FORUM magazine, Fall 2017

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Boom: Oral Histories of Alaska and the Cold War Kindling Conversations: Women, the Military, and Storytelling Preserving the Story Knife Tradition Testing Classical Music in Small-Town Alaska

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


here is one word that comes to mind as I think about this past year: resilience. Communities in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico are rebuilding after the devastation of hurricane season. In California, neighborhoods and cities have been challenged to rise from the ashes. Here in our state, I’ve traveled throughout rural Alaska this year and witnessed the strength of Alaska’s indigenous people as they work to sustain their languages, cultures, and traditional ways of living. I’ve talked to students across the state who are preparing enter the workforce. They know an uphill climb lies ahead, but they’re confident they will succeed. And I’ve listened to many community conversations about our economic and social challenges, including homelessness, climate change, advances in LGBT rights, government budget shortfalls, and the future of public education. In each case, Alaskans recognize we can learn from the past, and we feel confident we will find our way through. A foundation of our work at the Alaska Humanities Forum is to build resilient communities. The humanities equip us with perspectives and practices to do so. In this issue of forum, read how Agnes David and Sue Buchanan are collaborating to revive the Yup’ik tradition of story knife through writing, drawing, publishing, and linguistics (page 4). Artwork is the tool for people living with invisible brain injuries to open dialogues in Unmasking Brain Injury Alaska (page 33). And U.S. Army veteran Shannon Huffman Polson examines how storytelling can improve opportunity, respect, and equality for women in the military (page 26). (The Forum will be hosting conversations on these last two topics; please join us.) This issue also includes the Forum’s annual impact report (page 21). Over the past year, we’ve doubled the number of our partner organizations. We’ve likewise doubled the individuals who financially support our programs. We’ve gotten serious about measuring the impact of our work through increased data-gathering. And we’ve expanded our reach to serve more communities than ever before. It’s all happening because of you, our courageous and dedicated partners. At the Forum, we’re optimistic about Alaska’s future, and energized by the potential of our communities. The data tells us we’re making progress—and it tells us there’s more work to be done. Let’s do it together.

­—Kameron Perez-Verdia, CEO


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BOARD OF DIRECTORS Elizabeth Qaulluq Cravalho, Chair, Kotzebue Chellie Skoog, Vice Chair, Chugiak Kathleen Tarr, Secretary, Anchorage Clayton W. Bourne, Treasurer, Anchorage Lenora Lolly Carpluk, Member-at-Large, Fairbanks Thea Agnew Bemben, Anchorage Bruce Botelho, Douglas Gerry Briscoe, Anchorage Michael Chmielewski, Palmer Anne Hanley, Fairbanks Ernestine Hayes, Juneau Steve Henrikson, Juneau Aldona Jonaitis, Fairbanks

The humanities

Raimundo Martinez, Anchorage

equip us with

Pauline Morris, Kwethluk


Sheri Skelton, Anchorage

and practices

Mead Treadwell, Anchorage

to build resilient communities.

Peter Metcalfe, Juneau Judith Owens-Manley, Anchorage Moira K. Smith, Anchorage

STAFF Kameron Perez-Verdia, President and CEO Ted Leonard, CFO Amanda Dale, Education & Youth Program Coordinator Carmen Davis, Director of Education and Youth Programs Kitty Farnham, Director of Leadership Programs Allison Foust, Youth Program Coordinator Stevie Frakes, Leadership Programs Assistant Jennifer Gibbins, Leadership Programs Manager Nancy Hemsath, Operations Manager & Board Liaison Kari Lovett, Education & Youth Program Manager Dora Moore, Education & Youth Project Associate Jann D. Mylet, Director of Development & Communications Naaqtuuq Robertson, Youth Coordinator & Cultural Specialist Rayette Sterling, Leadership Programs Manager Kirstie Lorelei Willean, Education Programs Coordinator Megan Zlatos, Director of Special Projects & Grants

and Art Director
 Dean Potter Contributors Debra McKinney, Aurora Ford, Agnes David, Joe Yelverton, Miki Sawada, Lee Post, Shannon Huffman Polson, Andrew Rizzardi. Jarett Juarez, Wayde Carroll

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Leland A. Olson photo / UAA-HMC-1064-S574


Steelworkers built an antenna for the Air Force’s White Alice Communications System at Pillar Mountain on Kodiak Island in 1956. Despite the threats of the Cold War, the era brought investment, population, and leadership to Alaska. Page 34.



Stories in the Earth Two old friends publish a new book to preserve the story knife tradition

8 The Boy Who Didn’t Listen to His Parents A story, with a little storyknifing



Free Music A pianist “field-tests” classical music in small-town Alaska

18 DONOR PROFILE Kurt Wong CPA, kung fu teacher

21 Alaska Humanities Forum 2017 Impact Report 25 It Starts With a Spark Introducing the next round of Kindling Conversations

27 KINDLING CONVERSATIONS Stories We Tell and Stories We Don’t For women in the military, the right stories can open paths to success

32 FORUM NOTES Honoring elders Culturally responsive education Unmasking brain injury

34 GRANT REPORT Boom An oral history project archives Alaskans’ stories of the Cold War

43 AFTER IMAGE Juxtaposition Photographer Joe Yelverton captures a moment of reflection ON THE COVER: Classical pianist Miki Sawada spent three weeks traveling Alaska this fall, performing what she called a “field test” of classical music. See page 12. Photo by Andrew Rizzardi. Correction: the photo on the contents page of our Summer issue was from the collection of Kathy Ruddy.

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. ©2017.

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rowing up in Kwigillingok, where the Kuskokwim River Delta meets the Bering Sea, Agnes Lewis David learned early on that wise children obeyed their parents, never mistreated dogs, and honored their ancestors’ ways of living. Children who didn’t suffered the consequences at the hands of ghosts and other supernatural disciplinarians. David learned such values the way others of the region did, through stories passed from generation to generation, including those told by girls through their story knives. Story knives, or yaaruin, as they’re known in Central Yup’ik, are stylized blades carved of bone, ivory, or wood that are used to illustrate scenes on “pages” of mud or snow. To begin, the storyteller would squat with her yaaruin—sisters, friends, cousins huddled around her—and smooth out a square with Two old friends publish a new book the flat side of her blade. With the tip serving to preserve the story knife tradition as a pencil, she would draw symbols and diagrams to illustrate her tale: a house, a family, By Debra McKinney a dog, a river, a kayak, a good child, a naughty child, a ghost. The symbols and their meanings varied from village to village. When it was time to move on to the next scene, she would smooth the page and continue the story on a clean surface. “Each story, most stories, have a moral at the end,” David said recently by phone as she walked to a steam bath. “They tell us not to be noisy in the house, to keep quiet, to listen to our parents. How to take care of the natural plants, the food, even the grass used for making gunnysacks or making rope or baskets. They tell us to respect other people and other people’s properties.” As David tells it, in Kwigillingok, or “Kwig” as the village is called, story knife tales were told mostly in mud, etched into silky alluvial deposits of silt, sand, and clay the color of frigid seas. “These stories were fresh when my mind was fresher, younger,” David said. “I tell you, most of the stories I’ve forgotten at this age. Forgotten. They’ve faded away, faded away. I wish I had them all, but I can’t.” Like so many other causalities of cultural oppression and social change, “storyknifing” is a nearly lost tradition. But David and her longtime friend Sue Buchanan have worked together to preserve the stories David still recalls, publishing them as a book with the help of a $9,600 Alaska Humanities Forum Annual Grant. Story Knife: Yup’ik Storyknife Tales records in words and pictures three traditional stories: “Why We Should Obey Our Moth-


Stories in the

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A story knife illustration by Agnes David, depicting the following passage of “The Boy Who Didn’t Listen to His Parents” (page 8): “One summer day the old lady was out picking berries. She had locked the boy inside the house. She didn’t want him to run away. “


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ers,” “Why We Should Take Care of Dogs” and “The Boy Who Didn’t Listen to His Parents.” In these parables, children who disregard the rules soon regret their transgressions. Even though the children understood, they did not obey their mothers… Suddenly, a faint image of a man appeared. All that could be seen was the man’s head, shoulders, arms, and chest. The rest of his body seemed to be underground. He rose out of the mud floor and blocked the doorway… In addition to its English translation, each story is presented in the old and new Yup’ik writing systems. The first was developed by the Moravian Church for translating the Bible beginning in 1915; the second by linguists working with native Yup’ik speakers beginning in the 1960s, and published by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Alaska Native Language Center in 1982. From mud to paper The two friends and collaborators from opposite ends of the continent met in 1969 when Buchanan, who grew up in New Jersey, came to Kwigillingok to teach elementary school, and David was her classroom aide. At the time, English was, for most, a second language in the village of about 300. Water was hauled from a lake, honey buckets served as toilets, and CB radios were the telephones. David and Buchanan (their last names were Lewis and Taylor at the time) worked together for four years before Buchanan took a social service job in Bethel, then later settled in Anchorage. “We just had a wonderful time teaching and have stayed friends ever since,” Buchanan said. “When she’s in town she stays with me. We laugh; we seem to find the same things funny on a bicultural level.” “Up to this day we call ourselves sisters,” David said. The term “story knife” is written sometimes as two words, sometimes as one, and is often used as a verb. Buchanan saw her first “storyknifing” during recess and after school. “I would see kids outside the school playing, doing different things, but the girls were usually doing story knife drawings in the mud or the snow. Mostly in the mud. In that village, when you got close to a building where it was a little bit warmer, there was a little more mud than snow,” Buchanan said. “And there would be like 10 to 20 people around the girl who was telling the story. It was mostly, but not entirely, girls.”


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As she understands it, grandparents, for the most part, would tell stories, often scary, to teach children how to behave in the world. The girls, from the time they were old enough to handle a story knife up to their early teens, would then retell the stories orally and visually, often adding their own twists, turns, and creative touches. “We told stories of what we heard from our grandparents,” David said. “We heard stories, and what we heard we shared with our friends.”

Kwigillingok in the early 1970s: a story knife made for Sue Buchanan by elder Daniel Iteqaq Mann; Agnes David and Buchanan’s original manuscript; girls storyknifing; and a snapshot of David. Story knife photo courtesy Porcaro Communications; snapshots courtesy of Sue Buchanan

Now the children were certainly sorry they had been so noisy. They huddled together in a corner of the house and were trembling with fear. They cried and yelled for their mothers, but no one seemed to hear them… The women’s interest in saving these tales began as a bilingual language project for their students in the early 1970s. David’s stories and their English translations were typewritten on onionskin paper, the pages then glued to construction paper and stapled together. “The kids loved it,” Buchanan said. “In those days, the kids all knew the stories, so it was a very familiar way to teach English. It was such an intricate part of daily life for young kids, girls particularly. And, of course, the art was symbolic of everything—language, culture, oral tradition.” Those original copies are almost 50 years old, and they look it, well used and ragged around the edges. To publish a sturdy, upgraded edition, the women worked with Bob Thompson, senior art director at Porcaro Communications. The firm donated Thompson’s design and production services. continued on page 10

“I would see kids outside the school playing... The girls were usually doing story knife drawings in the mud or the snow. Mostly in the mud. And there would be like 10 to 20 people around the girl who was telling the story.” —Sue Buchanan

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The Boy Who Didn’t Listen to His Parents As told and illustrated by Agnes David in Story Knife: Yup’ik Storyknife Tales. To fully illustrate the story, 32 more pictures are reproduced in the book. Those here correspond to the highlighted passages. ONCE THERE LIVED A MAN, his wife, and their son. The boy was their only child. They all lived in a small Eskimo village. The village had a chief. He lived in the kashgee (mud house). This chief taught the village boys how to hunt and trap. The man and his wife thought the chief should teach their son. So the boy moved to the mud house. The chief became his teacher. The chief told the man and his wife to build a kayak for their son. The boy needed the kayak to learn how to hunt and trap. So the man and his wife built the kayak. When the boy was twelve years old, he began hunting with the chief. He always took his catch home to his mother and father. The parents told their son never to go out at night time. Even if the boy had to go to the bathroom, he must stay inside the mud house until morning. The boy listened and understood. But one night, the boy woke up and had to go to the bathroom. He looked up at the window on top of the mud house. He saw a little sunlight. He looked at his bucket. He looked at the chief’s bucket. Both buckets were full. Then he told himself he could go outside. He thought there was enough light. So the boy went outside with his bucket. He walked around. Then he emptied his bucket and went to the bathroom. He looked around and then got up. The boy was just about to go back into the mud house. But a very old lady came into sight. She wouldn’t let the boy go inside. The boy had never seen her before. She smiled and said she had been waiting a long time. The boy asked why. She did not answer. She only said she would take him away right now. The boy wanted to take his bucket back inside the mud house. The old lady wouldn’t let him. She covered the boy’s eyes with cloth and took him away. The old lady and the boy left that place. Soon the ground seemed very soft. The boy thought the ground was going up and down when he stepped on it. They stopped for a rest. The old lady let the boy look around. He did not know where he was. She said they were close to her house. Again she covered his eyes, and they walked on.


