Storytelling in a Digital Age

Storytelling has ancient roots. In many cultures it is a way to pass on learning and values. In the Iñupiat culture of Alaska storytelling is still a time-honored way for Elders to impart their traditional knowledge to the younger generation. But now storytelling in two small Arctic coast villages is getting a modern twist: by marrying stories with imagery from ShoreZone, the stories are reaching a wider audience and having a larger impact than ever before.

As a class assignment, students from Kaktovik and Point Lay were asked to interview Elders about the coast near their villages, and then augment the stories they heard with imagery from ShoreZone. Sisters Tracy and Brittany Burns made a film about coastal erosion near their village of Kaktovik. In it, Elders speak poignantly about their observations of change – how in the last 15 years the coastal bluffs have begun to crumble into the sea, and friends and family have lost hundreds of feet of land to erosion.

The film’s quietly powerful message and imagery caught the eyes of several film festivals, and Weather or Not has now been screened at the Anchorage International Film Festival, the Friday Harbor Film Festival and the Polar Film Festival at The Explorers Club in New York. It has sparked conversations about climate change and launched an initiative to integrate ShoreZone into middle school science curriculums in other villages across Alaska’s North Slope.


Tracy Burns filming for her movie about coastal erosion during the 2012 Sense of Place project in Kaktovik. Photo by Maeva Gauthier.

Film workshops were organized by Maeva Gauthier (Coastal & Oceans Resources) and Marie Acemah (See Stories) with financial support from the Arctic Slope Community Foundation, North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc.