The progress of Alaska Native students from Southeast Alaska trying to balance college studies with the study of their own culture are highlighted in a television documentary that was screened at the University of Alaska Southeast Friday evening.
UAS public relations director Katie Bausler, who produced the first two installations in the “Alaska College Track” series in 2004 and 2007, introduced “College Track III,” directed by Pat Race and produced by Lucid Reverie in association with UAS.
“In this, Pat really gets to the heart of the matter,” Bausler said. “And that was that some of these students are still working on degrees several years later, but they’re also working on something to them, and, I think, to all of us, that is really more urgent, and that is the rejuvenation of their culture and the learning and teaching of their Native languages.”
“College Track III” continues its predecessors’ study of Amanda Bremner Porter of Yakutat — a student who set out to become a teacher of Tlingit language and culture after the death of her brother in 2005, and has since graduated from UAS — among other Native students from communities like Hydaburg and Craig.
“For me, it was never a sense of balancing academia and life and culture, it was finding a way to weave them together and finding strength and really having them reflect in each other,” said Porter during a panel discussion after the screening.
The panel discussion was moderated by Lance Twitchell, assistant professor of Native languages. He opened his moderation by speaking in Tlingit for a couple of minutes, to appreciative murmurs from Tlingit speakers in the audience.
Porter was the only individual highlighted in the film to participate in the panel discussion. Two current UAS students and an alumnus joined her for the panel.
“I know if it weren’t for UAS and I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have realized that the Tlingit language and culture is where I wanted to pour my energy and passion,” said Porter. “It kind of snuck up on me, actually.”
“I’m the non-traditional college student, but it worked out to my benefit to have my kids watch me work hard in school,” said Michelle Martin, who graduated from UAS and is now a teacher in Hoonah. “They’ve seen it. They’re getting older and telling me now that, ‘You worked hard, and now I want to go to college.’”
Race also spoke during the question-and-answer segment that followed the panel discussion.
“I think at the beginning of this, I was actually really uncomfortable and nervous,” Race admitted, of making the documentary. “I didn’t want to be the white guy who came in and, like, documented the Alaska Native culture and appropriated someone else’s story, and it made me really, really uncomfortable. But as soon as we started filming … as soon as we got connected to people, they just grabbed us and pulled us in.”
UAS hosted the premiere of the documentary and a panel discussion afterward as part of its “Sound and Motion” spring event series. Attendees were also treated to complimentary frybread.
“College Track III” and the accompanying panel discussion will air on public TV next month, according to a news release from Bausler.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.