Storytelling on the Kuskokwim: An Update from Polly Andrews 

In fall 2022, Alaska Wilderness League was pleased to announce the inaugural recipient of its Adam Kolton Alaska Storytelling Grant: Polly Andrews. Since that time, Polly has remained busy and recently offered an update to the League community, including supporters of the Adam Kolton Memorial Fund whose donations make this grant award possible.  

The Adam Kolton Storytelling Grant Award was established in 2022 in memory of our late executive director who dedicated his career to protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and led this organization from 2017 to 2021. Now entering the grant’s second year, we are eager to announce an updated application timeline and guidelines in the coming months, with a planned announcement of the next recipient this fall.  

Before then, we’re excited to share a few updates directly from Polly below:  

Hello friends!  

Quyana for your interest in my progress. This summer, I’ve been in touch with partner artists as well as the Lower Kuskokwim School District, to bring together plans for an Alaska Native Story and Drum Making workshop. After speaking with school leadership on the Kuskokwim, it was decided that the workshop would be most well attended after subsistence summer months, and if it was held during the school season. We have plans in the works to facilitate the workshop this fall, and it will include the following:  

  • Partnership with artists Ossie Kairaiuak (composer of “Boy Who Lived with the Seals” and “Ellavut (Our World)” which I shared during the award announcement) and Yup’ik artist Baista Nanalook, a cultural educator in Bethel. Both will support the workshop session, where youth will engage in traditional drum making, storytelling and Alaska Native dance.  
  • Partnership with Yup’ik (Ossie Kairaiuak, Chefornak) and Cup’ik (Michael Ulroan, Chevak) artists to produce and record a new song: “Niitaqama Wii,” which means “When I Hear.” The song is complete and will hopefully be ready for the world soon.  
  • Lastly, some of the funding will be used for a mini workshop held within the Northstar Behavioral Health, a residential treatment facility for children, teens and adults who experience psychiatric or substance abuse issues. In communicating with Northstar Behavioral Health leadership, we identified a gap in services that are culturally responsive to the needs of Alaska Native youth, and they are very welcoming of bringing the workshop to the populations they serve.  

I look forward to documenting these opportunities as they progress, including capturing participant responses to show outcomes. More to come soon!   

– Polly