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Soon they came to her house. The old lady uncovered the boy’s eyes. He saw just one house next to a big river. The water was so clear that he could see the fish swimming. The boy also saw some old kayaks. But he did not see any men. He saw no other people at all. Inside the house, the boy asked the lady if she lived alone. Her answer was yes. She said that men sometimes came, but all the men died. As she talked, she lit the stove. The old lady gave the boy some berries. She let him sit on a bed. From that day on, the boy sat on the bed. The old lady never let him get up. And all she let him eat was berries.

One summer day the old lady was out picking berries. She had locked thethe boyboy was twelve years old, he began hunting with the chie When inside the house. She didn’t want him to He always took his catch home to his mother and father. run away. Then he felt somethingTangaurluktluguk hard under his kula malrugnek atlrakunglune pisulanglune nukatlp mattress. It was a malegtluku. Pitanetluguk angayukagminun tunaktluke. bone. The boy thought it was a person’s Tan’gaurluq-llu-gguq qula malrugnek allrakungluni pissulangluni bone. He covered the nakalpiaq maliggluku. Pitani-llugguq angayuqaagminun tun’aqluk bone and hid it under his bed. Soon he heard a noise from the window. He looked up and saw a young lady. She wore a good parka and nice mukluks. She asked how he was. He said his legs were weak. Then she asked what he had found under his mattress. He told her about the bone which he had moved. She saidThe thatold the bone lady and the boy left that place. Soon the ground seemed very soft. was magic and made his legsThe weaker. She boy thought the ground was going up and down when he stepped on it. told him to use his legs more often. Then Arnasagamtlu she said she would come soon to take himtangaurluk maliktluku nuninik ayautluku. Akkanuntlu pivkinane

nuna unairutlune. Taunatlu tangaurluk umyuartektlune nuna atsitmuktaryutluku

Arnassagaam-llu tan’gaurluq malikluku nuniinek ayaulluku. Ak’anun-llu pivkenan nuna unairulluuni. Tauna-llu tan’gaurluq umyuarteqluni nuna acitmuqtaaryukluku



i ki.

away. But now he should tell the old lady that no one had come. If the old lady doesn’t believe that, then the boy should say a little bird had come by the window, had sung some songs, and had flown away. The boy understood, and the young lady left. Soon the old lady came home. She looked at the window and asked who had come. The boy replied, “No one.” But the old lady didn’t believe him, because she saw light coming in the window. Again she asked who had come. The boy told her the story about the bird. She believed this story. She thought the bird had made the little hole in the window. The next day the old lady went out to pick berries. Soon the young lady came with a grass basket. The basket had a long string, also made out of grass. The young lady let the basket down through the window. She then told the boy to sit inside the basket. She pulled the basket up with the boy inside. Soon he was on top of the house. Then he got on her back. She put a belt around him so he wouldn’t fall off. Once the boy was tied tightly, the two began to go. The young lady walked very fast. Soon they heard someone talking far behind them. The young lady knew it was the old lady. But she told the boy not to be scared. The boy was scared, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t want the young lady to know how he felt. After some time, they came to the young lady’s house. She put the boy on the ground. She told him to go inside the house. But the boy saw some angry animals on the porch. They looked like lions. The young lady told him to spit in their mouths if they opened their eyes. He did this. Then these animals went back to sleep. The boy went inside the house. The house was very clean and nice. It wasn’t like the old lady’s house. He really liked this house. Soon the boy heard the two ladies fighting outside. In this fight, the young lady killed that old lady. The young lady came in and told the boy not to be scared. She put him on the bed. Then she began to cook some good food for the boy. She took

good care of him. Slowly, the boy became stronger and stronger.

All winter long the young lady took good care of the boy. She made lots of mittens too. These mittens were made of fish skins. She told the boy that he could go home when he was stronger. She wanted him to use these mittens when he went home. When the boy was stronger, the young lady put him on a sled. She gave him many fish skin mittens. She told him to put on new mittens when the used ones got torn. She also told him just to throw the used mittens away. This was all she gave him. He had no food. Then the boy left for his village. Every time a mitten became When the boy was stronger, the young lady put him on a sled. She gave him many fish skin worn, he put onmittens. a newWhen one. Soon was She also to put onthe newyoung mittens when the used onesShe gotgave torn. him She also the told boyhehim was stronger, lady put him on a sled. many fish s wearing his lasttold twohim mittens. were just toThese throw the used mittens away. This was all she gave him. Heones had no mittens. She also told him to put on new mittens when the used gotfood. torn. She al told him throw just about to wear out when he just sawtothat hethe used mittens away. This was all she gave him. He had no foo ikamragnun tleluku. Tsikerlukutlu amtlernek was home. He tookTangaurluktlu the mittens pinarian, off, and nasaurlum he alematnek neket kitsitnekpinarian, piliatlmenek. Tuai atlgungakata Tangaurluktlu nasaurlum ikamragnunatlanek tleluku.atelaskitluku Tsikerlukutluatlat amtlernek walked to his parents’ house. nangakata egtelaskitluke. Taukunek tuai alimatnek tsikera nekkainek pivkinaku. alematnek neket kitsitnek piliatlmenek. Tuai atlgungakata atlanek atelaskitluku atla When the boy was nangakata egtelaskitluke. Taukunek tuai alimatnek tsikera nekkainek pivkinaku. inside, he saw thatTan’gaurluq-llu the pinirian nasaurluum ikamragnun ekluku. Cikirluku-llu amllernek stove was off. The houseneqet aliimatnek qeciitnek piliallminek. Tua-i allgungaqata allanek at’elaasqelluku all’at Tan’gaurluq-llu pinirian nasaurluum ikamragnun ekluku. Cikirluku-llu amllernek nangaqata egtelaasqelluki. Taukunek tua-i aliimatnek cikiraa neqkainek aliimatnek neqet qeciitnek piliallminek. Tua-i allgungaqata allanekpivkenaku. at’elaasqelluku all was very cold. There was no wood in the house. nangaqata egtelaasqelluki. Taukunek tua-i aliimatnek cikiraa neqkainek pivkenaku He saw his mother wearing her parka. The ruff was pulled right around her face. She did not look around at him. She thought it was some village child visiting her house. So she didn’t even look. The boy told her to look around. He said, “It’s me! Your son.” When she saw her son, she was very happy. Then the boy began to chop some wood for the stove. The happy mother began working, too. He took the mittens off, and he walked to his parents’ house. the end. Taukutlu alematne yuluke piyualune angayukagminun eterlune

Taukuk-llu aliimatni yuuluki piyualuni angayuqaagminun iterlun A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 017 9

A friend of Agnes David recorded the now-rare sight of girls storyknifing (with table knives) in Kongiganak in 2017. Below, storyknifing as recorded in Bethel in 1936 (black and white photo) and Hooper Bay in 1940. Kongiganak: Photo courtesy of Agnes David. Bethel: Hans Himmelheber, Museum Rietberg FHH-15-14 / Hooper Bay: George A. Morlander, UAF-1997-108-434

“I had never heard of story knives before,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a dying tradition, and I was really happy to see it preserved in this way.” He gave the book artistic touches befitting the topic. The majority of the books—now in school libraries in the Lower Kuskokwim School District, the Alaska Native Language Center, and other language and cultural centers—have wirering bindings for durability. But Thompson set aside about two dozen copies for special binding, and spent two days hand-stitching them with a large-gauge needle and hemp twine. He would have liked to use basket-weaving grasses from the region, but that wasn’t practical. Instead, grasses and weavings are represented in images along the margins of each page, created from baskets he photographed from Buchanan’s personal collection. The paper stock used for the book was thoughtfully chosen, as well. “I wanted to use an uncoated sheet to give it more texture and a more earthy feel than a slickcoated sheet. I mean, the story knife is all about drawing in the earth, right?” A grandfather’s gift The origin of the story knife is unclear. Early explorers mentioned them in their diaries, and archeologists have determined they go back at least 300 years. What is known is that traditional story knives were typically made of bone, ivory, or driftwood. In David’s village, wood came to them from far up the Kuskokwim River. Some knives were plain, some beautifully carved or scrimshawed. According to accounts from elsewhere in southwestern Alaska, story knives could even be simple blades of ice, preserved each night by burying them in the snow. “I used the story knives that my grandfather made me,” said David, who lives in Kongiganak now, not far from where she and her 12 siblings grew up. “My older sister had ivory ones. Sometimes I used hers, but mostly my story knives would be wood. Mine were made out of wood because I would lose them.” David’s grandfather, a subsistence provider and woodworker who lived to be somewhere around 100, she thinks, was a patient man. “He never, never, ever said, ‘You keep losing your story knife!’ He made me lots because I was the one who would always lose them. I’d lose one and I’d come by and he’d already have made another for me. He never complained about making me story knives,” David said. “Once in a good while, I see little girls storyknifing but there’s hardly any now. They don’t spend time with story knife like when we were young because we didn’t have technology around us, you know. No TV, no phone, no radio. Nothing.”


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Agnes David and Sue Buchanan in Anchorage in October, 2017. Photo by Wayde Carroll

Storyknifing outside the box Marty Hintz, a Fairbanks storyteller, has tried in her own way to keep storyknifing alive and relevant. She grew up in Bethel, about 80 miles northeast of where David did. Her experience with story knives was different than David’s; the stories were more contemporary and often made up on the spot. “I used them as a child growing up because that’s what our parents used to distract us while they were setting up fish camp, or doing fish camp, or to keep us from running around in traffic in Bethel. We didn’t really have traditional story knife stories. We were coming up with our own stories, our own pictures.” Some of her story knives were made by her father, carved with his pocketknife from alder or spruce logs that drifted down the Kuskokwim River. But she would use whatever was handy—a stainless steel table knife, in a pinch. “And then the barges started coming in and strapping all their lumber with long strips of very pliable, bendable metal bands.

So those became our story knives. And then we would smash our mothers’ big spoons flat and use those, too.” Several years ago, when Hintz organized a family reunion at fish camp near Bethel, she carved wooden story knives as gifts for everyone who attended. “All the women my age squatted down and were like, ‘Ooh, we haven’t done this in so long.’ And the younger girls were watching and the boys were paying attention to their grandmothers.” And then the boys started using theirs like swords, she recalled with a laugh. “Lots of people say, ‘Well, that was a girl thing.’ But for us as children, it was not just a girl thing. The best story knives were by my uncle and my dad. They told hunting stories and building and those kinds of stories. And don’t let anybody tell you, ‘you only make this kind of design.’ You’re the artist of your story, and that’s how you draw it. “That’s how I know story knives. I know yaaruin that way.” Although the story knife tales in her life

have been more freestyle, improvisational even, she appreciates what David and Buchanan have done to preserve the older, traditional ways. “I’m glad it’s out there,” she said of the book. “And I’m glad people are interested in bringing it back.” Lawrence Kaplan, director of UAF’s Alaska Native Language Center, is also grateful for this book, and not just for the stories and drawings, but the language. “I’m very happy for this bilingual addition, in both Yup’ik and English, because the original stories were told in the Yup’ik language and should be published that way. Agnes made an important contribution with this book.” “Storyknifing is an important part of the Yup’ik culture, and according to Agnes, it’s being lost in a lot of villages,” he said. “Other forms of entertainment are taking over. Her work is helping preserve an aspect of the culture that deserves to be carried on.” ■ Alaska journalist Debra McKinney is a frequent contributor to FORUM.

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Miki Sawada plays at the Fairview Inn in Talkeetna in August.



