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, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
Today was a nice change of pace. For a new experience, a small group of us attended the Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Right after Sunday morning mass with Brian as our Deacon, we grabbed our cups of coffee and piled up in the car.
This was the first non-catholic mass I’d ever been too. I’ve had a number of friends go on to study different theologies and participate in different services, but I’d never really been presented with an opportunity.
For the women, we had to wear long skirts and cover our heads with scarves. The liturgy was very traditional and structured. Though it had similar qualities to that of a catholic mass, it was still a new thing to me. The entire 2 1/2 hour service was sung, and we stood for the majority of the time. The church was adorned with beautiful icons and pictures. But out of all the different aspects of this service, I was surprised to find that my favorite was the set up.
The space was all open; no pews, no excessive space. Then up in the front area, a wall covered with icons and beautiful pieces blocked the entire front room. The persider would go in and out between rooms throughout the liturgy. I was told later that it was a representation of the border between the divine and ordinary.
It was a simple concept, but one I was not used to. I felt that I had always participated in a parish community that valued equality and mixing of the sacred and ordinary. Instead, this community practiced the opposite. Separating the two as a form of respect and setting the boundary of holy truly was a new concept, yet one that I surprisingly liked.
Though in today’s society, in which we constantly encourage each other and institutions to break down walls and have all things open, the Orthodox liturgy proved to me that it doesn’t always have to be that way. Sometimes having that wall of respect complements the ideals of mystery and sacred. I was so glad I got to experience it!
Last Wednesday we had the privilege to participate in an all day long workshop with Rose Dominic, a Yup’ik woman, and Ray Daw, a Navajo man. Rose and Ray hold these workshops for villages allover the main Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and throughout Alaska. These workshops are intended to help the people through their healing process and understand what happened to them when change was brought about so rapidly and suddenly to them. Many of my classmates have already written about the workshop because this day was a very important day for all of us. I believe the workshop really set the course for our documentary and helped us get rid of our Eurocentric views and really understand what life was like when missionaries came and boarding schools were set up. Not only did it help us understand what happened, but I believe it made us feel, know, and understand what it means to be and live in the Yup’ik culture.
My Aha moments so far on this trip:
When Ray stopped in the middle of his speech and sang his Navajo song and explained what Aha meant. Aha means when you are experiencing a moment of happiness and wonder that you just have to sing from the mountaintops. That is what an Aha moment means.
During Ray’s song I flash backed to standing and looking out on the hill in the tundra that took forever to walk and climb to. We saw all of Bethel on one side and on the other tundra that just seemed to go on forever.
Realizing how isolated we are in Bethel. There are no roads, highways, or streets that lead anywhere outside of Bethel. There are only roads within Bethel with no stoplights.
Sitting on the bank of a river and diving into my fresh salmon caught 20 minutes earlier.
Listening to the Yup’ik people tell their story in all of our interviews.
Enjoying the golden hours and the sun set that lasted about 4 hours all with my new friends Arvin and Connie and with my camera crew, Nico, Tony, and Tim.
Meeting people that are just so welcoming and will come up and talk to you.
Sitting by the warm fire on a cold day at Stan’s fish camp.
Going to mass and hearing the Yup’ik songs at the beginning and finding myself catching onto the language and singing along with the Yup’ik hymnal towards the end of the mass.
Learning new Yup’ik words.
Taking walks along the Kuskokwim river and chatting with friends.
People gifting us with native food and just being so generous.
Waking up in the morning and walking out to the lake behind our little “cabin” and seeing a complete reflection on the lake
Playing basketball Alaskan fish camp style at Stan’s fish camp!
Going to sleep with the sun still up and waking up with no alarm to the sun. goodbye annoying alarm!
Wondering how blessed and random it was that I got to go on this trip and the trip to the fish camp. The universe has a weird way of working doesn’t it.
When Rose explained what a family structure meant in Yup’ik culture. At the heart of a giant circle is spirituality. That is surrounded by the young people and children in the tribe. Around the children is the elders who provide the wisdom and teach the children the ways to live. Around the elders are the women of the tribe who care and nurture for everyone. Then around the women are the men who protect and secure the tribe. She showed us in a demonstration and had us actually sit in a circle. I got to be a child in the center!
Realizing how blessed I am and what a great Alaskan family i have here. I know for a fact that these are some great people that I have the privilege to share this experience and journey with them.