All posts by Hayley Henriksen

Hayley Henriksen

About Hayley Henriksen

My Name is Hayley Henriksen. I am a senior at Creighton University studying journalism and political science and pursuing a career in nonprofit public relations. I love going to concerts and seek any opportunity to learn about the world.

A Difference Maker

Thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.
Wearing my Alaska hat and taking in the beauty surrounding me. A special thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.

At the start of this journey, I was looking for adventure. I hoped to learn and grow in my journalistic and video skills. I was excited to travel to Alaska, a new and fascinating place.

Now that we have completed our final day of the Backpack Journalism Program, I can say that I have accomplished all of this and so much more.

I can’t even come close to adequately putting this experience into words. It has far exceeded my expectations, and I feel so grateful for these past five weeks.

The Backpack Journalism team traveled to a place at the world’s edge, often unseen or forgotten by the lower 48. There we stayed in the small but welcoming community of Bethel where we learned about the Yup’ik culture, the people’s connection to the land and the effects of climate change. I was amazed by the openness of the community and how willingly people shared their stories with us. If they had not taken the time to be interviewed and filmed by us, the creation of our documentary would not be possible.

After learning about how climate change is affecting Alaska, this trip allowed me to reflect on my own life and how I live. Over the years, it has been easy for me to be critical of others who do not believe in climate change or chose to ignore it. But because climate change is a collective problem, I am as much a cause of this environmental crisis as anyone else. I recycle and walk to school, but I still drive a car and feed into the consumerism that is much of the cause of climate change. In the next few months, I will make the changes in my life necessary to live more simply and reduce the amount of energy and resources that I use.

Because of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I also gained a sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. I feel that I can now take on any challenge in life, which will be especially important as I begin my senior year of college and look to the future.

The memories I shared with my team members will be ones I’ll cherish forever, from watching the magnificent sunset during a boat ride on the Kuskokwim to the beautiful tundra walks to the countless games played in the social hall. The perpetual laughter of our group, no matter what the circumstance, made this experience unforgettable. The amount of joy that I have felt in the last month has renewed my spirits and inspired me to continue fighting for what I believe in.

I already miss the people and landscape of Alaska, but soon I will miss spending time with the 19 incredible people on the Backpack Journalism team. Thankfully we will always have a connection to each other and Alaska because of this film-making and community-building experience. Even though it was our last day of class today, I know that the journey is not over. We still have a great deal of editing to do on our documentary, and then comes the most exciting part of this project: sharing our film with others.

I feel blessed to be a witness to a part of the world that is hurting but still lively, rich in culture and appreciative of the land and community. I can end this five-week experience feeling as though I made a difference in some way, but I know that Bethel has made much more of a difference in me.

Finally Seeing

If I had to choose one lasting image from my trip to Alaska, it would be the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.

exitglacier

I have never had any doubt about climate change, but viewing this glacier somehow made me see the issue in a new way, as if I had not fully grasped the situation our world faces.

I recently watched “Chasing Ice,” a documentary created by photographer James Balog, who uses time lapse images of glaciers to tell the story of climate change. It is a spectacular yet jarring film that shows how drastically glaciers are melting around the world, including sequences from Alaska.

To see a disappearing glacier before my eyes was an unforgettable experience.  I initially was excited to discover that we would be visiting the glacier, but during our hike up to Exit Glacier, I felt anxious about what we would find.

Yes, the glacier was extraordinary. But because of its noticeably shrinking size, I immediately felt saddened by the sight before me.

I admired the shades of blue on the ice but then observed that it was losing its pristine white color and instead acquiring a grayish tint from the rocks surrounding it. I saw the deep cracks throughout the glacier and a stream of water flowing down the ice mass.

A few weeks ago, Kenai Fjords National Park posted a picture on its Facebook page that illustrates the progression of the Exit Glacier’s ice melt. The changes are staggering.

If I return to Alaska someday and visit Exit Glacier, what will it look like? It’s a startling question to think about. Depending on how far into the future it may be, the glacier could look strikingly different.

