Redefining progress

A young girl in the Alaskan village of Shungnak plays in the Kobuk river after a storm. 

Related Topics:
Adaptation, Past Storyfest Entries

In 2013, Alaska’s Department of Transportation proposed building a 225-mile industrial access road through the Brooks Range to facilitate the construction of an open-copper pit mine near the village of Ambler. This road would parallel five subsistence communities, cross 161 rivers and streams (two Wild and Scenic Rivers) and pass through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve wilderness. Industrial entities and several native corporations claim this provides needed jobs and accessibility in the Interior of Alaska. It will bring these Alaskan villages into modernization and a progressive future. Many of the residents and tribal councils, however, say that this development will end a northern, subsistence-based, cultural livelihood and destroy one of the last remaining wild places in North America.

Last summer a crew of five Alaskan explorers and filmmakers traveled 350 miles by packraft on the two rivers that run parallel to the road corridor to capture landscape footage and perform interviews of the Inuit and Athabascan people in six remote villages, as well as the owner of the Brooks Range Wilderness Lodge who was raised in this area. The question we posed to them, what is progress? Most of the people answered that progress is, “the capability to live freely and directly connected to the land, to continue our traditional way of life and pass this down to our future generations.” It inspired me to create this short film.

The western perspective of progress is often served to develop a natural area for monetary gain. Progress has been used as an umbrella-term to conquer and exploit landscapes and their cultures in North America for centuries. To recognize life and wild nature as an integrated system to be inherently valued, we may actually need a redefinition of progress. There is a requirement now more than ever for places to not only protected, but revered for their ecological integrity. This short piece offers an alternative consideration to the current paradigm. 

A young girl in the Alaskan village of Shungnak plays in the Kobuk river after a storm. 

Filmmakers Lane Brown and Tom Attwater also contributed.

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Alaska, Development, Environment, indigenous peoples, progress, storyfest

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