Alexie Isaac’s broadcasting career at KYUK spanned almost three decades.
During that time he directed news broadcasts and other programs from the KYUK television studio, videotaped countless hours of news footage, Yup’ik elders, Yup’ik dance performances and many other aspects of Yup’ik culture.
Alexie was an accomplished Yup’ik language translator and was often called upon to do translation work on KYUK radio programs, including Yup’ik news and television productions. He worked on KYUK television programs, series and documentaries in a variety of roles from videographer, editor, reporter or translator to producer or director.
The following Filmography is a partial listing of the more significant and well known work Alexie produced or assisted in producing during his television career.
DELTA VUE Series late 1970’s-early 1980’s
THEY NEVER ASKED OUR FATHERS 1980
ST. MARY’S POTLATCH 1981
THE WAY WE LIVE 1981
RUSSIAN MISSION , YUKON 1982
A DANCING PEOPLE 1982
EYES OF THE SPIRIT 1983
ARCHAEOLOGY Series 1983
WAVES OF WISDOM Elders Series mid 1980’s –early 1990’s
PARLEZ-VOUS YUP’IK? 1985
YUP’IK ANTIGONE (The Play) 1985
FOLLOWING THE STAR 1987
1987 YUP’IK DANCE FESTIVAL 1987
JUST DANCING 1987
VIDEO FOR ALL SEASONS Series mid-late 1980’s
1988 YUP’IK DANCE FESTIVAL 1988
YUUT REVIEW late 1980’s
CAMA-I DANCE FESTIVALS late 1980’s-early 1990’s
KYUK YUGTUN QANEMCIIT (News) 1980’s –1990’s
A few thoughts regarding Alexie:
In memory of my friend, Alexie Isaac 1956-2003
By John Active
My dear friend, Alexie Isaac died November 17th, at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage of complications from diabetes.
Alexie was born February 18, 1956 in Kasigluk. His family wrote that Alexie was well known in Yup’ik country for his bilingual skills and worked as a translator for KYUK, Bethel ’s Public radio and television station.
For the most part, Alexie preferred to work behind the scenes and avoided being in front of the camera. But he left a body of work that stands out.
Aside from reading Yup’ik news on the radio, he also produced television documentaries in the 1980’s. Among them: ‘They Never Asked Our Fathers,’ which gives an unflinching look at the struggle of Yup’ik Eskimos to keep their cultural identity in the face of almost overwhelming Western influences like mass media.
Alexie helped launch a counter attack by starting the ‘Waves of Wisdom’project.
The idea was to send traditional knowledge over the airwaves, featuring interviews with elders. ‘Waves’ was originally broadcast in two-minute segments with English subtitles so younger Yup’iks could understand them too.
And like a rock thrown into a pond, the television features did send waves throughout the region. Elders began to tell stories they had stopped telling and most important of all, young people turned to the elders to find out more about the broadcasts.
“Elders from all over the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta were interviewed about their language and culture. Many of these elders, now gone, possessed a rich vocabulary, with words no longer in use today. Alexie’s archive preserved these words and much more. He also recorded stories and traditions. Topics ranged from hunting practices to the Yup’ik way of disciplining children.’
Alexie was also an accomplished mask maker and studied under master carver, the late Nick Charles of Bethel . One of his most popular masks was often worn by Bethel Native dancers at the Camai Dance Festival. It had a gentle smile, than many remarked was similar to Alexie’s own expression. He was a soft-spoken man who believed in the power of gentle persuasion.
Alexie’s Yup’ik name was Tutmaralria. Literally it means ‘person who steps’ all over the place. And that he did, traveling all over the world to share Yup’ik culture, including stepping around New York and Paris . But he took the most pride in the ability of his children to speak Yup’I and sing songs in their Native language.
Cory Flintoff of National Public Radio in Washington , D.C. said that Alexie’s death was a terrible loss to everyone who knew him. He said it was also a loss for KYUK and the Y-K Delta and for Alaska .