It all depends on how quickly we act because we are running out of time. I see progress being made, but there is still so much more we need to do to curb the affects of climate change. I still have hope that our world leaders will be brave enough to take these necessary and urgent steps before it is too late.

As we put together our own documentary, a goal for the film is to tell the personal side of the issue and how it is truly affecting people in Bethel. Like “Chasing Ice,” I hope that our project will in some way make an impact on the community and shine a light on climate change to those who may not have seen it.

 

Jesuit Volunteers Make Lasting Impact on Bethel Community

by Hayley Henriksen and Leah Renaud

It’s not hard to believe that a flame quickly spread when Jesuit Volunteers (JVs) first came to Bethel in 1964. Since then, JVs have remained in Bethel, and their roles have progressed from year-long volunteers to unfading members of the community.

Erin O’Keefe and Justin Brandt are two JVs that decided to stay in Bethel after their time as volunteers was over, similar to many other JVs that came to Bethel before them.

“It was love at first sight for me,” Brandt said, who served as a youth minister for the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church for two years.

Having put that particular position as his top choice during the selection process, he was determined to come to Bethel and seek a new adventure. His undying love for the outdoors drew him to one of the last truly wild destinations in the U.S.

O’Keefe first heard about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) from her mother, who was a JV herself and encouraged her children to pursue it.

When O’Keefe learned that she would be a JV in Bethel working at the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, she didn’t think too much about it or the possible impact it would have on her.

“When I think about how I was a JV, I think about the worlds that it opened up for me in Bethel and Alaska,” O’Keefe said.

As stated on the JVC website, a part of their mission is “to be conscious of the poor, attuned to the causes of social injustice, and dedicated to service informed by faith.”

JVs spend a year or more in assigned locations in the U.S. or developing countries. In its beginning, JVC saw a need in Bethel and other parts of rural Alaska.

“One of the purposes of JVC is to expose people to poverty that they may not have experienced themselves and put them in positions where they are questioning their own life choices and to live in greater solidarity with those people,” explained O’Keefe.

Bethel’s 6,000 residents have struggled with various social issues, including homelessness, substance abuse and suicide, in one form or another.

“Bethel has a large number of problems for such a small number of people, and because it’s a small number of people, the problems are much more well known,” Brandt said.

Despite the needs of the community, Bethel is home to an enduring Yup’ik culture and lively people, making it a special location for JVs who serve there. While working with the community, JVs are immersed and embraced by the people of Bethel. They participate in traditional practices alongside the natives and develop to be unforgettable additions to the Bethel community.

“Bethel is a great place for JVs, and certainly Bethel does more for JVs than JVs do for Bethel,” O’Keefe stated.

View our video on this story here.

Finding Beauty No Matter Where You Are

I have been home from Alaska for almost a week now, and I admit it still feels strange to be back in Nebraska. It seems that no time has passed, yet so much happened to me while I was away. I am definitely missing Alaska, from the community of Bethel to the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula.

Fortunately I haven’t had a lot of time to think about the twinge of sadness I feel as we dive head first into creating our documentary. I don’t feel a complete loss of connection to Alaska as I re-watch interviews and look at B-roll. I have enjoyed listening to the stories of people we interviewed early in our trip and finding the best quotes in our many hours of footage. It was a tiring week of transcribing and editing video, but we have made great progress in our project.

As I tell my family and friends about my Backpack Journalism experience, I feel a sense of excitement as I talk about the wonderful people we met in Bethel and the issues of the area that we learned about and witnessed firsthand. There is so much to tell, yet I can’t find the words to tell about everything. All I can do is try to express my love for the beautiful state.

I always seem to fall in love with the places I visit. My numerous trips to Chicago have led me to decide that it is my favorite city. Visiting Oregon and seeing its splendor helped me determine that I want to live there in the future. During my service trip to West Virginia, I was amazed by its beauty during the fall and inspired by its people.