Photo by Jarett Juarez

iki Sawada awoke in the back of a U-Haul. She was 20 miles south of Healy, in a highway pullout near Denali National Park. Next to her in the van was an upright piano, muffled under a quilt on the fall morning. After breakfast, she went for a hike in the foothills of the Alaska Range. Then she fired up the van and delivered the piano to the Tri-Valley School gym in Healy, her next stop on an ambitious, low-budget, and quietly profound journey to return classical music to the people Sawada’s thesis, tested in gyms, cafés, and community halls around Alaska, is as follows: Classical music has a primal power to

A pianist “field-tests” classical music in small-town Alaska By Dean Potter

Sawada’s program at Trail Lake Lodge in Moose Pass drew an audience of 58 in a town of 300. Anna Milligan was a local guest performer Photo by Jarett Juarez

intimately and directly affect our emotions, perceptions, and intellect. But the constraints of a concert hall—tickets, crowds, remote stages, long programs—limit deep contact between music and listener. Take the music into smaller, more social and casual settings, where musician, instrument, and audience gather in unguarded familiarity, and the primal impact returns. Listeners can soulfully encounter the music—and each other. When not on the road for various gigs, Sawada makes her base in Brooklyn, N.Y. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “How do you get away,” might be Sawada’s question. The answer came to her as a van-and-piano tour. “I conceived the whole thing as a 50-state tour, but Alaska would be a pain to fit into that,” she recalled. “The more I planned it, the more I realized it made sense to just do Alaska.” It would be a proving ground for her ideas and for the logistics of rural touring. She’d never been to the state before. Supported in part by an Alaska Humanities Forum grant, she recruited local partners and planned a route. She called the tour “Gather Hear Alaska.” If you’re looking to take music far from Manhattan institutions, Cooper Landing is a good place start. Sawada played her first date there on Aug. 20, at the school. Traveling with

“Music exercises a part of your brain that knows how to

imagine things, create things, make things happen. With

music, you can imagine what

a better world can look like.”


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videographers Jarett Juarez and Andrew Rizzardi (a documentary about the tour is in the works), she crisscrossed the Kenai Peninsula, drove up the Parks Highway, stopped in Fairbanks, and played all four schools in the Copper River School District. By the time the U-Haul returned to Anchorage on Sept. 8, she had wheeled the piano in and out of the van 25 times. “We used a couple of planks,” she said. “It was awkward, but not too heavy. Sometimes strangers would come and help us.” Nomad “I’m pretty nomadic. In fact, I’m leaving on Friday for four months playing [piano] on a Holland America ship,” Sawada told FORUM by phone in October. “Gather Hear Alaska has something to do with my being nomadic.” Her mobility—New York, Helsinki, Toronto, Vancouver, Japan, Belgium, Sweden, France—is matched by expeditions through musical spaces. Sawada plays new music with contemporary ensembles. She plays old music in unconventional places. She thinks critically about music education and the social and cultural role of classical music. “Musicians have a social responsibility,” urged Sawada. “It’s something everyone needs to ask themselves. You can’t just play music because you like it. That’s no longer good enough. But the way classical musicians are being trained isn’t about those kinds of conversations.” Following a stint at the Yale School of Music in New Haven, Conn., Sawada founded a piano program at Music Haven, an organization that provides mentoring and free music education to students from underserved communities. From there, she started New-

Music4us to connect the worlds of cuttingedge composers and neighborhood music students. NewMusic4us commissions emerging composers to write beginner-level chamber music pieces, then works with students to perform premieres. Beyond bringing opportunities to “music deserts,” Sawada is interested in how classical music can improve social relations across society. “Music exercises a part of your brain that knows how to imagine things, create things, make things happen,” she explained. “With music, you can imagine what a better world can look like.” That power is multiplied when a community gathers to listen to music together. Gather around the piano The piano used to be a gathering place. In homes and taverns and schools and churches, when musicians played, people came to listen and sing. The compact and affordable upright piano was invented in 1826, and until the advent of radio about 100 years later, pianos were frequently at the center of social and family life. “Every house, instead of a TV, had a piano in the living room. It was a very middle-class thing to do, a proper lady thing to do,” said Sawada. “If you were a girl and your family could afford it, you would take piano lessons.” While the piano culture of the 19th century demanded plenty of popular “parlor music,” classical music had an important place, too. Symphonic works were arranged for home performance. Canonical pianist-composers, like Chopin and Liszt, were living celebrities. Such was the popularity of solo piano that another intimate form of classical music, chamber music, was eclipsed. But chamber music—performed by groups small enough to fit into a living room—also provides a model for listening to classical music in comfortable, social settings. “Chamber music was for at-home enjoyment,” Sawada confirmed. “You could have friends over to eat and drink and play.” As gramophones, radios, and televisions entered homes, musicianship exited. Classical music became almost exclusively professional and academic. If you wanted to hear classical music, you bought a ticket, dressed up, and found your seat in a concert hall. “Music itself, as an object, is easy to relate to,” Sawada elaborated. “But all these social constructs have been built around it. The concert-hall model emerged in the mid- to late-19th century. For whatever reason, we decided that it was a great model. It’s sort of stupid that it’s the model we still have.”

Musician, van, piano, landscape. Photo by Andrew Rizzardi

Kenny Lake School. Photo by Andrew Rizzardi

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“Could it be,” Sawada posited, “that the model of classical music presentation, not the music itself, is outdated and inappropriate to today’s culture and society?”

“The quality of silence when the music started was remarkable—the palpable tension in the air when a group is focused and attentive.”


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Deli, school, home It was a Wednesday afternoon in August in Talkeetna. Amber pints glowed on the bar of the Fairview Inn. A brown bear skin stretched across the ceiling. In the corner, Miki Sawada sat down at her mobile piano, and lightly touched the first notes. “The quality of silence when the music started was remarkable—not only the decibel level but also the palpable tension in the air when a group is focused and attentive,” Sawada wrote in a report of her tour. “Even in locations that normally lend themselves to ambient noise and chatter, this charged silence would fill the room a minute or two into a performance.” Each stop on her tour was hosted and promoted by a local partner: Odie’s Deli in Soldatna, Kenny Lake School, Ninilchik Senior Center. All events were free. Some communities had thriving arts scenes, some had none. Audiences varied from 10 to over 100 listeners; from children to elders; from those who never miss an arts event to those who just happened to wander in. Programs lasted about an hour. “I had to figure out the vibe of the crowd and the place, and vary my program accordingly,” Sawada recalled. “It’s something classical musicians don’t often do. “The way the program worked was to start with a series of three to five minute pieces—Bach and Beethoven, Schumann, some Gershwin,” she continued. She played pieces by contemporary composers too, like “The Same Trail” by Conrad Winslow of Homer. “To close, I would play something meaty, a sonata, for 20 minutes straight. I debated doing that, but I’m glad I did. That’s where people were really blown away. Those pieces were long and complicated. Classical music is complex, but very direct. It moves people.” Before and after performances, Sawada and her audiences mingled. She encouraged young piano students and their parents. She listened to personal stories from people moved by the music. “A woman hugged me with tears in her eyes, telling me her deceased father had played the piano,” she recounted. “A pianist told me he suffered a stroke but had recovered enough to just barely play. He invited me to a gig of his, which I attended.” Some audience members spontaneously volunteered to play the piano. Others discussed how to increase access to arts in their com-

munities. One of the goals of the tour was to instigate conversation among neighbors, sparked by the shared experience of music. At some stops, Sawada performed duets with young locals: a flautist in Fairbanks, a cellist in Glennallan, a violinist in Moose Pass. Locals housed her too. “I stayed with hosts almost everywhere. The highlight of the tour was getting to know these people. Everyone was so incredibly nice. I wouldn’t have understood life in Alaska without those experiences,” she said. “And they gave me a lot of salmon.” The next movement Her Alaska audiences gave Sawada a refresher in the vitality of music, as well. “Being a classical musician means I am surrounded all the time by music and musicians, and it’s easy to grow numb to the sheer power that music has,” she reflected in the written summary of her project. “It is strange to think that we forget this very basic humanistic aspect of music when going through conservatory training, and I will be carrying this experience with me for future projects.” Gather Hear Alaska was a prelude, Sawada hopes, to tours in the Lower 48 or abroad. Or she might be coming back. Before leaving for the Caribbean, she described a vision for another Alaska endeavor: she would retrace her route, this time with an actor/director colleague. They’d stay two days in each town and collaborate with locals to create unique, site-specific performance pieces. Townspeople would tell personal stories; Sawada would incorporate classical music. And then there’s the documentary film. Edited by filmmaker Hayden Peters, it will propagate the message, if not the visceral experience, of Sawada’s musical expedition to the libraries and cafés of small-town Alaska. She foresees other musicians and communities being inspired to imitate her, and to consider the role of classical music in community-making. “In order to really experience music, you have to learn how to listen in a way you don’t in ordinary life. Open yourself up. Not many things in the world encourage you to do that,” Sawada concluded. “In a communal space, listening to music together, you can form a deeper relationship with the people there. When you care about those people, you can be a better citizen.” Gathered closely around a piano, she suggests, classical music and its audience might redeem each other. ■

Dean Potter is the editor and art director of FORUM.

Glennallen. Photo by Andrew Rizzardi

No better place than Slana By Miki Sawada

I WAS IN SLANA for my last presentation before returning to Anchorage, nearly three weeks into the tour. Having given 23 presentations, and with road fatigue taking its toll, I almost wished I had the beautiful fall day off to explore Wrangell-St. Elias. But I had scheduled my week of school visits in the Copper River School District specifically because the Slana School caught my attention while researching Alaska: a K-12 school with 18 students, in a town with a population of 150, sitting on the border of a national park six times the size of Yellowstone. If the premise of the project was to put classical music to a “field test,” there was no better place than Slana. I heard children shouting in the playground as we hopped out of the van: “Is that the piano-ist?” I rolled the piano into the gym as the lead teacher apologized for the “chaotic” day; Xerox was also visiting. I watched as a Xerox man dropped off a small printer and unhurriedly drove away. As the students rolled into the gym, it felt no different from any other school visit, except that the young kids were rowdier and more unbridled. The older students

helped the teachers corral them and settle them down. I went about my presentation with more or less the same response as in other schools. Then, halfway through, one student raised her hand and asked, “Can I try playing?” I obliged. Whenever a group was small enough, I had been encouraging curious students to come up in front and play. As student after student in Slana came up, I was incredulous of the music that poured out of them. Clearly some had gotten hold of a keyboard and figured their own way around it. One seemingly shy little boy played a piece called “Raindrops.” It was intricate for a beginner’s piece, and beautifully played, but I didn’t think more about it until the end of my hour with the students. Then, the boy raised his hand to announce that he had learned “Raindrops” in a village from an adult, who had taught him to play it for times when he was sad because he was being bullied. The raindrops symbolized tears. “It’s meant to be played for just me, privately—but I wanted to share it with you,” he told me. ■

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Kurt Wong




feel that if we listen to others and respect each other, it can really enrich our understanding. The Forum provides an important mechanism to do this in Alaska.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you first came to Alaska.

Photo courtesy of Kurt Wong.

I was born in Taiwan, way back. I went to college there and when I graduated I decided to come to Alaska because my sister, Grace, was living in Fairbanks. I went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for an MBA in 1978. I kind of followed my older brother, Steve; he went there as well. I didn’t know too much about English, but I started the accounting program at UAF—they have a great program. I’m a CPA now. I work for a Native corporation. I actually taught Fairbanks’ first Kung Fu class in 1979. When I was young, I was in martial arts, and when I got to Fairbanks, I needed to make a living, so I went to the Tanana Valley Community College [now UAF Community and Technical College] and asked them if I could provide anything. I said I could teach Chinese or Chinese martial arts, so I started the Kung Fu class. When I went to college [in Taiwan], I studied English and was pretty good at the time. But when I got to Fairbanks, I worked in a payroll department part-time, and I had no idea what my boss was talking about because she had a really strong Southern accent. It was difficult to adjust to that, because a lot of the language used was very strange to me at the time. I had a hard time understanding. It took me a couple of years to catch up. Did you love Alaska right away?

No, not really. [Laughs.] In Taiwan, which is a tropical area, it’s really humid and warm. For a few years I wasn’t sure about it here. I felt like I was stepping on foreign soil. It was a really strange feeling. It was lonely, quiet, cold. It took me awhile to get used to that. It was quite a challenge for the first couple of years. Then, I met my wife here in Alaska. She was also from Taiwan, though we’d never


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met before moving here. I got a job in Anchorage after graduating. We have a daughter; she was born and raised here. I started to grow to enjoy Alaska—the clean air and nature—though Fairbanks was somewhat of a challenge. But we still like to go back to visit, because of its uniqueness. It’s so cold, but you find a peace in the cold weather, for some reason. That was really a culture shock for some years, but I think it was worthwhile to go through that change because I was forced to do it. Because if I’d gone back to Taiwan, I would have lost face, in our tradition. You have to accomplish what you’ve come for, so I’m happy I stuck around. Now, we really enjoy traveling around the state and seeing the beauty and nature, because to me Alaska is still a pure land. It’s not contaminated yet, like so many other places. It still has more of the original face of the earth. How did you get involved with the Forum?

I became a donor in 2011. Jerry Covey was one of the board members. He was an educator, and he nominated me to join the Forum board of directors. I didn’t know too much about the Forum, but I liked the idea of the humanities. That was something I wanted to support. It took me awhile to understand the program and get to know the people. Initially, I was kind of intimidated. But I realized it was a very important organization to promote understanding. Bridging gaps between different cultures, and more importantly, working on the fundamental issues of humanity—working with educators and teachers, students and cultures, telling stories. The Forum works to improve the relationship between cultures. It also helps youth to know where they stand, because people will listen to them.


