Former UAA Atwood Journalism Chair launches TV Show
The Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage has brought many well-known journalists to Alaska to teach for a year or two.
Mark Trahant, perhaps one of the nation's best known Native American journalists, served as the Atwood Chair in 2014.
And as often happens, when those journalists leave Alaska, their connection to the state continues.
Trahant is about to launch his own national television show and was in Alaska last week, to produce some episodes. One will profile Alaska Native women in politics. Another will look at Alaska Pacific University's transformation into a tribal college.
The show will begin airing at the end of May on FNX, the First Nations Experience Network, a subchannel of PBS. The program is called Wassaja, an Apache word that means "signal."
On KTVA's May 6 Frontiers program, Trahant gave a preview of one of his first shows, which took him to the Caribbean island of Dominica, home to the Kalinago, a group of indigenous people devastated by Hurricane Maria.
"Through all the turmoil and all of this change, people are still there, living on subsistence," Trahant said, "still looking for ways to live off the land."
Although Dominica is on the other side of the globe, Trahant says the people there have much in common with Alaska Natives -- from being on the front line of climate change to their fight to hold onto their language and culture.
"These folks first met Columbus 500 plus years ago," Trahant said.
But their language has almost been lost. Trahant said one of the women he interviewed showed him large sheets of butcher paper with sentences in her Kalinago language. She said during the hurricane she hid them under her bed to protect them.
Trahant said one of the ironies of the hurricane is that it destroyed almost all of the modern structures -- but those made of local wood, harvested at the right time of the year, and built with time-tested Kalinago architecture, survived.
"What happens is the hurricane winds come up and they go right over it," Trahant said.
Trahant said this is a case where traditional knowledge has been validated — something that happens often in Alaska Native cultures.
Trahant recently picked up another new hat to wear. He will soon take over as editor of "Indian Country Today," an online publication which recently folded.
He says he's hopeful he can revive the newspaper because even after it shut down, the website continued to see about 500,000 visits a month.
He also says the work is important to him "to inspire people, to let them know they have a place in the media landscape".
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