Alaska was no different. I feel fortunate to have spent so much time in a part of the state rarely seen by tourists. I came to admire the Yup’ik culture and subsistence lifestyle. I saw tundra, ocean, glaciers and mountains, all in one place. The people I met and the stories I heard changed my life.

Being a Nebraska native, everywhere else seems to be more beautiful and exciting than the flat plains of the Cornhusker State. No mountains or oceans, just fields and rivers.

Yet being back, I have come to appreciate the beauty of where I grew up and the city I call my second home. On my first night back from Alaska, I looked out toward the sunset from my 10th floor apartment window. I thought about the stunning Alaska sky, but then I realized that Nebraska has pretty amazing sunsets, too.

From the outside looking in, the town of Bethel, Alaska, may not seem like the most exciting place. But for the people living there, it is home, and it is beautiful to them.

Our very last interview was with a woman named Susan, who worked at the Immaculate Conception Church where we stayed during our trip. She was born in Bethel and has lived there her entire life. Her love for the community showed, and there was no place she would rather be.

“Bethel is our paradise,” she eloquently stated.

No matter where I may end up living in my life, for now I will appreciate the beauty and comfort of Nebraska and the people here who have impacted my life. I hope that I have the opportunity to travel to Alaska again soon, but for now I am going to love the place where I am now.

Bethel in a nutshell: big sky, clouds, painted dumpsters, water, mud and wonderful people. Photo courtesy of Claudia Brock
Bethel in a nutshell: open sky, fluffy clouds, painted dumpsters, water, mud and wonderful people. Photo courtesy of Claudia Brock

World-Class Learning for Kurvers

From the mountains of Montana to the beaches of the Dominican Republic to the tundra of Alaska, Erin Kurvers has set out to see the world.

The Minnesota native loves to travel, a passion that has guided her and shaped much of her life.

Growing up, Kurvers traveled to Montana where she went skiing, visited Yellowstone National Park and spent time with family.

“My all-time favorite place would be Montana. My cousins live there, and every Thanksgiving we would drive out to see them. They have this cool house where our entire extended family would go and hang out. It’s just a home away from home,” the 20-year-old said with a smile.

Early in her life, she also developed compassion for others and their experiences, which has served her well during her travels.

“My parents taught me good values and how to be a good friend. I think they are really good at not judging people at all, which I think is something that I also learned. I knew not to make assumptions about people and to always keep an open mind and open heart when getting to know people.”

Her desire to travel and meet new people led her to attend college at Creighton University.

10462536_10152622730167275_864075523633431845_n
Erin getting that B-roll in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams

“I knew I wanted to go somewhere out of the state of Minnesota. I love Minnesota, but I just needed to get out and see different parts of the world and different people from different places. And I liked that Creighton brought together people from lots of places,” Kurvers explained.

Once she was in college, finding a major that both interested her and fulfilled her love of travel was a challenge.

“I have always had a really hard time figuring out what I wanted to do because I kind of like everything. I loved my history classes in high school, but I also loved my science and English classes. I loved it all, so I didn’t know how to narrow it down,” Kurvers said.

In high school she had the idea of becoming an investigative journalist but wasn’t sure it was the best fit. She took a few journalism classes right away in college but wasn’t totally convinced until the spring semester of her sophomore year when she participated in EncuentroDominicano, a living and learning program in the Dominican Republic.

“I knew from the moment I first came here that I wanted to do the Backpack Journalism Program and also that I wanted to study abroad. Those two experiences made me want to do journalism more than after my first journalism classes.” she said.

In the DR, Kurvers took various classes, performed service and was immersed in a new culture. During her time in the country, she wrote about experiences for The Creightonian.

“When I was in the DR, I was doing exactly what I want to do: meeting people from different places and learning about their life and how different it is. The people there were just amazing. You learn how to open up your world view and realize that where we come from really affects us a lot. Then doing the Backpack Journalism Program made me realize that, wow, I really do like this and that this is something I would like to do for a career,” the Creighton junior said.

