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Film festival to spotlight district's Indigenous languages

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will host its second annual virtual Indigenous Language Film Festival this Thursday. Inspired by a United Nations virtual series about reviving Indigenous languages, the student-made films will highlight the Sugt’stun language from the village of Nanwalek, and two dialects of the Dena’ina language.

Last year, only two films were submitted for the festival. This year, 16 films —produced by students across the peninsula — will be screened. Rachel Pioch is the school district’s Indigenous education specialist.

“I’ll give you a quote from Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan-born American novelist and physician," Pioch said. "He said ‘if culture was a house, then language is the key to the front door, and to all the rooms inside.’ It’s actually through our language that we express attributes of our culture, the words we use often give insight to how we see the world, what we believe in, our values and what we hold dear.”

The films range from one to five minutes long. Some students spotlight traditional song and dance, while others highlight their language’s words and phrases.

Pioch says events like these help people learn about their language, which helps them learn more about themselves.

“We have traditional languages that are not being spoken or are in the process of revitalization," she said. "When language is taken away, the culture and the people suffer, there’s a disconnect.”

Although organized by the school district, submissions for future Indigenous film festivals are open to everyone on the peninsula. This year’s submissions were made by elementary through high school-aged students.

Pioch says she hopes this festival will engage filmmakers on their language journey.

“I want them to see the beauty of traditional languages," she said. "I want them to see Alaska and Alaskan cultures in its whole beauty. Oftentimes, the Indigenous stories are not shared as readily, and so we often forget.” 

The 2024 Indigenous Language Film Festival will broadcast on YouTube Thursday at noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. You can also view it on the school district’s Indigenous education website.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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