All posts by Madeline Zukowski

Madeline Zukowski

About Madeline Zukowski

My Name is Madeline Zukowski. I'm a senior studying Journalism, particularly news writing and Public Relations. I love the Green Bay Packers, the Beatles and learning something new with every story I write.

Blessed to learn and to love

It’s been five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. The whole trip, every single minute of it, was better than I had ever imagined it would be.

I’ve been thinking about how I was going to write this last blog post for the past 24 hours. How could I possibly sum up such a wonderful and impactful experience?  So to save you all from my rambling and incoherent thoughts, I want to share with you what I’ve learned from this trip:

1. Writing a movie script is different than any journalism story I’ve written. 

I’m used to telling stories using my words in my own style, letting others’ voices help me prove whatever statement I’m making. That’s what many journalists do, and that’s the privilege of being a journalist. You get to share stories, and it’s your job to tell the story to others. This experience has been different because instead of using our own voices, we help in another way.  We let our video and our interviewees tell the story. We rely heavily on them, while leaving ourselves out of it. Perhaps that’s what makes the best kind of story; when the subject is able to speak to a large group of others directly with only a little help from journalists.

2. I need practice shooting video, but hey, at least I know what all the buttons on the camera do. 

I can tell you how to set the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance on a camera. I can tell you that when you don’t have time to set those features, shoot in Program mode. However, I’m not quite comfortable with a camera yet.  I hope to spend more time with a camera in the future (and maybe not with the thought of making an award-winning documentary in mind).

3.  Confidence is absolutely vital to a project like this. 

You need a lot of faith in yourself and in your team members to complete something like this. You need faith you’ll get the interview, faith you’ll get enough b-roll, faith you’ll find a good story, and faith it’ll all come together in the end. (I also learned I’m awful at hiding the times when I don’t have faith in myself; John had to remind me to be confident.)

4.  When you find a culture and a people as special as those in Bethel, you try to soak in everything you can.

I’m still trying to soak in all the lessons learned and the sights I saw. This culture is a welcoming culture, an open culture, a completely different culture than my own. Cecilia let us try on her parkas, pieces of clothing she hand-made and were a part of her culture and identity.  Nelson let a dozen people watch him cry as he told us how climate change is affecting the edge of the world and his life. If you’re blessed enough to be a witness to all of this, you keep a place for those people in your heart, knowing that truly good people, people who care, are out there.

5. Once you become aware of a moral evil or a social sin, you are held accountable for your actions. 

During our last lecture on Tuesday, we talked about social sins and modernity. We reflected on becoming aware of the social sin that has become climate change. Now that we are aware, we are held accountable to help make it right. As Nelson would say, we need to  find a way to say sorry to the land.

Carol asked us,”What is something you can do differently based on what you learned?”

I learned that climate change is not a hoax. I’ve seen the impact it’s had on people and on their culture. I’m now accountable for my actions. I can’t change the consumer society that is affecting climate change, but I can take little steps, like recycling and reusing items, and find out how to take bigger steps in the future.

6. It takes a lot to still love 19 people with whom you’ve spent five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. 

The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O'Keefe.
The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O’Keefe.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard sometimes. But, in all honesty, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend over 50,000 minutes with. This trip and my whole experience wouldn’t be the same without them.  I  walked out of the classroom today with a happy heart and a feeling of gratefulness.

So again, I’d like to thank Carol, Tim, John and the rest of my peers for a life-changing experience.

UAF brings college to the community

By Catherine Adams and Madeline Zukowski

After turning right and following the curve on Akiak Drive in the heart of Bethel, five buildings stand in a row, taking up about the space of two blocks. The three main buildings, placed one right after the other, are white with red roofs. The two other buildings, placed with space between them, are a light blue color.

This is the Kuskokwim campus (KuC) of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) system, which according to its website, is the largest rural campus in the system.

KuC serves about 150-200 full-time and part-time students who take on-campus or distanced classes. KuC offers certificate programs, an Associate of Applied Science program, an Associate of Arts program and a Bachelor’s degree program.

Distanced classes exist to serve those students who live in the rural villages surrounding Bethel.