Your Humanities Council

Fairbanks is so cold, but you find a peace in the cold weather, for some reason. That was really a culture shock for some years, but I think it was worthwhile to go through that change... You have to accomplish what you’ve come for, so I’m happy I stuck around. For the grant programs, recipients come in to talk during a board meeting. During that process, I learned a lot because I didn’t realize the Forum supported so many different people—writers, and kids working with media. I was impressed by the ways grants can help. How are the humanities important to you in your own life?

I was the chairman for the Alaska Chinese Association for about six years. I’ve been on involved with the Association for close to 30 years. Mainly, its goal is to help the Chinese community and ethnic group to gather together. We have a Chinese school that’s helping to continue our tradition and language in the state of Alaska. I put a lot of time into that and, more recently, the Humanities Forum. I really try to improve myself and become better and help others as much as I can. I try to understand other people’s needs and their cultures a little deeper. Through the exercise of participating in the Forum, I started to broaden my vision—trying to listen better and trying to understand larger issues better, rather than just thinking about my own problems. ■ Interview by Aurora Ford.

The Alaska Humanities Forum is one of 56 humanities councils, located in all U.S. states and jurisdictions, that serve as partners of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). “The preamble to the legislation that created the NEH proclaims that ‘democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens,’” explains Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. She continues: This lofty assertion calls for citizens to develop the ability to carefully evaluate and shape decisions about issues they confront in their personal and community lives. It requires citizens to understand their own and their nation’s history in order to fully understand the forces that brought us to our present moment. It asks that citizens recognize and accommodate differences in viewpoint and experience as a necessary prelude to shaping strong communities.

Given this charge, each council develops and leads unique programming to share and preserve the history, culture, and stories of its home state; and to engage, inform, and connect citizens. NEH provides funding to support this work—funding that requires a match in private donations. Here in Alaska, individuals, corporations, foundations, and other partners have stepped up to invest in the Forum. Together, we support programs, events, and projects that encourage critical, creative, and compassionate thinking and dialogue about the future of Alaska. Will you join us?

Make a Gift • Give online at—make a monthly pledge or one-time gift • Call Jann Mylet, Director of Development and Communications: (907) 272-5302 • Mail a check to the Forum: 161 E. 1st Avenue, Door 15, Anchorage, AK 99501 • Double your impact—ask your employer about making a matching gift • Select Alaska Humanities Forum when you Pick. Click.Give.

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Alaska Humanities Forum Donors, 2017

INDIVIDUALS Anonymous Henry and Rina Luban Sharon and Will Abbott Jean Anderson Jane Angvik and Vic Fischer Chris and Maggi Arend Janies Barlow-Alexander Waltraud Barron and LeMiel Chapman Charlotte Basham Gary and Barbara Baugh Senator Tom Begich and Sarah Sledge Tracy Bell Nancy Bird Herb Bischoff Mary Bloes Joan Braddock Loyd Bradley Christa Bruce Rebecca Bunde Rolfe Buzzel Annie Calkins Brenda Campen Lenora Lolly Carpluk Jeffrey Chandler Mike Chmielewski Jim and Susan Clark John and Susan Cloe Carol Comeau Chris Cooke Penelope M. Cordes Elizabeth Qaulluq Cravalho Jeremy Creasey Myles Creed Vera Crews Carmen and Rodger Davis Kent and Monica Devine George and Brenda Dickison RenĂŠe Duncan Robert Eastaugh Sherry Eckrich Wendy Erd and Peter Kaufmann Penelope Fairbanks Judith Farley-Weed Kitty Farnham Casey and Sylvia Fletcher Laura Forbes Charlotte Fox and Michael Stinebaugh Linda Freed and Alan Schmitt


Sharon and Bruce Gagnon Kay Gajewski Rebecca Gallen Alecia Gottlob Kris Green Bill Hall Anne Hanley Holly Harris Bob Harrison Jim and Judy Hauck Ernestine Hayes Josh Hemsath Nancy and Jim Hemsath Stephen Henrikson Mark and Cynthia Hill Sarah and Philip Hofstetter Shirley Holloway Patrick and Patricia Holmes Genevieve Holubik Barbara Hood and Dirk Sisson Eileen Hosey Daniel Huge David and Linda Hulen Karen Hunt Tim and Donna Hurley Marianne Inman Ron Inouye Walter John and Sharon Richards Mary K. Hughes Marlene Johnson Mary and Stowell Johnstone Alice and Charles Johnstone James Kari Barbara Karl Nancy Kemp Allen and Judith Kemplen Gwen Kennedy Peg Keskinen Stephanie Kesler Aurelia Kessler Dave Kiffer Catkin Kilcher Burton, Retired Col. USMC Nancy King Tom Kizzia Margo and Frank Klass Janet Klein Leslie Kleinfeld Lynndeen and James Knapp Carolyn Sue Kremers Jeff Kunkel Jonathon Lack William Lappart

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Riki Lebman Heather Lende Ted Leonard and Representative Colleen Sullivan-Leonard Nancy Levinson Nancy Lord and Kenneth W. Castner Mark and Cheryl Lovegreen Mary Lou Madden Blythe Marston and Gordon Pospisil Mildred Martin Kathrin and Paul McCarthy Colleen McDonald Shauna McMahon Marjorie Menzi and William Heumann Peter Metcalfe Kimberly Metcalfe-Helmar Robert Michaud Bill Miles Ken Miller

Rayette Sterling Senator Gary Stevens and Rita Stevens Sean Stitham Jacqueline Summers Geoffrey Tamplin Kathleen Tarr Charles Tobin William Tull Fran Ulmer James Ustasiewski and Mary Irvine Longo Vo Catherine Walling and Scott Bell Nancy Waterman and William C. Leighty Shelley Wickstrom John Wiles Vicki Wisenbaugh Kurt Wong Megan Zlatos

Pauline Morris John Mouw Mikell Murphey and David Comins Jann D. Mylet Roberta Nabers Tom Nelson Peter and Julie Neyhart Kris Norosz Marie Olson Bruce and Meredith Parham Kameron Perez-Verdia Pat Partnow Virginia Potter Carolyn and John Rader Bernadine Raiskums Katherine and Anson Renshaw, Jr. Joel Reynolds and Carol Woody Richard Riordan and Ann Fienup-Riordan Sigrun Robertson Wendy Romberg Mary Rydesky Conni Schlee Gregory and Rebecca Schmidt Laura Schue Catherine Shenk Wendell Shiffler Chellie Skoog Jayson Smart Maynard and Katherine Smith Niel Smith John Stalvey


Thank you to the corporations, foundations, and community organizations that support the Forum’s work across Alaska through gifts, grants, and in-kind donations of services and supplies. Alaska Airlines Alaska Cake Studio Alaska Robotics Alyeska Pipeline Service Company Art Services North Atwood Foundation BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. ConocoPhillips Cook Inlet Tribal Council Cynosure Brewing Full Curl Photography John C. Hughes Foundation Kaladi Brothers Coffee Kindred Post Northstar Behavioral Health Northwind Architects, LLC PEO Chapter J PIP Printing and Marketing Services Rasmuson Foundation Sealaska Corporation The Frances & David Rose Foundation The Odom Corporation TOTE Maritime Alaska Trickster Company


We’re in this together. Critical thinking and open dialogue are essential to a sustainable future for Alaska.

The demand for conversation has never been greater. Society is increasingly divided, detached, and distracted. While the diversity of Alaska is one of its great strengths, our communities are too often separated and distanced by deep political, cultural, economic, and geographical differences. The Alaska Humanities Forum’s work is grounded in the belief that many of the issues that threaten the stability and health of our communities are rooted in a lack of connection, engagement, and perspective. For more than 40 years, the Forum has been creating space for Alaskans to connect around their stories, ideas, and experiences. Through shared experiences like becoming

immersed in another culture; reflecting on a book, exhibit, or film; or exploring voices from our history, people can come to better understand themselves, one another, and the human condition. We believe our communities are stronger when people are informed and engaged, when they show up and speak up. We believe critical thinking and open dialogue are essential to a sustainable future for Alaska. This report is a glimpse back at 2017—a chance to share the work made possible by the donors, grantees, program participants, and community partners who share our vision of a culturally diverse, economically vibrant, and equitable Alaska.

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Note: The Forum’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. At the time of printing, these numbers are still preliminary. Final financials will be available at once completed.


The Forum’s programming for educators and youth uses cultural immersion, reflective learning, and exploration to better prepare and connect educators and youth in rural and urban communities across Alaska. Sister School Exchange, Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion, Creating Cultural Competence, Take Wing Alaska


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The Forum invests in Alaskan artists, writers, historians, filmmakers, and community conveners. This funding fuels creative projects that share and preserve the stories of people across the state and explore what it means to be Alaskan. Annual Grants, Mini Grants, Duty Bound, HUMAN:ties


educators and youth grant projects community facilitation sessions Alaska Salmon Fellows Governor’s Arts & Humanities awardees culture camps for educators and youth Forum board of directors


The Forum leads, hosts, and funds public events, programs, and community discussions that bring people together to share their stories, ideas, and experiences so they may better understand themselves, one another, and the human experience. Duty Bound, FORUM magazine, Magnetic North, Kindling Conversations, State Writer Laureate, Governor’s Arts & Humanities Awards, StepUpAK

Map and illustrations by Lee Post


The Forum’s leadership programs build capacity across industries and sectors, backgrounds and experiences. We emphasize equity, critical thinking, and collaboration in addressing the complex economic, social, and political issues across Alaska’s communities. Leadership Anchorage, Alaska Salmon Fellows

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Driving Positive Change in Alaska’s Salmon/People Systems 100% GRADUATION RATE

Students Take Wing All students in the class of 2017 enrolled in the Forum’s Take Wing Alaska program in the Lower Kuskokwim School District graduated in four years—a 100 percent rate, compared to an overall district level of 51.6 percent. And all 39 students in the current cohort, rising seniors, are on track to graduate in four years. “My educational goal is to get my bachelor’s degree in some kind of science. I am hoping to attend medical school and become a coroner. Or, to study people of Alaska and understand what they do differently, so I can work with the young generation to tell them why their culture is important. In Take Wing I got interested in becoming a person who could help to keep our culture going. I would like to be one of the people who sustains our culture.” — Jaylon Denise John, Kwigillingok

The first cohort of the Forum’s Alaska Salmon Fellows brings together commercial, subsistence, and sport fishermen alongside scientists, policy makers, writers, and a philosopher to challenge assumptions and convictions about how to best manage this crucial resource. “Small experiments with radical intent” tested ways to enhance equity and sustainability in salmon systems. Two Fellows teamed up to build a fish-friendly fish wheel on the Yukon River. One Fellow looked at establishing an educational salmon fishery in Nome; another hosted a salmon social event to recruit students to attend and testify at a Board of Fish meeting. These pilot projects informed ideas for larger, cross-sector group projects currently in development. A second cohort of 16 Fellows will be selected to join this work in spring 2018. “There is much to learn from the 10,000-year co-evolution of humans and salmon in Alaska... Reconciling Western and indigenous worldviews will require creating spaces where genuine listening is possible. Listening to stories, to data, and to embodied knowledges will help us navigate toward a path where Alaska salmon can be sustained as both economic linchpin and cultural icon. In many ways, a conversation about Alaska’s future is a conversation about salmon.” — Kevin Maier, Alaska Salmon Fellow



Culturally Responsive Learning Boosts Teacher Retention

Investing in Alaska’s Stories

The Forum’s Creating Cultural Competence (C3) program has been focused on reducing historically-high teacher turnover rates in rural communities— a statistic that is closely linked to student outcomes. A recent five-year study of C3 reports twice as many C3 teachers were retained in the Lower Kuskokwim School District compared to non-C3 teachers. In the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, 1.7 times as many C3 teachers were retained. In 2017, the Forum worked with 25 teachers across 8 villages. As we move into 2018, we will be expanding the C3 model through our partnerships with Calista Education and Culture, Inc. and Maniilaq Association to serve six school districts: Kuspuk, Yupiit, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, St. Mary's and Northwest Arctic.

In 2017, the Forum awarded $98,951 to fuel 26 creative proposals across the state. This investment in Alaska museums, filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, historians, storytellers, theater companies, and community conveners supports independent projects that get people talking, increase public access, and preserve and promote Alaska’s stories.


