Temte explores his ancestral “shadows” in artifacts created from his culture, finding connections and inspiration for this series of abstract paintings. Opening Reception: Friday, Dec, 9, 2016, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; artist talk, 6:30 p.m. January 13–February 7

Continuous Jenny Miller Photography

Continuous is a portraiture series featuring distinct Alaska Native LGBTQ/two-spirit peoples,who come from unique tribal backgrounds. Opening Reception: Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; artist talk, 6:30 p.m.


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“Halo,” by William Kozloff (March, 2017)

“Moriah Sallaffie,” by Jenny Miller (January, 2017)

“Re.Sol.u.Tion” by James Temte (December, 2016)

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LANGUAGE OF SURVIVAL: Living words at Dig Afognak



SECOND FRIDAY: A New Season of Art and Dialogue


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