An art therapy project in an Alaska Native village helps teens talk about suicide in their community.
by Kiliii Yüyan | May 1, 2019 | Pacific Standard Magazine
I discovered a wonderful article in Pacific Standard Magazine recently, “In the Land of Hope and Grief: An art therapy project in an Alaska Native village helps teens talk about suicide in their community.” This compelling piece was written by Kiliii Yüyan, whose work in Gambell, Alaska has a lot of resonance with the work I did in rural Alaska, the source material for The Snow Clown.
He writes: “I’m standing deep in snow on a moonlit night on an island in the middle of the Bering Sea, watching the people of this community, nearly all of them Siberian Yup’ik, await the arrival of walrus hunters…For the past few weeks, I’ve been a guest art teacher at the high school here…so I’m feeling invested in the outcome of the hunt.”
The last paragraph of the article reads: “There is something positive at the end of this story…The former legacy of non-Native outsiders trying to improve conditions with a paternalistic hand has given way to a new approach, with communities empowering their own youth…these young people are learning to believe in themselves and preparing to guide their communities and cultures into a new era.”
As one of the non-Native outsiders who tried to improve conditions, I am thrilled that young Native people are now taking a strong hand in guiding their communities. The optimistic last paragraph of “The Snow Clown” seemed like all-too wishful thinking when I wrote it. I left those lines in the book because it is fiction and I like fairy tale endings. Kiliii Yüyan, who is firmly rooted in the current reality, makes me feel better about that ending.