Discussions of War Ten years in the making, the documentary series The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, aired on PBS in September. Alaska Public Media hosted three community screenings of an hour-long preview, followed by discussions facilitated by the Forum. At venues in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, veterans spoke alongside former protestors, family members of soldiers who lost their lives, and Vietnamese citizens who lived through the conflict. The events provided a space for safe and honest conversations about participants’ experiences and their reflections on coming to terms with the sacrifices and aftermath of war. A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2017 24

“Support from the Alaska Humanities Forum helped Story Works Alaska build capacity by giving us resources and legitimacy as we sought awards from others. This grant was our first application for funding and we believe it played an important role in our ability to secure over $40,000 of additional support. This project has resulted in spin-off projects, partnerships, and ongoing action that will absolutely live on beyond this grant period.” — Regan Brooks, Executive Director of Story Works Alaska, grant recipient


Discussion Tips Ready to discuss the article? Whatever the group, you can use this guide to delve deeper and think about the topic in a new way.

It Starts with a Spark Generous listening in polarized times


hat kind of conversation supports deep connection and thriving community? That’s a question at the heart of the Alaska Humanities Forum’s mission, a question we’ve tackled for over 40 years. Though it’s not new, it seems more relevant than ever in our polarized age. We don’t just feel more divided; we are more divided. According to a 2017 report by the Pew Research Center, “partisans have long held unfavorable views of the other party, but negative opinions are now more widely held and intensely felt than in the past.” Those negative opinions are driving changes in our personal relationships. According to the same report, “the friend networks of both Republicans and Democrats are dominated by members of their own party and include few members of the other party.” It seems we’re losing our ability to connect across difference, choosing instead to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals. What kind of conversation can bring us back together? What kind of conversation would allow us to bond not in spite of our differences but because of our differences? The Alaska Humanities Forum has an ambitious vision to create a new model for conversation across our state, the kind of conversation that uplifts and empowers while confronting our differences head on. At the center of every conversation is a shared experience. It might be a reading or film screening, a gallery walk or nature hike, a story or performance. Whatever the format, this shared experience creates common ground, a foundation for connection across different values, beliefs, cultures, perspectives, and backgrounds. We invite Alaskans to come to these conversations with a specific goal in mind: to deepen our understanding of different points of view, including perspectives we

passionately disagree with. No one will come to persuade or convince; we will come together to learn. We believe that if we all agree to listen generously, we’ll all be truly heard. WE NEED YOUR HELP

We want to spread this kind of conversation statewide, and we can’t do that alone. We’re looking for individuals in communities across Alaska interested in hosting these conversations. We’ll provide the tools, the training, and a small amount of funding to support you. You bring a passion for community, conversation, and connection across difference. We’re calling this initiative Kindling Conversations. It starts with a spark, and we hope for a bonfire. Shannon Huffman Polson’s article “Stories We Tell and Stories We Don’t” (next page) provides the foundation for our second conversation toolkit. The piece asks us to consider how stories influence the life paths we choose, and it highlights a story that often goes untold: that of women in the military. Every issue of FORUM will include a new topic for the Kindling Conversations program. We’re also developing toolkits based on films, exhibits, and grantfunded projects that provoke powerful conversations. Have an idea for a conversation that you want to spread statewide? We’re interested in hearing from you, too. ■ Kindling Conversations: Women, the Military, and Storytelling Thursday, Nov. 16, 6:30 p.m. Alaska Humanities Forum 161 E. 1st Avenue, Door 15, Anchorage Learn more or sign up to host a conversation at


Before beginning, set the intention for this conversation: it is an opportunity to learn about other points of view, to be heard, and to hear. This is not a debate. We seek to understand one another, not change one another’s minds. We are all invited to speak for ourselves. No one is being asked to speak for their group, position, denomination, or party—just for themselves. If people don’t know one another, have them introduce themselves. GROUNDING THE CONVERSATION

Choose one of these questions and take it around the room. Why are you here? What interests you about this conversation? What hope or fear do you bring to this conversation? READING

Ask the group to read the article silently (if they haven’t already), considering the following questions. What do you agree with? What do you want to argue with? What do you admire? DELVING DEEP

Kick off the discussion with your own reactions to the article and encourage the group to share their thoughts. If people begin to cross the line into advocacy and abstraction, coax them back into speaking for themselves with questions like these: Tell me what you mean when you use that word. Can you tell a story to illustrate that? What experiences led you to that point of view? CLOSING

To close, ask people to share their reflections on one of the following questions: What does this mean for our community? What is something you’re still thinking about? What is something you learned from someone else today?

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Stories We Tell and Stories We Don’t


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For women in the military, the right stories can open paths to success By Shannon Huffman Polson

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” —Ursula LeGuin


he F-18 fighter jet cut left, then shot straight up into the sky. It disappeared from sight before arcing around and coming in to land. On the side of the tarmac a little girl held her father’s hand. The pilot raised the cockpit and climbed down the side of the jet, then smiled in the girl’s direction. A crewman on the tarmac walked up to the pilot and began to ask about the flight. “I’ll meet you in the hangar,” the pilot said, looking over toward the little girl. “I need to talk to my daughter.”

Accounts of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II —American women who flew every aircraft in the inventory, and trained pilots as well— are stories that support the key tenets of success while broadening the

Images of Freedom. Contemporary photo of Capt. Michelle Curran, 355th Fighter Squadron, by Staff Sgt. Samantha Mathison

definition of “us.”

Liz and the 229th As a young lieutenant, just out of flight school in 1995, I reported to the 229th Aviation Regiment at Fort Bragg, N. C. to be an Apache attack helicopter pilot. I was the first—and only—woman; the other 120 pilots were men. While on overnight duty I was assigned to read from, and write about, We Were Soldiers Once and Young. The book, by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway, records the heroic exploits of the 229th Aviation Regiment in Vietnam. It was the unit from which our regiment took its heritage, even if that heritage was indirect. In Britain, soldiers are assigned to one regiment for a career. It is a practice that recognizes the power of the history of the unit and the stories it tells. In the U.S. Army, soldiers rotate assignments every two to three years, which makes it difficult to fully integrate the regimental heritage into one’s psyche. Still, the effort is made. Nothing is more powerful than symbol and story. The only woman in the story of the 229th Aviation Regiment was Liz, a buxom nude with wings. She appeared on the unit patch, depicted in red and straddling a tiger. The 229th Aviation Regiment in Vietnam did not have women pilots. But were there stories of women pilots elsewhere that could be relevant? Is there a reason those stories might have been told? Why weren’t they? Headlines are not stories In September, the United States Marine Corps reported the first woman graduate of Marine infantry school, as well as the first woman to graduate from amphibious warfare training. After the story was published, the name of the new Marine Corps officer was removed from the press release, apparently at her request. The name of the graduate from amphibious assault school remained in the news. “The event is historic and newsworthy. Not her name,” said Lt. Col. Eric Dent, the spokesman for the Commandant of the Marine Corps. “She was just happy to have graduated, and to take the next step to go lead Marines. It was that simple.” Not all those connected with the military agree with concealing her identity. Retired field-grade officer Joe Plenzler suggested “an environment of opacity breeds suspicion. By shrouding her identity, the Marine Corps has counterintuitively increased the pressure on her. The Corps should be celebrating her personal story.” (Dent’s and Plenzler’s remarks were reported by The War Horse,

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a news website focusing on the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.) The contention around publicizing the name of the first female Marine Corps infantry officer speaks to the complexity of stories—stories we tell and stories we don’t. For over a century, the evolution of gender roles has created headlines. To be cited in a headline is quite different from being integrated into the storytelling fabric of our military and society. Here, women remain conspicuously absent. Accounts of women breaking barriers are held up as examples of opportunity, but true opportunity comes when stories—and storytelling—are inclusive of all participants. Presently, stories are almost always controlled by the majority. The story of us Stories come to us in many forms. There are stories we read; stories given to us through journalism and creative media; stories represented in images; stories integrated into formal presentations. And, importantly, there are the stories that don’t come to us— the stories that are excluded. Why are stories important? Jonathan Gottshall’s The Storytelling Animal and Kim Cron’s Wired for Story are two recent books exploring the power of story in both culture and leadership. Both consider the way our brains take in information, which is not as bullet points, logical arguments, or facts about historic “firsts.” Modern neuroscience is showing us what ancient wisdom traditions have always known: Story is the most powerful way to convey a lesson. Politicians and marketers know this, too. Marshall Ganz, of Harvard University, is known for his work on the Obama campaign as well as corporate marketing. Ganz suggests a three-part formula for effective story: the story of you, the story of us, the story of now. If organizations want to ensure diversity and real opportunity, it is vital that leaders tell stories in which every member can see themselves having a role. These stories allow the majority to recognize the contributions of the minority, as well. The “story of us” has to include everyone. The possibilities of women’s service are informed by stories told in the military, and stories told in wider society. Did you consider the possibilities of the fighter pilot coming out of the cockpit in the story above? What comes to mind if you think of a military hero? When a young girl looks at the fighter jet overhead and wants to fly it, what picture forms in her head? When a young boy next to


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Air Force Major General Dawn Dunlop. Photo courtesy of Dawn Dunlop.

her pictures being in the cockpit, what does his imagination tell him? What stories have they heard, and who told them?

an interview for She’s Got Grit, a web publishing project devoted to women leaders and women’s stories. She continued:

Confidence, communication styles, and stories Why don’t we read stories about women, or even know about them? If ignorance starts from near-universal biases, it is made more difficult by women not telling the stories themselves. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman called it “the confidence gap” in an article by the same name in the May 2014 issue of The Atlantic. Both authors are news anchors, and over their careers they have interviewed some of the most influential women in the nation. Despite degrees from top universities and fluencies in several languages, they uncovered their own insecurities as they discussed their experiences. They both admitted to assuming men who were more brash and outspoken were more competent, without asking themselves why. Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO, expressed the same doubts in an interview the year before her book Lean In was published. “There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am,” she said in the interview. Air Force Major General Dawn Dunlop, a test pilot currently serving as a NATO commander, doesn’t like the term confidence gap. She sees instead a stylistic difference between men and women. “Some men have come to me and said, ‘I’d like to be your next F-22/F-35/fill-in-theblank commander,’ well before they have proven themselves capable,” she told me in

“Women tend to approach communicating their goals differently. They want to know that they will be successful first, and often don’t want to be perceived as being pushy, so won’t put their names in until they feel confident they have 100 percent of the skills necessary and that their commander supports them. I’m familiar with the confidence gap studies, but don’t like the term because I don’t actually believe it’s a gap in confidence or capability. But I’ve found it very true that men and women generally have different approaches to communicating, especially regarding their career goals. “It is important as a commander to understand those differences. You need to know that just because John is more vocal about his accomplishments and puts himself forward with more confidence, that doesn’t mean he is the best choice. Jane might not have said anything, but knows how to really motivate people and teams and deliver on results. She might be better for the job, but you have to look deeper than what they say in a quick conversation in a public forum.”

Commanders have to understand this when selecting someone for a position. How can society, as well, understand these differences and their impact on our biases? Why

are we so slow to recognize different kinds of leadership and potential, or to recognize that different genders might serve in similar ways? Whether there is a confidence gap or communication difference between women and men, these differences affect how stories are told. Many studies indicate that women persistently underestimate their abilities, despite no deficiency in performance. This makes women less likely to tell stories about their successes and triumphs. Fewer of these stories in circulation makes it harder for women—and men—to hear them, making it more difficult to believe in the possibilities ahead. The good news is that these differences can be bridged, and part of that has to do with the stories claimed by an organization. It is important to tell the right stories, especially to yourself. It’s also vital to share them with others, both as a contributor and as an organizational leader. Stories for men, questions for women Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Barlette was one of the first women to fly the A-10 Warthog; she later became a fighter pilot instructor, a drone pilot, and still serves today. She remembers seeing the confidence of the male pilots around her as a junior officer assigned to a squadron in South Korea. “I’d always considered myself average,” Barlette said, “so I never considered requesting the prestigious Air Force Weapons School. Then one day—I remember the exact day— I looked around and realized all the guys were just faking it.” When Barlette was five months pregnant with her second child, her commander offered her a spot at Weapons School. She said that because the commander was a tanker pilot, “he didn’t know what he was offering. The Air Force Weapons School is a grueling six-month program to train the instructors of instructors, not only in tactics but in how to teach tactics as well. I went home to talk to my husband. ‘You have to do this,’ he said. ‘It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.’ My mom stepped in to help with our daughter, and I started preparing for the course.” During Barlette’s preparation, her squadron commander was tipped off to the challenge of the Weapons Course, and called Barlette back into his office. “He started questioning whether I should go,” Barlette said. “I told him he had offered, and I had accepted, and I would go. No questions. “I left our 18-month old and three-month old home with my mom, my husband, and a nanny, and went to weapons school for the six