“Students can take classes from home,” Agnes McIntyre, the Emerging Scholars Program Coordinator at KuC and an academic advisor, said. “They use their landline phones to take classes or they can go on the Blackboard [an online learning system] using the computers. They have to have Internet and computer access to take those classes.”

UAF Kuskokwim campus (Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams.)
UAF Kuskokwim campus (Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams.)

Although many of the students who attend KuC live in outside rural villages, the campus has one dormitory, Sackett Hall, which holds 38 students. According to McIntyre, often times students who don’t have relatives in Bethel or can’t afford off-campus housing but want an one-on-one relationship with their educators live in the dorm. View our video about Sackett Hall here.

Much like Creighton Univeristy, KuC has a higher enrollment of females than males.

“I believe a lot of the females from the villages think beyond high school,” McIntyre said. “There’s education and they want to better themselves and they want to come back and get their degree and have a better job to raise a family. The males, right out of high school, they want to provide for their families [through] subsistence hunting and gathering food and I think they have that mind before they make major decisions of what they want to do.”

Unlike Creighton, the majority of students of KuC are older than the average college age of 18-22 years old.

“A lot of the students who are thinking about working in an organization with higher pay are those who went to school, dropped out and came back, because they know they have to have a degree to get a good paying job because everything is so expensive here,” McIntyre said.

A unique aspect of KuC includes the opportunity for students to take Yup’ik language and culture classes in order to make sure the Yup’ik practices are passed on to a younger generation.

“Some of the students, when they first come here, [are only] fluent in English and not in their own language,” McIntyre said. “We look at our Yup’ik language[and] it’s dying, but we want to make sure that it’s here for our younger generations.”

McIntyre hopes that enrollment at KuC increases in the future.

“I think we’re going to see more students out there with degrees in the future. I’m very very positive about that.”


Storey sets her sights on multiple skills

Preparing to go abroad is a long process, but Claire Storey has memorized it. She goes abroad once almost every year.

She’s been to a dozen countries, not to mention various states. Bethel, Alaska is considered a close destination.

Storey sat outside of the Immaculate Conception Church in Bethel on a Thursday afternoon and tried to list all of the countries she’s visited as Scott Prewitt, an adventurer who would love to travel the world, listened.

“I could probably name them all,” she said. “South Africa…”

“I hate you,” Prewitt whispered. South Africa was just the beginning of the long list.

“Wait, I have to think about this in order, if I can,” she replied. “South Africa, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, England, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Canada, Mexico. Did I already say Germany? Italy.”

She laughed as Prewitt glared at her. She added, “And pretty much everywhere in the Netherlands. I think that’s it.”

Storey has been on many family vacations. Like every tourist, she brought along a digital camera on every trip. Snapping pictures at a very early age and watching her mother take up photography as a hobby, she grew to love photography as much as her mother does.

“There were always interesting things to take pictures of,” Storey said, reflecting on her traveling experiences. “From a fairly young age I had a digital camera that I could take pictures with so I would just take lots of pictures.”

Going on Creighton’s Backpack Journalism trip was vital to Storey’s future.

“My paranoid mind is like, ‘I’m going to go to some employer that went to Creighton and knows all about Creighton and was like ‘Oh, did you go on the Backpack Journalism program?’”

Saying no to that question was a big fear of Storey’s, so she signed up for the program and packed her bags for yet another adventure.

Instead of bringing her digital camera, she brought her professional camera and took her photography skills to the next level during the experience.

She had always naturally adopted the rule of thirds, the theory that the eye will gravitate toward an object of interest that is placed at an intersection point when the image is split into thirds. However, she had struggled with setting the aperture, which controls the brightness of an image, and exposure in the manual mode of the camera.

Storey snapped this picture of Zon, the son of one of the guides on her trip to a nearby village. This is her favorite picture from the trip.
Storey snapped this picture of Zon, the son of one of the guides on her trip to a nearby village. This is her favorite picture from the trip.

“I took the Video and Photojournalism class and then I took the Digital Video class and then I came on this trip,” Storey explained. “I knew the information from the first two classes but it wasn’t really until we were practicing for this trip that I realized that it was really clicking into place and I knew what I was doing.”

