At a time where virtual platforms are largely becoming the norm, many Alaska Natives are entering a new era of content creation. I recently sat down with Alice Qannik Glenn and Jenna Kunze to talk about their new Indigenous-centered project on climate change.
You may know Glenn from her podcast “Coffee & Quaq,” but she’s recently partnered with Kunze, who is a journalist by trade, to create an audio-and-print collaboration that investigates climate change on the North Slope.
“Jenna and I flew up to Utqiaġvik for a couple of weeks to interview community members about climate change and the adaptability and resilience of the Iñupiat in the face of climate change.”
“Alaska Natives on the Front Line” was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center. Kunze, who is not Alaska Native, reached out to Glenn to see whether she wanted to sign on.
At first Glenn was nervous about the prospect.
“It’s not some place on a map, it’s my hometown,” Glenn said. “I felt very particular about that. I kind of wrote back like, ‘first of all, this is what I’m concerned about,’ then if she wasn’t going to receive that in a way that I wanted, I was going to be like, ‘OK, moving on.’ But she was really gracious, and she was open to learning, so I felt so much more comfortable after that first interaction.”
Kunze’s written portion of the project, an article titled “What Choice Do We Have?” is an overview of the work the two accomplished.
“That was my piece of the project,” Kunze said. “Alice’s accompanying piece will be the audio. We did eight interviews together and then I did some additional interviews in my remaining time there. I think it will be a really good pair, because you can read the written piece and then you can listen to the audio. It’s a very interesting way to approach a journalistic piece, because you are seeing the bare bones.”
While doing preliminary research for the project, Kunze came across Elizabeth Arnold’s work, which examines the language mainstream media has used to talk about the Arctic over a five-year period.
Arnold found that most stories about climate change in the Arctic weren’t about Indigenous people at all, and if they were, people were often portrayed as disappearing or victims.
Kunze calls that kind of reporting frequent and damaging.
Glenn says "Alaska Natives on the Front Line" actively works against the vanishing Native stereotype by going directly to the community.
“I think it’s just irresponsible,” Glenn said. “It’s irresponsible to talk about people in that way and not think that it’s going to affect them. Jenna and I were just really excited to talk to residents, and to people who are involved or have opinions, because it is straight from the community.”
The project ultimately reframes discussions about climate change and places Indigenous voices from America’s northernmost city at the forefront.
“Yes, there are changes,” Glenn said. “Yes, it's happening rapidly, but we've undergone change already. So this isn't anything new to the Iñupiat. We're going to be here. We're going to be able to meet challenges head on. We are adaptable. And we are resilient.”
Alaska Native people have entered a new age and now have many outlets to share our contemporary voices. The collaboration between Glenn and Kunze is a good example of bringing voices from the Arctic forward.
“I just hope that people can understand and start to think about the people that are actually undergoing the change, rather than just think of it as some kind of phenomenon that's happening in the world,” Glenn said. “It's easy to be removed from something that you can't see, or if you don't know the people, but Jenna and I want to provide that human side of climate change.”
About the author: Kashona Notah (Iñupiaq-Native Village of Kotzebue) was raised within a Diné family in the Lower 48. He graduated from Stanford, where he studied English and Native American Studies. He currently attends the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. Notah is a 2020 News Intern with First Alaskans Institute and the Mel Sather Public Media Internship Program at Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.