months,” Barlette explained. “It was incredibly hard to compartmentalize my family, but I had to do it. There were days I couldn’t even get a text out to check in. In Weapons School, you are always doing something way over your head. They push you past your limits. Things are dynamic, and you have to be able to manage change.” Her participation wasn’t welcomed. “There were guys from my A-10 unit who were there and knew I had very young children at home,” she said. “There were people saying ‘There’s no way she’ll make it through.’ That just fueled my fire. It’s not that it’s easy, but you just don’t quit.” She paused, then added: “I’ve always been one to ignore what people think.” Barlette was able to define her own story and claim the confidence she needed to succeed. Graduating from Weapons School is one of Barlette’s proudest accomplishments, though she discusses it with reserve. “I wouldn’t take it back, but I wouldn’t do it again, either,” she said. Her critics continued even after she earned her patch. “I got comments about ‘What woman would leave her three-month old for a job,’ and ‘When did we take the fighter out of Weapons School?’ Who would ever ask a man those questions?” Stories inside the military Inside the military, true opportunity is controlled by the majority culture, and the leadership that grows out of that culture. Heather Penney was one of the first women to fly the Air Force F-16 fighter, though she now “flies a desk at the Pentagon.” She notes that “in the fighter world, it’s very much a master/apprentice relationship. Your professional competence is very much reliant on how much the war fighters and instructors transfer their knowledge to you. If they like you, you’re going to get a lot more investment, and it’s going to make you better at what you do. It exacerbates the dynamic of a minority moving in to an organization. That minority moving in has to demonstrate compliance and endorsement of the dominant culture.” At a flight briefing, Penney experienced what it feels like to be on the outside of the informal military culture. But she also saw, first-hand, the potential for her presence to change the story. “We were in the middle of a mass briefing, and in between each section popped up a hard-core porn picture,” she says. “[After the briefing] I said, ‘Hey, great briefing guys!’ I wasn’t going to rock the boat. But, not only did the commander tell the pilots that it was not appropriate and that it would never happen again, he told me that it wasn’t ap-


“There were people saying ‘There’s no way she’ll make it through.’ That just fueled my fire. It’s not that it’s easy, but you just don’t quit. I’ve always been one to ignore what people think.” -- Tammy Barlette

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“That was my clue that ‘Wow, I don’t have to pretend that these behaviors that I find personally demoralizing and disrespectful are okay.’ The hyper-sexual rituals only served to highlight what an outsider I was.” -- Heather Penney Heather Penney. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Johnathon Orrell/National Guard Bureau Public Affairs

propriate and apologized. That was my clue that ‘Wow, I don’t have to pretend that these behaviors that I find personally demoralizing and disrespectful are okay.’ The hyper-sexual rituals only served to highlight what an outsider I was.” Marine Corps A/F-18 pilot Amy McGrath, the first Marine woman to fly the A/F-18 in combat, retired last year to become a candidate in a Kentucky congressional race. Her experience was similar to Penney’s, but she did not have a commander willing to stand against the story. “It was a locker room culture. If you weren’t okay with that, it would suck for you. We did aircrew training every Thursday, and every other PowerPoint slide during my first tour was porn. That was the culture and the guys didn’t want to change it. Was that right? If I’d made a stink, I probably would have been drummed out. You have to pick your battles. I was harassed and I didn’t have the ability to stand up for myself.” The imposition of pornography informed the story that the fighter-pilot culture offered women. It was the same story as that indicated by the naked Liz on the battalion unit patch. It was a story that demeaned women, and excluded them from the “story of us.”


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What if there aren’t stories to tell? When I arrived at the 229th Aviation Regiment, no woman had yet served as an Apache pilot. The unit heritage didn’t include women, because its history didn’t. This is the case for every woman serving in an opportunity that is new to women, inside the military and out. U.S. Army Brigadier General Becky Halstead, the first woman graduate of West Point to be promoted to general officer, had to make her way without female role models. When there aren’t stories to which they might directly relate, Halstead suggests women find strength and inspiration in other stories of overcoming adversity. “Read about people who have grit,” she says. “Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks; read their stories and you find strength in yourself.” Stories are important to the fulfillment of equal opportunity. Could different stories have been told in the 229th—stories that support the key tenets of success while broadening the definition of “us?” Could the 229th have told stories of the “Night Witches,” highly effective Russian women who served as fighter pilots in World War II? Or stories of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II, American women who flew

and trained pilots on every aircraft in the inventory? And could harmful stories have been removed through effective leadership? Like the unnamed Marine Corps infantry officer, women in the military—and in society at large—are entering more roles previously reserved for men. And in roles where women have long served, further cultural integration is necessary in order to afford true opportunity. The military and society continue to resist. Stories can change perceptions of what is possible, to the benefit of women, men, and the missions they perform. How will we tell those stories? ■ Shannon Huffman Polson grew up in Anchorage. She was one of the first women to fly the Apache helicopter in the U.S. Army. Following an MBA, she worked in corporate marketing and operations. Now Polson is a leadership speaker and author. She lives with her husband and two sons in Washington state, and they spend several weeks a year at the family cabin in Denali. Her memoir North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey was released in paperback last summer. She publishes The Grit Project on She can be found at

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Film Series Profiles Judge Roy Madsen Over 150 people gathered at the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium in Kodiak on Oct. 11 for the premiere of a documentary film, Magnetic North: Judge Roy Madsen. The film profiles Madsen, a community pillar, and is part of a series made in partnership between the Forum and Rasmuson Foundation. The films focus on the stories of living Alaskans whose actions and ideas have shaped the history, spirit, and values of our state. Three films are finished and have been launched through community screenings; three more are in production with an anticipated completion date of summer 2018. Once the series is finished, it will be broadcast on Alaska Public Media and online. DVD sets will be provided for schools, museums, and other cultural organizations statewide.

Nora Keixwnéi Marks Dauenhauer. Photo courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute

Departed Elder This autumn marked the passing of Nora Keixwnéi Marks Dauenhauer, of the HainesYakutat Lukaaxádi clan. As an author, editor, and scholar, she devoted her life to preserving the language and publishing the stories of her Tlingit elders. She described her experience of collecting over 500 interviews: “These elders became my instructors as I worked with them. Some of them gave me advice. Others told me off and declined to have their traditions documented.” An influential poet, Dauenhauer wrote about daily life in Southeast Alaska: from salmon trolling to cannery work, from dryfish camp to trapping camp, from caring for elders to caring for grandchildren. She wrote essays about poetry and wrote poetry about her scholarship. Among many honors, she was Alaska State Writer Laureate from 2012 to 2014. She served on the board of directors of the Forum, and was recently a subject of the Forum-supported documentary Lineage: Tlingit Art Across Generations. In the poem “Tlingit Elders” (Life Woven with Song, 2000), Dauenhauer evoked the grief she felt collecting stories from those close to death. Departed Elders of all the books we’ve done, when I talk about you all I feel is pain at your absence.


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Left to right: Jayson Smart (Rasmuson Foundation), Marla Williams (director), Diane Kaplan (Rasmuson Foundation), Judge Roy Madsen, Kameron PerezVerdia (Alaska Humanities Forum), Linda Madsen, Angela Cox (Rasmuson Foundation) at the Kodiak screening of Magnetic North: Judge Roy Madsen.

The film series is written and directed by Marla Williams, a veteran writer and filmmaker with more than 30 years of experience working in urban and rural Alaska. Her films include the critically acclaimed Aleut Story, an Alaskabased feature length program airing on PBS stations nationwide. Williams recently sat down for a conversation with David Holthouse. An extract appears below; read the full interview on the Forum blog at DH: How important is it for you as a storyteller to give the story room to evolve beyond your (or your editor or funder’s) initial conception? MW: All stories evolve—if only in the way we understand them. As a journalist and a documentary filmmaker, I try to stay out of the way of the story and focus on keeping up... I don’t try to be the most interesting person in the room. I’m not the story. I tag along with the person I’m interviewing, and try to respond to what they’re saying or doing. I do a lot of research but don’t come with a lot of prepared questions. I often start interviews with, “So, what do you know?” or “Tell me about yourself.” That’s it. Then I wait. Then I listen. It’s really a matter of listening... Bottom line is, I don’t really try to make films about people as much as I try to make films with people. Establishing trust is essential. I’m asking them to let me into their lives. I eat at their table, I may even sleep in their home if location demands. I attend church services with them, visit the graves of loved ones, poke around in their memories, question whether they have regrets. All this with at least one camera rolling.

Discussing Culturally Responsive Education What does a culturally responsive Alaska classroom look like now? What should one look like in the future? A group took up these questions in a conversation on Oct. 12 at the Forum office. Five participants in this year’s Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion (ECCI) program, along with their instructor, led the discussion. Attendees included teachers, administrators, an online course designer, and a student services professional. They split into two groups to talk about their efforts to acknowledge their own cultural biases when creating culturally responsive educational spaces. The groups also discussed the different roles played by educators, parents, administrators, and community members in creating these spaces in different parts of the state. The conversation prompts were designed for participants to speak from their own experiences, with the goal of deepening everyone’s understanding of the issue. The five ECCI participants are teachers who each spent one week in rural Alaska over the summer, at culture camps in Allakaket, Metlakatla, Afognak, and Chalkyitsik. Their participation in this event capped the postcamp portion of the course, during which they hosted conversations at their schools, wrote and performed seven-minute stories, and presented lesson plans they redesigned to be more culturally responsive. At the end of the 90-minute session, attendees agreed on the need for more open, welcoming conversations about culturally responsive education in Alaska. They endorsed conversational settings that encourage listening for understanding and building on what others say, rather than pushing the group toward a particular solution or viewpoint.

Unmasking Assumptions Unmasking Brain Injury Alaska Premiere Dec. 8, 2017 5:30 p.m.–8 p.m. Alaska Humanities Forum

How do our assumptions affect our relationships? How do the assumptions of others affect our own self-image? How does our culture support people with invisible disabilities? Unmasking Brain Injury is a global campaign to raise awareness about brain injury. Come to the Forum to hear the stories of Alaskans who live with brain injuries, view masks they've created to represent their experiences, and engage in a community conversation that challenges our assumptions about one another and about ourselves. “Wizard,” the creator of the masks on this page, explains how they represent an experience of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): “The orange side is how I feel. Nerves in my brain are jumbled with loose ends. The bubble beads represent the things I have forgotten (brain farts) like how to count money or how to print. Information is confusing and in absurd order. The pain adds to the confusion. The blue side of the mask is how everyone sees me. I look normal. It seems like my mind is in a nice neat bow. I am expected to be as productive as before my TBI, but all is not as it seems.” ■

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N SIGHT OF DAILY COMMUTERS between Anchorage and Eagle River, a disused military installation sits atop a ridge in the Chugach Mountains. Its unremarkable appearance belies its original purpose and the nuclear firepower it once concealed. Nike Site Summit was one of eight Nike Hercules missile batteries that became operational in Alaska by 1959, air defense weapons intended to protect the United States against waves of Soviet bombers during the Cold War. Project Jukebox, the digital branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program, records and transcribes interviews with Alaska’s Cold War veterans (some of whom served at Nike Missile sites) and other experts on the state’s military and geopolitical involvement during the era. The project was launched with a grant from the Alaska Historical Commission, and advanced by funding from the Alaska Humanities Forum. The oral histories presented on the following pages were transcribed with the support of a Forum grant made in 2016. “We have a lot of different oral history project ideas—usually about a theme or a place or something about Alaska in history— and we wait for a funding opportunity to come along,” says Project Jukebox curator Leslie McCartney. The Cold War effort joins other Jukebox projects like Denali mountaineering, dog mushing, and Senator Ted Stevens. “We’d been toying with the idea of doing a project about Alaska’s involvement in the Cold War and the impact it had on Alaska,” she remembers. “A couple of years lat-

Scores of Distant Early Warning radar stations, erected across the far north during the mid1950s, were vigilant for incoming Soviet bombers. Photo by Leland A. Olson, UAA-hmc-1064-s290


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er, the Nike site reunion was going to be happening in Anchorage, where we’d be able to interview several people who’d worked on the Nike missile sites in Alaska, all in one place over one week.” Since then, interviews have been conducted elsewhere and other Cold War materials have been donated from private collections. The result is an online archive of research, photos, videos, firsthand knowledge, and fascinating stories about a period of recent history that, while globally terrifying, brought new and lasting prosperity to Alaska.