Although photography has always been a passion of Storey’s, she’s hoping to one day have a position at a publishing house.

“I’m studying photojournalism and I’m studying news journalism, but really what I have been able to see myself doing for a long time is being in some sort of editing of novels, like young adult novels,” she said.

She explained that a lot of people ask her why she didn’t major in English if she wants to edit novels one day.

Storey knew that if she were to major in English, she’d have to specialize in creative writing in order to edit novels, and at some point or another she’d have to write her own creative story.

“I basically have an inability to come up with a concept in my mind for a creative story idea and develop my own story, but I’m really good at helping other people flush out and develop and edit their stories,” she explains.

So she chose to explore photojournalism and news journalism to keep multiple windows of opportunity open and to develop her enjoyment of both skills.

“Photojournalism is something that I really enjoy so I think it’s a good skill to develop for myself to open up as a possible career,” she explained.

Even if Storey gets her dream job editing young adult novels at a publishing house, photography will always be a passion of hers.

At the rate she travels, she may have photographs from every country on the globe by the time she puts her camera down for good.





The Journey Continues

It was 4:30 p.m. this past Monday. I was running on two hours of sleep. I watched many suitcases ride the baggage claim carousel and pulled my bag off when it came around the corner. I grabbed the handle of my suitcase, more than ready to go home, call my mom, shower and sleep.

John, the head faculty advisor, shouted, “I’m going home. I’ll see you all tomorrow at 1 p.m.”

Wait, what?

Reality hit me hard. We entered the classroom on Tuesday afternoon with two weeks of class ahead of us.

The fun goes on and on, and for good reason. Making a documentary isn’t just about filming video, conducting interviews, and gathering information, it’s about editing and cutting footage and picking interviews that communicate to our future audience what about our 10-day experience touched us most.  In short, we have to sum up our Alaskan adventure in 20-30 minutes. It’s an almost insane goal if you think about it.

In order to achieve this goal, we all became friends with Final Cut Pro, if we weren’t already. We spent all day Tuesday  with our new friend, re-naming and organizing hours and hours of video clips.

We then started to transcribe the dozen or so interviews we conducted while in Bethel. That is, we listened to the video of each interview and typed out word-for-word what the interviewee said. It sounds boring. Listen, pause the video, type and repeat a million times. But I had so much fun.

I think I just got lucky, because the interviews I transcribed were not interviews I had the chance to sit in on while we were in Bethel. I had the chance to transcribe Nelson’s interview, which was the most amazing interview we conducted while we were there.

I remember the team coming back from that interview. There were lots of high-fives and the room immediately  filled with energy. His interview was a last-minute interview. We took a chance on him and he told us exactly what we wanted to hear and more.

He’s the most well-spoken 19 year old I have ever heard, and he has an awesome story.  I wanted to be his best friend by the time I was done listening.

I also transcribed part of Anna’s interview. She was a senior in high school who is going to study at the University of Minnesota next year. You could tell right away she was really nervous, and I think I had forgotten how often teenagers use the word “like.” It made transcribing a bit trickier.

After we were done transcribing, I got to know Final Cut Pro a little better. I made multi-cam clips of the interviews and marked important quotes. It’s not much, but I’m glad Final Cut Pro and I got along well.

After that initial work was done, the class was split into essentially two groups: the video team and the writing team. I am part of the writing team, and I’ve been really excited about the work we’ve done on writing the story/script.

We arranged all of the noteworthy quotes into categories like subsistence, fishing restrictions, climate change and Yup’ik spirituality, which are all categories that will make up our story. We then cut out all of the quotes into strips of paper and arranged and re-arranged them into a basic and rough script. It’s like fitting pieces into a puzzle.

The writing team spent Friday afternoon rearranging these quotes.
The writing team spent Friday afternoon re-arranging these quotes.

It’s hard to believe we got back from Alaska six days ago. Since then, we’ve put in four full days of work. It was a short yet entirely long week.

The amount of work we still have left is tremendous, so here’s to one week more and an endless amount of editing.




