Young Native Alaskans in rural villages face unique challenges due to physical isolation and the loss of traditional cultural support. Unifying projects or activities—such as basketball—can provide a lifeline for youth and communities.
The Yup'ik Eskimo people are a Native Alaskan community living in western, southwestern, and south-central Alaska. Traditionally, the Yup'ik people hunted seal and walrus in kayaks for subsistence, and today most still live off the land. The word Yup'ik means "real person" or "real people."
Russian explorers and fur traders invaded Alaska in the 1700s and brought with them diseases like tuberculosis that nearly decimated the Yup'ik people. In the mid-1800s, the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia and imposed restrictions on Native activities. Yup'ik children were forced to attend boarding schools where they were prohibited from practicing traditional spirituality or speaking traditional languages.
This loss of tradition and community has had lasting impacts on Native Alaskans and Native Americans in general. According to The New York Times, Native American suicide rates across the U.S. have had the largest increase since 1999, with an 89 percent rise for women and a 38 percent rise for men.* American Indian and Alaska Native Youth, ages 15-24, have been committing suicide at a rate more than three times the national average for that same age group.** According to the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, alcoholism mortality rates are 514 percent higher than the general population.***
The film, I am Yup'ik, follows Byron Nicholai, a 16-year-old basketball player from the tiny village of Toksook Bay. He and his team, the Islanders, are highlighted in the film as they compete in a recent basketball season. I am Yup'ik explores the power of basketball, which unites the Toksook Bay community and creates hope and pride throughout the young team, family members, and the community-at-large.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.9-10.1 and SL.11-12.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 [or 11-12] topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Psy.2.9-12. Investigate human behavior from biological, cognitive, behavioral, and sociocultural perspectives.
Next Generation Science Standards. HS-LS2-8. Evaluate the evidence for the role of group behavior on individual and species' chances to survive and reproduce.