Coffee & Quaq

Her podcast does not shy away from controversial topics. They include current and traditional Native views in the LGBTQ community; cultural appropriation; or the concept of decolonization.

In the podcast “Growing Up in Rural Alaska” being taped in the old Anchorage office, Alice asked Tiffany what it was like to be a white girl in a predominantly Native school in Kotzebue. Tiffany grew up in Kotzebue. Tiffany returned to her rural community after earning a bachelor’s in film studies from Portland State University in 2013 and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2018. Meanwhile, her creative work has been published in The Qargizine, Alaska Women Speak, Into the Void, Cathexis NW, Cirque, and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She recently won first place in the adult division of the Fairbanks Arts Association 24th annual Statewide Poetry Contest.

Alice and Tiffany met at Mt. Edgecumbe, a boarding school in Sitka where many rural Alaska high school students complete their high school education. Jacqui also grew up in Kotzebue and met Alice when Alice submitted work to her quarterly publication.

Jacqui Igluguq Lambert is Inupiaq and publishes a quarterly print and online magazine called The Qargizine, which showcases rural and Alaska Native expressions through art, photography, and stories. Jacqui’s travels across the circumpolar Arctic, where she’s visited communities in Russia, Canada, and Greenland, generated an interest in the Eskimo versus Inuit debate (the subject of Coffee & Quaq Episode #4 podcast). Jacqui has been living in Anchorage for just over two years.

The women talked about their shared experiences attending a boarding school at Mt. Edgecumbe.

“I experienced more what we shared in common as freshmen,” Alice said. “No one was saying, ‘Oh my god, you’re an Eskimo!’ Everyone was just trying to adjust.”

Howdice (Howdy) Brown worked behind the scenes taping the podcast conversation. Later during the afternoon, he mentioned that his father was from Elim. Because his dad was in the military, Howdy attended kindergarten in Hawaii, with other brown-skinned students. He remembered how, when his family moved to Big Lake, Alaska, he was one of only a handful of Native kids in the school.

Howdy is of Inupiaq descent and works as a filmmaker in Anchorage. A graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, he has spent the last 10 years in the commercial film and documentary industry. His work has taken him all over Alaska. He was a part of three Northwest Region Emmy nominated documentaries, two of which won: Kîtch.Kåan: Our Native Legacy in 2012, and Cold Water Survivors in 2013.

Howdy has participated in Southcentral Foundation’s “Lead the Change” suicide prevention campaign, serving as a volunteer video mentor to a winning team of Alaska Native teens from Wendler Middle School.

The conversation about being a minority continued as the four young professionals snacked and told stories.

“I never considered myself a minority growing up in Kotzebue, because I wasn’t one,” Tiffany said. “I was surrounded by love, community, and support. I mean, was I bullied in junior high because I was white or because I was the largest dork ever?”

Everyone laughed.

“Marginalization is not about having hurt feelings,” she continued. “I can never claim some kind of reverse discrimination because I don’t believe it’s a thing. I can know what it’s like to be a white minority but still never have experienced racism.” She paused. “If I’m dwelling in hurt, I’m not serving my community.” The conversation shifted to what it means to belong and what gives people their sense of identity.

“If I don’t fish or hunt or participate in a subsistence lifestyle, does that mean I’m not Native enough?” Jacqui said. All heads nodded in agreement.

“And there’s always that question, ‘Where are you from?’” Alice said. Although they all live and work in Anchorage, they commented on feeling connected to indigenous ways of life. As Alice served the maktak around the table, she said the whale meat came from Point Hope, freshly harvested from the Arctic Ocean.

“Most people who grew up in the village no longer live in the village. That’s a testament to the times and to who we are today,” Jacqui said.

In many settings, topics like racism, identity, and cultural appropriation might be lightning rods for controversy. Yet for this podcast, Alice, Tiffany, Jacqui, and Howdy spoke articulately, honestly, and with respect. They came to the discussion not with hardened opinions, but with thoughtfully considered ideas.

“I didn’t have an awareness or even a vocabulary to discuss racial equity until I was in college and started having conversations to deconstruct the life I led,” Tiffany said.

Having those conversations in a public forum is just what Alice hopes to do with Coffee & Quaq. The podcast creates space that speaks authentically about the tough issues that face young Alaska Native people today. The blog is being noticed. Alice has been featured on Alaska’s Energy Desk, KTOO Public Media; on 90.3 FM KNBA, and Angela Gonzalez’s Athabascan Woman blog.

“I listened to a TED Talk once that said you don’t need a map to find direction; you just need a strong compass,” Alice said. “At some point I feel like this podcast has become bigger than me. People want to tell their stories. I put a lot of pressure on myself. It’s like labor pains and the podcast episodes are like my babies.”

Her new tattoos don’t seem so far-fetched after all. Alongside traditional indigenous values, Coffee & Quaq is giving birth to fresh ideas in a changing world. While the podcast is for and about indigenous thinkers across Alaska and the circumpolar North, Alice looks forward to reaching a larger audience willing to listen in on new young voices of the north.

Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a frequent contributor to Alaska magazine.
She lives in Palmer.

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