Touring while self-reflecting

Omaha, I’m home.

I’m still incredibly exhausted, but delighted that I’m slowly re-entering into my normal routine (like sleeping in my own bed and showering every day).

As usual after every trip, photos start to appear on Facebook. My friend Morgan has  an album on Facebook with the caption, “When in Alaska, you take selfies.”

That’s so true, especially with our group, who was surrounded by gorgeous scenery over the weekend.

Starting Friday morning, we became tourists. The trip shifted focus from learning about others to learning about the nature and landscape of Alaska while snapping a few selfies here and there.  We ended our vacation with a “real” vacation.

We traveled to Seward, which meant we flew to Anchorage and were picked up by our tour guides. We then drove for four hours in two big vans to Seward. It’s usually a two to three- hour drive, but we made several stops along the way.

We stopped at an airfield, watching planes take off and land in the water. We stopped at several places with great views of the mountains. We stopped at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where we got to see seals and sea lions swim and interact with each other.

I liked seeing all of that, but it was a joy to get back in the van to move on. I loved sitting by the window and watching mountain after mountain and river after river pass us by. I still can’t get over how magnificent those mountains are.

Yet another view of those mountains.
Yet another view of those mountains.

Saturday by far was one of my favorite moments of the trip. We spent all day on a boat, touring the Kenai Fjords Natural Park. The boat had a seating area to warm up but both standing and sitting room towards the back, outside. Saturday was one of the rainiest days of our trip, but it was worth it to stand out in the rain.

We saw sea lions, sea otters, porpoise (which are like dolphins), humpback whales, orca whales, tufted puffins, horned puffins, as well as a bald eagle during our six hour tour.

We then floated past the Aialik Glacier and watched parts of it crumble and fall into the water. If you need proof that global warming really does exist, you don’t need much more proof than that.

Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.
Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.

The next day, we climbed to the edge of Exit Glacier, also in Seward, before visiting a little town called Moose Pass, the Wildlife Conservation Center and returning to the airport.

It’s incredible to see the Exit Glacier up close, but it’s even more remarkable to think about how much of it has melted. Along the trail up to the edge of the glacier, there were signs marking where the edge of the glacier was in past years, for example in 1964 and even in the 1800s. It’s nothing now compared to it was back then.

Exit Glacier today
Exit Glacier today

In the past, I have had my doubts about global warming. The issue surrounds politics and so many politicians are involved; it’s hard to know who to listen to. I guess it took a trip to Alaska and to this glacier to truly confirm that global warming is real.

We took selfies by this glacier and now that I look at it, it was almost too appropriate for me to do so. It helped me take a look at myself and what I believe, while letting that glacier appear in the back of my mind, like it did in the back of our pictures, forming my opinion to match what I see.

Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.
Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.





Five Farewell Thoughts

Today we spend our last day in Bethel, interviewing a few more people and enjoying the town that has touched us over the last 10 days.

I found this quote a Pinterest a few months ago, and I can’t find to whom to attribute it. I find it very appropriate for this trip. It goes,”You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

I know Bethel will always be a part of my story, just as much as I hope we have become a part of its.

As I say so-long and farewell to Bethel, I reflect on the top five things I’ll miss the most:

1. The individual people who have been so open and welcoming to our group:
Every time we meet a new person, whether it’s for an interview or just to get a taste of the Yup’ik culture, I am shocked by how open and willing that person is to tell us his or her story. We’re a big group, almost a force, and most often we have lots of questions about the culture. Every question, no matter how long it takes, is answered well. I am so grateful to have met people like Cecilia, Tad, Sarah, and Stan (the barber in town who took all of us out to his fish camp). They have made this trip so wonderful and so incredible.

2. Experiencing “real journalism”:
I was excited to participate in “real journalism” from the beginning. I had the chance to be the interviewer, take notes and listen for good quotes in other interviews, try my best to shoot b-roll and even cover or take notes during a town-hall style meeting. I’ll miss having interviews to go to, but hopefully one day I’ll be interviewing people every day.

