Monday, 31 January 2011

Arctic with Bruce Parry vs Sarah Palin's Alaska - A comparison

We've been watching a great 5 part documentary about the Arctic on BBC, presented by Bruce Parry.
Bruce Parry is a former Royal Marine instructor who is now a TV presenter and adventurer, known particularly for the documentary programme series Tribe (known as Going Tribal in the United States), co-produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel. He has most recently returned from the Arctic, creating a book and TV series for the BBC.
Discovery can make good programs. I suppose they reserve the dodgy ones for TLC.

Last week's episode was filmed in Alaska. It goes without saying that Bruce's Alaska is very different from Sarah Palin's.

Bruce joins the locals in all the activities he encounters, but doesn't make everything about himself. When he does these things, you sense how much he respects the people who engage in these activities as part of their everyday lives.

The Alaska episode was divided in three sections. First he joined a family who makes a living from salmon fishing on their commercial, well equipped boat. It was very different from Todd's outfit and makes a little bit more money. According to past financial disclosures, Todd Palin made under $50,000 a year from his Bristol Bay enterprise. These people fish for 3 months in Prince William Sound and make $1.5 million a year. They do it ethically, respecting their quotas and their fishing vessel is environmentally friendly.

In the second segment, Bruce went diving for gold in the Bering Sea, near Nome. I nearly froze just watching it. He joined a group of people from out of state who spend time in Alaska every year enjoying their personal version of a mini gold rush. There have been a few fatalities over the years. This adventure is not for the faint hearted. Bruce was allowed to keep the gold from his dive and netted $150!

In the final (and best part) of the program, Bruce met the inhabitants of Kaktovik on the North Slope as they prepared for the annual whale hunt. He had mixed feelings in the beginning because of his emotional views on whale hunting. Large commercial whale hunters around the globe nearly decimated the whale population and made it an emotional issue, interfering with the ability of ethical subsistence hunters to sustain their age old way of life. The Inupiat were banned from whale hunting for many years, but the ban was relaxed when the government realized that the Inupiat hunting didn't impact the whale population. They're allowed three whales a year.

The hunt is a spiritual experience. The villagers prepare their storage facilities to welcome the whale. They consist of rooms dug under the permafrost, natural and highly efficient freezers. It's important to clean and tidy up the place, moving caribou legs and other bits and pieces to one side, discarding any debris so they can honour the whale with respect.

There are five captains in Kaktovik and they all go out in their boats when the whales approach. The Inupiat are very suspicious of outsiders, in particular those who arrive with a film crew because they were grossly misrepresented in the past. Nobody would talk to Bruce during his first few days there and they were not allowed to film the actual hunt. Bruce finally managed to get close to the youngest of the captains, who has never caught a whale but had hopes this would be his lucky year and that he would have the honour of being given the whale's tail as a prize.

The villagers keep in touch with the boats via radio, but they don't speak much. They don't talk about the actual hunt and don't mention the whale. They wait to hear a prayer that signals the end of the hunt. They caught a whale on the second day, after the first failed attempt. They believe the whale gives itself to them, to give life and nourishment to their families. Their prayer thanked Jesus Christ and paid tribute to the whale. It sounded like a patchwork prayer to me.

The missionaries beat the original faith out of the Inupiat until fairly recently. Bruce's captain is in his forties and remembers having his hands being smacked with a wooden rod when he was a schoolboy. The missionaires didn't like his beliefs or his native language. The spiritual side of the hunt became a mixture of old and new beliefs. The beauty of their old cultural traditions, of being in tune with the creature that was giving itself up to give them life is now permeated by a disconnected devotion for an imposed God tinged with fear learned through pain.

On a lighter note, I managed to find some footage of Bruce's encounter with some polar bears. In the case of a curious cub, it was a close encounter...

The whale is shared among all the villagers and the polar bears are given their share as well.

By the way, Bruce's young captain didn't get lucky this year. The tail went to a more experienced one.

Bruce has taken us to Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada so far. Siberia was focused on the Sakha horse people and a remote encampment of Eveny reindeer herders in the wild Verkhoyansk Mountains.

The first part of the Greenland episode was very exciting. Bruce joined the last of the traditional Inuit hunters and went on a perilous seal hunt. The second part was about the changes brought by the melting of the ice sheet, revealing vast deposits of minerals now being exploited by an Australian guy. A lot of the locals are abandoning their old subsistence lifestyle to join in this new venture. The size of the mines and the massive explosions involved in the process of getting nearer to the goodies left me with some uneasy feelings and some apprehension.

I have already told you about Alaska. Last night Bruce was in Canada and did Caribou hunting and some fishing. The Gwitchin tribe has hunted migrating caribou in the Arctic wilderness for thousands of years, but this tradition is now under threat from oil exploration. The oil instalations are being built in the path the porcupine caribou take to reach their calving grounds. The locals are giving up on the fishing because the fish are showing all kinds of defects, such as very nasty cysts and are no longer safe for human consumption.

Next week Bruce Parry will close the series in Norway. What I've noticed so far is that as Bruce moved to the west, the native lifestyles appear to have suffered greater impact from interference by people alien to the local cultures, be it missionaries, mining companies or oil corporations. He's very concerned about the environment and the erosion of the lifestyles and cultural traditions of the native populations of the places he visited.

We know very well how Sarah Palin's "free for all" policies encouraged the big corporations to exploit Alaska's rich natural resources without any regard for the original inhabitants or the environment and the wildlife of the beautiful state of Alaska. Their ability to make a living from their traditional activities is still being destroyed by this uncontrolled lust to get every last bit of oil, gold and other minerals out of every possible inch of Alaska. It's not all Sarah Palin's fault. She just followed in the footsteps of the governors who came before her and Parnell is not any better than the rest of them. Sarah Palin's advice to the struggling Alaska Natives was to go to the North Slope or work in the mines. If this trend continues, these dignified, ancient people will become a footnote in the history of Alaska, reduced to selling trinkets in craft markets and being photographed by tourists as exotic, quaint specimens. In my book, that's criminal.

Sarah Palin's disregard for the environment and the wildlife of Alaska was covered many times in the past. For a more in-depth look at these topics, please revisit the labels "Environment" and "Wildlife."

10 months ago I put together a little video entitled Sarah Palin's Alaska, long before we found out that her series was filmed in Alaska but was all about Sarah Palin. I'm not going to embed it here. It would spoil a nice post and pollute it.

We have enjoyed Leadfoot and Bella's recaps of Sarah Palin's Alaska because we didn't want to watch the programs. I think the recap of the episodes about Bruce Parry in the Arctic would make people want to watch the whole series.

It's all in the quality of the material and the stories people tell. Bruce's story is about the various people of the Arctic. Sarah's story is about Sarah...

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