By Stan Friedman
SOLDOTNA, AK (April 23, 2013) – Five Alaska Christian College students shared their pain, hope, and joy during a regional storytelling competition at the school in preparation for a statewide contest in Anchorage last weekend.
The Alaska Native Oratory Society sponsors the annual event as a way of celebrating the rich oral tradition in the state. The event hosted at ACC was not a competition, but drew storytellers from around the region.
Student Alice Pauline related that it had been a thrill to travel from her hometown of Hooper Bay to the “Lower 48.” More importantly, it led her to re-evaluate her life, and she saw the trip as the beginning of a new journey to leave previous hardships behind.
“If you ever have to travel with Natives to the Lower 48, I think you’ll have fun, especially if it’s their first time,” she said. “It changed me as a person, helped me see things for what they are … you see a bigger picture,” she said.
Fellow student and Hooper Bay resident Phillip Kopanuk (accompanying photo) shared that his life changed after his sister, Minnie, died. She had been drinking heavily when she called him on November 21, 2012.
He drove to her house, but she soon passed out and died shortly after he took her to the hospital. “(It) made me realize that not everyone gets a chance to wake up and ask God to forgive them. My sister didn’t,” he said.
“I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior that night, and asked him to take away my desire to drink and do drugs, and as I asked him, I could feel the desire to do both leave me,” he said. “God used my sister’s death to reach out to me and pull me back to him.”
Student Cylde Ahgnaniak Morry shared his concern that a new 100-mile road would harm the wildlife habitat he so treasures. “Caribou come into the valley like a tsunami … it’s never-ending,” he said.
Morry, of Anaktuvuk Pass, fears that the road would make it too easy for sportsmen to travel to the area and that they would overhunt or overfish the delicate ecosystem. He exhorted the audience to learn more about the project.
Student Josephine Daniels of Golovin told the audience that being bullied had made her feel inferior. She also has been learning to think differently.
She used the simile of the animals around her village and how each is unique and important. “With different talents, and strengths, and personalities, weight, skin color, rich or poor, or different nationalities – we all have value,” she said.
Daniels also has turned to her tradition for help. “Our elders taught us to live in harmony with the land and each other,” she said.
Some of the storytellers were more light-hearted. Student Thomas Alakayak, whose Native language is Yupik, summoned Ryan Richert, one of the school’s residence supervisors, to translate. The joke was that Richert doesn’t speak Yupik.
Alakayak spoke at length before giving Richert a chance to speak. The translator sparked laughter when he began, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Others connected with the school who participated were student Eugene Stevens and alum Jason Battiest.
The Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska operates the school, which is located in Soldotna.
For more on the event, read a story published in the Redoubt Reporter.