Flintoff said, Alexie was a great broadcaster and when he and Alexie worked television together he was a wonderful, sensitive and artistic camera man and he had a great eye for a picture.
Flintoff added that in all aspects of broadcasting Alexie was a wonderful person to work with and he was a tremendously kind and thoughtful man. A man who was able to live between two cultures.
Flintoff said with great sensitivity and grace that it was terrible to know that Alexie was not with us any more.
Alexie worked with Flintoff at KYUK between 1977 and 1984.
Flintoff remembers Alexie best pieces of work was the television documentary called, “Eyes of the Spirit.”
Alexie did most of the camera work for the documentary and he was superb and had a great instinct for good documentary camera work.
Flintoff said that documentary is still shown and the Smithsonian in Washington , D.C. and he added that it was nice to know that a piece of Alexie’s work is preserved there.
Elizabeth Weatherford who is a curator for the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City was also saddened by the news of Alexie’s passing. Weatherford said she loved and respected Alexie. She said, knowing Alexie and his work was always good – that time that Alexie and myself spent in New York at the Museum of the American Indian when the Agayuliyararput Yup’ik Mask Exhibit was showing was really one of her favorite times there at the museum — “creening down Broadway, watching you and the elders relate, and basically just fun and good.”
Weatherford also sent her best regards to his wife and kids – “their father was such a fine man,” she wrote.
She also mentioned that Alexie’s work was known nationally. His productions from the 1980’s have been screened in the Native American Film and Video Festival in New York and are in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington , D.C.
Renowned photographer, Jim Barker of Fairbanks wrote that he and Alexie shot various events and he was impressed by the way Alexie went to work with little fuss, always seemed to work in a manner that didn’t seem to intrude, even though he was having to move cumbersome tripods, placing them seemingly on peoples laps at dance festivals.
Barker wrote that Alexie was a very gentle guy in a profession where often you find scurring nock-a-bouts.
Rhonda McBride Faubian wrote that Alexie Isaac was one of her most important mentors when she worked for KYUK. She writes, he had a way of guiding you, without you realizing that you were being taught – a way of leading you to those wonderful “Ah! Ha!” moments, through a process of self discovery.
I’m sure this is something he learned from the elders he revered – and was looking forward to putting this wisdom into practice, as an elder himself. To me it is so sad that Alexie never got the chance, because he spent so much of his life listening to elders and preserving their stories.
It is through Alexie’s translations that I discovered the poetry of the Yup’ik language. I’ll never forget the eloquent words of one elder testifying at a Fish and Game meeting.
I was stunned when Alexie translated for me. “My people have been buried on this land for thousands of years. The soil is made up of the flesh and bones of my ancestors. We don’t just live on this land, we are the land.”
Rhonda added, certainly among Native Americans, he was one of the first to produce documentaries ABOUT Native Americans and FOR Native Americans. He had a hand in just about all of KYUK’s groundbreaking efforts to document Yup’ik culture in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta.
Most of all I will remember the fun times, when Alexie told me he would give me a Yup’ik name if I would eat “suulunaqs” – salted salmon. Yes, they are an acquired taste, but I’ll never regret trying them, nor experiencing all the other things that Alexie encouraged me to try.
Working side by side with Alexie was truly the ultimate cross-cultural experience, she wrote.
In the final analysis I must say that it is a mystery to me that he died so young. There must be some reason for God to have taken him from us. He had so much to offer all of us.
Alexie I miss you but I also remember the good times we had.
By Mike Martz
When I first started working at KYUK as a production assistant in 1982, I knew very little about video. Alexie was my first teacher. He taught me the basics of video production in his gentle, quiet and patient way. He showed me how to shoot and edit Yup’ik dancing and in the process taught me many of the subtle aspects of it and Yup’ik culture at the same time.
My children loved to visit his home on Halloween because he always wore some type of funny mask and in addition to candy would give them a package of dried king salmon.
He was the God father for my youngest daughter and enjoyed doting on her with birthday and Christmas gifts.
Alexie was a patient and kind man. He was my friend and I’ll miss him very much.