3. Trying new things:
This is probably the only time in my life I’ll be in Alaska, so I tried to say “yes” to every opportunity I had. I said “yes” to eating lots of salmon, reindeer and moose. I said “yes” to going to a fish camp and just going fishing. I said “yes” to kayaking (and regretted it a little). I said “yes” to exploring the town with my peers at 10:30 p.m. because it looked like it was 3 p.m. outside. Saying “yes” with almost no regrets was a great feeling.

4. Disconnecting myself from the outside world:
I loved not having cell phone service up here. It’s going to be so sad when we travel to Seward tomorrow and our phones will work again. I don’t text a lot on my phone anyway, but it’s been great to take a breather from social media, except to post my blogs on Facebook and Twitter. I will miss taking a break from one world to be completely present in the current one, something I’ve done on this trip.

5. My crazy and amazingly wonderful peers and professors who have shared this experience with me:
This group, gosh, where do I even begin? Even though 20 is a big group, every member has gotten to know every member fairly well. Each of us has put our all into this project, and I can’t wait to see what our final product will look like. I’m going to miss seeing all 19 of my group members every day, all day. I’m going to miss our games of B.S., Bananagrams and Mafia. I’m going to miss sharing two queen sized mattresses with four other girls and sharing one bathroom with everyone. I’m going to miss the laughs, the tears and the serious moments. I might even miss Mari calling me “Baby Madz.”

The girls of this fantastic group, having fun on one of our late night walks. Photo Courtesy of Kari Welniak.
The girls of this fantastic group, having fun on one of our late night walks. Photo Courtesy of Kari Welniak.

So to my peers and to Bethel, thank you. For every moment.



Fishin’ Around

Yesterday’s topic of the day was fish, which only seems appropriate, considering the people in Bethel live off of fish.

I mean that quite literally. We’ve seen this theme, living off of the fish one works hard to catch, in many of our interviews. In fact, subsistence and the king salmon fishing restrictions are the main focus of our documentary.

I heard the impact of the fishing restrictions on subsistence lifestyles today at a town hall-style meeting. It was hosted by the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, a group that makes recommendations about fishing and listens to villagers’ and city residents’ issues caused by the restrictions.

I heard lots of comments about fear of starvation and eventual death because of the restrictions. Villagers, who live both upstream and downstream, are concerned that there are no fish on their drying racks. (After a fish is caught, it is cut and then hung to dry.) One man started to yell, accusing the members that they have fish on their racks but they don’t seem to care about those who have caught nothing.

This is an example of salmon drying. This was taken at Cecilia's house; she has a small shack full of fish that have been hung to dry.
This is an example of salmon drying. This was taken at Cecilia’s house; she has a small shack full of fish that have been hung to dry.

One man went so far to “guarantee” that if the restrictions continue, lives will be in danger. He stated that people were going out with riffles. (We think he means people are attempting to shoot at Alaska State Troopers who patrol and see what people are catching, making sure they are not catching king salmon.)

We stayed for three hours of the discussion, and none of us knew how long the meeting actually lasted. We had to leave because we had a potluck dinner at the church.

Yesterday morning, the C-team got to go out on a boat with a true fisherman (it was arranged because we didn’t get to go on other adventures earlier in our trip). I was freezing. I had five sweatshirts, two layers of socks, a hat and gloves on, but my toes and fingers were still frozen by the end.

Despite the cold, it was a really cool experience. Tad, the fisherman, was going out to check his net as well as his brother-in-law’s nets. He checks them twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.

He probably caught between a dozen to 20 fish in his nets. The majority of them were red salmon.

As we watched Tad pull his nets into the boat, it was exciting every time we saw fish caught in them.
As we watched Tad pull his nets into the boat, it was exciting every time we saw fish caught in them.

He pulled his net out of the water little by little. When he came across a fish, he untangled the fish from the net. (I tried to suppress my squeals as I saw a fin or gill move.) As the fish fell to the ground of the boat, he put his pointer and middle fingers in the gills of the fish and broke them, causing the fish to bleed out of its gills. He threw them one by one in a bucket full of water.

He threw two fish on top of the bucket, explaining he would feed those fish to the dogs. These fish were rotten; they were previously caught in a net and had escaped only to run into his net.