The U.S.S.R. successfully tested a nuclear weapon in 1949; the communist People’s Republic of China was established the same year. From 1950 to 1953, the Korean War was fought to a costly stalemate despite interventions from the U.S., U.S.S.R., and China. By the end of the 1950s, hundreds of U.S. military advisors were active in Vietnam. Against this background, military construction in Alaska boomed as the state gained importance in the country’s strategic plans. As threats changed and technologies developed, WorldWar-II era bases were renovated and expanded, and new installations reached some of Alaska’s most remote areas. “It all went into the doldrums after World War II, and then quickly picked up during the Cold War,” said the late John Cloe, a military historian, Forum board member, and Project Jukebox

interviewee (page 40). “And here comes another big chunk of cash coming in, with Cold War spending during the early fifties to late fifties.” The U.S.S.R. developed long-range aircraft that could be armed with nuclear bombs and flown, one way, to the northwestern continental U.S. To do so, they would have to pass near or over Alaska. Or worse, Soviet bombers could reach much farther into the Lower 48 by capturing airfields in Alaska to use as stopovers. The U.S. government meant to prevent either of these possibilities. In the space of a few years during the 1950s, the U.S. military and its contractors built a system to detect and defend against Soviet bomber attacks. A series of radar stations called the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) was constructed along the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada, extending into the Aleutian Chain and Greenland. The White Alice Communication System was built in Alaska to transmit data and voice information between the DEW Line and other military installations. If Soviet planes were moving off the U.S.S.R.’s eastern coast or advancing over the Arctic, the U.S. would know about it. To protect Alaska cities and military installations, and as an additional defense against long-range Soviet bombers, eight Nike Hercules missile sites were constructed—five near Fairbanks and three around Anchorage. Each of the missiles housed at the Nike sites could be equipped with a nuclear warhead, to be detonated in the air to destroy a formation of bombers. According to Nike veteran Bob Raichle (page 38), the warheads were transported by air to neighboring Air Force bases and trucked to the Nike sites. The largest of these warheads packed roughly three times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.


Raichle recalls that he felt relatively comfortable working in a nuclear environment, owing to an intense training regimen and his understanding of his battery’s role in defending the U.S. But for many, nuclear weapons were at the fiery heart of Cold War anxieties.

R.T. Schultz (page 37) was a pilot in western Alaska during the early 1960s. He frequently flew defense-related clients, including those working on Project Chariot, an unrealized proposal for the “peacetime” use of nuclear blasts to excavate a deep-water harbor at Cape Thomspon, Alaska. Schultz, in an interview conducted in 1975 and recently donated to Project Jukebox, recounted seeing two massive explosions on the horizon while flying in western Alaska in 1962. Likely influenced by news reports, he interpreted the explosions as Soviet nuclear tests. The date of one of Schultz’s sightings—September 22, 1962—corresponds to such a test, according to documents released since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. (It was one of 78 Soviet tests that year; the U.S. conducted 69.) However, the U.S.S.R.’s test sites—in Kazakhstan and the Novaya Zemlya archipelago—are more than 2,500 miles from Alaska. Schultz’s observations are vivid and detailed, but, whatever he saw, they weren’t Soviet nuclear tests. His conclusion that they were evinces the cultural potency of the weapons, magnified by tensions at the height of the Cold War. One month after Schultz’s sightings, the Cuban Missile Crises unfolded. The weapons’ power over the imagination remains today, even if the tensions are not as great. According to McCartney, the UAF curator, people are surprised to learn that the Nike sites, so close to Anchorage and Fairbanks, were armed with nuclear missiles. “Few people realized that there were nuclear missiles in Alaska,” says McCartney. “Nobody really knew that the 1964 earthquake could have blown Alaska right off the map.”


The surge of military construction brought people, money, and infrastructure to Alaska. Businesses and neighborhoods sprang up around bases; the military population doubled between 1947 and 1957, and the civilian population more than doubled along with it. The military was the single largest employer in Alaska, a fact that remained true until Alaska’s oil boom. Government housing finance programs funded residential building around Anchorage and Fairbanks to accommodate the influx of servicemen

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and their families. During the 1950s, defense-related construction was the largest source of personal income for Alaska residents. Frequently, people stationed in Alaska during the Cold War fell in love with the state and stayed. According to Cloe, the Cold War brought Alaska “a lot of money and a lot of people. And a lot of people stayed. A lot of talent came up here, got out [of the military], and stayed.” Some of the talent was administrative and political; many doyens of Alaska’s government and institutions graduated from careers in military leadership. While the construction of communications systems, military bases, radar stations, and missile sites brought advantages to Alaska, the speed at which this infrastructure was built didn’t leave much time for environmental concerns. “It was a tremendous impact, environmentally,” Cloe remarked. “The feeling of the day was that when you emptied a 55-gallon drum, you threw it over the bank. And that went on for years and years. Then, with the environmental movement starting in the ’60s came the realization: We’ve got messes we left; we’ve got to clean them up. And that’s ongoing today.” Many Cold War-era facilities were built using asbestos, PCBs, and other problematic materials. Fuel and chemical spills soaked into the ground. The environmental impact is felt keenly in rural communities, where residents, many of them Alaska Native, live in proximity to now-abandoned sites. Traditional ways of life—fishing, hunting, gathering—are threatened by pollutants. The U.S. government now offers contracts to Alaska businesses for clean-up and decommissioning of such sites—one more way that the Cold War is impacting Alaska’s economy. Today, Nike Site Summit, overlooking Anchorage, is the subject of a preservation and interpretation effort lead by Friends of Nike Site Summit. Nike veterans gather periodically at reunions across the country, and historians, ranging from amateurs like Bob Raichle to professionals like the late John Cloe, conduct scholarship. Project Jukebox’s archive of oral histories joins these efforts. As the Cold War’s legacy of steel and soil disappears, a body of history and memory is being created. ■

—Aurora Ford and Dean Potter


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R.T. SCHULTZ OBSERVATIONS GAINED PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S ATTENTION Ransom Tony (R.T.) Schultz came to Alaska in 1938, the same year he bought his first plane and obtained his pilot’s license. He began flying for Star Airlines (later Alaska Airlines) in 1940, and in 1950 was chosen as their first chief bush pilot. He also flew in Alaska for Northern Consolidated Airlines, Wien Airlines, Interior Airlines, and as a bush pilot for the Bureau of Land Management. Schultz was interviewed on Feb. 21, 1975 by Bob Wright in Fairbanks. In this excerpted portion of the longer interview, he talks about observations and experiences when working as a pilot out of Cape Thompson in the early 1960s. Schultz died in 1993.

THIS WAS SO WILD TONY SCHULTZ: In September 1962, I was flying out of Kotzebue. I was supposed to be on the big aircraft, but, again, I got stuck with some deal that somebody else didn’t want. So, on September 14, I was flying between Kotzebue and Cape Thompson. This particular afternoon the clouds were at approximately 2,500 feet, and I decided to climb to 6,500, because it looked so clear up above. At approximately 3:15, while I was probably about halfway to Cape Thompson, I saw a peculiar cylindrical-type cloud rise far above the other clouds, approximately west-southwest from my position at that time, roughly half or two-thirds of the way to Cape Thompson. In the evening, I mentioned this to the radio man and he said, “Well, we just heard on the news that the Russians have set off another atomic blast.” Somehow or other, they gave [my] information to the Nome radio—Nome newspaper, rather. And this remark was carried in the local paper, and I was ridiculed by most of the people, including the pilots and president of Wien Airlines. However, on September 22, I left Cape Thompson late in the afternoon to deliver some men to Kiana, and on returning I was just west of Noatak village and flying at approximately 3,000 feet when I saw what I thought was an aircraft flying into or crashing in the ocean. The area to the west became lit up by what appeared to be a cloud of fire. This was so wild—the only word I know to describe it—wherein the dark streaks through the edges of it were boiling just like a gasoline fire. I knew that I needed a lot of information right away. First thing was to check the clock in the aircraft to get the time. It was 5:59, one minute to 6:00 p.m., Friday night.

While I watched this—looking at it, hoping to get other clues—I noticed that after approximately one and a quarter minutes, a sphere descended from this cloud of fire. I knew it wasn’t burning gasoline when I could see this [spherical] object descend from it. This fire continued to boil and roll around the edges, as I describe the gasoline fire. The streaks around the edges of it and the dark smoke looked very similar. But, I noticed then that there appeared on the surface a rosy glow. I attribute this to this ball of fire having descended to the surface. After approximately two minutes, the air had probably expanded, and through the middle of this area were two white lines. These lines were as straight as if they were drawn by a yard stick and parallel to one another. After approximately three minutes, the fire, the pool of fire as I recall it, was cooling off and disintegrating, and there seemed to be some fallout or ash in between this and the ground. At the end of four minutes, the cloud of fire had disappeared. However, there was still this rosy glow just over the horizon. Our newspaper people told us [later] that the Russians were setting this off at a point approximately 1,200 miles northwest of East Cape in Siberia. Yet the sightings I observed were within approximately 100 miles to the west, I estimate, of East Cape. Since this was Friday night, there wasn’t any action taken Saturday or Sunday. However, on Monday morning, [Alaska] Senator [Bob] Bartlett was called into President Kennedy’s office. He was given a short strip of teletype paper and President Kennedy said, “Senator Bartlett, do you know this man?” As Senator Bartlett told me later, he said, “I not only know this man, I’ve flown with him.” And President Kennedy said, “Well, can we rely on his report?” And Bartlett said, “Absolutely.”

At this time, then, President Kennedy had a U-2 [airplane] go over the area and remain there until he was out of fuel and glided 150 miles into Kotzebue without the use of his engine. At that time, the Kotzebue field was closed and the Airforce came over there. One, picked up his photographs. Two, fueled up the airplane. And then later opened the field to other traffic. All of what I have told you is true. I feel that this is the greatest contribution I could have made to my country.

NO EXPLANATION BOB WRIGHT: Did they ever explain it? TONY SCHULTZ: No, there’s no explana-

tion on either one of them as far as I know. I mean, this is where we get into this detente bit. This deal about the State Department wanting to stay on good terms rather than confront someone and say we have proof to such and so. For instance, the Air Force man when I filed my report. I filed this report with Kotzebue radio. I said: “This is Wing 31 Delta. Be advised, the Russians have set off another atomic blast.” I didn’t say I think or maybe. I said be advised. The time that I observed this was 5:59. It lasted for four minutes. “Advise military intelligence and this is not for news release.” So that put the lid on that. Then, the following Tuesday, after the information was confirmed by seismic elsewhere in the world, the commanding officer of the Kotzebue air base came to me and said, I quote, “We didn’t believe you, but when the time you reported was confirmed, to the minute, elsewhere in the world, we had to believe that you saw what you reported.” In other words, it took this long to get somebody to believe even a little bit. ■

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READY TO PUSH THE BUTTON BOB RAICHLE: My initial role was launching platoon leader, which meant I had to deal with the missiles. But very quickly in the first week, for some reason which I never found out, I was re-assigned to be the fire control platoon leader, which meant dealing with all the radars and actually sitting at the launch console and pushing the button after I was trained and qualified to do that. Since we were dealing with nuclear weapons, there was something called two-man control, which meant for us in the controlling area that if we were given the authorization to launch nuclear weapons, typically against the Soviet incoming planes, which was why we were there, there was a two-man control safe. I had the combination to one side, and another officer or warrant officer or senior NCO had the combination to the other side. We could not know each other’s combinations because that would violate the two-man control process. But once we received the authorization to release nuclear weapons we would open the safes. Inside would be an authenticator, which they change every so often. Quite frequently, in fact. And we would break them open and authenticate back to our command post, which was at Murphy Dome, what we were saying and they would confirm that all was in fact correct and so we were ready to go. And from there, we would go through getting our equipment ready, doing the target acquisition, doing the target tracking. And once everything was acquired and the missile was up and ready to go, we would be ready to push the button if we needed to.

ALMOST AUTOMATIC LESLIE McCARTNEY: You’re a young man working with nuclear weapons; how did that affect you?


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Robert “Bob” Raichle attended Purdue University in Indiana, where he earned a degree in business and participated in the Army ROTC program. From 1966 to 1968, Bob was stationed at Site Love (Echo Battery), a Nike missile site near Fairbanks, eventually becoming battery commander. After his two years in the military, Bob earned an MBA and had a successful career as a business consultant. He currently resides in southern California. He is the author of the article “Alaska’s Cold War Nuclear Shield,” written at the request of the Alaska Veterans Museum in Anchorage. His historical work on the Nike missile program is featured on several websites, including Friends of Nike Site Summit. Raichle was interviewed on Sept. 14, 2015 by Leslie McCartney.

