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Where The Rivers Meet The Sky:
A Collaborative Approach
to Participatory Development


Kanaqlak (George P. Charles), Yup'ik PhD
Center Director
National Resource Center for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Elders
University of Alaska, Anchorage


Where The Rivers Meet The Sky by Tim Kennedy is a story of making changes, that for once gave back to Alaska's First Nations something that was taken away. This book is also a story of inner transformation both for the author and the people he worked with. I met Tim when he began to work in Anchorage. We became friends from our first meeting. There have been people with good intentions that came to Alaska sometimes for the lure of adventure, some who literally came for gold, some to find work, and some who volunteered to try to make real differences in the lives of real people. Tim was a breath of fresh air. I felt that he was genuine in his intentions working as a VISTA Volunteer. Tim was not in Alaska to save the Natives.

Alaska’s First Nations were sovereign and had existed for literally thousands of years. Sovereignty is freedom from external control. Contact with the Euro-Americans brought cultural disruption, loss of language, loss of identity, loss of ancient life ways, loss of our lands, and loss of sovereignty. Alaska’s First Nations were no longer in control of their own lands and their destiny. The cumulative effect of the many losses has contributed to the historical and cultural trauma of the First Nations which is still being experienced by the present day First Nations people. The First Nations literally lost their voice, the ability to make meaningful changes on their own behalf through respectful dialogue. The First Nations discussed life issues until they reached a consensus. Most life changing decisions were now made by external entities without the benefit of participation by the First Nations.

Tim was respectful to the people he came to help. He learned to listen rather than lecturing to the people he came to serve. He became in spirit an Alaska Native. He demonstrated through his work a statement made by Father Oleksa, Russian Orthodox priest, who said, “we need the wisdom of the old and the knowledge of the new.” Tim was respectful of the wisdom of the ancestors and taught the Alaska Native people to navigate through the external decision process (State of Alaska legislative process) of making change through the use of modern film and video technology. The making of the film statement was a process much like the old way of reaching a consensus, to discuss the issue for as long as it takes for everyone to agree. Everyone had a voice. He taught us the knowledge of the new by the use of filmmaking to carry the message to the decision makers and to get a response from the receiver to play back to the senders of the message. Much like the Yup’ik story tellers using the story knife, a picture is worth a thousand words.

I am honored to introduce this story, Where the Rivers Meet the Sky. The title for me implies the connection of the physical world of the First Nations of Alaska to the Great Spirit. The process that Tim used has helped the First Nations of Alaska to regain some measure of the original sovereignty they once had.

Tua’ingrituq! This is not the end.

August 200

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