Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda. In 2014, they will head north to Bethel, Alaska.
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.
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.
We ate our last meal in Africa at a hotel near the airport in Entebbe where we interviewed Herbert. This was the only time the whole trip that we got to order individually. I found it interesting that although there were more “American” foods on the menu than we were usually used to (like sandwiches for example), most of us ordered rice and chicken or fish and chapatti. It was at this point (while watching a terribly dubbed television show with poor acting that seemed to be about Native Americans’ fight for North America, but included caucasian cowboys, Africans and Hispanics as well) that I noticed: I have no culture.
I have beautiful traditions, inside jokes and things that will always remind me of home in Minnesota with my family, but I don’t have “a people.” I don’t have an elite language, a name that binds me to a group outside my immediate family (+ 2 uncles) and I don’t have a tribe. I have no tie to a certain place or specific ancestral origin. And interestingly enough, I am glad. Because I don’t have a culture, I get to live in awe. I feel like what I miss out on by not having a one, I gain through amazement and experiences.
After arriving in Amsterdam the next morning with Joe, to visit my mom’s cousin, I had a bit of culture shock. Probably the only similarly between Africa and Amsterdam is that people ride bikes everywhere. But Amsterdam was windy and freezing, full of sweet pastries and dairy and bursting with brand names and recent fashion trends; three things that I didn’t experience even slightly in Africa. I knew that it was advised that we not go there and that the transition on the way back from the developing world is harder than the transition on the way there. But I am so glad that I went. While in Amsterdam, I realized that even though culture is relative and changing constantly (evolving and developing as Sybil said), I am excited to shape my own. I am excited to live through other people’s cultures, classify myself as a mover and I am excited to continue to learn about the world with a minimal (if existent) cultural filter, anchor or mind block.
My identity? Is Prater. Is Alison. Is Christian. Is caucasian. Is daughter of Scott and Cheryl. Is tall. Is all of my personal attributes. But it isn’t innately American. And doesn’t have to be. And I like that.