“Children of the Arctic,” how climate change threatens the lifeblood of Alaska Natives

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At the Arctic edge of America, Native Alaskan teenagers strive to be both modern American kids and the inheritors of an endangered whaling culture.

Children of the Arctic,” is a year-in-the-life portrait of the youth on the northern coast of Alaska, where indigenous Alaskan teenagers consider their futures while holding on to the language, tradition and whaling culture of their ancestors.

The documentary by filmmaker Nick Brandestini had its national broadcast premiere on Tuesday 5 April as part of World Channel’s America Reframed series.

Director Nick Brandestini (Arctic)
Director Nick Brandestini

 

It’s well known that northern Alaskan coastal villages are experiencing rapid social and environmental change. Over the past 60 years, average temperatures in Alaska have increased by 1.7C (3F). Thawing permafrost, the loss of sea ice and more intense weather have increased erosion and made the subsistence harvest of whales and seals more dangerous.

 

Barrow, Alaska, seen from the air.
Barrow, Alaska, seen from the air.

 

Their decisions are inseparably tied to the fate of their community. Who will carry the Iñupiat torch? Who will choose a more individualistic path? And what hangs in the balance?

 

 

During the 93 minute film we follow the on the lives of Flora, Josiah and Maaya.

For theses Iñupiat teenagers of Barrow growing up has become a little more complicated than it was for their ancestors who originally named this place “Ukpiaġvik” (“a place to hunt snowy owls”).

They are the twenty-first century descendants of a culture that has endured for more than a millennium on this isolated, but now rapidly changing tundra.

 

The trappings of western civilization betray a fusion of cultures that can appear seamless. When a polar bear wanders toward town nowadays, the community is alerted via Facebook. Yet their centuries-old hunting culture is still alive and well.

The harvest of the endangered aġviq (bowhead whale) remains the heart of their culture – in the autumn, motor boats and modern methods are used, whereas, in the spring, whaling crews use the umiaq (a hand-made seal-skin boat) and ancient traditional methods. But under the weight of societal and environmental issues, these promising teenagers are finding it challenging to sustain the adaptability that has long defined their people in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

Children of the Arctic was named best documentary film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and won awards at the Zurich Film Festival, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Guam Film Festival and the Oxford Film Festival.

 

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