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KNBA News - We Are All Related Here

Dec. 3, 2015

We Are All Related Here

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA

A Pennsylvania filmmaker had seen the many stories about climate change and looming disasters, and thought the subject was ripe for a new angle. Brian McDermott wanted to show what would be lost if no one acts to move a village to safer ground.  In the second of three stories about some of the films coming up at the Anchorage International Film Festival, we hear excerpts from the film “We Are All Related Here.”

Three-hundred-75 people, most of them Yup’ik, call the western Alaska village of Newtok home. Newtok has become known for its struggle to relocate before its school and homes are destroyed by erosion and flooding. But filmmaker Brian McDermott says he wanted to show some of the tightly knit community’s strengths.

"I was more interested in sort of covering that so that people would get a sense of the people and the place and what it's like there, and maybe have people actually connect with the people from the village a little bit," said McDermott. "So that, you know, by the end when we get to the point that, oh well, also, this village is being affected by climate change and has to relocate and there's no funding, that people would start to care a little bit...."

McDermott says the film documents the importance of subsistence -- evident in the dead geese in one kitchen, animal hides on stretchers in some yards, and meat on drying racks seemingly at every home.

The film shows women gutting and cleaning hundreds of small fish, tying them together with strands of grass to hang up to dry. Dalen Ayuluk describes his family’s diet while he chops up meat.

"We basically eat soup and fried meat, dry fish, moose meat, seal meat, mostly soup," said Ayuluk.

Last April, the village held a community celebration, an occasion when Newtok Traditional Council president Andy Patrick says people share subsistence foods and more.

"It’s like Thanksgiving, a big big Thanksgiving. Everyone is asked to bring a little something," said Patrick.

Those little somethings range from dried meat and fish and stacked boxes of winter boots, to jugs of laundry detergent, toys, and beaver hides.

Sharing with family is natural. At the high school, as Charles Bosco sews fur slippers in a class with other students, he says everyone in Newtok is related.

"Yeah, we're all connected to each other. That's the big part of this, that's why we love being here. Everybody loves each other. We're all family; we're all related somehow," said Bosco.

Yup’ik culture and language are another mainstay of the village. In the elementary school,  as teacher Assistant III Loretta Flynn teaches a science class, the questions and students' answers are all in Yup'ik. 

Years ago, it took a couple of hours to walk to the sea. Now the ocean is minutes away. Stanley Tom is the Newtok Traditional Council Administrator.

"Three things happening. we got flooding, erosion and the sinking of the community," said Tom.

Floods can wash sewage into the village drinking water source. Villagers are vulnerable to storm surges with 20-foot waves. Erosion threatens to undermine and damage the school, which serves as a community center and evacuation shelter. Andy Patrick, President of the Newtok Traditional Council, says his greatest fear is that blocks of drifting sea ice – which can be miles across and dozens of feet high -- will be pushed ashore.

“I really want to, really really want to focus on getting a solid place for my people to move before this storm. the land is so low now, in our area one day, hopefully never come, I fear the ice coming up. That's the most scary thing I know. ice. it could come any time. There's nothing to stop it when ice comes y'know,” said Patrick.

Newtok owns land a few miles away that’s on solid ground. A barge landing, road, and a few homes have been built there. The village is seeking funding to move some 65 homes to Metarvik. They say they’re hampered by the lack of laws and regulations for helping communities facing a slow-moving disaster. Filmmaker Brian McDermott will be available for questions and answers after “We Are All Related Here” is shown Monday at 7:00 o’clock at the Alaska Experience Theater.