America ReFramed

Children of the Arctic

Season 04  Episode 10

For Samuel, Josiah, Flora, Ace and Maaya, growing up is more complicated than it was for their ancestors on the isolated tundra of Barrow, Alaska (originally named “Ukpiagvik” or “where we hunt snowy owls”). As descendants of Alaska’s Native people, they are inheritors of a centuries-old way of life that emphasizes traditional mores about community, the role of elders and the relationship to nature. Proud of their Native heritage, the teens are also modern Americans facing stark realities: a fast-changing culture and climate, modern consumer economies and the impact of oil-drilling; the teens think about life outside of Barrow and what they will make of their future.

Alaska’s ecosystem is not the only foreboding loss. Maaya travels to Point Lay, a rural community with a population of only 247 residents. Concerned about the rate of suicide attempts and deaths, she speaks to young people about feelings of isolation and depression. Meanwhile, Josiah and Flora, both 18 years old, have recently married, and Flora has earned a prestigious scholarship. They move to Fairbanks to attend college, but, their connection to the land — and their desire to spend time with their aging grandparents — calls them back home. Will the young couple strike a balance between the ways of their forefathers while making the most of a western education?

Nick Brandestini’s CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC is a portrait of the contemporary lives of these teenagers and the decisions they have to make about their futures, taking viewers into a remote place in the American landscape. As we meet and hear Samuel, Josiah, Flora, Ace and Maaya talk about their fears and dreams, they help us understand the divergent values each tries to reconcile.