While schools in the Lower 48 may not always teach much nuance about the Indigenous people of Alaska, if they teach about them at all, at least one Alaska Native woman is taking steps to show the many modern Alaska Native cultures in a positive and accurate light.
From the High Arctic to the diaspora of Alaska Natives across the wider world, Alyssa London and her team aim to show a modern and vibrant culture that many people may not know about in their nascent show, “Culture Story.”
“The themes of the show are about the value system of Alaska Natives, the food, the subsistence culture, the faith worldview, the family dynamics and the fashion and the art,” London said in a phone interview. “The idea is to educate, enlighten and inspire the audience to have a different idea of what is happiness in a different lifestyle.”
The idea isn’t a new one for her, London said, but a seed that was planted long ago and is beginning to bear fruit. Promoting cultural tourism is a motive for her, London said.
“It’s building on this realization that it really means a lot to Alaska Native people to see themselves represented in media and on television,” London said. “I’ve wanted to do this for a really long time. The initial idea was in 2014 when I was Sealaska’s board youth adviser.”
In partnership with the Alaska Humanities Forum and with grants and financial assistance from a number of organizations, London is busy putting together the nascent series’ first footage, shot in Utqiagvik.
“I chose to have this trip be the first step in executing the vision,” London said. “As a Tlingit, this is as far north as I go.”
London chose Utqiagvik as her team’s first destination to step away from Southeast Alaska, which she knows well.
“My role as the host and creator of this is to guide the audience; ask the questions those kinds of people would want to ask,” London said. “I am not familiar with this [area], so I will ask more of the questions the audience would ask. ‘This is nuts!’ That’s how I want people to feel when they watch it.”
As London and her team cut the trailer together, she hopes to secure more funding to cover all the major regions of Alaska: Southeast, Arctic, Southwest, Interior and Southcentral, as well as Alaska Native cultures in diaspora, doing both major episodes and smaller webisodes.
“Sealaska’s contribution will help with editing the trailer and pre-production for the next phase,” London said. “I chose to have this trip be the first step in executing the vision.”
From the villages in the Southeast to the Arctic and everything in between, there are 231 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, according to the state of Alaska, all of them distinct from each other in ways large and small.
“My platform was about showcasing the vitality of Alaska Native cultures,” London said. “What I get passionate about is all the nuances of Alaska Native culture.”
Supported by grants and partnerships with Alaska Airlines, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Atwood Foundation and Sealaska Corporation, London will be taking the project forward as other organizations hopefully sign on, she said.
“We were encouraged to see the goals for the series and Alyssa’s personal contributions to helping to perpetuate our rich storytelling from Southeast,” said Matt Carle, Sealaska’s senior director of corporate communications, in a news release. “London and the Forum hope to secure additional funding from other Alaska Native Corporations and corporate partners across the state.”
“Culture Story” will be putting out updates as material is produced through their social media, including Facebook and Instagram, London said.