BR: At that time, not at all. I was a 23-yearold second lieutenant, recent college graduate, recent commissioned officer. I knew that I had some pretty powerful weapons at my command. That pretty much on my own I would be called upon to release those nuclear weapons to basically blunt or stop a Soviet air attack. I knew the result of that attack would be devastating to Alaska and to the United States so I was ready and able to complete the mission. And it really never occurred to me how it impacted me or my family. I certainly did not want that to happen, but, you know, I didn’t sweat it really. One thing about air defense, and Nike in particular, and our unit in particular, was we were very well trained, very well versed in what we were doing. So, it was almost automatic. I don’t think I would have thought twice about pushing the button to launch a missile with a nuclear warhead on it because I knew that’s what I was there for and that was the purpose of the missile. And the consequences of not doing that were worse than the consequences of doing it. LM: What would the consequences be if you didn’t? You’d lose your job? BR: Well, that’s the best case. I think the worst-case scenario, if I hadn’t launched a missile against incoming bombers and the

bombers got through, I would probably be killed. I do know, having researched some of the old Russian archives, that our [Nike site], as well as the other [sites] in Alaska, were targeted with roughly 15 to 20 megaton payloads per site—which, of course, would’ve blown us completely out of the water. So, knowing that now, I’m glad we were so efficient in what we did and really had no reluctance to do what we had to do.

GOLD PANNING LM: Did you have much contact with just regular people in Fairbanks or were you mostly with your military family? BR: It was a combination of the two. Living off base as we did, you know, we weren’t confined to just military contacts. We had friends outside the military, as well as inside. More inside the military than outside, but both cases. LM: Did you partake in any activities then in town? BR: We took part in some of the cultural activities, some of the university-offered activities. The local outdoor activities certainly. The dog races and the fishing and hunting and what have you. We were avid outdoors people, so we did

“I DON’T THINK I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT TWICE ABOUT PUSHING THE BUTTON TO LAUNCH A MISSILE WITH A NUCLEAR WARHEAD ON IT BECAUSE I KNEW THAT’S WHAT I WAS THERE FOR.” a lot of hiking and fishing. Found some interesting ghost towns and cabins back in the wilds. I actually did quite a bit of gold panning down at the dredge in Fox and found some gold. And enjoyed that very much, until I was shooed off a number of the claims by people with menacing looking weapons. But it was fun to get out and do some gold panning.

IMPACTS ON ALASKA BR: I think the biggest impact, other than obviously blunting the Soviet air threat and keeping the Soviets out of Alaska, was the fact that over a period of years we probably put 1,000, maybe 1,200 people through all the Nike sites in Alaska, including our battery. And those people, some went on to live in the local communities. Stayed because they liked the lifestyle in Alaska. Some went on and came back. People got to see what Alaska was all about and were able to relate to that and maybe improve Alaska over the years by staying there and living there and having an active role. So, I think it was more than just a defensive missile site that was involved. It was an overall impact on the whole community that you can look back to.

LEADERSHIP UNIVERSITY LM: Let’s talk about the overall impact of working at a Nike site on your later career. Was it a positive experience? BR: At my point of life, 23 years old, it was very influential. It was leadership university, really. You learn about teamwork and how to build teams, how to reward team members. You learn what works, what doesn’t work. You learn about how to lead, when to be tough, when not to be tough. In the military, there are very strict rules. Some of the commanders I saw followed the rules to the tee. However, in the situation we were in, which was not a typical military situation, we were isolated. We were living together for, in some cases, years on end. I thought a little bit of leeway should be allowed, so I personally allowed it. Some of the commanders I reported to didn’t think that should happen. [But,] it was just not a typical military situation where the military culture should apply. So, I took some liberties. And, I think, was rewarded for it by the teams that I supported. They saw that I was trying to make their life a little bit easier, so they made my life easier when I was in the evaluation chair at the time of evaluation. And from there, after seeing the benefits of

Nike Hercules missiles at Site Summit overlooking Anchorage in December 1968. Photo by Lyman L. Woodman. UAA-hmc-0353-b8-f39-16

a successful team and how teamwork works, I was able to build more successful teams in businesses I was later involved in. And the same principle has worked. People wanted to be respected and were willing to work as a team. And if you didn’t respect their abilities or were disrespectful of them as individuals, it wasn’t much of a team and the results were not there. I still use those experiences. I can go into a business now, as a consultant, and very quickly determine if they have an effective team or not and typically rout out why it is not effective and fix it.

BECOMING A NIKE HISTORIAN BR: Today, I visit Nike sites when I can, talk to Nike veterans when I can, either individually or through reunions. I write about Nike missile sites. It’s kind of a hobby. I learn more about the role and the mission and who accomplished it and who was involved and what it took to get done. It’s really quite a story when you stand back and wrap it all together. LM: And then you can relate it back to your own experiences, and how they take on more meaning. As you said, you were 23. You didn’t realize the importance and significance of this.

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BR: Oh, I knew I had nuclear weapons, but I didn’t know the magnitude. The weapons we had, each one was like three or four times the power of Hiroshima, for example. With that, I can relate to that. We had a surface to surface mission. And the reason we had that, in thinking about it and researching it, was because if the Russians ever invaded, we would want to have the ability to nuke them with our surface to surface missiles. What I didn’t realize, until I discovered it doing some research, was that if the Russians were successful in coming here and we still survived that initial onslaught, our final mission as Echo Battery at Site Love, north of Fairbanks, was to drop missiles—surface to surface nuclear missiles—on Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base, the airport at Fairbanks. The Anchorage batteries had the same mission. And then get the heck out of there. I don’t know what would be left at that point. I also learned that there was a high-ranking military official who was recruited as a spy for Russia and delivered quite a bit of the Nike systems to them. I had a warrant officer, a good friend of mine, who took a trip to Russia [after the fall of the Soviet Union] and in a library found full schematics of the Nike Hercules missile system, which were still classified secret at the time. So, all these discoveries I make along the way kind of tie everything together for me.

TELLING THE NIKE STORY BR: I’s a story, I think, that really hasn’t

been told properly. And through these restored sites and through these interviews and through other media, we can get the word out so people can appreciate what these thousands and thousands of young men did over a period of 20, 25, 30 years in defense of the United States from a threat that was constantly there. The Soviets knew what they were getting into, so they never came. And that’s a tribute to the young men—I don’t think there were any young women at the time—the young men who were at these sites and who went through all kinds of grief and probably morale problems. But they did their job and they accomplished their mission because nothing happened. We did our part over the last Cold War period. Now maybe a new one is starting. I don’t know, but we should be prepared to do it again. ■


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AURAL HISTORY The transcriptions printed here are excerpts of longer interviews. To hear veterans speak about the challenges and camaraderie of our country’s northernmost line of defense, check out the interviews collected at the Project Jukebox website:

John Haile Cloe graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1963, and went on to serve 29 years in the U.S. Army. As an infantry officer, he served two tours in Vietnam. In 1970, he came to Anchorage and was assigned as Exercise Plans Officer for the Army. He retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1992. In 1973, as a civilian, Cloe became the Alaska Air Command historian at Elmendorf Air Force Base. He served in this position until his retirement in 2006. Cloe had a deep knowledge of the military history of Alaska and was an authority on World War II in the territory. He wrote three books about Alaska’s role in World War II and the Cold War, including Top Cover for America: The Air Force in Alaska. Cloe served on the board of directors of the Alaska Humanities Forum. He was interviewed on Sept. 21, 2016 by Karen Brewster. He died later that year.

DISASTER IS ANOTHER TYPE OF WARFARE JOHN CLOE: The military was definitely a big-time

player in the earthquake and the recovery from it, because there was not that much of a disaster preparedness capability in Anchorage. The only one that had any command and control capability, and troops to guard things, was the military. They’re the only ones that had the water tanks and the ambulances and the spare food. KAREN BREWSTER: Because the military is prepared for disasters? JC: They have to prepare for war. Disaster is another type of warfare. Instead of going there and destroying things, you’re trying to go ahead and save things. There’s not that much difference. You’ve got to have the command and controls, the infrastructure, the wherewithal, the resources. And the military had them all. They were able to provide reconnaissance that the state troopers obviously didn’t have. They could go out and take aerial photographs. They could send their helicopters to pick up people in Whittier. You’d read a report of a helicopter pilot coming over the Portage Pass, looking down at the devastation and commenting about it. And he picked up a bunch of stranded people that were waiting on the Turnagain


Arm flats area. He saw them standing, so he stopped and brought them back to Anchorage. Same thing with other locations. They established a recovery center near Valdez. Told people to drive up there and we’ll take care of you.

ALASKA NATIVES AND THE COLD WAR JC: One thing that the Cold War did, it provided an opportunity to Alaska Natives to participate in the military. And they were good soldiers. They provided training, they provided employment. Each village would have one or two guys that were full-time there. Paid employees of military. And then they would have maybe 10, 15, 20 part-timers that drilled on weekends and a couple times a year, and they contributed to the economy. But in the meantime, they provided leadership. General John Schaeffer, he’s a prime example of that. He was a general in the National Guard. First chairman of the NANA Corporation. A lot of the Native leadership began with the Guard—General Pagano, General Lestenkof. You may want to talk about the negative impact on the Natives? KB: Would you like to comment on that? JC: Yeah, I think the military sort of had a

negative impact on the Alaska Natives. And one is environmental impact, messing up their lands near where they lived. And I think in one instance they forced the whole village to move. They built a DEW Line station. They upended the whole village and moved them, because they needed the property. It was the old days before EPA and the need for environmental assessments and the military came in and they could just build. A classic example is Gulkana during World War II, where they tore up a cemetery for construction. Put an airstrip there. There’s that history of the military’s impact. We can go back to 1867, you know. It’s good and bad. Mostly good, though. It brought social change and it brought communications.

TRACKING BULLS JC: During the Cold War, Alaska was strategically important. It was located astride a bomber route. During World War II, the Russians had never developed a long-range bomber capability. They tried to get us to send them four engine bombers under LendLease and we refused to do it. Basically, their aviation was tactical, supporting the ground troops. Not bombing Berlin from Moscow or wherever. They managed to acquire a couple of our

B-29s that were force landed in Russia. They reverse engineered them, almost copied rivet for rivet. And created this thing, a look alike: the Tu-4 Bull. Through espionage, they got control of our atomic secrets. They created a clone of our Fat Man bomb. The plutonium implosive type device. It was an identical copy of the thing. And they put those two together. The Tu-4 had about a five-thousand-mile range at the most. It was not going to hit Washington [D.C.] If they put an atomic bomb in it, and they put it in Mys Shmidta or Provideniya or someplace like that in the Soviet Union, it had to fly across Alaska to strike Seattle. And on a one-way flight. So, guess what? We got to shoot this thing down before it gets there. So, that resulted in all this infrastructure. The radar sites. White Alice sites tied it all together. The forward operating bases where they based fighter interceptors. The tube artillery that protected the main bases, later replaced by the Nike system, which became obsolete almost the day they activated it. KB: And those AC&W [Aircraft Control and Warning] sites, there were a lot of those. They were all over the state. JC: There were 19 of them. KB: They were all over on remote mountaintops and things. JC: Yes, a system of surveillance radars was located on the coastal areas. From Point Lay all the way down into the Aleutians. KB: There was one near Homer, too. JC: Olson Mountain, near Homer. There was one on Fire Island. There was one on Murphy Dome. Then they had the Aircraft Control Centers, Murphy Dome being one, Fire Island being one. They had two sectors: north sector, south sector. And they were all tied into central command center, the ANRCC [Alaska NORAD Region Control Center], which was one of those big Star Wars type things with a big screen in the back. That was a central point. That was on Elmendorf. It was all computerized. Then, if a Russian bomber started coming, they’d be picked up by the radars on the coastal site, and then we’d launch planes and intercept them and shoot them down. If they got past that, then the Nike sites would shoot them down. KB: Right. But they weren’t really so worried about protecting the civilian population, they were worried about protecting the bases? JC: They had to protect the bases. And the civilians—if they dropped a bomb on Elmendorf, it’s obviously going to do a lot of collateral damage. ■

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“Juxtaposition” March, 2017 Joe Yelverton

Unseen: A Portrait of Uncommon Warriors Opens January 12, 2018 Alaska Humanities Forum For an eight-month period, photographer Joe Yelverton had the privilege to observe and talk with the men and women who work for the Alaska 210th and 212th rescue squadrons. “Unseen” is a project that captures these stories through words and images, funded by grants from the Alaska Humanities Forum and Rasmuson Foundation.

“MANY OF US go through our lives at odds— with our job, the commute, our kids, our spouse. On board a 20,000-pound rescue helicopter, sitting next to men tasked with risking their lives to save others, there are distinct moments when life is distilled to its most simple elements. Decision making seems more instinctual, movement appears choreographed. Between moments of intense action there’s a level of calm, maybe even an acceptance of an unpredictable fate. “Does dangerous work afford these men the rare opportunity to see life differently, knowing it might be their last day on earth?” — Joe Yelverton


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