Although she is currently a journalism major, she is still exploring the possibility of minors in Spanish and international relations. In addition, she hopes to go into the Peace Corps for two years after graduating from Creighton.

“I think what I want to accomplish with my life, in general, is just that I want to do something that is benefiting the world in some way. My most terrifying thought would be working in a business where I am just sitting there doing stuff to make money for a company. I understand that that’s how the world works and we need that part of the world, but personally for me I want to actually be doing something physically that I can see is changing the world in some way,” she said.

Experiencing Moose Country

Throughout my time in Alaska, I was on the lookout for my favorite animal, the moose. It is an awkward yet majestic creature, so I find it to be quite endearing. Alaska is the land of moose, so it seemed like I had a good chance to see one during my trip.

I knew it was unlikely that I would find one in Bethel because it’s on the treeless tundra, but it just so happened that early on in our trip, four girls in our group going on a walk saw a mama moose and two young calves emerge from the bushes across the Kuskokwim River. I was very sad that I wasn’t with them but still held onto hope that I had many more days of the trip left to find one.

By our last day in Alaska, I still hadn’t seen one. I had looked longingly through the trees as we drove from Anchorage to Seward. We took a spectacular boat ride on the ocean and visited the gorgeous Kenai Fjords National Park, but there weren’t any moose to be found during either experience. We spent time in the town of Moose Pass to experience its Summer Solstice Festival. There I took my picture by a cute sign of a moose, but no moose were passing through at the time.

moosepass
Photo credit: Claudia Brock

During my quest for a moose, many of my fellow Backpackers wondered why I love moose so much. In eighth grade I visited Grand Teton National Park with my family during summer vacation. As we were driving through the park, I was sitting in the backseat looking out the car window and spotted a brown animal in the thick of the trees. I called out “Moose!” and my dad stopped the vehicle. I jumped out of the car and hurried a few feet back to where I had seen the animal. Sure enough, about a hundred yards in front of me was a female moose just standing there looking at me. My family and I watched it for a while, and soon it turned around and disappeared into the trees. This is where my love for moose began.

I still wonder how I spotted the beautiful moose at the Grand Tetons. If I had blinked or looked away at that moment, I would have missed it. A few summers later, my family and I saw six bull moose all at once in a grassy meadow at the Snowy Mountain Range near Laramie, Wyoming, which was an absolutely remarkable experience. Both moose sightings are two of my favorite memories, so I have a fondness for the animal that made them possible.

As I stared out the car window on our way back to Anchorage on Sunday, I hoped that my history of spotting moose would come to benefit me, but as the day wore on I came to accept the fact that I wouldn’t see one, knowing that I had witnessed lots of wonderful new wildlife like orca whales and otters.

otter
Saw this adorable lounging otter during our boat ride on the ocean

After leaving Moose Pass, we began our journey through the mountains to our final destination, the Anchorage airport. Then our fantastic tour guide Todd, who knew of my love for moose, said that we had one last stop. Ahead I saw a sign for the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and Todd surprised me by saying I would have a chance to see a moose.

Once we entered the park, I quickly hopped out of the van and spotted a moose right away about one hundred feet away. I hustled over to find not only one but two young bull moose with small antlers. They were in a fenced-in area chomping on the grass. One was sitting just a couple feet away from the fence. Words can’t really describe the moment, but maybe a picture can.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams
Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams

I was absolutely overjoyed to see my favorite animal up close. I ended up sitting alone with the moose for a couple minutes just looking him. Then I decided to check out some of the other animals in the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. It is an incredible place. Orphaned and injured animals are brought there to be nursed to health and taught how to survive in the wild on their own. Black and grizzly bears, bald eagles, deer, caribou and bison were some of the other species there.

Before our group left the center, I went back over to the moose, who were now standing and enjoying their dinner of willow branches. As I was taking one last look, the moose turned his head to me, stopped eating and slowly walked over to the fence where I was standing. We just looked at each other for a few moments, and then he went on his way eating his dinner. It was an unbelievable moment I will never forget.

