April 17, 2024
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Beating Back Cultural Depression

A new documentary investigates the reasons for Native Alaskans’ high rates of suicide, alcoholism and abuse

By Joe Hardesty

“People do have to tell their story. We all have a story to tell,” the Yupik Eskimo leader Harold Napoleon tells fellow Alaskan Joe Hardesty, creator of this short documentary, “Lighting Up the Dark.”

Hardesty looks into the reasons for Native Alaskans’ high rates of suicide, alcoholism and physical abuse, partly through the meditations of Napoleon, a community leader who killed his four-year-old son in a drunken rage.

While serving nine years in prison for that crime, Napoleon began an essay exploring phenomena like cultural depression and low self-esteem, which he considers closely linked to social problems in Alaska’s indigenous communities.

See Lighting Up the Dark

19:43 minutes

Napoleon’s essay later developed into a book: “Yuuyarag: The Way of the Human Being.” The full book has been made available here.

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