Films tells Inupiaq history

Posted: Monday, March 02, 2009

All filmmakers would likely agree that it is a good sign when their film has run out in stores, even if it's not always properly paid for. Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson, a Barrow, Alaska, filmmaker, took it as a compliment when her Inupiaq film "The Duck-In" was snatched off the shelves. But for Edwardson, the film's popularity is second to its importance.

"The Duck-In," Edwardson's pilot educational film, and her newest "Nipaa Ilitqusipta - The Voice of Our Spirit," are both part of an Inupiaq history series that will be included in the curriculum and used in classes across the North Slope. A third film is on the way.

Until recently, the history of the Inupiaq language and people was told by everyone but the Inupiat themselves, according to Jana Harcharek, Director of Inupiaq Education for the North Slope Borough School District. Harcharek and Edwardson have worked collaboratively on the history series since 2004 with a grant from the Alaska Native Education Program.

"The pieces (films) tell the history from our perspective," Harcharek said. "It's interesting analyzing that perspective as opposed to what has been written about us."

Both of Edwardson's films touch on important issues in the lives of Inupiaq communities. In "The Duck-In," Edwardson documents the people's successful protest in the early 1960s against new federal regulations that interfered with subsistence hunting.

Her second film, "The Voice of Our Spirit," presents viewers with individuals, young and old, who struggle with the loss of language in their own personal way.

The film opens with scenes of an Inupiaq boy sitting on a windowsill and images of a North Slope village covered in fog, with the sound of a modern rap song that speaks about life in the 49th state.

"For a long time now I have been wondering why I don't speak my language," says Dora "Aluniq" Brower of Barrow in the film's opening minutes.

"I would always hear it around me because my parents and my grandparents were speaking, but when it came to us children they would speak to us in English. It wasn't expected of me to speak back in Inupiaq."

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