I have an even greater appreciation for moose after spending two weeks in Alaska. Because moose is a subsistence species, the Yup’ik people rely on the animal to survive during the fall and winter. Not only is there a respect for landscape in this culture but also for animals. We heard a story during one of our interviews about how a group of subsistence hunters said a prayer of thanksgiving after hunting a moose. Every part of the animal is used and never wasted. The meat is lean and good for children to eat.

At the church potluck, I debated eating the moose stew someone brought because of how much I love the animal, but because moose are such an important part of the Alaskan culture, I decided that it would be disrespectful not to try it (and thought is was delicious).

Even though it wasn’t in the Alaskan wilderness, seeing a moose up close was a special opportunity and the best way I could have imagined to end my two week Backpack Journalism trip. I will always be able to say I saw a moose in Alaska and also learned about how important and special the animal is to this place.

Isn't he adorable?
Isn’t he adorable?

Let the World Surprise You

Can't get enough of the Alaska sky
Can’t get enough of the Alaska sky

Sometimes the most inspiring moments of your life come when you least expect it.

Yesterday we reached day nine of our time in Bethel. As our trip is nearing its end we are starting to feel a bit sluggish. I know everyone seemed to be a bit sleepy this week, and naps have become a frequent occurrence for our group.

The day was expected to be pretty low-key with not a lot of activity. The weather was cold and rainy again after a few days of sunshine. We had gotten a lot of the video footage that we needed, yet I was still anxious to get back to Omaha to see how all of our interviews and B-roll would fit together. With only a few interviews left, our project was winding down in intensity.

In the morning as a group of us were eating breakfast in the church social hall, John walked into the room and wanted our attention. He had finally reached an important person who we wanted to interview and needed a video team to get ready to go immediately. I volunteered to help, and within minutes we were piled into two vehicles with our equipment and headed off in the rain.

Our interview was with a young Yup’ik man named Nelson, who just finished his freshman year at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and is working at the Tundra Women’s Coalition in Bethel during the summer. During high school he worked on a documentary about climate change, which was an added bonus because he understood the video-making process and didn’t really need to be coached on interviewing.

I honestly didn’t expect a whole lot from the interview, partly because I hardly knew who we were talking to before getting there but also because Nelson was so young. I know for me personally how difficult it would be to get in front of the camera to tell my life story and open up to complete strangers, so I assumed Nelson would be nervous too. But from the moment he answered our first question, I knew this interview was the one we had been waiting and hoping for.

Nelson was wise beyond his years, and the video team was holding onto every word he was saying as he shared his life in Alaska with us. He discussed growing up in a village and how his family relied on subsistence to survive. He talked about how hunting, particularly for seals, seems cruel to many people but that the animals are never wasted; every part has an important purpose. To get such eloquent responses from someone who could speak from the perspective of younger generations was so important to our film after speaking to a few Yup’ik elders.

The most profound moment of the interview came when he told about the impacts of climate change on Alaska. He spoke earnestly about the harm we are doing to our planet, which is God’s gift to us. Nelson said that we need to tell the land that we are sorry and ask to be forgiven, which was the quote that really surprised me and touched every person in the room.

I was holding the boom mic during the interview and couldn’t see Nelson, but I could hear the pain in his voice and knew how deeply climate change has affected him. I could see the various people behind the camera starting to tear up as he spoke. Then I started to tear up. After he finished his answer, you could hear us all give an audible sigh. I knew that this moment was incredibly special and felt so thankful I was there to hear Nelson’s story.

After the interview we were all so excited because we knew how crucial it was to our documentary, and we didn’t realize it until it happened. We now had the emotional and personal story that we were missing.

A day that was supposed to continue our usual routine in Bethel turned into one of the best days of my life. Besides the interview with Nelson, I was able to see a dog sled team and watch them practice, met my new favorite dog Tanner (we have matching hair – pictures to come), shared a beautiful reflection time with my fellow Backpackers (yes, tears were shed) and have one last tundra adventure with great friends. This week was starting to blur together and I was forgetting why I was here. But then all of a sudden the world surprised me.

