Tag Archives: cultural trauma

Learning from and with Others

One of the phrases that accompanies this trip is “blessed to be a witness,” and these last few days has showed me what that truly means.

I’ve felt unbelievably blessed these past few days to experience the things I have, to hear stories, reflect on what I have heard, and hang out with some of Creighton’s coolest.

On Wednesday, we had the privilege to experience a full-day workshop on cultural trauma, which is experienced by many natives in the area. Rose Dominic is in charge of a program that helps natives in the healing process after experiencing trauma, and she hosted us in her home.

She told 20 strangers the story of her life and stories about the trauma her family has experienced: her grandpa being separated from her grandma, her uncles being taken out of their homes to attend boarding school, only to come back not being able to interact with family members or fit in with the culture.

She also told us stories about the trauma experienced in her own life and in her brothers and sisters’ lives. She and her older siblings were taught the Yup’ik language when they were young. Most of her older siblings went to boarding school, but she did not. Although she was not in boarding school, every time she spoke a word of Yup’ik in school she was slapped on the wrist by a nun. She experienced all of this at the age of five.

As she’s telling these stories, you can see her depth of sadness and hurt. She started to talk about sexual abuse experienced by her siblings and the alcohol abuse that has affected many of her family members, because it’s the only way they can pretend the trauma hasn’t touched them.

On Thursday, we talked to a Yup’ik elder named Cecilia, who also attended boarding school and further reinforced the idea that the sense of Yup’ik identity and culture was extremely discouraged in her early years.

This topic of boarding school and the discouragement of showing pride in culture is a topic that has interested me since day one. The Catholic missionaries and Jesuits are often mentioned with these topics, which is probably why I find them interesting. It’s hard for me as a Catholic to imagine someone who shares my faith to do such a horrible thing as separating children from their families, but I have to wonder if at the moment they thought they were doing what was best for the people.

The government is rarely mentioned but is still pertinent in the discussion. The United States at one time had a native population of 40 million. That number has now dropped to 50,000. Read that again: 40 million to 50,000. It could be called a genocide or a holocaust. We don’t like to think of the United States being associated negatively with the words “genocide” or “holocaust,” but in reality, those two topics are and should be associated with each other. But we don’t learn about it, because we’re never the bad guys in our history books. We could never admit that.

A lot of this talk is hard to hear, but the people on this trip are great people to discuss and talk to about the topics we hear all day.

We all have different talents. Some of us shoot video extremely well, others of us do not. I’ve grown fond of the group that struggles shooting video because, well, I can’t shoot great video no matter how much I want to.

On Thursday, a group of us went out to shoot B-roll, and a number of us were those that have had very little video experience. I was paired with Claudia (she’s great and you should check out her blog!) and John, one of our faculty advisors, pretty much had to talk us through our first couple of shots. We later joined up with Erin and Catherine and John assigned us to shoot a gas tank. It’s a stationary object, so it’s not too difficult to shoot. We shot it from several different angles, gaining more confidence on the cameras.

Catherine, Erin, Claudia and I, from left to right, shooting B-roll. See how it's a layered shot with the camera peaking out in front? Tim would be proud.
Catherine, Erin, Claudia and I, from left to right, shooting B-roll. See how it’s a layered shot with the camera peaking out in front? Tim would be proud.
The gas tank of which we took a million shots. We still have to go back and re-shoot it.
The gas tank of which we took a million shots. We still have to go back and re-shoot it.

By this point, it’s pretty much decided who’s on the video team. Yesterday the video team got to go on boats and shoot fish camps while a group of six of us stayed home. We call ourselves the C-team. We got the opportunity to ride kayaks on a pretty stream, which turned into a nightmare on the way back, paddling upstream against the wind. The story is too good not to tell in person, so hit me up when I return.

For now, just picture my physically-inept self struggling to paddle for 40 minutes. That’ll give you a few laughs.

 

Anticipating the Adventure

It’s been a wild week. It’s included lots of late nights and early mornings, trying to listen and absorb seven hours of information a day, leaving the classroom with my head spinning and wondering how I ever survived high school without drinking a single cup of coffee.

I left the classroom this afternoon after a week of bootcamp with both a feeling of excitement and nervousness. One moment I’m ready to get on the flight, get to Alaska and start meeting the people; the next, I’m anxious about packing and embarking on a trip which will force me to step out of my comfort zone.

I touched on this in my last blog post, but I’m most excited about the chance to meet the Yup’ik people and learn about their culture and way of life. We’ve talked a lot this week about what we know about the Yup’ik. We know they treat nature and especially animals with a lot more respect than we often do. We have also talked about the people’s experience of cultural trauma, caused by an age of modernization and a desire to respect tradition. These conversations and topics have been interesting, and I’m excited to hear about them first hand.

I’m also thrilled to have the chance to be a part of a documentary film team and know at least a little about each aspect that goes into making a documentary. I’m so excited to work with our group. Each member has so much talent to bring to our project, and throughout this week we’ve become a little family.

Meet the team. We're all anticipating the journey ahead and ready to reflect on our experiences!
Meet the team. We’re all anticipating the journey ahead and preparing to reflect on our experiences!

With all the excitement comes a little fear. I’m nervous I have yet to pack, I’m nervous about squeezing everything into one big suitcase, and I’m nervous about living in a place for two weeks that I’ve seen once or twice on a map.

In terms of documentary film making, the video equipment terrifies me, even more so now that I’ve learned the basics of video in a matter of five days. I’m imagining a moment during this trip when we’ll have an interview to do and we’ll have to set up cameras and I’m going to forget how to focus the camera or set the shutter speed or f-stop. Luckily I’ve got a dozen other people who have my back.

During one of our practice interviews, we each had a chance to step behind the camera. Don't worry, Tim's right behind me helping me make the interviewee look good!
During one of our practice interviews, we each had a chance to step behind the camera. Don’t worry, Tim’s right behind me helping me make the interviewee look good! Photo courtesy of Kari Welniak.

Despite all my worries and fears, during our reflection today I heard some really good thoughts. Two graduates who had gone on previous Backpack Journalism trips came to sit in on our reflection. Matthew Dorwart went to Uganda on one of the Backpack trips, and his advice was to be present in the moment. We shouldn’t worry about what we’re doing tomorrow, or the 10 page paper we’ll have to write when we get back. Be present or we’ll miss out on the big and little moments, on the setbacks and breakthroughs.

Something that also struck me was Nico Sandi‘s reflection. He mentioned that it’s important for us to be respectful and keep in mind the community into which we are about to enter. We’re 20 (sometimes obnoxious and loud) students entering a community about which we know little, and they don’t know much more about us. Learning about the community and helping them tell their story is what is most important, the ultimate goal of this trip.

My goal is to keep an open heart, let the experience touch me, and pack as lightly as possible.

Alaska, here we come!