I have to admit seeing a bucket full of fish and blood was pretty gross at times, but seeing part of the process of preparing fish is probably something I won’t ever see again.

I think back to yesterday, to the fisherman, to the commitment and effort he has to put in in order to catch food for himself and his family and how he goes through that process twice a day. It certainly made me appreciate the fish I was fed at the potluck. (The hard work the fishermen put in definitely pays off; the salmon here is absolutely amazing, by the way.) It also makes me fearful that I’m going to have a hard time going back to eating my mom’s salmon, which is bought at the grocery store.


Experiencing Culture at Cecilia’s

I was one of the first ones up yesterday morning, which almost never happens.

The only others up were those who were assigned to be on the interview team and Nico, who’s a video pro and always a step ahead of everybody else.

Sarah, a volunteer at the Church who was a Jesuit Volunteer last year, suddenly came into our breakfast/break room and told us that Myron, the interviewee that morning, wanted the interview team over as soon as possible. Cecilia, who we interviewed a few days ago, had also called. She was making soup, so if we needed b-roll of that, we needed to go over there immediately.

Talk about a rushed morning.

Nico was ready to go shoot b-roll and grabbed Scott, who’s quickly becoming a video pro, and the interview team started to gather equipment. I quickly felt out of place, since I wasn’t on the interview team and video isn’t my strong suit. I figured I wasn’t going in either group.

Carol, one of our faculty advisors, told me to go with Nico and Scott to see Cecilia and to observe, be present and take down notes about the b-roll the boys were shooting.

So Leah, who had just woken up, Scott, Nico and I piled into Sarah’s truck and drove to Cecilia’s. Her house isn’t big, but it is tall and skinny. When you walk in, you take off your muddy boots. You walk up a flight of stairs to her living room and kitchen.

When we got there, she had reindeer meat boiling in a pot of water. She added onions and later carrots, kale, noodles, parsley and basil. She had run out of tomatoes, so she instead put in a little ketchup. (I tried the soup later that morning, and yes, the reindeer meat was delicious!)

She showed us how she stirs, always in a clockwise motion, following the sun. She “follows the sun whatever [she does],” even when she purifies her house.

Next she showed us a little bowl of burned ayuk, or tundra tea leaves. These are tiny leaves you can pick out of the tundra. They smell fantastic and you can brew them to make tea. Cecilia burns them and and purifies her house from east to west (again, following the sun) once or twice a month.

When explaining why she purifies her house, she says that everybody leaves something behind in her house or wherever they go. It’s either positive or negative energy, like feelings of anxiety or excitement. Purifying her house removes all of that energy.

She must pick an awful lot of ayuk, because she also picks them for the Catholic Church. She has for the past two years. The Church uses the burnt tundra leaves as incense.

As Cecilia cut the different ingredients to put in her soup, she cut them using her ulu, which is a knife that is shaped like a wide “u.” She told us that when a woman gets married, she is given three things: a ulu, a traditional stirring spoon made of wood and a sewing kit complete with scissors, a smaller ulu, a thimble and needles.

While the soup was cooking on the stove, she proceeded to pull out her traditional Yup’ik mukluks (boots made out of seal and otter with waterproof stitching) and parkas. The four of us had lots of fun trying on the parkas. She told us her mother made the mukluks but she made the parkas.

Cecilia let us try on the parkas she made. They are so warm, and I love the pockets! Photo Courtesy of Nico Sandi.
Cecilia let us try on the parkas she made. They are so warm, and I love the pockets! Photo Courtesy of Nico Sandi.

Even though I didn’t really need to go to Cecilia’s because everything that happened was caught on camera, I was happy I got to go and learn a little more about the Yup’ik culture. I felt like I was at my grandma’s house, but instead of hearing about my family, I heard all sorts of traditions and history from another culture.

She told us that every Christmas her and her siblings would receive new mukluks and kuspuks (hooded overshirts with pockets; each group has a different pattern and style of kuspuks).

I hope that moment, when we laughed as we tried on the parkas and examined the mukluks, reminded her of past Christmases.

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.


