The first video in a seven-part series presenting how different Alaskans view subsistence will be shown Wednesday at Centennial Hall.
"Sharing Ground: Alaskans Listening to Alaskans about Subsistence," produced by the American Friends Service Committee and the Alaska Humanities Forum, is the result of five years worth of discussions mediated by Quakers throughout the state.
The project was born in 1998 during an annual meeting of Alaskan Quakers. At the time, subsistence was in news stories and letters to the editor almost daily, said Cynthia Monroe, director of the project.
Members at the meeting thought that they had an obligation to work for peace on the issue in Alaska. They decided to follow the example of Gene Knudsen Hoffman, a longtime Quaker peace activist in California who pioneered the concept of "compassionate listening" in peace-making.
Volunteers set out to interview Alaska Natives and other Alaskans who fell on all sides of the subsistence issue - urban hunters, Natives and non-natives in rural villages. They recorded the interviews on video, but not with the intention of making a documentary, Monroe said.
"It was just to introduce people's experiences to one another within the project," Monroe said. "Then we discovered and participants themselves were discovering that it would be a really valuable thing to take the videos to a broader public."
The Alaska Humanities Forum underwrote the professional editing of the interviews. The result of the five-year project is a series of seven half-hour videos, each of which focuses on an individual village or urban population. The American Friends Service Committee will show the first of those videos, an introduction to the issue and the project, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Centennial Hall.
Pat Harmon, a Juneau hunter and fisherman, participated in the project.
"I felt like I was just kind of doing my citizen's duty a little bit," Harmon said.
"I could've just said 'Well forget it,' because it's not necessarily the kind of thing that I participate in a lot," he said. "But subsistence is an important issue in this state."
Harmon felt that the American Friends Service Committee seemed committed to their stated goal of being impartial listeners.
"They didn't seem to have an agenda either way," he said.
Floyd Kookesh, an Angoon resident who sits on the Southeast Alaska Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, felt the video series was intended more to educate urban Alaskans rather than rural ones.
"We already know what subsistence is and what it means to us," Kookesh said. "The idea was to educate the other side."
Like Harmon, Kookesh hesitated to sign up for the project.
"I thought it was a waste of time, but it's not," he said. "They're just going into depth, putting everything in front of everybody so they have a clearer picture."
The Quakers in Alaska who participated in the project hope to present that clearer picture, in the form of the recorded interviews and discussions, to the rest of Alaska.
The Alaska Humanities Forum is working to get the videos on the required curriculum of some school districts, Monroe said. The tapes likely will be shown on public television throughout Alaska, and may be given to state representatives.
"My dream would be that this series would get a lot of viewing ... and that people would start to think about approaching not only subsistence but other issues in a different way," Monroe said. "It's not adversarial. It's finding out what people care about the most, what values they have in common, what they mean by the terms that they're using."
Christine Schmid can be reached at email@example.com.
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