Alaska News

'I am Alaska Native' creators respond to TLC series about Alaskans 'escaping' the village

Launched in December, the "I am Alaska Native" facebook page has already collected 5,000 fans with a mix of statewide photos, musings and grassroots activism. The three administrators for the page recently asked followers to voice their opinions on the upcoming TLC reality show "Escaping Alaska."

We asked the admins for their personal views on the series, which premieres July 27 from the producers of "Breaking Amish." Here's what they had to say.

AnneMarie Nicolaides, 29:

I'm honestly very excited to see young Alaska Natives on national television! But I'm also worried that our culture will be misrepresented. We are already viewed in very stereotypical, outdated, and one dimensional ways. There is a lack of knowledge and understanding about our diverse cultures, even within the state of Alaska. I'd say a couple things from the trailer are inaccurate, it isn't considered treason to leave the village, and we aren't trapped in the old ways of our ancestors.

Quite the opposite actually. Many young people leave their villages and small towns to pursue higher education and careers with full support of their families. We are trying to preserve the "old ways of our ancestors."

The introduction of European diseases, famine, annihilation of entire villages, attempted assimilation, cultural destruction, natural resources taken from us, all within a surprisingly short period of time, has left us in a complex predicament that we are dealing with still. Our languages, dances, rituals, the things that make us unique, are the things that we were condemned for, the things we were deemed savages for. I think there is a revival in our traditional ways, a renewed sense of pride, it's a work in progress.

I could go on and on, but I digress. I'm sure many things will be dramatized and set up on 'Escaping Alaska' for the sake of entertainment. I don't have a strong opinion because I have only seen the preview, you can't judge a book by it's cover. I can say I'm excited, I hope they represent us well. I imagine it will hit a chord with me, I am currently living in San Diego, where they "escape" to, I miss Alaska and I miss being around my culture.

I hope viewers understand that not much in reality TV is actually real.

Shel Marie, 42:

Waqaa! My name is Shel Marie and I'm one of the admins for the I am Alaska Native page. Here's my opinion about "Escaping Alaska."

I'm encouraged to see drive and ambition come from our young people in rural communities where opportunities are highly limited. The survival of those communities depends on the levels of education and sophistication of our youth. This is why we pass down our traditional and cultural values. This is why we send our children to school. No one is prevented from leaving the village in search of a different life. Elders taught us, "When one person from the village succeeds, the whole village succeeds."

My only concern is the portrayal of Alaska Native people will be negative and the opinions will be harsh. My hope is that the show celebrates how exotic the Alaska Native cultures are and that people understand that "treason" was only a word used to sensationalize the show.

Marilyn Peratrovich, 43:

I understand TLC Escaping Alaska has to make their show seem dramatic to entice viewers to watch their show. The people that created the show have distorted the truth about Alaskan Natives and are going to the extreme with these young people's families' fears. The young people in this television show seem like they are trying to find their own way in life. I hope, "Escaping Alaska," helps these young people grow from their television experience. My wish is for them to enjoy their time in the spotlight and only say words and do actions they will not regret in their future.

Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email khopkins@adn.com

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