For the First Time

The last couple of days have marked many of my “firsts.” The first time sleeping in an airport. The first time sitting next to an obnoxious stranger on a plane. The first time realizing the beauty of Alaska that I’ve heard so much about. The first time seeing Bethel, a town I’ve been thinking about for numerous months. The first time I was the interviewer for a “real,” filmed interview.

On our flights to Alaska, our travel agent assigned us seats alphabetically, and since I’m the end (lucky me) I usually sat by one of my classmates also at the end of the alphabet or by strangers. On our five hour flight into Anchorage, I was in a row with one middle-aged guy. I had the aisle seat, and he had the middle seat, but since no one was assigned the window seat, he decided to sit there.

Our flight left the Minneapolis airport at 10 p.m. and arrived in Anchorage 3 a.m. Central time, or midnight Alaska time. So naturally, most people slept on the plane. This stranger decided to take up both seats while sleeping (so I was just as squished as I would have been if both seats were assigned to people) and completely hogged the window during our descent into Anchorage. I heard it was a really awesome sight, so check out my peer’s blogs for pictures of that.

After getting maybe 2 hours of sleep in the Anchorage airport, I woke up, looked out the window and noticed the mountains first. Holy man, they are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen! I’ve seen the Western mountains only once before, but these seemed even better. You could even see snow on the top of some of them if you looked close enough.

I couldn't get around the parking structure, but those mountains in the background were breathtaking.
I couldn’t get around the parking structure, but those mountains in the background were breathtaking.

On the flight to Bethel, I was assigned a window seat. As we were taking off, I was able to look out the window and watch the mountains disappear in a cloak of clouds. It was one of those moments when you wonder how anyone could deny the existence of God. Who else could create something so breathtakingly beautiful?

When we arrived at the “airport” in Bethel (it’s not even an airport, it’s a baggage check area, a baggage claim area and one gate squeezed into one space), two people from the city that knew our faculty advisors came to pick us up. We packed our luggage into the back of their pick-up trucks and drove to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the one and only Catholic Church in Bethel and the place we’ll be staying for the next two weeks.

Along the way, we had numerous buildings pointed out to us. I remember the post office and the high school being 10 -20 times bigger than the average house. The population of Bethel is around 6,000, but the city seems bigger. There are numerous sub divisions that are separated by large areas of tundra. They call the tundra “the sponge.” When you walk on it, it’s like walking on a mattress. Looking at the sub divisions from afar is pretty awesome; many of the houses are very colorful.

The real experience started Tuesday, when we started gathering material for the documentary. We listened and taped three interviews; each of them lasted around an hour. I was able to interview our second interviewee. His name was Pat Tam and he works in the Diocese of Fairbanks. He flew all the way to Bethel just to talk to us.

His plan was to talk to the group as a whole for 15, 20 minutes. However, about 5 to 10 minutes into his talk, one of our faculty advisors told us to get set up for an interview immediately. The stories he was telling about the Yup’ik culture were too good not to get on tape. As if I wasn’t nervous enough about interviewing him already, I knew this interview would be crucial for the film. I had to ask all the right questions well.

The team getting set up for the second interview while I nervously await.
The team getting set up for the second interview while I nervously await.

Here are some things I learned from my first “official” interview:

  • Listening to someone while making eye contact for an hour is hard. The fact that my attention span isn’t long probably doesn’t help.
  • Because we are filming the interview, the interviewer has to be quiet for editing purposes. There were so many times I wanted to say “uh huh” or interject but couldn’t.
  • If a person is not the interviewer and is not controlling the video cameras, he or she listens to the interview anyway and takes notes. Taking notes means writing down quotes or ideas that are interesting or were striking. I kind of wished I was able to take notes during that interview. A lot of what Pat said was insightful, but went in one ear, stayed there for a few minutes and went out the other.
  • I didn’t feel 100% focused on what Pat was saying, and I could of been way more focused. I let my fear of my less-than-adequate interviewing technique cloud my thoughts instead of blocking that out and focusing completely on Pat’s stories and insights.

You live and you learn. Sometimes you have to experience things for the first time order to do so.