The Forum is dedicated to connecting Alaskans, so we were delighted to hear about a three-person team that began at our Culture Shift event and recently received a prestigious grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The team is comprised of Marie Acemah, owner of the nonprofit See Stories consulting; Alice Qannik Glenn, producer of the Coffee & Quaq podcast and blog, and Howdice Brown III of Channel Films.
Acemah is the project organizer, and her relationship with the Forum dates back to her experience as a grantee in 2012. Acemah currently works as the instructor for the Forum’s Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion program, and has also served as a teacher and curriculum designer for Take Wing Alaska, and as a program designer for AK | Next. We asked her to tell us more about the new project.
Tell us about the new project your team is involved in.
We are creating a 10-minute documentary film about the history of the enslavement of indigenous peoples in what is now known as the United States. The primary audience for this film is K-12 educators, although it will also have a broader audience. The idea is to introduce teachers to this vast and underrepresented field of study. The SPLC is going to launch a Teaching Tolerance curriculum around the topic when the film is released so that teachers will be able to dig in and apply some of these concepts to their classes. The film is a part of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance series.
People can look forward to a November 2019 launch of the film, because SPLC wants to launch it in tandem with Thanksgiving, so educators can re-think the way they teach the Thanksgiving story.
How did you meet your teammates for the project?
The magic of this humanities project is that all three of us met through the Forum’s Culture Shift event! Alice and I met when we were both presenters at the first Culture Shift (in November 2018). Howdice came to that event specifically to get to know Alice and then he made a short film about Coffee and Quaq [to launch a collaborative project called Native Time with Jacqui Lambert]. I saw that film, and that’s how I learned about Howdice and his impressive talent. After watching Howdice’s film I thought, “If he and Alice are interested in collaborating on this project, then it’s meant to be that we pursue it.”
How are you using Alaska’s story in this project?
The SPLC shared with us that part of why they chose us to make this film was their enthusiasm about us integrating Alaskan history. We’re focusing in on Kodiak Russian and early American examples of slavery and servitude of Alutiiq peoples. We’re going to interview Sven Haakanson to explore that story.
What’s something that’s surprised you as you’ve started your research?
None of us is really shocked at this history; we’re shocked at how little we’ve learned about it in our schooling, and we realized we’re not alone. This story has not been widely explored or shared. While we’re creating a film to educate teachers and the wider community, we’re also getting an education that’s very powerful. We are learning about the many ways that Indigenous and trans-Atlantic slaves intersected, which is a powerful field of study.
Tell us more about the team.
Having a predominately Alaska Native team has really helped us connect in a personal and authentic way to the subject matter. Howdice is serving as the Director, doingfilming and editing, and his eye and perspective is beyond inspiring; I am the Producer, which essentially means I organize and plan each step of the way; and Alice is the Assistant Producer, supporting the organization process, and she is using her amazing interviewing skills to lead the interview process. Her practice guiding meaningful conversations on her blog helps her to do the same on this project.
The vibes are good on this team. We keep looking at each other like, “This project is a dream!” It couldn’t be a better synergy between the three of us. It is totally collaborative.
What is your hope for this project?
We talk about this a lot - what’s the point of all this? My ultimate wish for this project - beyond the education of our students about the complete story of our national history - is healing. Because without reckoning with our collective past, I don’t think we’re able to move forward in the most positive way possible. So really education is the goal, but beyond that, for me personally, healing is the goal. Healing for all of us.
We also want the film to show how complex this topic is, and let the audience draw their own conclusions from multiple perspectives. In others words, we want to trust the intelligence of our audience and not hit them over the head with over-simplified narratives!
To find out more about the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program, visit https://www.splcenter.org/teaching-tolerance.