One last tundra walk
One last tundra walk

Boat Trips on the Kuskokwim

Nothing says Alaska like taking a boat ride on the Kuskokwim River, eating freshly-caught salmon and watching a spectacular sunset at midnight. In the midst of our busyness, I am thankful to have experienced some of these remarkable aspects of this beautiful region.

On Friday, a group of us had the opportunity to take a boat to the Yup’ik village of Napaskiak to shoot some B-roll footage for our documentary. We could not have asked for a better day to go out on the Kuskokwim River. The weather had finally improved; the blue skies and fluffy white clouds were welcoming after many dreary, drizzly days.

We all piled into the boat and set off on our expedition. It was thrilling to get out on one of the last wild rivers flowing through the United States. The Kuskokwim is so important to the people of Bethel and the surrounding villages for transportation and food.

Along the way to the village, we made a few stops along the river to try to find moose. Even though we never found one, the meadows and marshy landscapes we saw were breathtaking. I am still holding onto hope that I will see a moose before I leave Alaska.

image

After the beautiful boat ride, we reached the village. As we got out of the boat, I noticed the peacefulness of Napaskiak and immediately felt that by bringing in all of our cameras we were intruding on the lives of the villagers. We had a limited amount of time to get our B-roll, so I knew I had to overcome my discomfort to find the footage we needed.

The eight of us split up into groups, so Leah, Morgan and I headed off to find interesting shots around the village. We communicated our whereabouts in the village by using walkie-talkies — an incredibly fun and useful addition to our adventure.

As we were setting up our cameras to shoot video, all of a sudden two young girls appeared and wondered what we were up to. Soon more and more curious children started to emerge as we moved around Napaskiak. They were incredibly respectful and stayed behind the cameras instead of trying to get in our shots.

The houses were very small and connected by boardwalks, so villagers traveled to and from different structures by bike or four-wheeler. Napaskiak had a Russian Orthodox Church that we peeked inside. We also chatted with a village police officer, who was very friendly and joked that he just didn’t want us to take pictures of him.

We received word from John via our walkie-talkie that it was time to head out. As we packed up our gear into the boat, the village children swarmed around us saying they didn’t want us to leave. I am sure we are the most exciting visitors they have had for a while.

The team was all set to go, and we all waved goodbye as we started back down the river. I couldn’t help but feel sad as Napaskiak became a faint sight in the distance. I find it hard to imagine winters in such a remote place. Villages throughout the region face great challenges due to their isolation from more populated areas. Despite the difficulties of village life, I am humbled by how welcoming the people of Napaskiak were and will always remember the lively spirits of the children.

During our journey back to Bethel on the Kuskokwim, I witnessed the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen (the one odd thing about it was that it was at midnight). No photo can do it justice, but I was able to capture a photo from our boat. It was a truly wonderful day.

image

On Saturday the entire Backpack Journalism crew took a boat ride on the Kuskokwim to a fish camp. We enjoyed a fun and relaxing cook-out of hot dogs and hamburgers. In addition, we had a taste of salmon that had just been caught in the river. I am not a huge fan of fish, but I thought this salmon was absolutely delicious.

Besides eating great food, our evening at the fish camp was spent in the great outdoors enjoying the presence of some fantastic people. It has been just over a week since we arrived in Bethel, and I am so thankful to be sharing this experience with fellow journalism majors, Creighton students and faculty, and friends old and new. Whether we are playing card games, preparing meals or just laughing uncontrollably, I am loving my time in Alaska and will be sure to make the most of my last week here.

 

Sending my thoughts and prayers to the people of my hometown of Norfolk and the rest of northeast Nebraska, especially those affected by the terrible tornadoes in and around Pilger. 

 

Taking Chances

The last few days have been full of new experiences and adventure, and each day I continue to gain insight into this incredible place. I am seeing all types of landscape around Bethel, including the tundra. Last week a group of girls went out for a walk across the spongy ground to enjoy the fresh air and open skies.

Tundra walk outside of Bethel
Tundra walk outside of Bethel

I am also making an effort to step outside my comfort zone as we dive deeper into this project. I put my journalism skills to the test when I conducted my first in-person, filmed interview. Brian McCaffery, a biologist and director of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, took the time to speak with us about the subsistence culture, conservation and signs of climate change in the region. The Backpack Journalism team read a reflection article written by Brian before we left for Alaska, so we had an idea of what he would have to say but never expected his interview to be so profound.

I, of course, was very nervous to interview Brian because I had never been in this type of sitation before and felt the pressure of expectation. In addition, I really cared about what he had to say and wanted to do the interview justice.

I felt this interview was also a culmination of my journalism education and concern for the environment. In ninth grade, I gave a persuasion speech in my speech class about climate change. I had just watched the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and was blown away by this problem. Now I just chuckle to myself wondering what my classmates thought of this speech and if I actually persuaded anyone.

It’s been seven years since I gave that speech, and my concern for the environment has only increased as little has been done to solve the problem of climate change. The effects are starting to become more noticeable around the world, and now that I am in Alaska, I am in a place where most people believe climate change is happening and are greatly impacted by it.

When interviewing Brian, I asked him about many issues facing the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, including the king salmon fishing restrictions, the conflict between subsistence and environmental protection, and his analysis of climate change. Brian deals with these conflicts on a day-to-day basis as a job but also has a person who has lived in this region for a long period of time. He has a difficult task to try to maintain the natural resources of this region but also support the culture and lifestyle of its people.

I was completely amazed by Brian’s answers to my questions. In the corner of my eye I saw John give a huge thumbs-up to the people in the room, which I take to mean that the interview went well. I am looking forward to going back to listen to it again and seeing how it will fit into our documentary.

I am so grateful to have had this remarkable interviewing experience. If I hadn’t taken a chance and put myself out there, I would not have had the opportunity to talk to someone so knowledgeable and passionate about an issue I care so much about.

Finding Identity in Landscape

I have seen some beautiful landscapes in my life, but none may quite compare to what I saw during the flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage.

The Backpack Journalism team left the Minneapolis airport around 10 p.m. on Sunday  in complete darkness, but our plane flew into glowing twilight as we moved west to Alaska. Even though my watch read 2 a.m., the sky was telling me it was 7 p.m. Despite the confusion I felt, the light allowed me to see the breathtaking sights beneath us.

My favorite part of flying is looking out the window at the clouds, water, mountains and towns below, and during this five-hour flight, I was lucky enough to have a window seat and witness the beauty of Canada and Alaska. Clouds covered the landscape during many parts of the flight, but at times you could see the rising mountains peaking out in the midst of the puffy whiteness. Because of the excitement I felt to finally be in Alaska and the stunning scenes, the flight was an experience I will never forget.

 

image

 

I noticed the change in landscape immediately the next day as we flew into Bethel. Although it doesn’t have mountains like Anchorage, the flat, damp tundra is beautiful in its own way, and more importantly, is integral to life in this area.

On Tuesday during our first day of filming, we talked to each of the three people we interviewed about the subsistence lifestyle of the Yup’ik culture and the challenges that the people face because of climate change and other environmental issues.

We asked a common question about the connection between landscape and identity in the Bethel and surrounding community. One of our interviewees explained that just as she has a connection to the place she is from in the Midwest, the Yup’ik people share this same experience but in an even deeper way. The land provides much of what they need to survive. Now that salmon fishing restrictions have been put in place, the huge stress with potentially devastating results is threatening the subsistence lifestyle and the Yup’ik culture.

In just three days in Bethel, I have learned so much and see an emerging storyline for our documentary. I am eager to hear from the Yup’ik people and other individuals who can share more about the importance of this beautiful landscape and life in the region.

image
The sunset in Bethel outside the Catholic Church where we are staying